Going hands-on at Eurogamer Expo 2011, a level 80 Stace Harman tackled Guild Wars 2's PVP and chatted with ArenaNet’s lead content designer.
“Guild Wars 1 had a really interesting stereotype,” ArenaNet’s lead content designer Colin Johanson muses after my four versus four, player versus player hands-on at Eurogamer Expo.
“A lot of people that hadn’t played it thought that it was a PvP-only game; it’s amazing how many people have spoken to us over the years and said that if Guild Wars had PvE they’d play it – whenever that’s happened we’re like ‘we have a thousand hours of PvE storyline, you need to check this out!’”
This slightly baffling, misconception perhaps goes a long way to explaining why we’re only now seeing PvP in action having previously been shown a good amount of the PvE, including a long pleasant afternoon spent with the game back in June. In fact, Eurogamer Expo marked the first opportunity for the European press to go hands-on with PvP and I was all over it like a cheap suit.
Our four versus four PvP had been specially set up to work within the confines of the networked machines on the expo show floor, with Johanson explaining that the minimum game size in the finished article will be five versus five.
Small and mighty
Before our first round starts we create a character from scratch, and I plump for an Asura Warrior. This is partly because it’s the first time I’ve been able to get my hands on the diminutive race since the spotlight fell on them earlier this month and partly because they are described as being small of stature but intellectual giants, and at least one of those traits perfectly describes me.
And so, skills chosen, abilities attributed and weapon sets locked, my Asura warrior, Bobby, enters the fray of a base-capture map with three distinct capture points, two at opposite corners of the map and one central clock tower.
Points are scored for each capture point that is held, scores rising more quickly when more capture points are held. While the concept is a simple one, unique map features ensure solid tactics and team work wins out over spamming the numerous attack keys. Furthermore, on this map each team has a stationary trebuchet that prevents camping at any of the capture points for any significant length of time.
“The map you saw was the Battle of Kyhlo,” Johanson explains. “That map focuses on having destroyable terrain and the main feature is the trebuchet. You can use that to cause a whole bunch of damage but you can also destroy terrain and create new paths for your team to get to the capture points with.
“All of our competitive PvP maps are going to be these capture-point based maps, but all of them will have special game mechanics in them. The first one we’ve shown has the trebuchet and destroyable terrain - we’re also looking at potentially doing a map with a dragon that flies over breathing fire and you have to dodge the dragon’s attacks in between attacking and defending capture points.
“We haven’t figured out exactly how many maps we’re going to have yet but each one will have a unique feature that defines it alongside the capture points.”
"We’re looking at doing a map with a dragon that flies over breathing fire and you have to dodge the dragon’s attacks in between attacking and defending."
In our game, each team’s trebuchet can be knocked out of commission, requiring tools to be located around the map to return it to service - this renders a team member unavailable for base capture as they scamper to collect the repair kit. When operational, the trebuchets help keep people moving lest fiery death rain down from above if they hang around one spot for too long, but not once in our three-round bout did it feel like it bestowed too great an advantage to either side.
One bold design choice for the competitive PvP is that your PvE character level is entirely irrelevant. Indeed, you can choose to play an entirely different character class or profession to your PvE character, or even, forget PvE altogether and play competitive PvP exclusively, should you so wish.
“For competitive PvP you’re automatically set to level 80 and all skills, weapons and armour is unlocked and set to max levels,” Johanson tells me. “Plus, you get a max number of trait points and then you set your build any way you like it.
“In fact, you don’t ever have to play the PvE if you don’t want to. So, if you love PvP games you can play Guild Wars 2 entirely as PvP and by unlocking everything for everyone when they enter this mode we make it about skill, not about what you’ve unlocked.
“We want to get not just people who love PvP in MMOs, but that play PvP in competitive shooters and RTS’ - we’re aiming to push the message that if you love PvP, GW2 should be one of the top games that you think of.”
It’s an interesting choice and aims to provide something of a level playing field. That said, it’s possible that new players will find the sheer number of customisation options available somewhat daunting, a problem Johanson claims will be avoided by the choice to make the PvP easy to get into but with enough depth to keep the more adept or experienced player happy.
“We’ve made the game approachable and easy to understand and then really layered the complexity on top of that,” Johanson says. “So, I talked before about swapping weapon sets in combat to change skills but you don’t have to do that, you could play the entire game with just one weapon set, if you like.
“But, as you get better at the game you’re going to learn that you become more effective and a better skilled player by swapping weapon sets to match the situation that you’re in.
“We’ve made the game approachable and easy to understand and then really layered the complexity on top of that."
"Initially though, PvP is relatively easy to approach and learn - as you saw this morning, you played three games and by the end of those you all had a fairly good idea about what you were doing and using more of the weapon skills etc.”
A viable alternative would have perhaps been to introduce this level playing field on a more staggered basis. With different tiers of competitive PvP locked at, say, levels 20, 50 and 80 thus allowing players to choose a PvP entry point and still leave room for progression to a higher stratum as they progressed through PvE and learn to juggle a greater number of abilities and traits.
That said, ArenaNet clearly knows its players and appears to be implementing several fully featured modes of play at launch. It understands that, regardless of lineage and track record, nothing short of a stable, polished and feature-rich MMO is going to steal players away from competitors, tempt in players that have never played a MMO before and cater to Guild Wars 1 veterans.
War of the worlds
The final element of PvP that Johanson sheds light on is the world versus world PvP.
“World vs. world PvP sees your server matched up against two other servers in a two-week long Battle Royale,” he enthuses. “It will feature thousands of players fighting for control of castles and keeps and using siege weapons.
:There’ll be small objectives and major objectives to accomplish within that time period and at the end of the two weeks the server with the most points will get a bunch of bonuses for their server for the next two weeks. Then they’re matched up against another two servers to fight against.
“Our hope is that you’ll be playing in PvE and then somebody’s going to pop-up from your server and alert everyone to the fact that the main keep is under attack. Then everyone has to rally to protect it and some of those may stay in world vs. world PvP to push on and claim new areas and others will go back to play PvE.
“We want these battles to be a real point of server pride so you’re fighting for the pride of your server in world vs. world PvP and you’re beating up other servers to prove your superiority.
“In this mode you’ll be using your PvE character, along with all your abilities and equipment, plus you’ll level up like you can in PvE. For the world vs. world PvP you can basically bounce back and forth between that and PvE and develop the same character as you progress.”
Having now seen both the PvE and competitive PvP in action I can say that I’m genuinely more excited at the prospect of a new MMO than I have been for a long time. Ultimately, just one thing continues to frustrate about Guild Wars 2: no one connected to the project, neither at ArenaNet nor NCsoft, will let slip exactly when we can all get stuck into it.
Guild Wars 2 is a PC exclusive and launches at some point in 2012. A closed beta is expected before the end of the year.