Guild Wars 2 Design Manifesto

by Mike O'Brien on April 27, 2010

This week we’re celebrating the 5th anniversary of the release of Guild Wars. Coincidentally, this year also marks the 10th anniversary of the founding of our company. We founded this company because we wanted to shake up a risk-averse industry, and show that game companies don’t have to just keep making the same games over and over again to be successful. We believe that gamers want to try new things, new experiences, and that they’ll reward the companies who can bring them something new.

So five years ago we released Guild Wars, which was really a new thing. It was an RPG, but it also had elements of a strategy game; unlike most RPGs it was inspired more by M:tG than D&D; it was an online world with no monthly fees. We called it a CORPG but the ‘net raged with debates about whether or not it was an MMORPG. However you categorized it didn’t matter; it was a fun, new, different experience. We thought we could sell a million copies, and we ended up selling over 6 million.

We’re not going to rest on our laurels now. We started this company to innovate and bring players new experiences. Guild Wars 2 is the perfect game for Guild Wars players, but it’s not just the same game repeated again. We took this opportunity to question everything, and we have some exciting answers for you today.

The first thing you should know about Guild Wars 2 is that, this time around, there’s no question that it’s an MMORPG. It’s an enormous, persistent, living, social world, filled with a wide variety of combat and non-combat activities. There’s so much depth here that you’re never going to run out of new things to discover.

…if you hate traditional MMORPGs, then you should really check out Guild Wars 2

So if you love MMORPGs, you should check out Guild Wars 2. But if you hate traditional MMORPGs, then you should really check out Guild Wars 2. Because, like Guild Wars before it, GW2 doesn’t fall into the traps of traditional MMORPGs. It doesn’t suck your life away and force you onto a grinding treadmill; it doesn’t make you spend hours preparing to have fun rather than just having fun; and of course, it doesn’t have a monthly fee.

Shouldn’t great MMORPGs be
great RPGs too?

It sometimes feels like our industry has thrown the baby out with the bathwater. When you play an RPG, you want to experience a compelling and memorable storyline. You want your choices to matter. You want your actions to leave their mark on the world. Let’s start demanding those things of MMOs too.

The original Guild Wars was known for the level of storytelling it brought to online RPGs, so with GW2 we obviously wanted to take it to the next level. In GW you experience the story of the world, but the story in GW2 is the personal story of your character as well. You fill out a biography at character creation time that defines your background and your place within the world, and that starts you on your path. Then the choices you make will take the story in different directions. Each time you play through the game, you can experience a different storyline.

Some games mostly tell story through quest text. But we’ve all clicked so many exclamation points and accepted so many quests in our lives that we’re pretty immune to quest text at this point. GW2 tells story by allowing the player to befriend and adventure with key characters, by presenting him with moral dilemmas that will impact the lives of the people around him, and by having him live through world-changing events and all the key moments of the storyline.

In addition to great storyline and important player choices, another hallmark of great RPGs is that they create a world that feels real and alive. Let’s say a village is being terrorized by bandits. You don’t want to find out about that because there’s a villager standing there motionless with an exclamation mark over his head who says when you click on him, “Help, we’re being terrorized by bandits.” You want to find out like you would in GW2: because the bandits are attacking, chasing villagers through the streets, slaying them and setting their houses on fire. You can stand up for the villagers, or you can watch their village burn to the ground and then deal with the consequences. We’ve worked hard to create a living, dynamic world for you, where there’s always something new to do.

It’s time to make MMORPGs more social

MMOs are social games. So why do they sometimes seem to work so hard to punish you for playing with other players? If I’m out hunting and another player walks by, shouldn’t I welcome his help, rather than worrying that he’s going to steal my kills or consume all the mobs I wanted to kill? Or if I want to play with someone, shouldn’t we naturally have the same goals and objectives, rather than discovering that we’re in the same area but working on a different set of quests?

We think of GW2 as the first MMO that actually has a cooperative PvE experience. When I’m out hunting and suddenly there’s a huge explosion over the next hill – the ground is shaking and smoke is pouring into the sky – I’m going to want to investigate, and most other players in the area will too. Or if the sky darkens on a sunny day, and I look up and see a dragon circling overhead preparing to attack, I know I’d better fight or flee, and everyone around me knows that too.

With traditional MMOs you can choose to solo or you can find a good guild or party to play with. With GW2 there’s a third option too: you can just naturally play with all the people around you. I personally spend a big chunk of my time in traditional MMOs soloing, but when I play GW2 I always find myself naturally working with everyone around me to accomplish world objectives, and before long we find ourselves saying, “Hey, there’s a bunch of us here; let’s see if we can take down the swamp boss together,” without ever having bothered to form a party.

