Friday, January 5, 2007

Guild Wars: Something that Makes Sense But Will Never Happen

Okay, so I mentioned here that complaining about the game is the favorite passtime of your average Guild Wars player. And I'll have you note I did say I was no different. Anyhow, I got to talking with a buddy in game the other day and, of course, the topic veered onto what was wrong with the game. This person is one of those bright, deluded fools that think the devs actually listen to us players and is the sort that's constantly making suggestions and trying to drum up support for getting changes made to the game. We've known each other for a long time and I'd like to think we've been friends even longer so I'll do them the courtesy of keeping their name out of this. But, you know, he's right. The devs do listen. The game can and does change. And often for the better. And I don't want to discourage any of the bright, shinny eyed people with indefatigable patience and boundless enthusiasm from trying to do the same. I was, after all, one of those people at one point. It's just incredibly wearying and difficult, for me at least, to keep pushing that boulder up the hill when it feels like you're not going anywhere. Now, I'm not saying this person is na├»ve, mind, but I am saying they make me feel old just because of the sheer blinding intensity of their passion. That's why, though, I think the old need to keep the young around – so we can be reminded of what it's like to be optimistic with our dreams uncrushed.

Anyhow, my dream is of a perfect game. A game that I can play and love that's free from defect and any sort of flaw. One that anyone around the world who's able and interested in can come and play with me. The game is wonderful and beautiful and it can do no wrong. And just starting it up brightens my day. Playing it is like a chocolate wrapped orgasm cookie being pumped into my veins.

I, of course, have never played a game like that. No one has, I think. Because games are human things and perfection is something anything fashioned by human hands can never be. It's still a goal to strive for, though, and one that everyone who fashions anything should aspire to reaching one, perfect day. But the closest I've come to it is Guild Wars. It has so much potential, it does so many things right that I – and my friend and I'd like to think others – look at it and we don't want to criticize it, we don't want to belittle it, we want to make it better. Just a little bit. Each in our own way, of course. But we love the game so much that seeing it flawed, somehow, is almost painful. And we want to, we need to, we have to help it. If only because it's given so much to us. So we make suggestions. We talk with each other about how to improve the game. About what's wrong with it. We commiserate about how we have such great ideas and they'll never be implemented. I don't think I was this eloquent with my friend – you can blame the woefully small in-game chat buffer size for that – but we did say as much to each other: That we don't think the game is bad. Far from it, actually. And what people who want to change it are doing isn't to suggest the game is poor just that it can be made a little better.

We bounced a few ideas off of each other, testing them out, seeing if we could persuade each other. You know, we're both hardened veterans of many a Guild Wars board and the arguments therein and, well, that's the sort of thing people do there. The ones that come back time and time again, anyway. Talking, discussing, challenging, sharing, and expanding their perceptions even as they try and persuade each other that their idea, their suggestion, their understanding is the proper one. That's why I talk to people, anyway, I don't know why anyone else does. But the sad thing is that most of that talk is empty. So many bits of data slipping into the endless seas of the ether. Most ideas are, to put it kindly, crap and the developers, I'm sure, have a hard time separating the good ones from the bad. And there's no telling just where good ideas will come from or what will bubble to the top let alone if they have the resources to implement anything. So, mostly, the sort of complaining and suggestions that go on are, well, pointless. They don't amount to much. they?

After all, for the longest time the one feature at the top of most people's lists would be a way to reconnect if you were dropped from the game. Anyone who's ever lost a match or the Hall or a juicy drop or anything, really, because they erred out of the game through no fault of their own would be inclined to agree that something should be done about it. Oh, the details were argued over and passed around and debated but as long as people could get back in if they were kicked out that's all people wanted. And, man, did they want it. In the test, on the boards, on IRC, in voicechat, in game when I was playing there wasn't a day that went by where I didn't hear someone bring it up. And as the days turned into months and the months turned into years and we were told repeatedly that it would be nice and it was maybe in the planning but it wasn't going to happen just yet, well, I suppose somewhere along the line I lost my hope that it would ever happen. I get discouraged easily, if you'll remember, and when I'm discouraged it's easy for me to sink into apathy.

But, well, reconnects got put into the game. Not too long ago. Just as I was starting to play again. And maybe. Just maybe. Maybe that means that the developers and designers and the bright staff of hardworking people they have at ArenaNet really do listen. And that if you keep bringing something up enough and convince enough people that it's a good idea and they keep bringing it up that eventually something might actually happen. And maybe, you know, I'm not so old after all. Because – and I'm sure I'll regret this later on – but I have hope that Guild Wars can be as great as I'd always hoped it could be again. Losing that faith has always made me step away until I could find it again, of course, and I'm sure that I'll eventually lose my way again. But for now, I'm here and, dammit, the game needs me. So, I hope no one minds if when I see something that needs changing that I mention it. If I see a solution, I'll try and point it out. And if I have something to say, well, I go ahead and say it.

Chances are, I'm going to be wrong more often than I'm right. And ignored a lot more than I'm heard. But, hey, if they can implement reconnects then they can do anything.

