I’m going to start this blog with two sentences that are completely, utterly, true. The first is that I hate MMO’s. I hate their grinding repetitive game play and I hate how they treat their players like human milking machines. I have never played a single MMO that I’ve found interesting or engaging, from small free-to-play Korean titles to the giants of the genre like Everquest and World of Warcraft. Now here is the other 100% true statement: I’m really excited for Guild Wars 2.

Yes I am aware that Guild Wars 2 is an MMO, but I’m also aware that those two sentences are not in conflict with one another. I hate MMO’s because every single one of them all makes the same assumptions about how MMOs are supposed to be made. Even way back in ’07 Yahtzee admitted that he felt that World of Warcraft is as good as MMO’s are ever going to get. But ArenaNet is here to challenge everything we’ve held as sacred to making MMO’s work, and in the process, are doing everything right.

Doing it Right #1: No Grinding

Grinding has been such an integral part of the MMO formula, ever since I spent the entirety of my first level in Everquest killing butterflies for XP. This is because of the way the level/XP curve in these games are constructed; in that they’re constructed to resemble an addiction cycle to heroin. When MMO’s start the amount of experience required to level up vs the experience awarded is a linear line, and for the first five or so levels you can breeze through them. But once you get beyond level 10 or so it starts to become unfeasible to gather enough experience from quests and you have to go out and farm experience by killing every hostile thing you see. My brother, whose tolerance for this bullshit far exceeds my own, told me that by the time he had hit level 70 in WoW that the experience requirements for each level were doubling, creating a wonderful little exponential growth curve that ensured that he would spend more time to level up each time.

Many people say that it’s impossible to remove grind from MMO’s because of the way you have to structure the leveling curves. Here’s the thing, who says you have to structure them this way at all? ArenaNet is replacing this exponential curve figure with linear growth. Simply put the ratio of experience required to go to each level remains the same, meaning it requires the same amount of time to go from level 1 to 2, as it does to go from 79 to 80. The previous game tried to eliminate grind by having a level cap of 20, but they still had the exponential curve, meaning that at higher levels it was harder to balance the experience required to level against the experience gained by questing, and like every game before them, they came out lacking. Now that the ratio to level remains consistent, ArenaNet knows precisely how much content per level they need to get the players to level up without them having to go out and farm experience on their own.

Doing it Right #2: Character Design

I want you to imagine for a second that you are a girl playing Horde in WoW for the first time. If you are a sexist you might find that thought impossible, but yes, girls do play WoW. In fact MMO’s tend to have more female players per capita than any other genre of games. If you actually are a girl then you may have come across this problem.

So you’re playing Horde and you’re looking at the race selection. They all look really cool but the one that catches your attention are the Trolls. Look at them; they don’t look like any kind of troll you’ve ever seen in any fantasy setting ever. They’re lanky and hunched over, have awesome Mohawks, large hawk like noses and massive, jutting tusks. They have a voodoo vibe and Rastafarian accents. Delighted you pick Troll and click the female gender, and suddenly all of that is gone. Now you’re looking at a normal looking blue skinned girl with bad teeth. This doesn’t look like a member of the same race as the male, and worse, it holds none of the unique features that actually make Warcraft trolls stand out from the legion of Tolkien inspired derivatives that flood the market. No, that right is held exclusively for males; enjoy being some nerd’s masturbation fantasy.

While reading ArenaNet’s developer blogs I saw that they were almost about to fall into that exact same trap when designing female members for the race of monstrous felines called the charr. The original designs felt more like cute monster anime girls then a plausible example of sexual dimorphism. Instead they went back to the base charr design and simply scaled back the more monstrous features and made them look more like lions. They also made the wise decision to not include swollen mammaries. Good job on you.

But Guild Wars 2’s excellent character design extends beyond not insulting us with implausibly sexual exaggeration, it also looks at every one of those Tolkien inspired races and leaves them in Middle-Earth where they belong. Player races include not just the charr, but the diminutive asura and the floral slyvari. Now both of these races are inspired by stock fantasy clichés, the small but smart and sarcastic guy and the magical nature guy. But they key word there is inspired, not derived. There’s something unique here that we haven’t seen before in a fantasy MMO. Everyone knows what a dwarf is like, but how do you play a member of a species whose oldest member is 25 years old?

