So, Guild Wars 2. In the beginning there was my article on World versus World and it was pretty good. Or so I thought. Comments ran the gamut from sort of backhanded compliments to declarations of incompetence and drug taking.
But I got invited to take part in the beta again so waste of access or not, I accepted.
And it's a good thing I did. While I wasn't exactly wrong about the PvE side of Guild Wars 2 being the less interesting portion of the game (WvW is still why I'd buy the game) I was delighted to discover the Dynamic Events system isn't just more of the same basic scenarios throughout the game.
I confess I didn't spend a lot of time in the PvE areas last time and I wanted to rectify that this time around. The "Dynamic Events" the game promises sounded interesting but the implementations in the early part of the game are, well, pretty boring.
The first one you're likely to encounter in the Human start zone sees you assisting a farmer with his crops, his livestock and a nasty giant worm infestation. You can kick over the worm mounds, water crops or feed the cattle to progress the event to its conclusion but you've done that sort of thing before and nothing changes whether you finish doing it or not.
The other events/quests in each of the starting areas play out much the same. Go grab this item and bring it back, go kill some of these things, herd some cows back into the pen. If you don't herd the cows they just wander around outside their pen forever, it's no big deal.
What you need to do is progress past the early events. Those are really on the level of a tutorial for the mechanics you're going to need to be familiar with in the later events. The game doesn't tell you this, or even hint at it, but if you don't keep playing into the level 10+ areas you won't get to see some of the very cool things ArenaNet is doing with this system.
One of the first events I discovered was more complicated than it appeared involved a harpy raid on a small Charr encampment. If you arrive at the start of the event you'll be warned the harpies are coming to try and steal some crates of supplies. The defenders of the camp can put up a bit of a fight themselves but they're not able to hold off the harpies on their own.
This is where your hero (and hopefully some friends) step in. Kill the harpies as they fly in, stop them taking the supplies for long enough and the event ends in success. You and anyone who helped will received a lump of experience points, some cash and some "karma" for spending at special vendors.
Successfully completing that event essentially resets the clock and the next time the event is triggered it will start with the harpy raid again. Booooring. I completed it a couple of times on an earlier character and assumed that was all there was to it.
Later I happened across the same camp with a newer character, one who wasn't as well equipped to deal with the harpies. They'd also been monstering the camp for a while and had already made off with 4 of the 6 crates they were after. My little Elementalist lady was still getting used to her new skills and was getting beat up pretty bad with nobody else around to help.
The leader of the camp then began chastising an underling who, to be fair, couldn't really have stopped anything and spent as much time face down in the dirt as the leader. The camp needs those supplies and now somebody will have to go get them.
And, like underlings everywhere, that task falls to her.
At this point I assumed the NPC would just go running off down the road and disappear at some point, returning to camp later where the supplies have magically rematerialised ready for the next harpy raid. We all know the drill, right?
Not so! I followed her on a whim to see where she'd actually go and as it turns out she's tracked the harpies back to their nests where they've been hoarding all their ill-gotten loot-chests. She's obviously not equipped to launch a raid on the harpy's home turf but she'll wait around while any particularly heroic individuals go retrieve the crates for her.
Cue new event, following from the failure of a previous event. Go steal the crates back from the harpies and return them to the underling for a shiny reward!
As a couple of others had joined me by this stage and I'd grown comfortable with my Elementalist skills, we managed to fight our way through, recover plenty of crates and succeed at the event. Which then returns the camp to pre-harpy-raid status.
What would have happened if we'd failed to recover the crates? I don't know. Possibly nothing. There has to be an end to every such chain, but the mere fact a quest failure leads to something other than starting over? Intriguing.
Later I found other multi-stage events where a success would lead into a new event which, if also successful, could lead into still another. And as I worked through the stages of the event I was picking up more and more friendly heroes who were also interested in completing whatever the task at the time was.
This did blow up quite spectacularly when a chain of events lead to us needing to defend a hilltop against intruding ogres. The more people in the area participating in an event the greater the strength of the enemies you'll face. In this instance it meant instead of facing two or three ogres per wave we were contending with five to seven ogres, and assorted pets, each time.
We went down in a sea of angry ogres in the end, but trying to hold the line against such overwhelming odds was seriously tense while it lasted.
It was also a lot more fun than wading through the game's storyline, plus gave a much greater impetus to work with your fellow players in order to get the job done. Encouraging teamwork in an MMO without actually forcing players to be in the same group removes a really significant barrier to participation in typically group-required content.
The Dynamic Events system is not a huge leap beyond what has been seen in other games. Plenty of other RPGs contain multistage quests. But the branching nature of the events, the difficulty scaling and the ease with which even loners can get involved all combine to make Guild Wars 2's system something quite special.
The game remains in beta at this stage and there's still no sign of a release date. Pre-purchasing will get you access to future beta testing weekends.
Note: Pre-purchasing does not come with protection from my Charrzooka on the battlefield.