Dynamic Events and the Subtle Training of Questing

Ever since the BWEs started, there’s been plenty of discussion about the game and how everything works out for the players.  Between the new combat system, overflow servers, new event system, fast travel, personal story, etc there’s a lot of things that can possibly go wrong.  One thing definitely comes up a lot though, and that’s the fact that it’s possible to 100% complete an area yet still not be leveled up enough to move on to the next area.

On the world map there are five items that are tracked: waypoints, points of interest, skill challenges, renown areas (hearts), and the new vistas.  There are a limited number of these on each map and they are all one-time completions.  This makes these items very good for completion tracking, so it makes sense they would do this.  However, there’s a problem that has been rearing it’s ugly head for a while now, and it has to do with the interaction between these completion goals and how dynamic events work.

The problem…

Due to the way questing works in most traditional MMOs, player perception is that if you reach 100% on an area then you should be “done” with that area and should be powerful enough to move on.  This isn’t really an unusual feeling, considering how much players have been trained to think this.

Starting in 2004, developers really started making quests the main focus of MMO content.  The 2004+ model of questing is pretty much gathering up lists of tasks to perform, completing them, turning them in, and moving on.  Developers have also utilized the quest system to create what are known as “breadcrumb” quests, which lead you to the next area so you can complete more quests.

A path between quest areas in EQ2. Notably, EQ2 also has The Golden Path, a quest series leading characters through specific zones as they level.

The end result is a system that leads players around the zone controlling your exploration and ultimately deciding where you will go and in what order.  Quests are now the vast majority of the content in any zone for traditional MMOs, if not the entirety of the content.  Players are generally discouraged (or at least “not encouraged”) from exploring beyond the questing areas as there’s not really anything to do out there.  Developers tend not to create content that the vast majority won’t ever see after all, except on rare occasions.  Explorers may find a small easter egg or an out of the way quest, but only rarely.

Players have slowly become trained by this method of questing:  Completing all of the quests in an area (getting 100% completion) is a strong sign to the player that they’ve done everything there is to do in the area, because they’ve done everything that’s always up…i.e. the content they’ve been trained is the primary type of content.  Players have generally internalized this behavior and now expect the game to lead them where they should go in a pre-determined order rather than strike out on their own and explore like they used to do.

This leads to the complaining that they’re under-leveled in GW2.  Getting 100% completion to someone trained by traditional questing means they’re done with the area…even if they’re not the max level for that area.

What do you mean by “done”?

Here’s a trick.  Go find someone who originally played EverQuest (or the other MMOs around that time) and ask them how they knew they were “done” with an area.  Unless they have a very specific signal they personally used, the answer will undoubtedly be “when I was too high level for it”.  You never really completed an area in the old MMOs…you just out-leveled it.

This concept of completing an area has only come around since 2004-ish because our primary content is now mostly made up of always-up tasks that you gather up and check off a list as you complete them, like a To Do list.  It’s a problem of objective-oriented content.  Players feel compelled to complete it all because “completion” actually exists with this type of content and the developers utilize it to lead players by the nose.

By their nature, Dynamic Events challenge the idea of this “done” concept.  You can’t really finish all of the content because it’s never really “done”.  The only thing you can do is out-level it and move on.  In my opinion, this is actually a throw-back, intentional or not, towards the old camp style used in the original MMOs like EverQuest where players aren’t actually done until they’re at the level to move on.  Players are quite honestly going to need to re-learn some of the things they’ve forgotten from the previous era of content.  If nothing else, there’s one thing they really need to learn.

If you are not at the max level for the map, then you are not actually “done” with the map.

Quest-based MMOs have trained us to specifically target the things that are always up (which are quests in those games), and then once we finish to immediately leave towards the next one if we don’t see anything else.  Events don’t always start immediately after the previous one ends, or even give a signal.  There’s not a conductor shouting “the next event will begin in 3 minutes.”

There’s likely nothing ArenaNet can actually put into the game to solve this problem without sabotaging their existing systems.  This is an issue that players will need to resolve themselves by learning how to play the system properly.  As I’ve said before, everyone’s a newbie in Guild Wars 2.  We’re having to learn a lot about playing the game, this is just one more facet that needs to be properly taught.

