I’ve never died so much in the first 10 levels of an MMO as I did while playing Guild Wars 2 this weekend. That’s both good and bad.
We’d been hearing for a while that “failure is an option” when it came to dynamic events in GW2. Unlike most MMOs, you won’t always succeed at your objectives, and that’s fine in this case. Usually, MMO failure is black and white – if you fail at a quest, you have to do it over, and if you can’t get past the final boss of a dungeon or raid, you don’t get the good loot. It’s a complete failure that forces you to repeat what you’ve already tried (and failed).
Guild Wars 2 isn’t like that. There’s still some reward for failure, and failure can often lead to new, more interesting dynamic events. Even when you’re defeated – not just downed, but fully taken out – you’ll get something for your contribution. So in that way, failure and defeat isn’t so bad.
But you always want to feel like you have a chance. Maybe it was my overall noobishness with my profession, but it seemed like I was really struggling even with some fairly innocuous activities, like engaging a single on-level or +1 level enemy, especially if I was soloing. Of course, GW2 is meant to be played mostly in groups, but when you’re out exploring the edges of a map or playing your personal story, grouping isn’t always an option. It got to the point where I was actually apprehensive to move on to more challenging, higher-level areas, not sure if I’d be able to handle what it presented without the protection of a large-ish group.
Some of it might have also been that, at times, I engaged an enemy without a full skill bar, as I was still unlocking my more powerful abilities. Or maybe my elementalist really was that squishy – and yes, I do know how to dodge and roll, but that can only help so much. And when I was downed and pulled off a comeback when my downed meter was really low – well, it seemed thrilling the first couple of times, but that seemed to fade slightly after a while.
ArenaNet is aware of this situation, and while I haven’t visited the forum thread linked in that piece, I’d wager than a very vocal faction in it is saying, “Don’t dumb the game down for n00bs.” I get that. I get that having a challenge in the early game is a refreshing experience for veteran MMO players. But ArenaNet isn’t just making the game for hardcore MMO players. It’s not making it for Farmville players, either, but, as with any MMO, casual players will make up a large portion of the player base, and if they’re getting their faces stomped every time they try to explore, they’ll vanish without a trace.
It seems like there’s some room for tweaking the difficulty of early encounters so that players don’t feel like they need to congregate in clumps for purposes of survival. Maybe the difficulty curve from “solo” to “large group” can start a little lower on the “solo” end and ramp up to a little higher on the “large group” end. Players looking for a greater challenge can always go to a higher-level area to get it, but, the way “leveling down” works, there aren’t any options for players looking for an easier time.