A couple of weeks ago I finally crossed the first big threshold on Guild Wars 2, and reached level 80 with my first character, my Charr Ranger. It was nice to finally get there, but… well, am I alone thinking that reaching level cap on this game feels like an non-event, compared to other MMOs? Mrs. K told me the same thing when she got there (before me), and that got me thinking: what makes finally reaching the End Game® on Guild Wars 2 feels so ordinary and banal?
The answer is pretty simple: levels not only don’t matter, but they actually detract from this game. Think about it, if you have reached level 80, what did change to you? Now you can play the game on the order you wish, explore every area without getting worried about what Heart should you do first, the only direction that matters to you is “that one, because I want to see what is there”.
Guild Wars 2 is a game that begs to be explored at your own pace, but the level carrot keeps pushing you towards other areas you don’t necessarily want or need to go. Heart vendors keep reminding you that you’re moving too slow when you out-level areas, rewarding you with items no longer adequate for your current level. Your Personal Story bounces back and forth between feeling too easy or too hard, when you respectively outpaces it or lag behind it, and it’s a constant reminder that the game wants you to be somewhere else. Dungeons send you mail to tell you when its time to start with them, but are not really adequate to go after until you’re done with the leveling game, because while the story can be interesting for some, many players only care about the gear you can acquire, but that require a massive farming effort that doesn’t fit next to the leveling metagame.
The irony is that once you’re done with leveling, you can finally play the game the way it feels like it wants to be played, and aside from the out-leveling of Heart/Karma Vendors mentioned about, there’s not a single part of the game that suffers from it. Which begs the question: why wasn’t the game designed like that from the start?
Picture this version of Guild Wars 2:
- There are no character levels, but you still gain XP the same way it exists now at level cap.
- Every time your XP bar fills up, you gain one skill point. You can also gain skill points through skill challenges, as it exists on the game.
- You will not gain trait points until you buy a trait book from your trainer. It would cost a price that any reasonable player could acquire after a few levels, to make sure they understand basic gameplay concepts before messing with traits. “Hardcore” players or those creating alts could easily get the necessary amount earlier, even up to level 1, avoiding the “forced tutorial” trap MMOs tend to fall to.
- Overall mob difficulty remains the same on every area. Areas can be made more difficult by having more Veterans, larger groups, or mobs using stronger skills, but killing one creature doesn’t feel terribly different between, for example, Queensdale to Orr.
- Personal story would not have a level requirement, players can do each step when they want, be it wait until they have 100% World Completion, or do the entire storyline before they unlocked 10 skill points (however suicidal that might be). The story becomes a way to help players experience the world by suggesting next locations, instead of telling them what area is adequate for their current level. Dungeons would work the same way. Optionally difficulty recommendations could be given to players based on how many skill points they now have.
Benefits of this design are plenty: players would no longer out-level content, and by consequence feel forced to stop exploring to keep up with areas of their level. Playing with alternative content wouldn’t make players level faster than the recommended level for their main content type (I won’t explore the map so I don’t out-level dungeons; I won’t craft so I don’t out-level the Personal Story, etc). Adding new areas to the game makes them instantly available to all players regardless of how long they have been playing, and doesn’t require adding new levels or making previous content obsolete, i.e. the curse of World of Warcraft expansions.
I think the worst part of coming to this realization is noticing how obvious it is, and how baffling it is that considering how easy it would be to implement it on the game, with little-to-no downside, ArenaNet decided not to do it, or worse didn’t realize they could do it. However, if you think I’m missing some problems with this design, please let me know on the comments.