- In a prior blog post, I mentioned that Guild Wars has changed the focus of its endgame with every new release. Since there is very little vertical advancement in the game, each of those endgames is still available and still viable today. I'm going to parse some of the design decisions for each campaign and give some impressions of each.
- Prophecies - When Guild Wars was launched, I read an quote from one of ArenaNet's founders (now lost to the ravages of time) which posited that role-playing gamers, when they had reached a certain level of achievement, would want to show off to others. Naturally, they would do this by beating up other players. (AFKing in front of the Ironforge bank was not yet all the rage, I guess.) Based on this supposition, the endgame focuses on moving players toward the high end PvP formats, the Tomb of the Primeval Kings (now Heroes' Ascent) and Guild vs. Guild Battles. The missions in the Crystal Desert region are specifically designed to instruct players how to participate in the PvP games. Once out of the Crystal Desert, though, the final two regions were dedicated to level 20 characters and providing the highest PvE challenge in the game. As well, the geographical region that held the Hall of Heroes (the pinnacle of the Global Tournament) was granted access to the elite explorable regions, the Underworld and the Fissure of Woe. In a development shocking to no one, the PvE to PvP transition did not work out too well. PvPers asked ArenaNet to unlock character options without forcing them to PvE while PvEers decried the dearth of endgame PvE content. While helping PvP players out was straightforward, PvE content is harder and costlier to come by.
- Sorrow's Furnace - The only free content released to date, Sorrow's Furnace helped to give PvEers more high end content to complete. Comprised of a large explorable area and an expansive underground dungeon, the update provided very difficult quests and high powered enemies to give players a great challenge. ArenaNet also included the first unique items. Identified by green name text, these items were highly sought after since they were guaranteed to include the highest possible statistics. Thus green farming became the PvE endgame from some months.
- Factions - With the release of the second campaign, ArenaNet made a number of changes to improve on the endgame experience. First, ArenaNet accelerated the pace which character reach level 20. By doing so, about 85% of the games PvE content to challenging to level capped characters. Second, titles were added to give players additional advancement goals, though solely for cosmetic titles at the time of release. Finally, they built on the concepts of the prior endgame. PvE endgame missions, Urgoz's Warren and The Deep, were even more difficult and more exclusive than prior instances. For PvP, they launched Alliance Battles, a more inclusive PvP option. Based on this, we see ArenaNet catering to conflicting design philosophies. By providing both more and less accessible content, there seems to be some internal conflict about who the target audience is. That other access options where added for the elite missions indicates ArenaNet came around on this at some point.
- Nightfall - The third campaign for Guild Wars followed a similar approach to endgame as they had with Factions. Leveling to 20 occurs relatively early, though with a more intricate starting zone. Still about 85% of the game is for the level capped character. The endgame added one new PvP option, Hero Battles, essentially a team arena match filled out with player-controlled NPCs. For the PvE endgame we got the soul-crushing Domain of Anguish. Although access was not exclusive, DoA was designed to be the most challenging PvE content in the game. However the challenge was so great that it became de facto exclusive. In fact, DoA was only widely run once the EotN skill Ursan Blessing was found to trivialize the content.
- Eye Of The North - With the final release of Guild Wars, ArenaNet put in place the final form of its endgame. On the PvP side: nothing. Well, a few quality-of-life issues were fixed, but ArenaNet must be happy with its PvP options. Instead, all development was focused on the PvE game. PvE-only skill were introduced, each tied to the title system. As well, several repeatable dungeons were scattered throughout the expansion. This added a new level of advancement and reputation grind that, funny enough, is exactly what the people were asking for.
- With each release, we see ArenaNet coming closer and closer to the point of separating the PvP and PvE games. Eventually they gave up on skill balancing and decoupled the skill balances depending on which part of the game you participated in. If there is a lesson to be drawn from this, it may be that the overlap between the PvP and PvE communities is not so great as is commonly assumed. It might serve developers better to focus their games in one direction or the other instead of the narrow group that enjoys both equally.
- Footnote: I appreciate everyone's patience during this recent posting drought. My week long vacation has concluded, so expect a whole different set of excuses for not posting soon.
© 2009 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.
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