Flameseeker Chronicles: What's your golden carrot?

Guild Wars 2: Electric Boogaloo
On the Sunday of the most recent beta weekend for Guild Wars 2, I found myself trying to figure out precisely what incentive my friends and I might have to go through the explorable mode of dungeons before we hit level 80. The question arose, in a roundabout way, because there's not a tremendous amount of XP available (you spend more time killing fewer things), which makes sense if you're a developer trying to discourage players from entering a dungeon they have no intention of completing in order to farm experience, but it left us wondering whether we'd feel compelled to participate in explorable mode dungeons as we progressed through the game. The point of the matter is, unless you're well and truly enamored of the armor attainable through a specific dungeon's tokens, there might not be much empirical motivation to get through a repeatable dungeon. This stood out to me because so much of the game's reward structure is so clear and well-designed.

Although I'll certainly never make the claim that the game will please everyone, or even that ArenaNet's fine folks are trying to please everyone, it is evident that they're building in support for a wide variety of play and reward styles.

Rewards like what, you ask?

PvP offers tracked scores for ranked matches and ongoing world statistics for WvW as well as accumulated glory, which can be traded for fancy PvP weapon and armor appearance. Along with available glory (how many points you have to spend at any given time), the game also tracks cumulative glory, giving PvPers a way to see how well they do and keep track of success. WvW rewards entire servers with statistical bonuses based on their performance in the Mists and gives guilds the opportunity for prestige by allowing players to capture and hold keeps in the name of their guilds.

Guilds have their own kind of internal reward. Players who represent their guilds are pretty much continually earning influence points, which can be invested into research to unlock various goodies. These goodies work to reward players for their contribution to the greater good of the guild.

Guild Wars 2: Don't piss off the Charr
A lot of the beauty of the karma system, as far as I'm concerned, is that you can spend karma wherever and whenever you like, much as you can earn it by doing whichever events most tickle your fancy. Once you've unlocked a karma vendor, at least the ones involved in renown hearts, you can revisit them later and continue buying their goods (others may be more temporary).

For example, maybe you help out a Seraph guardsman in the fight against the centaurs, but you can't think why you'd want the skirt he's offering to give you, so you tell him no thanks and continue on your merry way. Sometime -- maybe levels and levels later -- you decide that your new top would look really excellent with that Seraph-issue skirt he offered you, and gosh and golly you must've made quite an impression on him because he's still totally happy to give you clothes, even though the centaurs have probably been something of a nuisance in the time since you left. You pick up the piece of armor, maybe a transmutation stone (so you get the stats from those awful puffy pants that you found on a dead wasp, or whatever it was, without having to deal with the indignity of being seen in them), and there you go!

From what we can see, karma vendors might be the best source of clothing styles. Most gold vendors in the beta had similar (if not identical) items regardless of level, and while dropped clothes in the world were sometimes varied, the most visual distinction that I found was in items offered by karma NPCs (although there's a lot more visual variety of dropped weapons than in dropped armor).

Another nice thing about karma is that it's effectively limitless. There might be a max on how much karma a character can accrue (much like the original Guild Wars limit on how much gold any character could carry), but we certainly haven't seen one yet. And since karma is earned from dynamic event participation (and helping out buddies in their personal stories), there is nothing to keep you from going out and earning more. The karma item system makes sense because the rewards are directly related to the effort being put into them -- you have to gain access to the karma NPCs by doing whatever heart or event they're involved in, and then you can decide to get a related item as something of a memento of that little story.

For the explorers among us, the game tracks points of interest in the same way that it tracks how many of a map's hearts have been completed or waypoints unlocked. Coming across something that the designers have deemed a point of interest will mark the area on your world and minimaps with a label of what it is; these are things like the sunken Temple of Ages in the Godslost Swamp and a little place called Mock's Niche in the Plains of Ashford. Some of them are exceptionally beautiful, some have a skill point associated with them, and some are simply located in and around hotbeds of activity.

There's also lore by the truckload scattered about the world: gravestones that you can read, all with a distinct epitaph and story; New Krytan signs just waiting to be deciphered; the great horn Stormcaller preserved in a corner of the Black Citadel. On top of that, explorers will find jumping puzzles tucked into the odd little spaces of maps, some no more threatening than a few jumps from stone to stone, while others require serious care or an adventuring buddy.

We've briefly touched on one of the motivating rewards for achievement-driven-types: Waypoints, hearts, and points of interest are all ways of tracking map completion. If you're the type that just can't move on until you've seen everything a zone has to offer, these are a good guideline to go by, and you get to watch numbers go up, up, up as you see more and more of the open world. Along with that, you've got achievements and titles so you can watch your progress over time and show off how great you are at the things you do.

All of these reward structures kind of reinforce the playstyle you use to earn them: Cover yourself in glory on the battlefields of PvP and you can buy fancy armor appearances to become even more glorious. Take pride in representing your guild, and unlock ways to make your guild cooler for you and all your mates. Play dynamic events and hearts that interest you most; pick and choose what rewards seem the most fitting for your experience. Spend your time in out-of-the-way places because that's where you find your delight, and uncover little lore gems and exciting areas that most people miss.

Guild Wars 2: Our concept art is better than yours
That brings us back to the dungeon. What puzzled us was precisely what reward we were supposed to be looking forward to at the end of the long slog through it. Explorable mode dungeons are meant to be challenging and appeal to players who like high-level strategy and proving their finely honed skills. They aren't designed for the average PUG to muddle through. The reward for players who complete repeatable dungeons is a special set of armor and weapons, visible proof that their owners have done awesome things. However, so far as we know, that's it: There's no leaderboard saying you were the server first or had the fastest time, and there's no title -- just the special skins.

Special skins are great; don't get me wrong. My question is whether or not they'll be great enough to motivate people to pick them up before level 80. The way the rewards are set up now, explorable mode dungeons offer only moderate XP gain for a lot of effort and time, and at the end, you have a weapon or skin that you'll outlevel in a few days of play. If, rather than doing a repeatable dungeon as soon as it's available, players wait until they're at max level and return, they'll find that while the content is still challenging because they've had their levels adjusted appropriately, they're likely able to make it through with less care, they only have to use a transmutation stone once to put the new skin on their best gear (rather than every few levels), and they don't have to be concerned about how much XP they're receiving, as they've already finished level progression.

I'm not saying that players won't want to tackle explorable dungeons as they come across them in gameplay because some players do really want the satisfaction of a challenge and nothing else. The dungeon system just seems a little less clear to me because all of the other rewards seem to line up nicely with the style of play they encourage. That doesn't especially worry me (beta is beta and all that), especially given how explicitly rewarding the rest of the game can be for all types of players.

Elisabeth Cardy is a longtime Guild Wars player, a personal friend of Rytlock Brimstone, and the writer of Flameseeker Chronicles here at Massively. The column updates on Tuesdays and keeps a close eye on Guild Wars, Guild Wars 2, and anything bridging the two. Email Elisabeth at elisabeth@massively.com.
This article was originally published on Massively.