Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Guild Wars 2: Limiting Limited Resources

Playing an action game is all about two things: reacting to a situation and managing your resources. When you’re playing a FPS you are surveying your battlefield; you react to the opponents in front of you and manage your resources (total ammo, clip size, health etc) in order to outplay your enemy and win the game. When you’re playing an action RPG you are looking at the enemies in front of you, reacting to their skills and keeping a weather eye on your energy bar/health potions/HP bar/skill cooldowns etc.

If an action game is all about reacting to the situation it can become a bit of a slog-fest. Without the restrictions of limited resources it becomes a situation whereby you hold down whatever “trigger” button you have which fires your most powerful attack and watch as wave after wave of nasties smash against your unstoppable ep33n. This is all very well and good for some games, Serious Sam being a prime example – no one could dispute that this game is an absolute classic - but it’s hardly very challenging.

On the other hand, if a game is all about managing resources then it becomes less like playing and more like working. You are watching your UI, clicking on bars when they go red or run out, hitting the same combinations of skills over and over because it is the most efficient way to manage your energy and skill cooldown. The game becomes an administrative exercise. The Sims became this to me; my Sims would wake up in the morning, I’d rush them to the toilet, shower, breakfast, an hour of TV then to work, once at home again I’d plonk them on whatever skill item I needed them to work on until it was dinnertime, they’d cook dinner, have about 2/3 hours to themselves then straight to bed and start again tomorrow. I felt like I was working for them, not them for me.

Guild Wars 2 has already established itself as a proficient action-MMO; the combat is much more fluid and dynamic and ArenaNet have already expressed an intention to encourage the players to watch the field, not the UI. So that covers the “reacting to the battlefield” bit. However, Anet have recently done away their energy based skill system and replaced it with a “dodge bar” whereby your energy is only linked to the amount of times you can dodge and roll before the bar recharges. From what I can gather, the only restriction on the usage of skills will be cooldowns.

Now, I must be about the only person in this community not to have had hands-on experience of the game up until now so forgive me if my worries are unfounded – just dismiss it as a cynical ol’ Brit looking to complain. But I worry that cooldowns won’t be enough to stop the game (and particularly PvP) become a button-mashing bonanza. Anet have removed one of the archetypal limited resources from their MMO and, whilst I’ve not raised an eyebrow to their smashing of archetypes in the past, this one could be difficult to balance.

Guild Wars 1 PvP is as much about the rising and falling of energy bars as it is about health bars. If you push your team too far and over extend yourself, you might not die, but the long-term impact on the energy pool of your healers, after they pushed themselves to get heals on you, can lead to problems further down the line (particularly if they find themselves counter-pressured by enemy midliners). Every action you undertake has an impact on the long term resources of your whole team. For example, if you are a warrior and push up to take down an enemy monk, that could mean your opponent’s front line has to back off to compensate for the reduced healing, this would in turn allow for your own healers to take a breather as the pressure on them eased.

Without energy as a long term team resource, PvP could turn into a war of attrition whereby you don’t have enough damage to overwhelm a team with significant healing capabilities, but they don’t have enough firepower to take you down either. No matter how hard you push, they will still be able to release their heal skill on recharge and push back just as hard. Instead of having to carefully choose when to use a skill, we could get into a situation where not hitting the skill on recharge could be fatal and PvP matches become frantic gangbangs of whirling particles and shattered dreams.

Anet will have to be extremely careful when tweaking cooldowns on big hitters and when balancing skills which affect cooldowns in combat (although, I seem to remember it being mentioned in a Gamescom Q&A that there were no skills that did this; can anyone confirm?) because without energy as a limiting factor, the only thing holding back a player with a powerful skill and a short recharge is the speed of their trigger finger.

Ps. I know it must seem as if all I’ve done is complain about this game over the past couple of weeks; I apologise, I am really looking forward to it I promise! But it’s like I’m watching my child get on the bus for his first day of school – I want to hold onto him and not let him go on his own in case the other kids take the piss and stamp on his SpongeBob lunchbox. I know I’ve got to let him make his own mistakes, but I’ve nurtured him for 6 years and I’m hard on him because I love him. Also, if he comes back with detention he’ll get ONE HELL OF AN ASS WHOOPIN’!

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