Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Exploring in Guild Wars - part 2

Last time in part 1, I talked about the cooperative nature of exploring in Guild Wars. This week in part 2, I want to zoom in on the explorative features the game offers: leveling, underwater exploration, vistas, crafting and strength in details. What makes exploration is this game so immersive?

Exploring as a lifestyle

You can really tell the developers have gone out of their way to make exploring and questing in Guild Wars a good experience. Any unnecessary steps, such as picking up quests or having to form a group, are avoided. Quests appear automatically and you can choose yourself if you want to do them or not. They are bound to area, and the developers have made sure there's always something to chose from. Usually there's multiple objectives, including both violent and non-violent ones. There is also no specific order missions have to be done with the exception of the personal storyline. As I've said in part 1, this results in a fluid, immersive playstyle with an amazing feeling of realism.

We found some underwater goggles lying at the edge of a cliff and put them on. It's so high, though. Do we dare...?


We made it! We are alive and well.

The meaning of leveling

All these acts and boundaries that are skipped to create a fluid experience, causes the level of a character to have a different meaning than it has in most contemporary MMOs. Your character's level is the only thing limiting where you can go: in areas of too high level you'll have problems surviving. Neat is that you'll get (temporary) leveled down if you're in a lower level area, so even if you've 'outleveled' an area that's no problem. You can still do the missions without everything being a faceroll. You'll still get XP for it, too. This means that there's a lot more content you can explore without levels limiting you.

The same goes for grouping up with players of other levels: as the area where you are determines your 'temporary level' there is no requirement to have the same level in order to group up and do things together. Thus levels do not limit grouping up in order to complete content, or at least not remotely as much as they do in other MMOs.

Polar bears are fearsome enemies, but I couldn't bring myself to shoot this adorable specimen.

So why are there levels at all? Levels are mostly relevant for your personal sense of achievement and evolution, gaining more skills and utilities and learning how to use your skill palette step by step. Not much new there. I imagine levels are also relevant by gaining you access to certain dungeons and endgame group content (although I've only been able to do one dungeon so far so I can't speak from personal experience here).

Underwater exploration

I love this feature. The immersive strength of underwater exploration is proven by me being struck with terror the first time because I have underwater fear in my analog life. I'm happy the underwater masks provide eternal air, otherwise I might actually panic when it would start to run out. You bet I was squealing at Conrad for help when I got attacked by sharks, though!

You get a new set of weapons and thus skills when fighting underwater. I guess this makes sense, but it does create a little threshold to start underwater exploring. When I do that, I prefer spending some time there doing a quest hub or something of the likes, so I get a feeling for how it worked again.


Something that reminds me of Assassin's Creed a lot are Guild Wars' vistas. Find out how to get to the place with the flying map and you'll get an eagle's view video of the surrounding area. Collecting vistas is a part of the map completion. It's often fun to try and figure out how to get to their location. Luckily it often doesn't require too much complex jumping (because I suck at that).

And then I haven't even spoken about exploration-immersive features such as the hardcore jumping puzzles, but those are for a future post.

New recipe discovered: hamburgers!

Exploring crafting recipes

Crafting feels as a natural extension of all the exploring and gathering materials, so it might not come as a surprise that even the crafting system of Guild Wars is aimed at exploring. The most crafting points are gained by mixing random ingredients in order to discover new recipes. Even Conrad, notorious PvE hater, got addicted by crafting and spent nearly all his money on getting rare cooking ingredients.

Of course there's a certain logic to most crafting recipes that makes them not totally random, probably preventing players from getting frustrated and crazy in the process. However, the craft I enjoy most is cooking and it cannot be coincidence that that's the craft leaning the most on exploring recipes without much logic. Discovering recipes for not-so-lore-fitting meals such as hamburgers or french fries only increase this experience: it seems a way of the developers poking fun at their own game in a small way.

I'm a bandit! Nobody will recognize me... right?

Strength in detail

What I appreciate the most about Guild Wars, though, are its original quests and easter eggs hidden all over the world. I'm aiming at items lying around serving no apparent purpose at all other than raising the curiosity, such as the underwater goggles taunting the player to jump from the cliff mentioned earlier in this article. Or hidden instruments that can open a chest when played the right way. I've tried to capture the moments that surprised me in the pictures of both part 1 and 2 of this article. The strength of exploration in Guild Wars lies in these details.

Of course, all this will not prevent people from getting bored by leveling eventually. Spend enough time on something, and even the most immersive exploration experience fades. However, for the time being I have found my place.

What do you think about leveling and exploring in Guild Wars 2? Is it still immersive to you or does it bore you by now?


  1. The exploration in Guild Wars 2 is still one of the best in my opinion. Like you said, it feels very natural, organic and can be rewarding for poking your nose in every corner of the map.

    I also like that underwater has it is own gameplay instead of being just like the usual gameplay but with a breathing meter for "realism".

