Hi, my name is Anatoli Ingram. Welcome to Hidden Arcana, a new column that will give you an inside look at the people and the design philosophies behind the development of Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns™. This week, let’s take a look at the brand-new Masteries system and unpack just what it is and why it’s such an important foundation for character progression in Guild Wars 2!
Run On for a Long Time
Many MMORPG fans are familiar with the idea of a vertical progression system. In a vertical system, players must continually earn more levels and better gear so that their stats remain high enough to take on new content. This is commonly known as a gear treadmill—instead of truly becoming more powerful and effective, players have to work to keep up with new enemies’ increasing health pools and higher damage. If you stop running the treadmill, it’s easy to slide off and becomes harder to get back on. Older content—including the open world—eventually becomes trivial and obsolete as new gear outclasses it.
Masteries are contextual. What makes this system different? The abilities you’ll gain through the Masteries system can be employed in content designed from the ground up. This provides a better sense of progression by letting players power up their character to challenge specific content instead of building generalized, stat-based power through gear and levels.
For example, gliding and mushroom bouncing aren’t just fun ways to move or to ensure you don’t end up as a pancake on the jungle floor—they’re necessary for full navigation. The Heart of Maguuma is a complex ecosystem that can only be survived by adapting to it and learning how to cope with the unique challenges it poses. After all, someone walking into an area for the first time won’t be nearly as adept at traveling through it as someone who’s learned the ins and outs of it through exploration and hands-on experience. The jungle itself provides the context through which you’ll earn and utilize Heart of Maguuma Masteries. As another example, Fractal Masteries will provide combat perks and more rewards within the context of Fractals. As you play specific content, you’ll become more effective within that content, reflecting your increasing skill as a player and opening up new possibilities.
This design is one of the ways ArenaNet is building a solid foundation in Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns. With the Masteries system established, earned abilities and the content they synergize with will always remain relevant, and exciting and varied new Masteries can be added in the future without creating power creep or bloat.
The Masteries team includes Gameplay Programmer Ryan Diederich and Systems Designers David Webb and Joshua Diaz. Joshua is working on Masteries for Pact Tyria, which will allow both veteran and new players to dig deeper into the current world of the game. “I’m really excited about the chance to give players a new set of eyes in areas where they’ve already accomplished great things, and in making sure that Guild Wars 2 stays full of interesting discoveries,” he said.
Heading up the Masteries team is Lead Designer Crystin Cox, who put together the high-level concept for the system and makes sure it meets the goals set out for it. “I pushed for the Masteries system because I believe strongly in endgame progression systems,” Crystin told me. “Because Guild Wars 2 has such a player-focused design philosophy, I was very excited about what endgame progression could look like in our game.”
I asked Crystin what ArenaNet has learned since the launch of Guild Wars 2 and how it led to the creation of the Masteries system. “I think the primary lesson we have learned is that successful progression systems are those that feel meaningful and have a tangible impact on play,” she said. “Visual progression, expanded options, and difficulty progression are all important, but without real changes to how the player interacts with the game, progression systems are much less motivating.”
Crystin and the Masteries team will be looking for your impressions of the system’s playability, its UI, and its manageability in game. Be sure to keep the constructive feedback coming when you get the chance to try Masteries hands on!