Guild Wars 2 Endgame: You Actually Get to Eat the Carrot
by, 06-02-2012 at 21:28 (703 Views)
Due to the length of the article, a brief "executive summary" was requested to encapsulate what I'm trying to get across.
The purpose of the article is to explain how Guild Wars 2's "endgame" differs from the raiding model commonly found in other MMORPGs, and explain why concerns about its longevity or its appeal are largely unfounded. It is not an attack on raiding as such, but I do point out the flaws I see in the raiding model used in other MMOs, and also identify why these flaws exist.
Also, by "you actually get to eat the carrot" I mean that in Guild Wars 2 rewards are ends in themselves, and are not a means to gaining access to additional content (which in turn offers rewards to access further content, and so on ad infinitum) as in most MMOs.
Something which has been debated and discussed extensively within the Guild Wars 2 community is the issue of the so-called "endgame". Anyone who has played an MMO will more than likely be familiar with the term, which basically means content which exists for players who have reached the level cap.
In this article I will discuss the nature of the endgame in existing MMOs, the approximately equivalent features present in Guild Wars 2, and the concerns that have been raised about the radically different approach Guild Wars 2 is taking. I will not be covering PvP features here (I intend to do so separately at some point in the future).
The Endgame Model of Most Other MMOs (Raids)
In most MMOs (World of Warcraft being the most obvious example), reaching the level cap is accompanied by a significant shift in both the content available and the rewards offered. Prior to the level cap, quests and 5-man dungeons are the most common PvE activities, rewarding the player with enough XP for a reasonably fast rate of levelling, enough currency for any necessary expenses, and gear appropriate to their current level. Upon reaching the level cap, these activities become obsolete almost immediately: XP is no longer an issue, the currency rewards become either insufficient or unnecessary, and the gear rewards no longer provide improved stats.
This is where raiding comes in. Raiding is the focus of the PvE endgame in most contemporary MMOs, and it involves challenging, instanced content designed for groups of more than five players, usually in the form of scripted boss fights and requiring a significant amount of preparation and teamwork to be beaten. The in-game rewards come in the form of better gear (replacing XP), and to a lesser extent currency, crafting materials and achievements.
As I see it, the most crucial difference between raids and all of the preceding content is not the increased difficulty of the content, or the increased number of players required, or the replacement of levels with gear as the primary gauge of progression; it is the introduction of repetition.
Levelling is like going up a hill. The slope is gentle at first, and then gradually it gets steeper, each step requiring more effort than the last. Still, there's plenty of interesting scenery as you ascend. Raiding is the equivalent of reaching the top of the hill and being put onto a treadmill. Whereas you never need to repeat content while levelling, raiding requires you to repeat the same content many times in order to squeeze out all of the possible rewards from it. Then, in the case of World of Warcraft, when you've finally acquired all the rewards from a particular treadmill, your only option is to get back on the same treadmill with the speed cranked up (heroic mode)—at least until the next tier of treadmills is released.
Contrary to what you may be thinking, I don't believe raiding is necessarily bad (in and of itself); it can be a lot of fun and often features challenging and entertaining encounters. However, it is commonly accompanied by other elements which makes it repetitive and far from ideal.
I also don't believe that the existence of raiding is the product of an evil conspiracy to trick people into paying the subscription fee every month. While having a subscription fee does mean that there is an additional incentive for developers to keep players playing for as long as possible, a game's longevity is desirable even without said subscription fee (for example, to encourage the purchase of expansions or because it will reflect positively on the developer's reputation), so the root cause must be found elsewhere.
I would argue that the raiding model (in its widely used "treadmill + carrot-on-a-stick" form) is primarily and inescapably the result of two key factors. Firstly, developers are unable to produce new, high-quality content fast enough to keep up with the speed at which players complete it. Secondly, characters are constantly increasing in power, which sooner or later renders all but the latest content obsolete. Simply put, new content isn't released fast enough, and existing content rapidly becomes trivial and rewardless.
This trend culminates at endgame where you are restricted—relative to the game as a whole—to a very small amount of content in the form of raids. To counteract the above issues, raiding features three main devices which artificially extend the lifespan of this limited amount of content: Repetition, low drop rates, and increasing difficulty. Repetition provides an endless reel of content to play through, drop rates dictate roughly how many times the content needs to be repeated in order to be "completed", and increasing difficulty serves to further slow down progression (often leading to a point for many players where they can no longer progress at all due to a lack of time, skill, knowledge or experience). Some MMOs (including WoW) add yet another progression slowing device in the form of raid lockouts, which limit the amount of times you're able to repeat a particular raid within a given period of time (in WoW's case, once per week).
So, while the raid model used by World of Warcraft (amongst others) for its endgame generally does a good job of keeping players entertained—or at least occupied—long enough to keep playing until new content is released, it has severe drawbacks which cannot be remedied due to core decisions that were made early in the game's development.
