I’ve been playing a bit of Guild Wars 2 recently. Also, the first expansion Heart of Thorns is just over the next horizon. With all that new content and progression to be experienced, I think back to some of my early time in Guild Wars 2 and one particularly important lesson that I learned.
My friends, who had been playing the game since it’s release a year ago, seemed to me to be so far ahead that anything they could do with me was just a waste of their time (even despite the level adjustment system).
A wise friend, playing alongside me told me this “Guild Wars is for fun, not farming.”
I thought about that for a bit, decided that it was quite profound, then promptly forgot about it.
At the time I was playing, the Living World Event was the Queen’s Jubilee, essentially an arena with a bunch of monsters that spawned in it–high level monsters. Lucrative high level monsters.
This meant there would constantly be a “champion train” (group of players that roams from one high level monster to the next, overwhelming them rather than applying any sort of tactics) running around the Pavilion. Since all you needed to do to earn drops and exp from a monster was deal a token amount of damage to it before it died, it was really easy to sit in the middle of the zerg (a group of players in a champion train) and earn exp, loot and money for it. After all, that’s what the champion train is evolved for.
Something like 10 days later, I had achieved level 80
However, I quickly ran into a slew of problems:
- Friends weren’t always on
- There’s so much more diverse and challenging content on offer in the world of Tyria
- I hadn’t collected any resources for crafting or very good gear
- I had punched over 100 hours and I was kinda burning out on the game
At that time, I was getting started with my journey as a game designer and I was just finishing digesting the concept that “stats and damage is just an arbitrary number set by a game’s developers”. Having higher stats and better gear is useful only when it makes it easier to fight enemies (who presumably have fixed stats). It doesn’t matter if you do 10 damage to a 50 HP enemy or 10,000 damage to a 50,000 HP enemy, the fight is just as difficult in both situations.
The next realization was the real killer though: the designers decide what numbers go on which gear and what stats your enemies have (or at least what range of numbers goes into the RNG). Further, encounters are playtested and tuned to be exactly the experience the designer wants. So is it really a distinguishing feat of skill to complete content in a game? Not really, since it had to be completed by whoever playtested it, and designwise most games won’t make their skill floor especially high out of fear that it will become inaccessible to their players.
The meaning behind the numbers
I might have just walked away from the game, having felt like I had “finished most of the content” if it weren’t for that same friend randomly popping by some times and us just wandering around to hang out. At first, I’d always start with asking about what the game plan was: how we were going to make sure we were making the most of our time and moving (as quickly as possible) toward whatever goals we had at the time. This friend would always be down for anything, but would never really be that picky about figuring out the most efficient method possible. At first it was frustrating, but everything changed when we realized that Poultry Meat sold for something like 7 silver on the market (a pretty high price for how difficult it was to obtain). We started discussing “optimized routes for killing moas“, but it was just too much–Tyria’s greatest heroes, who played a part in defeating the primal forces of nature, hunting giant landbound birds to make a quick buck? Wait, wait, wait, defeating primal forces of nature? Didn’t we defeat the embodiment of undeath by shooting it with cannons? That’s hilarious.
While I can’t really say that I’ve an avid GW2 player to this day (I never really was), I can say that I totally would have missed out on some of the best moments I’ve had in the game if I had thought about the game strictly from a “achieve the goals coded into the game” perspective. Instead of a system in which I win by collecting resources or obtaining rewards the most efficiently, I found it much more engaging to see the game as an environment with which I could use to hang out with friends, generate stories to tell, and have a variety of activities to do with them. So back to the topic of the new expansion, maybe, if I ever save up enough gold to buy a new character slot (or find myself in the circumstance of having disposable income), it might be nice to gather some friends and go back to start a totally fresh character and see what I missed while holing myself up in the arena.