Who was there: A massive panel of ArenaNet employees, including lead content designer Colin Johanson, game designer Jon Peters, community manager Regina Buenaobra, senior vice president Randy Price, lore designer Jeff Grubb, and more.
What they said: The Guild Wars 2 panel spoke to a packed house at this year's Penny Arcade Expo East. An extensive trailer for the game preceded the discussion and highlighted several of the talking points to be covered, including the game's active combat and the focus on player choice. When the trailer finished, the room erupted into thunderous applause.
After the audience had quieted down, Johanson spoke first. He had three key points to knock out of the way. First, is Guild Wars 2 going to be a "true" massively multiplayer online role-playing game? The answer was "yes," GW2 will be one giant, persistent world. Second, will there be jumping in GW2? Again, the answer was "yes," which was met with an excited round of applause. Third, will GW2 have a monthly subscription fee? This time, the answer was "no," which received even more applause than before, plus a little cheering.
With that out of the way, Johanson turned the conversation to how GW2 will be innovating on its predecessor, including the player's personal story, dynamic events, and combat. Beginning with personal story, Johanson stated that the team at ArenaNet has attempted to get players more invested in their characters by creating numerous branching paths in the story. The choices that can be made have tremendous consequences, including altering a character's unique home city. All of a player's actions will also be logged in a player journal, which the player can review to see past achievements.
Next, he spoke about the changes to how quests will be structured in GW2. The traditional setup of collecting a quest, completing it, and then retrieving a reward has been completely reimagined. Now, the world of GW2 will be populated by numerous dynamic quests--quests that are ongoing for the player to discover. The example given was of a pack of savage centaurs terrorizing the countryside. Players will battle these beasts for control of a settlement. Anyone can jump in once the fighting starts, and the event will scale according to how many "active players" are present.
If the players lose the battle with the centaurs, then they lose the use of that settlement. This marks the beginning of a quest chain and advances the scenario to the next level. Now, the centaurs have a foothold and will attempt to reinforce it by collecting wood from the forest. The players can engage them again in the woods, and whether they win or lose the chain will advance in another direction. This constant splitting of the chain means that once the chain resets, the content that can be experienced could be completely different.
Johanson then transitioned into his third point: combat and its focus on teamwork and active participation. One of the base rules of the game, he explained, was that rewards and experience are shared among those who participate in a fight; the player should always feel excited to see another player rushing over to help. For the combat specifics, Johanson turned the microphone over to Peters who explained that in GW2, they didn't want to pigeonhole characters into specific roles, such as tank, damage per second, or healer. Instead, no matter what the class, they want players to be switching between roles in combat on the fly.
Before handing the discussion off to the audience for a question-and-answer session, the panel loaded up a skills compilation video, which highlighted the abilities of the recently announced thief class. The video included snippets from five different thieves, including some who used high-explosive projectiles and others who preferred to teleport in and out of melee (or turn completely invisible).
The Q&A session began after that. One early question started a discussion about the recorded character audio in the game. Peters revealed that there are about 400 lines of dialogue for every player in GW2. "We've recorded over 60 feature films worth of dialog for Guild Wars 2," he added.
Two other attendees asked about the specifics of the dynamic events. From the ensuing banter, it was revealed that there are more than 1,000 of these scripted events throughout the world of Guild Wars 2, and while they are ongoing, players shouldn't see the events play out the same way every time. Grubb also mentioned that the rewards for these events are tiered based on participation and that players don't have to participate in the whole event to get a reward (but it helps).
The next person asked about how the developers were going to keep Guild Wars 2 interesting for those who complete its end-game content. Johanson jumped on this one and launched into an explanation of the five-man dungeons, each having two modes: a story mode and a repeatable mode. He also mentioned the numerous minigames available and all of the different player-versus-player options. In GW2, PVP battles will run the gamut from five-on-five skirmishes to massive world-versus-world events where three game servers are pitted against each other in one massive battle royal.
Another question shifted the discussion to how the game's AI accommodates mixed-level groups in dynamic events. The panel took this opportunity to introduce GW2's side-kicking system. If a player has a high-level character who has gone back into low-level territory, that player will be side-kicked down to the appropriate level for that content. This will allow players to adventure with those of a lower level without having to create an entirely new character. In addition, high-level characters can side-kick friends up in level so that they can adventure together in the later areas of the game.
The panel then discussed the inclusion of the jump and swim abilities, as well as possibilities opened up for designing maps. One participant asked about navigational aids for players who need more direction. Johanson responded with an explanation of GW2's scouts. These scouts will highlight areas on the map where players can go and help people, and when finished, there is typically a dynamic event nearby.
The next question was about ArenaNet's plans for future content for GW2. Price spoke up and pointed out that even though the original Guild Wars is almost six years old, the team just sent out a major content release last week. "It's inevitable that you'll see new events out there [in Guild Wars 2] over time."
The panel then talked about how the game's AI will accommodate players who enter a dynamic event and either do not participate or participate very little. In brief, it knows if a player is helping or not and will scale accordingly. Then, the question of auction houses and their inclusion in GW2 came up. Peters addressed this, saying that there will be marketplaces where players can post advertisements for items they want to sell or items they want to buy.
Quote: "The human city has a perpetual bar brawl you can jump into at any time."--Johanson on the minigames in Guild Wars 2.
Takeaway: Guild Wars 2 looks as if it's really coming into its own and drawing a hard distinction between itself and the countless other MMOGs out there. A world driven completely by dynamic quests is an ambitious goal, and it's exciting to see if ArenaNet can pull it off. The packed house brought plenty of energy to the discussion and made sure to slip in a few jabs about a certain online competitor. Guild Wars 2 still doesn't have an official release date, but the team hopes to see the title released sometime this year.