    I still think the levels are unnecessary though. The only reasons that I can think for its existence in Guild Wars 2 is to give a sense of achievement and gating certain content. Both seem very weak reasons for me considering how the game goes out of the way to get people playing together and exploring.

    The thing with crafting is that it is not that random. All recipes are already pre-existing and it has fixed components. It is only the way you unlock new recipes that they give you the option to throw whatever you have at hand and see if something comes out of it. Of course, you could just as well look at fan site for the recipes and look for the materials required to unlock new recipes. Or even ask someone more experienced how they got to craft a certain item.

    I have a bit more of a rant with the crafting but I think it would end up drifting into off-topicness. :p

    Also, keep in mind that I haven't played Guild Wars 2 in forever. The game has changed a lot since then so some or all of my knowledge might be outdated by now.

    1. However much I wish I'd be diehard enough to enjoy exploring without levels, I feel like the levels do give me some sense of purpose, a drive to want to continue playing my characters so they can become even better. I see your point, though: it is as if the developers made a decision, but then proceeded to only go through with it halfway.

      I'm surprised you dislike crafting so much in GW2! Of course it's not totally random. If it would be, everyone would hate it, because you wouldn't have any reliable way to make things you'd want. Crafting would be one big lottery. *shudders*

      I personally like 'discovering' recipes - it gives me a sense of achievement. And sure, people who think it's too much work can always check the wiki for recipes and work on a list of recipes from top to bottom. That way it works for both types of players. I imagine it may be somewhat daunting for hardcore achievers that want to collect every recipe, though. I myself am content with unlocking the useful recipes and skip the bad ones because I'll never need to make those anyway. Apart from cooking: there I go all out on all the possible combinations.

      The thing that troubles me the most crafting-wise so far is jute/wool etc thread, because that's kinda hard to come by and used for multiple crafts. Tailor is a pain to level up, but luckily we get these crafting XP boosters every now and then, so those get used for that. Conrad and I have a system in which we both focus on different crafts so we're not material-starved all the time.

      So alright, come on with your crafting-rant then; you've made me curious now! And it's not like we never go off-topic anyway. *cough* Happy new year's post comments *cough* ;)

    2. Ok. So here comes the rant.

      It is not that I dislike the mechanics of the crafting system. In fact, I think they are pretty good and I just love that we have a tab in the bank just for materials. That tab is something every game should have actually.

      What I dislike is the balance/economic side of it. Let me explain, back when the game was still under development they were telling that we would be able to get gear in whatever manner suited our play style better. It could be through dungeon-delving, by crafting or PVPing. Nowadays I try to avoid that kind of hype. I've just been burned too much in the past by other games so nowadays I am pretty skeptical until I can actually play the game.

      In this case though I guess I did buy into it when beta came around and I got to get a taste of the crafting. It is a good crafting system. The problem however is that at the higher levels the economics of it don't incentive you much to take advantage of it. Simply because it is just cheaper and takes less time to buy what you need from another player. Or if it is gear, even from some of the NPCs in some more dangerous areas that need to keep constantly cleared of events.

      So it just feel as rewarding at the higher levels, is what I am trying to say.

      Again, I haven't played the game in forever. Things changed since then. So it is quite possible that changed too.

      Also, I am fully aware that balancing the crafting aspect of the game with everything else is very hard. For example, if you make it so that all items are crafted and if you don't like that you need to buy it from another crafter then you will most likely end up with people who want to kill stuff and get loot angry at you. But if you make it so all the good stuff is looted from the corpse of enemies and crafting is just there as a bone to the people who like crafting then you will have crafters feeling neglected and complaining about it. It is really a tricky situation to balance.

      It is the kind of thing where I really don't want to be in the shoes of the people responsible for that. In fact, I'd probably do a terrible job at it.

    3. Well, that's not much of a rant. It contains thoughtful commentary, the matter is written from multiple perspectives (this is really a no-go) and it doesn't even nearly contain enough swearing. You obviously should spend a bit more time on gaming fora to see how it's done! ;)

      I'm not high enough level yet to be able to say anything about balance at "endgame" level. I think I didn't even consider crafting to be a viable way to get the best armour when I started with it, simply because it almost never is in the most MMOs I play, or only to a minimal extent so (in LotRO and SWTOR both it's a minimal amount of items). I guess I just craft for the feeling of achievement: to do something with all those mats I gather, and to be able to craft myself some gear for leveling. Especially the blue jewellery is amazing, because I can just make my next alt 'inherit' them when I outlevel them. It's so nice that things are not bound to character after being worn! In the case of the cooking craft I definitely craft too because I'm curious what new recipes I can discover.

      I can see how it can be a big disappointment, though, when you start out with the idea you're going to craft amazing stuff and then find out it isn't worth all the time and effort. Like you say, I think it's almost impossible to predict beforehand how to balance out the different ways to get gear. But they shouldn't have made any promises they couldn't keep. Or they could at least have monitored what people were doing to get gear after the game was live for a bit and attempted to 'fix' unbalances in the system.

