Big, epic, ginormous boss battles in Guild Wars 2, that is. By now, you’ve probably all seen the Shatterer video from a couple years back. Several dozen players beating on an uber-boss out in the world, the culmination of a dynamic quest chain. You might have also seen the battle with Tequatl from last year’s convention season. Both look amazingly cool and sufficiently epic, but I wonder: Will they actually be fun?
The closest comparison I have to a battle on this scale is with the bosses that spawn after a zone invasion in Rift. The first few times I fought these, together with the help of several dozen players from throughout the zone, both Guardian and Defiant, I thought it was really cool. Then, as my analytical nature broke down each fight, I realized that they pretty much boiled down to two things:
1) DPS hits as hard as it can; and
2) Healers rattle off group heals when the boss uses an AOE
And that’s pretty much it. Tank and spank, but on a larger scale, with a lot of sound and fury meant to distract us from the mundane nature of the battle.
When you have dozens of players converging from all points to take on a world boss, there will naturally be very little in the way of organization, so it’s hard to see how such a fight could be scripted like the typical raid boss fight that we’re all a little more used to. You can’t have cases where you have to hit an interrupt at a certain time, make sure to re-apply debuffs, “everyone get out of melee range for the big attack,” and so on… or can you?
Judging by this Tequatl video, I’d say the answer is “yes,” but I’m a little concerned about how players will know what to do without a developer explaining every aspect of the battle to them. I think better visual cues, or even “billboards” describing the action (or actions players might be able to take) would be helpful. I only have the vaguest memories of what it was like to play an MMO before the days of voice chat, but I imagine groups managed to coordinate their activities enough in EverQuest or Asheron’s Call through chat boxes and the games probably tailored their battles to accommodate that slower mode of communication.
For Guild Wars 2 world boss encounters, and the Tequatl battle specifically, maybe NPCs in the areas of the cannons could describe what they need done in chat bubbles: “Defend us while we load the cannons!” “Take down that bone wall!” “He’s stunned, attack!” More visual cues, such as a dragon coating himself in ice (“Use fire spells!”) or marching toward a specific location or person (“Defend me!”) could also be nice. I know that after a while, we’ll all have the battle figured out, but it can be frustrating when you first show up for a huge battle and don’t know what to do. Of course, the old standby of “hit anything that moves” has some merit, but then the battle is just a chaotic mess — which can be fun in its own right, granted, but gets old pretty quick.
I’m fairly certain that ArenaNet will institute better feedback into its epic encounters, because they’ve already shown that they’re receptive to incorporating player feedback to make the game a more “understandable” experience. In one panel at a convention last summer, they talked about a playtester who simply walked past dynamic events “because I didn’t have a quest for them,” so they added a few verbal cues from NPCs to guide players to the action. Similar directives could serve players very well in fights like the ones with Tequatl and the Shatterer.