Are raids the right path?

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It’s with great pleasure that I’d like to present you with the first guest post on Black Lion Chest. I met Ed, aka Screenag3r, at EGX London and got the impression very quickly that he’s someone who enjoys Guild Wars 2 as much as I do. This post is his take on the prospect of raiding being added to the game. I discussed it recently, and think that Ed brings some very interesting points, so keep reading, and let us know what you think!—Kriss

Playing video games is far from a solitary experience now. The prevalence and power of technology allows all of us to leap into an alien world or siege an ancient castle with allies from around the world. Until recently the Massive Multiplayer Online Role Play Game was unique in the multiplayer experience, gathering hordes of players to take on the darkest depths of the raid. Raids in the most generic terminology are accepted to be large scale, instanced encounters, requiring multiple groups of co–operative players to complete. This isn’t the sort of thing you just log into and go. Raids are big, very difficult and chaotic.

World of Warcraft has presented raid content as a core part of the MMORPG genre for years, with the new Mythic raid representing the current top tier of achievement. Blizzard has always set the expectations that other MMORPG raids are held to through constant update and iteration. Despite this, games like Destiny have been introducing raids in new and innovative formats outside the usual habitat of the MMORPG. While raids get larger and more ubiquitous across gaming is there any reason a studio wouldn’t include raid content in an existing MMORPG?

Tequatl the Sunless
Tequatl the Sunless – The dawn of raiding in Guild Wars 2?

Guild Wars 2 marked a 2 year milestone during August 2014 and has spent this time entertaining players without raids. Players in Tyria can still chase down monsters in dungeon instances, Fractals and even out in the open world. One of the most intense update schedules seen in western MMO history provides unprecedented amounts of content for players to experience. When ArenaNet produced the Tequatl Rising update a rejuvenated dragon spawned in Sparkfly Fen and with it the same competitive approach raiding brings to other MMORPG. Tequatl’s reign of newly tweaked terror rallied servers to claim the glory of a world first kill. Blackgate server walked away with the glory and spoils of the kill less than a day after Tequatl touched down. The time Tequatl stood for may be unimpressive but it proved competitive PvE content can exist in Guild Wars 2 with or without raids.

Tequatl is not the only instance of open world encounters fulfilling a raiding role. The Twisted Marionette introduced during The Origins of Madness saga set players against a clockwork monstrosity that dwarfs the games original dungeon bosses. The scale of the encounter relied on huge numbers of players all acting in unison to dismantle the chains strangling the Shiverpeaks. Failure of any of the Marionette’s many multiple constituent parts could result in the entire map falling under the heel of the monstrosity Scarlet unleashed. The complexity of this Twisted Marionette provided the kind if co–ordinated challenge found in raids and proved it has a place in Guild Wars 2.

The Twisted Marionette
The Twisted Marionette – Complex, co–ordinated and challenging content?

Open world encounters with a certain level of complexity and challenge might approximate the level of difficulty involved in raiding but that doesn’t mean that Tyria is necessarily ready for raids quite yet. Traditionally raids end with one thing, epic loot. Rewards from raiding are a reflection of the amount of effort involved in getting through huge challenges. For a number of MMO games his level of reward signals the start of the dreaded gear grind. The process of completing the most challenging content repeatedly in order to get a chance to obtain the best of the best gear is a classic progression model. This vertical gear progression that tends to be synonymous with raiding simply does not fit Guild Wars 2. Creating a balanced reward structure is one of the major hurdles to introducing raid content in Guild Wars 2.

Rewards for dungeons, open world events, WvW, and Living World events are all primarily cosmetic in nature. Random equipment will drop but is not locked to particular content. At the core, Guild Wars 2 supports a large breadth of cosmetic rewards while avoiding horizontal progression as much as possible. This is a game that tries to let players play how they want and not how they are expected to.

Creating rewards that incentivise players to enter a raid instance, committing time and resources for a chance to triumph is going to be a major obstacle for the designers at ArenaNet. Players will compete for glory but only for so long. Tequatl still draws players but no more than other dragons while the Fractals feel as disconnected to a players overall game experience as the Mistlock Observatory is to the world of Tyria. The lure of conquering the same content will reasonably wane over time and this atrophy is part of what makes the gear grind such an effective motivator in other games. Without incentivising raids appropriately the team at ArenaNet run the risk of releasing content that simply gets lost in the mists.

The Mistlock Observatory
The Mistlock Observatory – Empty and desolate for some players. Will raiding end up like this?

Introducing the apex of PvE content is a tempting step, especially as it is so intrinsic to the core of many other MMORPGs. Guild Wars 2 has already delivered challenges that would not look out of place in any raid in Azeroth and players repeatedly conquered them. Tequatl was thwarted and Zhaitan is long banished but are raids the correct step right for Tyria just yet? Without the traditional vertical progression systems, that are integral to many implementations of raiding content, caution needs to be utilised before introducing raiding for the sake of all of heroes of Tyria.