      I have no idea what the balancing is like now, but in case I get there, I'll let you know. :)

      It's a bit of a shame that I have no sense for fashion and keep starting to play MMOs when they're not 'hot' anymore. It would've been fun to join up in-game.

    4. Sorry to disappoint. Next time I will make sure to point out how an insignificant change ruined the game to me, insult the developers ancestry for at least two generations and tell how I am ragequitting to the latest new game. ;)

      Anyway, the balance problem is more a question of economics than design intention. I suppose some of that stuff could be predicted during design. For instance, cloth is used in almost every crafting profession but the only ways to get it is either by drop from humanoid creatures or by salvaging items. Those two factors combined can lead it to high prices while materials that are easily available like ore or wood are virtually worthless.

      Still I think it is mostly a problem of being impossible to predict how players will behave until you actually release the dang thing and see what they will do.

      I have no sense for fashion either. I stopped caring about what is the latest hot game or the most anticipated one a long time ago. Now if you want me to care about any new game you need to show that there is some interesting features to set the game apart from every other one in the same genre. Also, some pragmatism by the developers go a long way too. That means, letting the developers say why they did things the way they did and not the marketing team. The marketing will always just say that everything is awesome and that it will revolutionize gaming. As always. :p

      Anyway, it would still be able to join up in-game. It is a buy to play game. I would just have to see about reinstalling the game. My only concerns are 1) Time zones 2) Remembering how to do anything 3) Not being good company since I am the quiet type and I avoid voice chat like the plague

    5. That's more like it! ;)

      Yay for the buy-to-play model! The thing is more, I wouldn't ask anyone to go through all that effort to install a game they don't feel like playing just to meet up. I've seen people get all wound up or depressed by trying to play games they wanted to like but just didn't anymore. (And I'm not just talking about me and LotRO now! :P)

      As far as 1) goes, I'm at the end of my studies: I can pretty much plan things I want so I can also occasionally game at odd times; 2) well that's up to you, but I can try and save your hide ;) and 3) *grandma voice* did you know, when I started gaming back in 2007, I'd type to people in chat instead of talking to them on voice chat. *gasp* Nothing wrong with some good old typing.

      That said, if you happen to pickup Guild Wars at some point, for instance with the new expansion Heart of Thorns (it has been known to happen, although you might be accused of acting fashionably if you do, so don't say I didn't warn you), do let me know. :)

    6. Crafting is now required for some Ascended gear. It's the only way to get some Ascended pieces, or some combinations of gear.

      I really don't have a problem with the crafting system. Don't most games have the problem that higher level items are easier to obtain than lower level, simply because so many players are at the higher level and get higher level drops? GW2 crafting works well as an adjunct to working-adult PvE, which is the market GW2 aimed at, so I figure it's working as intended.

      As for jute and wool...yeah, cloth is harder to get because there's no nodes for it. Cloth is only obtained by salvaging light armor. It's a good way for low-level characters who aren't tailors to make money though.

    7. Sounds like they changed their view of optionality then. I like crafting too, so I'm fine with it, but it's a different approach to the game.

  2. An enjoyable post! I didn't realize underwater Exploration was some I should be looking at. I did get a breathing apparatus in an early quest but thought it was just related to that particular thing.
    Cooking looks like fun, it is always a favorite craft.
    The leveling is fine enough, since I seem to be catching up to my "real" level.

    1. I'm glad to hear my post has at least served some purpose by letting you know about underwater exploration. It's not a major part of the game and you can pretty much get around it if it's something you don't enjoy (I've only found a few underwater hearts so far), so it's not strange you've missed it. You can just equip that breathing apparatus you got and keep it on your character forever (and of course replace it when you happen to find a better one, but it's not something you'll have to focus on since it's only such a small part of the game). I'm curious to read what you think of underwater exploration. :)

  3. Underwater is a lot of fun. :) Also, water usually comes with quaggans, who are awesome! Despite being usually followed by krait, who need to die in a fire.

    Have you found the mini-dungeons yet? They're surprisingly tough.

    If you want people to play with, there's at least one guild who focuses on introducing new players to the game: Legion of Honor / Operation: Union. They're a casual group of players, perfect for introduction to the dungeon paths when you get that far, or just jumping puzzles and running around together. is their homesite, is the sign-up thread.

    There's a guild who organizes map clearing on a regular basis - VANQ maybe? - and a regular mapping event every Monday, organized here
    There used to be a guild specifically for learning dungeons, but I can't remember the name.

    1. Thanks for the elucidations. :)

      I had no idea there's guilds focusing on stuff like that. Did you join any of them? I wonder what the community is like in a guild that focuses on teaching people dungeons. I imagine there's a lot of people joining and leaving all the time. You would need a lot of dedication teaching new people all the time.

      What are mini-dungeons? The only dungeon I've done so far is Ascalonian Catacombes, and we did that with 3, so it may have looked a lot more hectic than it was supposed to. Conrad and an old guild mate from LotRO started a guild to explore dungeons specifically, so I should be covered for that. :)


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