Death Becomes You
I was fortunate enough to play Guild Wars 2 this weekend. The following articles marked “beta coverage” are based on my gameplay experience.
Trust me when I say this… you will die. A lot. And you will love it. It’s not uncommon to find downed or dead people to revive. It’s not uncommon to be one of them either. It’s awesome. So dramatic, so engaged, so … fresh and exciting.
Why is death important?
Implementing death in a game is not a simple matter. Dying can be frustrating, especially when it stops you from progressing. Or it can be trivial if there are no consequences except for a respawn delay. In fact, respawning in the middle of the action can even be frustrating as you end up dying again without a real fighting chance.
And yet, without some fear of dying, the game just isn’t exciting. You pludge through the game without a care in the world, going through the motions, bored. Death is far more important to a successful game than we give it credit.
In my years as a gamer, I have died a lot of times, and I have seen a lot of bad ways death was implemented. From 30 seconds time-outs, to having to trek your way through long distances, and even to having unlimited lives so you can kill anything provided you throw yourself at it enough times. Or having to reload the whole level that was already in your computer’s memory, just to die again 5 seconds later at the exact same place.
Death usually breaks immersion, makes you frustrated, and certainly doesn’t make you feel heroic at all. At best, it might tell you that you need to slow down and figure a better strategy because “Leeroy-ing it” is just not going to work.
The ArenaDeath experience ™
ArenaNet has polished the experience of death far beyond what I have known before. In persistent areas as in PvP areas, death can happen suddenly. You can easily get surrounded and overwhelmed. Generally though, death doesn’t feel cheap. I know that I got surrounded or played badly or something, that I deserved the death. I certainly never died because of some random unexpected pop-up or some one-shot from a hidden foe.
But it doesn’t end there. You fall to the ground, and you get to fight for your life. The downed mode adds a lot of drama, an additional chance of seeing what went wrong, and a last chance at correcting your mistake. You fall often, but you also get up often. Allies around naturally will help you up, and sometimes you win the fight and get back on your feet on your own because you had almost killed your foe before falling and you manage to finish him while downed. Either way, you get back into the fight knowing full well you got close to dying, with a vivid memory of why you came close to death. And you feel like Bruce Willis in Die Hard for having survived against the odds.
I certainly did when we finished the dungeon, with all my team dead, and me killing the boss while downed. That was an epic way to finish a dungeon that I will remember for a long time.
I also tried to revive others many times, and that too made me feel heroic… because as I tried to help a downed or dead player, I was surrounded by chaos and foes, and I was exposing myself… I was vulnerable and could easily get killed in the process. It’s all very exciting, very heroic in the Batman kind of way, pulling off a rescue while dodging bullets and explosions and panda bears. Because in my world, Batman gets attacked by panda bears. Don’t ask.
You get beaten up, you suffer, you struggle, and you win by the skin of your teeth. I just loved it.
Even if you do die (and you will), the penalty is fairly minimal. It’s far more to add to the drama and to teach you about not being a noob, than it is to actually give you a time out. It didn’t get frustrating. There are many repair NPCs around, conveniently located, marked on the map. Frankly, in all the dying I did, only once did I actually need to go repair a broken piece. I realized that I was dying too fast, and then I realized that I was shirtless. As heroic it may seem to run around the battleground shirtless, it’s not as effective as Hollywood would make you believe.
Aside for that one exception, a short detour whenever I was in town was plenty to keep my armor in perfect working condition. I also got a death penalty once, and all it did was make it more difficult to rally if I died again. Initially, I had no clue what it did, and I felt as efficient as ever (which probably is not much). I’d be happier if they removed those death penalties honestly, but it really wasn’t a big deal.
The game comes across as difficult, challenging, and yet the death mechanism as implemented also makes it forgiving. You will definitely not want to die (unless for a good cause), and zergling is not a good idea. Playing well means you fight standing up more often than lying down. But if you play reasonably well, you will progress.
ArenaNet made the experience of dying actually come across as fun. I love it. Not in the “I’m going to throw myself off of tall buildings” kind of way (even though I did that too), but rather in the “I survived the great battle of the charr starter area” kind of way. Oh yes, that was in the starter areas, in some of the very first dynamic events you will encounter, and it was epic, heroic, awesome. Apparently, you don’t need to pludge through a long levelling process to feel heroic or to play challenging content, you can have that right from the start of the game.
I even found myself struggling through some of the personal story content when I was above-level for it, just because of the way it’s implemented. The scaling used really works. It’s challenging, fun, and exciting.
Remember folks, you’re not truly a hero until you get your ass kicked badly, everyone thinks you’re done for, and at the last moment you get back on your feet and stare death in the eyes… and utter some great one-liner before finishing off your opposition in some heroic move. Guild Wars 2 will have you utter those one-liners all the time.