Guild Wars 2's Model
ArenaNet describe Guild Wars 2 as not having an "endgame" as such (or as being "entirely endgame"; effectively the same thing). The game has also been built with an anti-grind philosophy in mind from the very beginning—like the original Guild Wars—which ArenaNet hope will eliminate many of the issues present within existing MMOs, including those described above. Notably, in relation to the above discussion, Guild Wars 2 does not feature raids.
When it comes to the concerns surrounding Guild Wars 2's endgame, or lack thereof, there are a few that have been widely raised, and they can be broken down into two broad categories; concerns about the lifespan of the content, and concerns about the nature of the content.
Concerns About the Content's Lifespan
In terms of the content's lifespan, players are worried that the perceived void left by a lack of raids will not be adequately filled, causing players to be entertained for a shorter amount of time than they would have been if raids were present. Whether this particular concern is valid or not ultimately depends on what motivates you to play.
Most MMOs make use of the following infinite loop, which could be considered the "engine" of the endgame: Gear increases your character's power which allows you to defeat more powerful enemies which drop gear which increases your character's power which allows you to defeat more powerful enemies… and so on. It is reasonable to assume that for most players, one part of the loop serves the motivating aspect, whereas the other serves as the means to it.
This infinite loop does not exist in Guild Wars 2, and if the motivating aspect for you is the constant increase in your character's power then you will be disappointed. I would however ask you to question why it's important; after all, the increase in power doesn't significantly impact your experience as newly added encounters are designed to be a match for you, no matter how large the numbers on your character sheet might be. In fact, if character power is kept constant, it makes it easier for developers to create content with a finely-tuned level of difficulty.
On the other hand, if it's the facing of the encounters which serves as the motivator for you, then you likely have nothing to be worried about. In Guild Wars 2, new content expands rather than extends the game. Thanks to the side-kicking system, content never becomes obsolete; when you reach the level cap your options are not limited to content specifically made for the endgame, you can still play any of the dynamic events or attempt any of the dungeons you may have initially missed. Furthermore, dynamic events provide constant variation across the entire game world. A zone might be completely different the next time you visit it due to different events being active, events being at different stages, or events having a different number of players participating in them.
Now, while your character may not endlessly increase in power, that isn't to say that the content offers no in-game rewards whatsoever once you reach the level cap.
Firstly, there are rewards which expand your abilities. These include weapons, which determine five of the skills you have access to at any given moment, traits, which alter your skills or attributes in some way (these are being reworked as I write this, so we don't know exactly how they will be acquired), and slot skills (including elite skills), which fill your remaining five skill slots (acquired by earning skill points, at least at the time of writing). All of these things combined provide a significant amount of depth in terms of character builds which is great news for those who enjoy theorycrafting and experimentation.
Secondly, there are rewards which provide ways of customising the appearance of your character. For example, each dungeon has its own unique armour set, and there also exist rare dyes which can be used to change the colour of specific parts of your armour. It's not unreasonable to assume that Guild Wars 2 will also feature other kinds of collectibles and treasure to give people more of a reason to explore the world and/or trade with other players; the original Guild Wars had mini-pets for example.
Thirdly, there are rewards which provide a sense of achievement through explicitly tracking your progress and recording your character's history. Achievements, titles and statistics are now a common feature of MMOs, and these are all present in Guild Wars 2.
As well as the content described above and its rewards, there is also the crafting system, the two-way auction house, and mini-games. There isn't a great deal of information on these features, but suffice it to say they will provide compelling additions to the core gameplay.
Concerns About the Content's Nature
In terms of the the nature of the content, players are unsure whether Guild Wars 2 will cater to certain types of players, in particular to hardcore raiders due to an apparent lack of anything that has similar characteristics to raids (i.e. challenging, instanced encounters designed for premade groups of more than five players).
The answer to this is quite straightforward, and requires these players to define what specific qualities they need in the game in order for them to enjoy it. Dynamic events and explorable mode dungeons will both fulfil certain combinations of the qualities offered by raids, but not all of them.
For example, if raiding appeals to you because of the large number of players involved, or because of the "epic" feel of fighting massive bosses, then dynamic events are exactly what you want. Conversely, if raiding appeals to you because of the challenge—the difficulty of the encounters and the requirements of preparation and teamwork—then explorable mode dungeons will provide you with these things.
If however you absolutely must have all of these characteristics within a single type of content, then Guild Wars 2 most likely will not be for you, at least in this respect.
Hopefully this article has helped to ease some of the concerns people have about the endgame in Guild Wars 2. When ArenaNet says "the entire game is endgame", they are more than justified in doing so, and hopefully I've demonstrated why. It is a complicated subject, and a lot of it comes down to our own perceptions and how we are motivated.
Whereas other MMOs use the "treadmill/carrot" raid model, which requires repetition of content and continuously increases your character's power, thus rendering content obsolete as you out-level or out-gear it, Guild Wars 2 takes a completely different approach. There are still plenty of challenges, plenty of things to explore, plenty of rewards, and plenty of other things to do, but the game does not revolve around endlessly increasing numbers as its primary mode of "progression".
In Guild Wars 2 you actually get to eat the carrot.
- Darkademic (Guild Leader [DkR] Dark Reavers GW2 Guild)