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Flameseeker Chronicles: Simplicity itself

ArenaNet is designing Guild Wars 2 to appeal to bucketloads of people. The studio's got the PvP and competition, the high-end dungeon challenge, the super-cooperative and dynamic PvE content, the compelling and branching storyline, the flashy (and occasionally sensibly flashy) armors -- there's a lot going on. Part of what makes that possible is the use of very approachable systems.

These simple systems pop up all over the place: the straight-forward lists of boons and conditions that affect players, the common capture point mechanic over which more intricate PvP objectives can be layered, and the relatively small pool of skills from which to assemble a build. The beauty of their simplicity is that the simplicity itself isn't a limiting factor -- you can't do only simple things with them.

In this way, simple systems have a low entry barrier and a high complexity capacity. That means that more people can enjoy the game with relatively little skill and that there's a lot of room for time, dedication, and finesse to lead to outstanding results. Anyone can play, but not everyone can (or will) master elements of the game.

The complexity of these mechanics relies on users. As people play in the world being presented to them, they'll find themselves digging deeper and deeper into the tools that allow them to interact with that world. They'll find out about skill combinations that use a mixture of field effects, blasts like the Warrior's Stomp or Arcing Arrow, and projectiles to add complexity to battle by playing off each other when used properly.

This idea of laying out simple rules and using them towards increasingly complex ends isn't new to Guild Wars and ArenaNet by any stretch of the imagination. It's the idea of emergent gameplay; I just happen to think that it's being delightfully well done in this game.

The skill system in Guild Wars 2 is greatly simplified from its antecedent in original Guild Wars. One of the potential problems of a more complex set of mechanics is that it's virtually impossible to predict how every element will interact with others once everything is placed in the manipulative hands of thousands of players. Skills with unique and complex mechanics thrown together create incredible results and exploits, and pretty soon you end up with Necromancers running around with a 1hp Blood is Power build and a total lack of fear, with Warriors asking for leechers before they go out and kill 33 raptor hatchlings and a boss in less than 60 seconds, and with people roflstomping PvE areas with Discordway teams (although this, admittedly, is mostly possible because of a unique neurosis of the hero AI).

Don't get me wrong -- I love "gimmick" farming, I've spent more time on my Necro as a BiP than with almost any other build, and I'm not saying that this sort of thing is a problem. These kinds of builds have a high entry barrier (time investment in getting the proper skills, gold spent for appropriate runes, armor, and weapons) and less room for continuing mastery (once you've got the timing down, you can just lather, rinse, and repeat). It's merely a different design foundation. Neither approach is bad; both cater to different wants.

With the removal of secondary professions and ally-targeted casting, a lot of the possibility for trick and specific builds like those found in Guild Wars is gone. Just as the existence of those builds wasn't bad, it's not a terrible thing that they're missing from this round. It simply shifts the focus of the game and gameplay.

Exploration and fighting in PvE is also based on the idea of simple rules interacting to create complex circumstances. Events, which drive the majority of PvE content, can be triggered in any number of ways (although some can't be intentionally triggered at all but instead go off in response to unseen timers as they go about their merry chain) and are generally direct in their goals (defend this, kill all of those, help so-and-so get over there). They're all but self-explanatory: Even without the UI tip about the "meta event" in a given area, most players would be able to figure out how individual events relate to each other and what the driving conflict in a portion of the map is. If you were fending off centaurs one moment and find yourself pursuing them to their hidey-holes the next, you're likely to figure out that there's a relationship between the two even without a tooltip telling you what's up (you clever person, you!).

Little-known truth: I only write about centaurs because they're the mob with the most provided screenshots.
Not only do these events all make sense together, but they can pile up to make things really interesting. Maybe you're escorting a caravan and strollin' along like it's no big deal when you realize that the little watchpost you're aiming for is under attack. Not only does it do no one any good for you to deliver your Caravan Items X, Y, and Z to a bunch of dead folks, but those attackers are pretty likely to seriously threaten the life of anyone headed into that post. So, perhaps, you run forward to start beating a path of bloodied centaurs (I like picking on centaurs, at least in this universe) up the road to your destination, when you look back and notice that something's sneaked up on your well-meaning but ultimately-useless caravan buddies. After a short while of running back and forth to both protect your caravan and make a happy homecoming for its members, you're rewarded with a pile of dead centaurs, completion rewards for two events, and a whole bunch of people who are extraordinarily grateful that you not only saved their lives from centaurs but also enriched their lives with some Caravan Items X, Y, and Z. You are such a studly hero.

Right then, two events that could have been pretty tame and run-of-the-mill on their own got a lot more interesting because of the way they interacted, and that's really a tiny example. It's not always going to be about having events that coincide in time and space; sometimes it's about the way that running through events can change the entire flavor of an experience.

The first time I ran through a portion of Queensdale during February's closed beta test I found it to be a very sedate place, good for strolling along and putting the smack down on a few centaurs (always with the centaurs, I know) while chatting with folks, maybe wandering around and talking to a couple monks (people who live in a monastery, not "actual" Monks) who're pretty generous with their ale. Heading through that area in March's CBT, however, was like soaking in a jacuzzi of war. Everything was under attack or preparing for attack, and everybody needed defending or was out to find an armory or trying to pick a fight with, well, the centaurs. There didn't seem to be a quiet spot on the whole map where a girl could catch her breath and knock back a few delicious cons. Even the monks were being needy.

Both of those were fun play-throughs, and they were even better when considered in tandem. The relatively simple rules guiding events and my experience with them lead to two greatly different journeys. It gave the impression of a truly living, dynamic world. It was entirely lovely.

Wave g'bye to the centaur, kiddos! You won't see her again 'til she respawns the next time they win back the camp!
And other things

So! Pre-purchase has been a thing for a week now. I hear that US game retailers even got their act together eventually, but that might just be wishful thinking. I'd just love to see real numbers about things, but if the number of people tweeting pictures of money being shoved into the various orifices of their computers is anything to go by, the game has seen a lot of sales. Sometime between now and the end of the month there's another CBT; don't forget that there's a chance that you'll be involved even without pre-purchase if you signed up to be part of such things. I kinda freaked out last Monday night and Tuesday as the mechanism of pre-purchase locked into place and everybody took a collective step closer to release. It's quite something.

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

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