Even, I'd hope, change the way skills are acquired. I've briefly mentioned this before when detailing my progress through the PvE portion of the latest expansion but if there's one thing that feels like a real kick in the pants it's the fact that my Heroes have a lot more options when it comes to picking out their skills than my main characters do. I'm not just talking my low-level Dervisher (Which, come to think of it, is at max level with 32 out of a projected 105 skill points spent before I unlock everything I want with him so he's not all that low level anymore.) but also about, say, that old Wammo I've been playing since the very first day I first loaded the game (And, yes, that's not release. That's waaaay back during E34E.). But if I want to, say, make my Warrior Hero, Koss, into a pet using Warrior/Ranger then it's only a few button clicks away (And probably having to level up a pet juuuust right to get what I want there, too, but that's a whole different story.). That's because I not only have all those Warrior skills unlocked, I also have all the Ranger skills unlocked. And, for that matter, all the Elemenatlist, Mesmer, Monk, Necro, Assassin, and Ritualist skills up through Factions, too. But if I want to turn my main PvE Warrior character into a Warrior/Ranger I'm out of luck – I'll need to earn several more skill points and then cap whatever Ranger elites that I'd want to be using before I could even put together a build that might or might not be good. That's because all my Ranger skills were unlocked with my Ranger character (Who, if I want to be a R/W thumper, say, is going to need a boat load of Warrior stuff.).

Now, sure, I could go and make PvP characters to do the same. That's what I do, of course. But that's missing the point that I've invested time and energy into these characters and into getting all these skills. I PvP a lot but even though I've earned nearly 300k in faction, that's not a whole lot compared to people who unlock a lot of their stuff through PvP. No, I slog through the campaigns, earn my skill points while I'm enjoying the game, and unlock very few skills through faction. And the ones I do, I tend to pick up with my PvE characters anyways – not because the game didn't used to tell you if things were unlocked or not but because I'd like nothing better than to play those characters all the time. In PvE, in PvP, in whatever else the game might hold in the future. It's a roleplaying game, after all, and those characters are my in-game stand-ins. I, for whatever reason, care about them and want to use them because with all the time I've spent with them they, somehow, represent me. And, to me, that doesn't mean I have to talk in character or never switch from, say, my Warrior to my Ranger but it does mean that the progress I make should be persistent and successive.

Having to re-earn skills I've already earned doesn't make the game fun. It makes it a chore, really. And I could roll up PvP characters to try the things I want but that means I'm not earning those skills and experience with the characters I'd rather be playing. And time I spend with PvP characters is time not spent grinding towards the next skill point I'd need to do so. This is, of course, a problem of my own making because I want every skill on every character in every profession so I can try anything and everything I want. And perhaps the game isn't meant to be played that way but that is the way I play and the sort of dilemma having to choose between PvE and PvP creates is not one I enjoy.

I don't think I'm alone and, in fact, as the game goes on and more people start second and third characters, it's a problem that more people are going to encounter. Unlocking all the stuff for your starting professions isn't that hard but if you want to add a third or forth one then you have some work cut out for you – it's a lot quicker to start a new character and get the skills that way. But if you happen to pick a poor secondary or something gets rebalanced into oblivion then you might very well be out of luck. I had no idea that Elmos would come back in vogue or that Warrior was probably the best secondary for a Ranger when those characters were made. And having to shift them is an arduous process that feels like I'm being penalized for trying to be smart about things way back when. The more professions and the more skills get added to the game, of course, the worse the problem gets because the more work I'll have to do (And, no, I can't just get those skills that are currently in fashion and call it a day – that's a good start but what happens when the metagame shifts and those skills become suboptimal? I'll need different ones and unless I want to stop playing the game I want to go and get more then I need to have them on hand – since I can't tell which skills those will be beforehand then I need to have them all.).

Especially when my Heroes get what I want for my PvE characters as soon as I obtain them. They get to try builds and combinations that I can only get with a PvP character. In PvE where the design constraints are different and PvP characters can't go. If I feel like getting wacky and trying out something weird like, I don't know, a Necromancer with a Paragon secondary to run through the Frost Gates then it's only a few clicks away (Once, you know, I find a Necro Hero.). A Ranger/Elementalist running build? Give me five minutes. The possibilities are endless because they draw from the whole list of the 700+ skills I've unlocked at this point. A list that's going to grow the more I play Nightfall or burn my faction.

And what I'd like to know is why can't my PvE characters do the same? Maybe not when they're first created. Maybe they have to wait until they get secondaries or they can change secondaries or they start capping elites or they reach some storyline point like Ascension or whatever the alternative was during Factions. But at some point, why can't my Dervish switch to a D/Mo and use all those skills I've already found to make it a better character? Why are unlocks by account for PvP but by character for PvE? It's not like people can't already combine any of those skills that I'd be able to. All that would be removed is the fact they'd need to have the skill points and the ability to switch professions and buy them. You want to give people who stick with a single character the whole time some perks, fine. They get titles for skill hunting and exploration and everything else and they can keep 'em. Sweeten the pot a little by giving those in-game bonuses and more power to the narrow-minded. But I like to play a lot of different characters. And I like to play in a lot of different ways. I can't be the only one. So why isn't the game helping me by rewarding the way I like to play too? Keep your titles, keep your bonuses, all I want is to use the skills I've already earned with the characters I've been using for years at this point. Do you want there to be some grind before players can get UAX, well, let me tell you I spent a long time and a lot of effort in getting all those skills and I'm fully prepared to do it again and again if I have to. But it didn't happen overnight.

So that's what I want. Make it so that when I unlock a skill on my account it gets unlocked for every character who can use that skill. Just like if I cap a skill or turn in some faction, my Heroes get to use it right away. Because it's really frustrating when my NPCs have more options than I do. Take my frustration away. Remove the parts of the game that are keeping me from playing how I'd like and improve the parts that are helping me to do so. Give me the tools I want to play better in this and oh so many other ways. Let me make of them what I will. And let everyone else playing have them, too.

I really don't think it would be nearly as hard as reconnects to implement. But, still, it'll never happen. But, then again, I said the same thing about reconnects once. And my friend thought it was a good idea so maybe universal unlocks is another idea whose time has come.

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