Of course GW2 has great support for parties, but they just don’t feel as necessary as they do in other MMOs, because your interests are always aligned with all other nearby players anyway. When someone kills a monster, not just that player’s party but everyone who was seriously involved in the fight gets 100% of the XP and loot for the kill. When an event is happening in the world – when the bandits are terrorizing a village – everyone in the area has the same motivation, and when the event ends, everyone gets rewarded.

We even redesigned the competitive part of the game to be friendly like this. Now worlds can compete against each other, through the mists that separate them, for scarce resources that benefit an entire world. Joining this PvP competition is completely optional, just like it was in the original GW, but if you do compete you’re now going to find that your world welcomes you with open arms. You don’t have to join a party to join the fight. All you have to do is get out there and start helping. Everyone has the same objective, and if your world can get 501 people working for the same goal, that’s only going to be more helpful than 500 people.

Rethinking combat

Finally, since combat is such a core part of the gameplay of any MMO, we’ve put a lot of emphasis into rethinking combat. So much of traditional MMO combat is rote and repetitive. You execute the same strategy over and over again, just augmented over time with better and better gear. After a while it starts to feel like you’re playing a spreadsheet. Combat needs to be about making creative choices, and it needs to feel immediate, active, and visceral. So we’ve put a huge focus on strengthening our combat, giving the player limitless choices, and providing the thrill and joy of being in combat.

The original GW featured a CCG-like skill system that allowed each player to discover unique combos and new strategies. Theoretically every Elementalist in the game could approach combat with a different strategy. In fact players found thousands of interesting strategies over the years, most of which our designers never anticipated, which is always the sign of a flexible system.

GW2 shares this flexible skill system. The big difference is that now skills are much more visual in explaining what they do. The process of actually discovering combos, or understanding them when they’re used against you, is a lot more clear, because you can visually see how skills combo with each other. An Elementalist can cast Fire Wall next to an opponent, and then switch to Water attunement, which freezes all enemies around him. Using the concussive force of Water Trident, he can slam his frozen enemy into the Fire Wall, leaving him to roast in the flames.

GW2 adds even more possibilities for distinguishing yourself in combat. Now you can choose a race, and each race comes with unique combat abilities, such as the Norn’s ability to transform himself into a bear. And now you can build up and select traits for your character which give you new intrinsic abilities, such as the Elementalist’s Stone Boots trait, which keeps his feet firmly planted on the ground even when an attack or skill effect would normally toss him through the air.

And like the original GW, in GW2 the creativity doesn’t end with your own character. When you play with others, you’ll find that your abilities can complement theirs, and that you can discover new skill combos and strategies between professions. So if you’re playing an Elementalist, try casting a fire wall, and then see what happens when your friends shoot projectiles through it.

Then we add environmental weapons to mix up combat even more. In the original GW you’d sometimes find a catapult or trebuchet that you could take over and fire at enemies. That’s one type of environmental weapon, and in GW2 we have dozens more. If a Stone Elemental throws a boulder at you, pick it up and throw it back. Or as an Elementalist, use that boulder to create a meteor storm. If you’re fighting an Oakheart with an axe and you manage to hack off a branch, pick up the branch and try using it as a weapon. If you meet a beekeeper outside town, buy a jar of bees from him and see what happens when you lob it at nearby enemies. If you come across a stash of powder kegs, don’t just blow them up in place, but try moving them to where they can do the most damage. If a centaur wheels a siege machine up to the outskirts of a village, don’t just destroy it; take it over and use it to turn the tide of battle.

And while you’re discovering new opportunities, new weapons, new combos, and new strategies, you’re surrounded by the pure visceral joy of combat. Smash a monster with a plank and watch him fly through the air. Avoid the Oakheart’s roots as they creep out of the ground looking to entangle you. Launch yourself on a sweeping attack that takes you behind your enemy. Smash open the garrison gate and begin your assault. Dodge out of the way before the Drake Broodmother unleashes her fire attack.

It all gets back to our basic design philosophy. Our games aren’t about preparing to have fun, or about grinding for a future fun reward. Our games are designed to be fun from moment to moment.

Guild Wars 2 is a deep and rich game, and we have so much more to tell you. What I covered here is just the tip of the iceberg. So in the coming days we’ll be releasing a series of in-depth articles on different aspects of the game. The first one is written by our lead designer, Eric Flannum, and will tell you all about our combat systems.

This is an exciting time for ArenaNet. We’re a company of passionate gamers with one mission: to make Guild Wars 2 the best MMORPG ever created. We are a 150+ person development team and we’re betting our company on Guild Wars 2. If this sounds like the kind of game you’ve been waiting for, join us on Facebook and Twitter, and help us get the word out to other gamers as well. As you’re reading this, we’re playing the game constantly, tweaking it and polishing it, adding more content, and getting it ready for you. Over the next few months we’ll be revealing more and more about the game, and we’ll be working with our community every step of the way. Because in the end, this isn’t just our game – we want it to be yours as well – and we can’t wait to play it with you.

- Mike O’Brien