Doing it Right #3: Archetypes? Who needs them?

When you hear any designer discuss MMO game play at some point the trinity of Tank/DPS/Heal gets mentioned, and every time it is the developers gush and praise over it like it’s the ultimate unchanging pinnacle of MMO deisgn. Every WoW  class fights into one if not two of those roles perfectly and BioWare have basically made it a point that their classes will be married to one of those concepts, with range DPS being added into the mix. Except here’s the thing; we don’t need those three archetypes at all to make an MMO and ArenaNet seems to be the only developer who understands that.

Instead they are building their own trinity of archetypes, called damage, control and support. But the way this really breaks everything we’ve held sacred is the fact that every class can do all three of those, on the fly. An Elementalist (or mage) can either focus on spells that do lots of damage to a single target, or switch to spells that do wide range AoEs that work in tandem with other players, who can cast buffing spell and AoE shields. Then there’s the fact that there is no dedicated healer and good thing. Instead each class can recover hit points on their own. So you never have to sit and wait around your LFG screen until a healer decides to join your group.

“But OsirisLord,” you whine “I like playing healing classes.” No, what you like playing is support. Frankly, healing is always the least interesting part of what is overall a support role. That’s because if you’re healing it means you’re losing, so you take a reactive role instead of a proactive role. Being a support player in Guild Wars 2 means you focus exclusively on proactive support, whether it’s the buffing and shielding spells of Elementalists, or placing down turrets and traps as a Mechanic.

Doing it Right #4: Questing

Whenever an MMO starts a talking about quests I can’t help but feel like they’re being a little condescending. Going over to a field barely five hundred away and killing enough boars to bring back ten servings of barbeque rips they seem to be carrying is not a quest, it’s a job. And you’re not playing a hero; you’re playing as a freelance muscle for hire with terrible job security. You know what a quest is? When Frodo had to trek across the breadth of Middle-Earth to destroy an artifact of power in very heart of the domain of true evil, now that was a quest.  ArenaNet is promising they’re going to completely change the way quests are done in Guild Wars 2, a promise that for me is both the best news I’ve heard in ages, yet is also one I fear they can’t keep.

In their MMO Manifesto video game designer Ree Soesbee complains about the static persistent nature of MMOs, how everyone is doing what you’re doing and how the boss you just killed respawns ten minutes later. It’s all well and good but I don’t see how you cannot do that and still have content for tens of thousands of players to enjoy, especially if you’re planning on having single-player story content as well. Let’s face it ArenaNet you’ve talked about having story-line driven dungeons that can be explored again after completion, doesn’t that mean you’re going to have bosses that respawn? Or at the very least players can go back and kill the same boss over and over again in an instance based dungeon? Or does that not count because it takes place in a dungeon and not the larger game world?

Actually I want to talk about the way the larger game world will work. Like I said, in the MMO Manifesto video there was talk that quests will be generated procedurally from a living dynamic world, instead of being doled out in a persistent world that never changes. This is a very ambitious goal and if it succeeds will no doubt be the biggest game change Guild Wars 2 brings to the genre. But it’s also playing with fire; playing with chaos theory actually. They say that one player makes an action that sends repercussion out across the entire world, or at least the entire zone. That sounds cool, but with tens of thousands to potentially millions of players each sending out those kinds of repercussion waves, well, it sounds like it’s going to end up creating a huge mess. Suppose a player logs out in a friendly village they rescued only to log back in and discover the very spot they’re standing in is now infested with rampaging monsters way above their level. Like I said this is something that we will have to wait and see if it works.

I hope it does, because I hate MMOs and I want to love this game. I love the lore, I love the look of it, I love the way ArenaNet is actually innovating and not just remaking World of Warcraft and added one new feature on top of it (like what Rift and The Old Republic did). It sounds like they’re rearing up for a closed public beta test in April sometime so let’s see. If I get in and I don’t have to sign an NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreement) I will let you guys know what I think. Until then sorry for the unexplained hiatus, I will get back to regularly updated posts now.