There are two things that all players can do to improve their game in this regard:

Slow Down

“I completed all of the hearts, challenges, etc and completed all of the events I found along the way and I’m still under-leveled.”

Think about this statement, especially the part that’s italicized.  I’ve heard it several times since the BWEs started.  Players are treating the secondary content (the hearts, etc) as the primary content, the parts they believe they should be focusing on, and the Dynamic Events as “something I do between the main parts”, or the secondary content. This is because they’re used to games built this way.  Rift is actually the closest to this system, as they have the same organization as this statement is saying (always-up quests with rifts being a secondary, “between quests” content).

Guild Wars 2 actually flips the content types around compared to other MMOs.  The normal always-up content is actually the secondary content here.  The primary content is the event system, and players are missing this because they’re trying to rush through it like previous games.  We just aren’t slowing down as much as we should.  We’re grinding through the content as if we still have a quest list of tasks to perform despite not actually having one anymore.

This is something we really need to teach players what not to do.  Guild Wars 2 is not designed to churn through the content.  Doing so will only cause you to miss more than you would otherwise.  The game is designed to be lived in, to have these events naturally unfold.  Running off actually leaves you worse off than if you had slowed down and lingered for a couple minutes checking out the NPCs, since the next event may begin before you even reach the nearest heart or challenge.

Below is a relatively famous video of someone following an NPC after an event and experiencing an event chain that most players would miss or only see one part of it if they decided to “rush”.  Check it out, it gives a good idea of things to look for in-game.

I experienced a situation myself where following the NPC is the better option.  In Wayfarer Foothills, I ran across a norn named Chef Aldis who was standing outside a wurm burrow looking for help getting wurm eggs.  I ran inside, gathered a ton, and delivered it to her before the time limit ran out, getting a gold reward.  She walked off and actually said something along the lines of “follow me to the lodge”.  I didn’t listen because I was already wandering off, but ended up at the nearby lodge a few minutes later and found a bunch of wurms attacking.  I had forgotten about the norn and thought were unrelated.  I just thought I was lucky to find a couple events next to each other, because I felt like I was wandering aimlessly after that previous event just ended.

After the fight, I realized these two events were connected because Chef Aldis was also here and was being chastised for attracting the wurms by bringing the wurm eggs from the previous event (with appropriate norn attitudes).  I wasn’t even thinking, but apparently I would have been led right to the next event had I actually followed her.

So many players likely don’t even see the followup event as they’ve already run off with their reward, thinking it was a one-off event or something like that.  This can be helped by doing something else, though.

Actually Listen to the NPCs

During BWE2 I went to a fort in Wayfarer Foothills, the norn starting map.  Everything was fine, seemed like a normal static outpost where players could sell, repair, etc.  I didn’t notice anything exciting happening right then, so I moved on towards a skill challenge after stopping there for less than 15 seconds.

You actually do need to pay attention to the world and chatter in Guild Wars 2.  NPCs will call out when nearby events are going on as you pass them, or run up to you and ask for help.  These statements are so effective as background chatter that it’s easy to just filter it out, but players shouldn’t do that here.

As I was running towards a skill challenge I passed a small hut and heard someone inside shout out “There’s something going on at the fort!”.  I literally stopped for a few seconds thinking “wasn’t I just there?”  I turned around and when I crested the hill I saw a huge wave of enemies attacking the fort and a nearby shrine.

This was a couple minutes or so after I left it, and now there was this huge battle that going on that I couldn’t even see after I had gone over the hills.  If I had tuned out the talking as just background chatter or just believed it to be flavor text, as perhaps many do, I would have missed out on what turned out to be some fun and lucrative events.

NPCs give so much information about the game and where things are happening.  It’s vitally important that players work to retrain themselves or they’ll miss out on so much of this game and will sit there wondering why the developers failed when they really didn’t.

Spread the Word

Again, everyone’s a newbie, but we get past that with experience and training.  We as a community need to work towards getting fellow players to understand that they need to slow down, hang around the area a bit, pay attention to the NPCs’ chatter…they may find a lot more in store than they would rushing off to the next heart.

Aside: While building this post, I was apparently ninja’d a bit by Sardu and Colin Johanson himself when GW2Hub posted a Dev Diary from him that mentions similar things.  I highly recommend reading it.

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