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Queensdale – Cry Havoc and Let Loose the Centaurs of War

Guild Wars 2 has  done away with traditional questing in favor of dynamic events. Even though the personal story lets players still experience a more familiar quest structure, when exploring the world outside of these tailored instances they will be hard pressed to find to now so well known exclamation marks. In stead hearing of a village being under attack  in a long winded text or dialog from ‘NPC village Joe’ you will actually experience the attack yourself and if you don’t hurry and get involved ‘village Joe’ might end up dead and you singing his long winded eulogy instead. Warhammer started it, Rift continued it – how is Guild Wars 2 faring with their radical implementation of dynamic events? Read some of my impressions from the beta weekends below.

The Cynical Part First

Dynamic events were supposed to make the world feel more alive in contrast to the static mobs standing around in other MMO’s but do they really? As much fun as I had in the BWE (both of them) I couldn’t shake the feeling I was playing themepark 2.0 with an invisible puppet master dev pushing the button every 20 minutes, releasing the centaurs to entertain gamers. The events didn’t flow from world occurrences but rather from underlying mechanics alien to the world itself. (Unless of course the centaurs set their invasions by the clock: “its been half an hour guys , lets stretch our legs and swing our swords – again”)

I remember a particular event where we cleared a mine, which was surrounded by palisades but no gates. The counter attack (which seemed to consistently follow 5 minutes after clearing an area) flowed through the holes in the walls unobstructed and were it not for us repelling the attack they would have overrun the NPC’s, rinse and repeat. In this particular case I could have imagined a follow up event were we had to go out, gather wood and stone to build gates or reinforce the walls which would have forced the centaurs to bring some kind of siege weaponry next time they wanted to invade the place. Action-reaction basics. And what were the centaurs doing in that mine anyway? Not mining, that is for sure.

So do the events differ all that much from static (repeatable) quests? From what I have seen up till now, no not all that much. Are they fun? Hell yes!, but a lot of fun comes from understanding the idea behind them. I have seen several complaints about the DE’s over the last two beta’s and I ran in to a few myself. The first BWE I played in, events were resetting with extremely short intervals destroying all possible sense of impact. The second BWE I played on a low population server where events happened much more rarely. Also being on a low population server, several events (non- group events) had me fighting seemingly overwhelming odds. It wasn’t until later that I started to see some patterns that helped me see the events in a new light. To explain I need to make a detour first by talking about renown hearts.

Renown Hearts – of Guides and Props

Hearts are Guild Wars 2′s version of quest hubs. Conveniently spread around the map they have a set of tasks connected to them that pop up in your quest log once you enter the heart area. After completion, you gain a decent amount of xp and money. So far, so MMO. This is also one of the main complaints about hearts: that they, apart from some significant convenience changes, don’t stray very far from the ‘been there done that’ classic MMO formula. People dutifully follow their quest log, performing the tasks mentioned there and move on.

Conditioned by so many MMO’s before Guild Wars 2, I started out doing exactly that but after a while I noticed I gained heart contribution from tasks not even mentioned in my log, be it ressing npc’s in the area or other tasks that could be constructed as helping out. From then on I didn’t pay much attention to my log and just went through area’s doing stuff along the way, often completing or significantly progressing a heart without strictly following the log. This didn’t work every time but often enough to recognize a pattern. Hearts are not quests that give you a shopping list of exactly what to buy (and what not to buy) but rather guides that show you what you could do to help out but are by no means a comprehensive list of all available activities.

Another thing I noticed was that the usable props lying around in the heart area’s, garden hoes, beer barrels etc. Now at first they seemed like fun but ultimately useless gimmicks until I picked up a garden hoe and beat a grub in the monastery garden over the head (a heart task) and killed it much faster than my combat skills did with previous grubs. Well in a way it makes more sense to kill grubs with a garden hoe then with a sword or two daggers. Maybe there could be a pattern here? (leading question, the answer is yes but we will get to that later).

Dynamic Events’ Travel Guide or How Cow Dung Evens Things Out

So, back to dynamic events. A main part of the Queensdale map I would describe as centaur junction, you cannot turn your ass or you stumble over a centaur leg. Its the places where invasions take place, the big events/meta events. Obviously a lot of attention will be drawn to these places as they are often also in the location of renown hearts. Its easy to get stuck in these area’s, either waiting for the events to pop or grinding the same events over and over again (which mainly happened to me during the first BWE).

An important lesson to be taken away from the hearts might be helpful here as well. The main DE’s function as focus points or guides but are not a comprehensive list of the available (event) content on the map. The further away I moved from centaur junction, the more small events I started to find triggered by reading a tombstone, a book, talking to an npc or picking up an object. In short there was a lot more to do and xp to be gained by straying of the beaten path. Yes I also did the bigger events but the frequency of them happening was not very high, nonetheless I had no trouble keeping up with xp. Moral of the story: exploring pays off!

Now on the balancing of events. Being on a low population server I had to face events often alone or with a small group of people. An example is the cave troll that popped up after picking up a rune stone. He hit hard and had a considerable health pool. ‘Troll-smash!’ which he proceeded to do happily for a while with our group being hapless victims of his fun. Until someone got the bright idea of picking up the rune stone again and throwing it at him, doing damage and knocking him down for a while. Taking turns at throwing, the fight turned in our favour and we downed him without much further trouble. Again, a prop lying around the area being very useful! Another example was the cow dung lying around a farm being raided by an ungodly amount of bandits. To overcome the event their morale had to be broken but they succeeded more at breaking ours. My girlfriend had the idea though to throw the cow dung at them which they apparently found so distasteful that their morale began to dwindle, quickly enabling us to even the odds. Regrettably I didn’t get to test the props lying around extensively on the various hearts and events, simply because I realized their use too late. That being said I am convinced that they are supposed to be used (or at least very handy when used) and offer alternative ways of overcoming otherwise difficult situations.

So there you have it, DE’s in a nutshell! Maybe not exactly world changing or truly dynamic but a lot of fun to play and experiment with. Often the most obvious path isn’t the only or the most effective one. I have the feeling Guild Wars 2 will keep surprising us with with more ‘hidden’ game play treasures and who knows, maybe next time the centaurs will bring siege weapons!