“The entire game is endgame” is a bold claim from ArenaNet that has been bandied about quite a bit, even months before the Aug 28 launch date was announced.
Many MMORPG players, including myself, have been skeptical of the statement as it sounds like one of those one-sentence pitches that marketing folks come up with all the time. Eminently quotable, but really just marketing fluff.
It was difficult to imagine the game having any sort of longevity because it had only eight dungeons, and no raids. While there are different modes and ways to complete a dungeon, it seemed inevitable that boredom would creep in as soon as a player gets to level cap, or “endgame”.
The lack of gear progression seemed like GW2′s Archilles’ heel. Like it or not, shinies and power upgrades are important incentives that keep players invested in other MMORPGs.
Maybe therein lies the problem: other MMORPGs. Let’s take a closer look at how GW2′s endgame stacks up.
I have to admit that I’ve only dabbled in Guild Wars Factions for a while back in 2006. I wasn’t too invested, even though I liked what ArenaNet was doing with Alliance Battles, which were essentially precursors to what we know as WvW in GW2 now.
GW2′s design DNA might be immediately apparent to fans more familiar with ArenaNet’s first game, but for many, many players who have cut their teeth on more traditional MMORPGs like Everquest and World of Warcraft, GW2 may seem like culture shock.
Red pill, blue pill
These are some common comments in the wider MMO community:
“Level cap in x days? That’s too easy.”
“No raids? GW2 sounds like a casual game!”
“Is GW2 hardcore enough?”
“No sub? It doesn’t have much content then!”
To understand these sentiments, let’s consider what traditional MMOs have conditioned us to believe about the genre over the years:
- The “real” game starts at level cap. Leveling is a means to an end, to get to the endgame.
- You beat monsters over and over again for a chance of a gear upgrade, so that you can beat on bigger monsters.
- The more time you spend in the game, the more powerful your character becomes and the more content becomes trivialized.
Nothing wrong really, especially since many of these games are, or were, subscription-based games, designed to keep you playing for as long as possible.
As ArenaNet’s Lead Content Designer Colin Johanson pointed out:
In other words, designers of traditional MMOs create content systems that take more time to keep people playing longer. If this is your business motivation and model so you keep getting paid, it makes sense and is an incredibly smart thing to do, and you need to support it.
Besides the business incentive, traditional MMO devices like time sinks and loot grinds also exist to stall players because the developers can never produce compelling content quickly enough to keep up with the rate at which players consume it.
How does GW2 differ?
Down the rabbit hole
On the surface, GW2 looks and plays like a traditional MMORPG. It’s got leveling, crafting and other MMO trappings that players are familiar with.
When you look closer, and bearing in mind that GW2 is subscription-free, things start to look a little different. It throws you a raid-like boss right at level 1. As you move through the early zones, the game constantly involves you in big raid-like events typically reserved for higher level toons in other MMOs.
While traditional MMOs keep you hankering (“Hey, we’ve got really really cool stuff, but first you gotta get to level x!”), GW2 doesn’t waste time showing off its goods (“Didya like that? We’ve got more coming right up!”). The game doesn’t need to hold things back or burden you with time-consuming grinding, ArenaNet already has your $60.
Another key thing that sets GW2 apart is its relatively shallow gear progression. But wait, how is that a good thing? What keeps players playing then, if not for the carrot of seeing their characters become more powerful?
This brings up the tricky question of what motivates you to play. Are you going after bigger numbers on your character as an end in itself, or are the numbers really a means for you to access new challenges?
With GW2′s level and gear cap, there are no infinitely bigger numbers to chase. This may disappoint an entire swath of achievement-oriented players, but consider this: with a constant “end state”, it’s far easier for ArenaNet to develop and inject new content, without constantly having to tune content to match the power creep.
What it means for players is that instead of waiting in line (to gear up, or to be “attuned”) for that one theme park ride because you’ve outgrown the rest, you’ll still have the whole theme park to pick from, both old and new rides. Getting onto a ride becomes less a function of how much time you’ve spent in the theme park, and more of how much time you want to spend.
How, then, can veterans show off their elite-ness to the plebian noobs? While your character may not increase in “power” endlessly, GW2 isn’t short of status symbols like vanity gear, trophies and titles to hunt down.
I can only show you the door
Besides PvE, there’s WvW and structured PvP. Even if you’re brand new to the game, entering these PvP modes is a simple matter of a few mouse clicks after the basic PvE tutorial.
Your character stats are dynamically adjusted to a level 80 equivalent, and in the case of sPvP, you’re given all available skills and level-appropriate gear right off the bat.
This is a good example of what ArenaNet means by “not postponing your fun”, and it plainly shows that the level cap in GW2 is not some sacred cow of fun, but merely a PvE construct.
So what does happen at level 80? You can:
- Hunt down vanity gear in any dungeon
- Experience any area or event you might have missed along the way
- Become a GW2 magnate! Continue crafting and trading
- Go hardcore PvP, in both structured tournaments and WvW
- Earn achievements and titles to show off
There are plenty of trophies to collect, things to explore, and ways to kick ass, and I’d imagine it would take a while for even the most hardcore completist to “beat” the game. However, if you really do enjoy traditional MMO treadmill mechanics that keep you going and going, GW2 is probably just a temporary diversion that sets you back by only $60.
GW2 doesn’t have to keep you playing, it just needs to entertain you when you play.