According to a study from the Entertainment Software Association presented at E3 2011, the median video gamer age is 37 and has been gaming for well over a decade. This is a far cry from the image many outside the industry have of a teenager-dominated market. The fact is, as the gaming generation has grown older, we’ve kept right on gaming. Our lifestyles may have changed; we may have increased responsibilities at work, less free time due to family obligations, and busy social lives outside of gaming, but we still make time for our favorite hobby. The great news for players like us is that ArenaNet may have created the perfect MMO for busy adults!
Let’s face it, MMOs aren’t exactly known for being a casual-friendly gaming experience. There have been steps taken in that direction in recent years, but the tired old grind is alive and well in subscription based titles. You still need to log on consistently night after night for hours at a time to earn the best raiding or PvP gear. Since those same games are all about gear, and the ever-increasing stats they possess, if you don’t sink time into earning the highest tier of available gear, you’ll never be able to compete on the same level as players who are. While some free-to-play titles have earned the pejorative term “pay-to-win,” many subscription-based titles are essentially “time-to-win.” It really isn’t your individual skill that determines how successful you are, but rather how much time you dedicate to playing. More time equates to more money, so anything subscription MMOs can do to gate your content and slow down your experience is in their best interest. It keeps you playing and paying, not because they offer the best gaming experiences on the market, but because you have to grind if you don’t want to fall behind the gear curve.
Guild Wars 2 breaks away from this sort of design in several ways.
While some detractors attempt to use this fact as a criticism of something Guild Wars 2 is lacking, the truth is that it’s actually one of the game’s strengths.
Let’s start by dispelling the myth of raiding as the ultimate in PvE endgame content. I enjoyed raiding in other MMOs for a number of years, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s designed to force players to spend their time on repetitive, scripted tasks purely for the sake of advancing to the next tier of repetitive, scripted tasks. Because of their static nature, and because they rely on the holy trinity of dedicated tanks, healers and damage dealers, raid boss encounters are like a puzzle, but it’s a puzzle you only need to solve once. Where does the tank stand? How many healers do you need? Can the DPS stay out of fire? Once you solve the puzzle, or have it solved for you by reading a kill strategy step by step, it’s really little challenge to repeat it over and over again.
And you WILL need to repeat it over and over again. Subscription MMOs need to keep you coming back to do the same thing week after week, long after the novelty has worn off, and the only way to incentivize the experience is to gate the rate at which everyone acquires gear. That’s why gear is randomized when it drops and why not everyone who participated gets a reward. That’s why content has weekly lockouts, preventing you from running it over and over again as much as you’d like. Similar to a Las Vegas slot machine, raiding is designed to give you a gambler’s high every so often so you’ll keep chasing that high night after night. The time you sink into raiding can really start to add up for adults with college courses, full-time jobs and families. Having to put your social life on hold, or to sacrifice time spent on other hobbies or with friends and family just to chase pixels with better stats, shouldn’t be considered the ultimate endgame experience.
Thankfully, Guild Wars 2 doesn’t have raiding. What it does have are other forms of large-scale, cooperative content that are far more dynamic, and far less monopolizing of your time, than raiding. The best part about all of this content is that you can participate and compete in every bit of it on a level playing field, without the barrier to entry of gear grinds, regardless of how much time you have to play.
WORLD VERSUS WORLD
The World versus World game mode in Guild Wars 2 is an epic two-week long battle for dominance between three servers across four massive and interconnected maps. The rewards from WvW include buffs called Powers of the Mists which provide bonuses to things like health, experience gain and gathering. These bonuses carry over to PvE, so the more effective your server is in WvW combat, the more the entire server benefits. The siege of a large keep is a huge undertaking that can include dozens of players on each side, and the strategic use towering siege equipment.
Regardless of your group size, there is something you can contribute to the war effort. Individuals can take out enemy sentries and supply caravans, robbing their enemies of resources needed to maintain their defenses. Small groups can capture enemy supply camps or reinforce their own. Larger groups can fight in battles over fortifications that would make Peter Jackson want to bust out his camera and start filming. Because your opponents are players and not giant, scripted NPCs, each and every time you enter WvW you’ll have a different experience.
The best part about WvW is that you can come and go at will. If you only have 30 minutes to play, you can jump into WvW and have enough time to take a supply camp or defend a tower. Even if you simply run around gathering ore, wood and herbs for your crafting, ambushing enemy players along the way, you’re still contributing to the war effort. If you can stay longer, then consider joining a squad under the leadership of an experienced Commander. This will allow you to join forces with your fellow players in larger scale battles for as long as you’re able to play. When the time comes to leave, there are no strings attached. Another soldier will rise to take your place in the ranks.
There will be eight dungeons in Guild Wars 2 at launch, offering a total of 24 different dungeon experiences once you factor in that each has a single Story Mode and three Explorable Modes. If you’ve played other MMOs, dungeon are still the instanced, team-based PvE zones you know and love. The main difference with dungeons in Guild Wars 2 being that, without the need of dedicated tanks and healers, it shouldn’t take you longer to find a group to run the dungeon than it does to actually finish it. All you need are four other players and a couple of hours dedicated to exploring their depths. Also, because you aren’t hindered by those traditional roles, it places far more emphasis on true cooperation and skill rather than one player doing all of the boss management, one player doing all of the healing, and the other three doing all the damage. In Guild Wars 2, each of you will be able to contribute equally. Each new group composition will require its own strategy, making each dungeon run feel far more unique and challenging than in other MMOs.
The best part for the busy adult gamer is that these dungeons will always scale you down to their level, meaning they never become obsolete. The gear they reward you with is comparable with other gear of the same level found elsewhere in the game through crafting or normal PvE play, and will scale with your actual character level. If you want to run Ascalonian Catacombs (a level 30 dungeon) when you’re level 80, you can do so and still find a challenge and rewards that are just as meaningful as if you had ran it at level 30. There’s no grind here. There’s no need to run them repeatedly in order to “gear up,” since the only thing unique about the gear is the cosmetic look of weapons and armor coming from each dungeon. Dungeons offer a unique set of challenges and rewards without requiring excessive time commitments.