Distant Worlds: Questing vs. Exploration

Hey everybody, and welcome to this week’s installment of Distant Worlds, GrE’s ongoing column about the digital online worlds we spend our time in. This week I’m going to be talking about MMOs in general, with a focus on the difference between questing and exploration.

So as you’ll remember from last week’s column, I’ve been playing a lot of Guild Wars 2. And by a lot, I mean nearly daily since the head start opened. But Sunday is the day I play tabletop games with my friends, outside of the house. So this gave me time to think about my experiences with it objectively, and to compare it to the next game I’m excited for: Torchlight 2.

I’ll switch gears here for a second to clear something up: I’m a little more loose with the definition of what an “MMO” is. Most people think only games like WoW and Everquest – that is, massively-multiplayer online RPGs — are MMOs, where as I see games like Call of Duty and Battlefield as a part of the genre too. They both have a large player base trying to complete objectives to gain equipment, and there’s an internal, persistent competition to be the best. And, with Torchlight 2 coming up, I feel like it’s more an MMO than not. I think any game with a system that evolves through patches and a player base that is constantly comparing gear and skill builds can be, in a sense, an MMO. Okay, back in…

Guild Wars 2 is a very strange animal. It’s a very involved MMO, but ultimately free-form. Instead of using the usual bow do you want your Ranger to use a greatsword? Go for it. Will your necromancer use a staff, or a rod and a focus? Or daggers? There are different skills for each weapon, so it’s worth it to experiment to see what you like more. And then there’s utility skills, which you can unlock to fit exactly how you want to play. For example, my warrior is all about taking hits. So I picked the Banner of Defense as a utility skill, which increases Vitality when used. But, he could also have a shout that increases attack speed, or a sigil that gives him a passive buff. It’s all about how you want to play.

Which leads to an interesting quandary… what am I “supposed” to do? The last big MMO like this I played was WoW, where everything is decided for you. If you’re a Hunter, my chosen class, you’re going to use a gun or a bow, have this kind of pet, have these crafting professions, etc. because it’s what’s optimal for your class. But with Guild Wars 2, this information hasn’t been decided yet, and may never be. Guild Wars 2 seems to be more about exploration, seeing what’s on the other side of the mountain then traveling there to beat a big bad. Heck, even the stats are freeform. There are four of them: Power, Precision, Vitality and Condition Damage. While there are stats that will provide the greatest returns for certain classes, they all will help you in some way. Compare that to Torchlight 2, where each class will doubtless have an optimal weapon, the optimal build, the optimal gear. But is that better or worse?

Having a “best” thing gives you something to aim for. If you’re a certain class, you know what stat you should be stacking, and what the best in slot gear is for you. Which, I can tell you from my days in WoW, can actually be fun. You can see a visible change in what you’re doing. You’re doing more damage, or your pet is, or your heals are stronger. You’re getting better at whatever your class was designed to do, and it feels good. And as you continue to get better gear, you continue to get better. It’s a constant feedback loop. With these increases to your power comes the power to take on harder challenges, thus gaining more powerful gear, and so on. And the most powerful gear has the most impressive design, so you look more powerful. It’s a very neat and tidy system that has worked for many games, the most recent being Diablo 3.

But not so with Guild Wars 2. Yes, there’s a level to give me an idea of things I can reasonably stand a chance against, but there’s nothing to stop me from running to the other end of the zone and teaming up with higher level guys against an elite boss. I may die straight away, or contribute nothing of substance, but I can do that if I want. Hell, you can even change the look of your armor. So if you want to look like you’re in the starting armor when you’re at max level, then go for it. There’s nothing stopping you. Players coming over from Guild Wars 1 even have some special armor models that only they can have. And they are amazing, I can tell you.

So which approach is better? Honestly, both. What makes it the “best” for any given situation is how the rest of the game incorporates the system. Torchlight 2 unlocks skills each time you level, so leveling is important, as killing things and completing quests is your main goal. In Guild Wars 2, you earn currency to buy items/gear from completing events, but you can gain experience from crafting, exploring or doing jumping puzzles. And your skills unlock from getting kills with that weapon type. So you could have a fully unlocked skill bar with a sword by killing level one enemies in the starting zone if you felt like it. It’s all about how the game builds off of the systems in place. If you swapped them wholesale, they would feel terribly out of place. So, while Torchlight 2 might be the better system in terms of feedback, Guild Wars 2 is the more “fun” system, allowing players to take the game at their own pace.

So that’s that for this week. If you have any questions/comments/feedback/cat pics, be sure to comment below. And until next week, enjoy the grind!

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Distant Worlds is Games Are Evil’s regular column focusing on the latest news, gossip and opinion from the uncharted worlds of the MMO space, hosted by our own Matt Caulder. Follow Matt on Twitter here

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