Interviews// Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns - Part One

Posted 24 Mar 2015 11:39 by
Heart of Thorns
Heart of Thorns
SPOnG: You're right, PvE players find dying an absolute horror. They will do everything they possibly can not to die; mainly because it's embarrassing as they are not going to let AI kill them! But your initiative is laudable and I just wanted to emphasise that fact.

So my next question concerns the recent significant changes to item advancement in Guild Wars 2. Can you explain what these are and how they came about? Why the big change?

Isaiah Cartwright (IC): I think you're referring to the Mastery System there? We've kind of looked at how we wanted progression to grow in Guild Wars 2. When we did that we were poking around in all of the other games and MMOs and seeing how they add progression. We saw a pretty common theme in that all the progression would come with an expansion.

This would normally take the form of first increasing some levels and some tiers of gear and that would be progression. We saw that would have a really negative effect on their game. All of the things that they had had before in the original game suddenly became super easy. They no longer had any prestige to them. You kind of throw away content for the sake of the expansion; we didn't like that.

Heart of Thorns
Heart of Thorns
The second thing was because it was so structural how the change is implemented you could only do it within expansions. We like to do updates rapidly for Guild Wars 2. We have released 40 updates since Guild Wars 2 was shipped and we want to be able to add progression in every update that we do. So we looked at a system that would allow us not to have those downsides and allow us to get the player to progress.

So we came up with Mastery, which is kind of like Zelda or Castlevania or Metroid, where the progression systems are really integrated with the content itself. So it's really about how you overcome some challenge and once you do you are rewarded with some new ability that can navigate the terrain or unlock new doors to places, and that leads to more challenges.

This creates a reciprocal loop of challenge and then reward that leads to a very good feeling rather just risk/reward dynamic. For example, you look at a monster and he's 10 levels higher than you and you say 'what's the fastest thing I can do to get there?' and you go and look at a purple door and ask 'how do I get through the purple door?' you have to go find the missiles. We find that to be a little more satisfying in that it's clear which way to go and it doesn't feel so much like a grind, it feels more like an experience. Your gameplay is changing a lot more between rounds rather than 'oh I'm just going to do the same thing for 10 levels and then go through that area.

Heart of Thorns
Heart of Thorns
So we like that loop, we like that model. So the Mastery system allows us to do that. We've added gliders to Guild Wars 2 that allow players to jump on. You can recharge your skills and you can learn new languages. Creatures will goop you and you can't do anything about the goop unless you know how to deal with it. So it allows these kind of puzzle pieces that we as developers can create interesting encounters and interesting puzzles and it gives us new ways to think.

Like, the verticality of the world is really fun in that we can knock you off of a pillar and you have to spend some time to get back. But you're not sitting there just staring at your character you've knocked out of combat for a little while and those are the fun and interactive ways for us to make things interesting for players.

SPOnG: I'm getting the impression from both of you that you don't live in a bubble - you do acknowledge the existence of other games. Do you think that is a strength of your team that they also play everything from an iOS infinite runner to a MOBA?

IC: Very much so. I think as a design team we're always talking. The most common question I ask a designer is 'hey, how's it going? What are you playing?'. It's because we all latch onto things and want to check out things. Every one of these expos is a chance to go see what is happening, what is going on in the industry. I think this industry is moving faster and faster and if you're not paying attention to what is going on around you then you're going to be stuck in the same pattern making the same game over and over.

SPOnG: And we've all seen the result of when that happens.

Heart of Thorns
Heart of Thorns
IC: Yes, and it's really fun for us to perfect the art of adaptation. It's always been a strength of ArenaNet and one of the reasons I love working there.

Check back later in the week for the second part of Chris's epic Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns interview.
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