Guild Wars Designer Details Combat System

Welcome to Milden Gaming, an adjunct blog of ArenaNet.

*ahem*

The second part of the Guild Wars 2 combat system series from Eric Flannum, lead designer of Guild Wars 2, released today. The first part was released yesterday. In concert, the two articles detail a lot of the high-level concepts behind the combat system in Guild Wars 2, bringing some exciting and fundamental changes to the system.

First of all, the skill system has expanded from eight to ten skills available in a character load-out. Interestingly, five skills are determined by the weapons and class of the character itself. Weapons range from the sets that existed in the first game, and add new ranged options such as the single-handed pistol, double-handed rifle, and a new two-handed melee weapon, the greatsword. The choice of weapon then determines which skills fill out the first half of the skill bar. The other five can be chosen by the player.

Elite skills seem to be even more serious than the previous game. Still limited to one on the skill bar, the elite skills will likely have even greater impact on the game, but used less frequently, to make them seem more special.

Along with the changes to skills, the use of physical space and motion seems to be increasingly important in GW2. The designer uses an example of an attack that causes a character to leap up in the air after a team-mate used a skill to launch it skyward. There are also possibilities for environmental weapons. A character might pick up a boulder with a skill, or man a siege weapon, modifying the skill bar in a manner seen when assuming different forms in Eye of the North. Along with area-of-effect and flanking maneuvering, the use of space in Guild Wars 2 is light years beyond most games, even single-player titles.

The changes seem like great evolutionary steps in refining and bringing more options to the table in Guild Wars 2. I’m excited to see what more changes bring to the overall framework.

Five Years of Integrity and Fair Play

Guild Wars turns five this week. Actually I think it was April 22nd, but close enough. The game for me was an incredible experience, a giant world to explore and share with my friends, or strike out alone on my own to overcome any obstacle and make a name for myself.

The victories in the game were sweet. Conquering the core story missions, perfecting missions, clearing elite zones, vanquishing zones, and gaining titles. A successful dungeon delve, made possible with Eye of the North, was the best kind of experience, bringing an almost table-top RPG feel to video games.

There were frustrating times, too, not due to the framework of the game, but within the game, failures to prepare and react. The failures were fair, and never took away from the game, and in fact allowed you to keep playing even though you’d failed. This type of measured penalty, when other games, especially MMOs, imposed crushing penalties in the event of player failure and death, really opened up the game to me, allowing me and my colleagues to venture farther and wider without fear.

So it’s with great hope that I read words from the Guild Wars II developers and smile, because it seems that they’re at it again. Five years ago they broke away from all the things that made MMOs no fun to me, and they continue to rethink what it means to play in a persistent world.

I loved Guild Wars combat for the skills system. At the time, I was huge into Magic: The Gathering, and I saw the parallels from a very high level. In Guild Wars, you got to go out and collect the “cards” and build your “deck”, where the cards were skills (usually elite ones) and your deck was your character’s skill-set itself. It was hugely compelling to me, and to a lot of people, where you get to set things up the way you want while coming up with clever interactions. Guild Wars II takes that a step further by increasing the physics of the situation, by allowing objects and effects to interact the way you think they would, with conjured clouds and whatever. Add into that the increased amount of customization that come with a total of five races and so many classes, and you have a great mix to play the way you want.

One of the things that really hooked me in Guild Wars was that it merged online play with a single-player story experience. Especially in the first game, the sweeping, epic story of the fall of Ascalon and the flight westward really captured me. With Guild Wars 2, there will be even deeper story immersion, and it will come out with the choices that you make in the game itself. In Mass Effect 2 style, the story will wrap itself around your character, rather than the other way around. This, maybe more than anything else new, is what gets me the most excited.

A new way to play the game with other human players also promises to change the entire landscape within Guild Wars 2. The developers have talked a lot about wide open expanses and encounters involving dozens or hundreds of people. They system that they intend to set up will allow players to group organically rather than pair off into a bunch of five-man groups. When a huge monster sweeps down on a trade route, nobody travelling through is going to shout “Healer LFG” or “Group LF tank 7/8”. Everyone’s just gonna grab their weapons and start beating the crap out of the baddie. Healers will heal, tanks will tank, wizards will nuke. Under the GWII system, everyone who participated in the fight will get rewards. No kill-stealing, no loot-ganking. Doesn’t that sound like a ton of fun?

In short, Guild Wars II promises to be an evolution, not a remake, of the first game. But it continues the core belief of fun and fair play, building a system where players can help each other rather than be huge jerks. There’s no subscription fee. There’s no competition for areas and monsters. Loot and character levels take a sideline to skill and planning. Sounds like fun to me.

More Details and Video for Okamiden

Another game I mentioned in my Top 10 for 2010, Okamiden is the sequel to the PS2 (and subsequent Wii port) Okami, first released in 2006. While at this point unlikely to come to the US in this calendar year, it should come out in Japan this year.

Kotaku released a short feature with a play-through of some of the game’s sequences. The new video shown really highlights the bright and colorful art design, bringing the descendants of the previous game to life. The control scheme of the stylus and control pad lend themselves perfectly as an input method, allowing the drawing of spells on the touch screen with unprecedented accuracy. The combat itself looks great, similar to the previous title, still quick and acrobatic as it was on the PS2. Should be an excellent sequel and fun in its own right, whenever it does release outside of Japan.

Nintendo 3DS This Year?

I’ve been following news of the 3DS for some time, ever since the official announcement from Nintendo. The official press release said that the new hardware was supposed to be shown in the flesh at the 2010 E3 and out by March 2011. However, a new update suggests that Nintendo may beat their prediction and release the hardware by October. Whether this is just in Japan or in other markets is yet to be seen. But I’m increasingly interested in the handheld space, and a more full-featured Nintendo product that is backward compatible with the DS could replace my existing Lite. More info in June with E3.

Changes Come to Kryta in Guild Wars Beyond

New updates to GuildWars, possibly to coincide with the upcoming fifth anniversary of the game, center around the ongoing conflict in Kryta and the war between the Shining Blades and the White Mantle. Still not entirely sure what the updates mean specifically, but keep an eye on the game updates page for more details. Today, you can get your White Mantle or Shining Blade character costumes; what they mean for the future is unknown.

Hey Look a Wii Game: Lost in Shadows

Little bit of old news, but a game that I haven’t seen before and may be coming out in the next few months. Previously known as Tower of Shadow, the game Lost in Shadows is a puzzle platformer with an interesting twist: you are a shadow yourself, cast against the background of the game world. I see a major Team Ico influence, but I think it’s an homage rather than a straight-up ripoff. The screens I’ve seen are just pretty. Should be something to watch.