Equality Not Uniqueness

The more I play new games, the more I get bored of them.

Ignore all the shit they use to sell their game. At the core of every game are the combat mechanics. What you actually do; the things that actually get you ahead, the things that actually make that game that game. What happens when you press a button, flip a card, roll a dice. If these are no good, no amount of agreement or fair play can make anything truly better. There is a philosophy, a unifying idea or thought, behind every system. That philosophy – and there is basically only one now due to mass culture and mass everything – is going bad.

The thing I loved most about the game I’ve played the most ever, Guild Wars 1, was the ability to mix and match skills. They weren’t just random skills. You couldn’t just have any combination and expect to do well, much less be the best. There was a limited list of skills, usually from the game’s “Elite Skills”, from which you would pick one and then organize the rest of your build around it. If your runes, class, armor, weapons, and skills were all optimized for that one skill and its one purpose – with extra utility in one or two other directions of course – you would have a great setup. All you’d need to do after that is know how to execute it. Now, in Guild Wars 2, you can have all of that and still not be a great player. All of that has been taken away, and more – more than I even knew.

And when I looked around, I found that what Guild Wars 2 has done has already been done in other games, and in “the” “real world”.

Last time, I talked about how ArenaNet was correct in using their authority. Perhaps not in the correct manner, but they needed to use it and they did. Fundamentally, there was nothing wrong about what happened. It was an error, and errors should be fixed not solved. Solutions are for problems.

There is a problem here, in game mechanics philosophy.

The first thing I noticed about GW2’s skills were that you couldn’t change them; there’s a ridiculously small amount of available skills to organize and choose from. Standard operating procedure in GW1 PvP was to have the last skill slot, 8, for some kind of resurrection. However, you would always have the option of putting it on any of the 1-7 buttons. You could also do really dumb stuff, like have half of your skills be resurrection, or all 8 be healing. It was up to you to choose and there were many choices. Now, you can’t. 6 is locked to be your heal, 0 is locked to be your elite, and only 7-9 are allowed to switch between a very small set of “utility” skills. 1-5 are locked to your weapon choice. Effectively, there are no more build creations. There is the new traits system and there are runes that I don’t fully understand, of course. But all those are only augmentations.

Augmenting a bad system does not make it equivalent or superior to a good system. If you put everything in a 2D linear measurement system yes, qualitative and qualitative are the same. But for execution (read: actual usage in reality), imitation, and creation purposes, all things are done via structure. And augmentation to a bad structure does not change the inherent bad structure underneath. I already know about all the skills available. And they’re bad.

The next thing i noticed was that everybody has conditions, and everybody has condition removal. It used to be hard to inflict conditions. There were special modifiers to normal damage, like fire magic doing fire damage. But only a select amount of skills did “burning”. Fire damage didn’t mean anything in PvP except when used in conjunction with skills that stated “fire damage does additional damage to foes inflicted with whatever condition”; they were otherwise treated the same as ice damage or physical damage or whatever damage. Two out of the eight professions could create very specific builds to do massive degeneration on single targets, but even they needed to rely on auto-attacks – attacks from their weapon which required no skill slots – to do damage to the enemy. It was not possible to stack conditions – if you were “bleeding”, the only thing I could do by bleeding you again is extend the duration to whatever my skill’s description was. The combination of most damage coming out as flat with the degens being limited was that degens were usually just for pressure and harass – to get you out of position for those precious few seconds so the other team could do a massive combo spike on an important member of your team. Condition removal was rare, but critical for those moments where pressure was not just pressure but a setup for something bigger. Now, everyone has conditions. Some conditions stack in duration (as opposed to renewing) and some stack in intensity (if I bleed you twice you bleed twice as fast). And everybody has multiple condition removal skills available to them.

It goes without saying that crowd control was also rare, and now everybody has it.

Oh, and technically, nobody has auto-attacks anymore. Even though everyone has exactly one skill on their 1 key which has no cooldown.

Degens are also now the main source of damage because nothing actually does damage, everybody has a truckload of health, and everybody has strong heals. There is no such thing as dueling in Guild Wars anymore. Everything from 1v1 to 20v20 is a brawl. In Guild Wars 1 if you played basically anything that was a decent damage build (read: not pure healer/runner), it was one full skill combo with a couple of auto-attacks until the other guy was dead. You usually wouldn’t get your whole combo off at once. You’d circle around seeing if they’d do anything first, maybe poke at them with a skill.  It was all reaction. When either of you died, you were dead. Fights were over in ~15 seconds, and teammates had to come and resurrect you. That’s if they had time and had one of their res skills equipped, which would necessarily displace another skill they could use for healing or damage or crowd control. Now, 1v1s go for at least a minute, and usually beyond two. No skills do any damage. I was playing it “wrong” in the beginning because I was used to 15 seconds being decently important and I never used it; then I played some PvP and saw people spamming everything because that goes in this game. 45 seconds is the new 15, and 15 is the new 3. Though in GW1 you had 8 slots it was really usually only 5 or 6 because you needed heals and usually at a res, you have 15 skills, 5 from your 6-0 are set and 10 because you have 2 sets of 1-5 because you can have two weapon sets. Elementalists have 25 because they can switch between four elements on one weapon set. If you have that many skills, who cares about how much damage each one does? If you have that many skills, who cares about what the cooldowns are? Everyone has heals now and everyone has a bajillion health. Before, it was make one mistake and there goes half your health. Fights were long only because people had reason to do things correctly; actual damage dealing is only a few moments. Now, you screw around all day and die sometime next week.

Everyone has a free res now. And you’re not even dead when you’re dead. You are “downed” and get an additional healthbar, though your skills are replaced with much weaker ones. If an enemy is killed nearby when you’re downed, you “rally!” And while you’re downed, anyone can help you up. Even when you’re dead, anyone can help you up! No skillbar slot usage necessary.

There were special PvP types in GW1 where you could play again after you died, and you always spawned a long way away from any important objectives or the main fight. Now you have stuff to do right next to your spawn point.

Fights used to be “Better not get caught or I’m fucking dead” and mostly positioning. Now it’s “Hurrrr Durrrr oh wait my health is getting kind of low I think it might be a good idea to walk backwards now.”

Combats no longer take skill and concentration. In the language of the “hardcore” gaming community, Guild Wars 2 is very

CASUAL.

I don’t have too much of a problem in particular with how the old heals system worked – every class did indeed have their own heals. But they weren’t as… strong? Initially I couldn’t put my finger on it. Troll Unguent, a Ranger self-heal, I remember gave massive regen, but I remember also that it was considered as weak. And then it hit me: Nothing in Guild Wars 2 has cast times. I remember when mixing and matching builds in GW1, the first thing I looked at were the costs on each skill: mana, cast time, and cooldown. (GW2 doesn’t have mana costs either, but I don’t know how to describe the effects of such a change outside of there being a removal of an “all-encompassing cooldown”) It was important to have most things as a low cast time because you wanted to get it off and not get interrupted. Sure, you could do loads and loads of damage if all you equipped were high cost high cast time high cooldown, but you’d never get it off. A long channeling time would not only give the opponent team a long time to realize what you were doing, it’d give them enough time to get out of the way (or just kill you). Now, there are only a couple of skills with cast times; everything else is instant. There are no visuals for you to read and respond to. The biggest indicator that this was intentional: skills themselves don’t list their cast times, even if they do have cast times. You can’t respond to individual skills anymore; you can only respond to the player as a whole. You can’t stop him from doing what he wants; you can only heal yourself. (There are interrupts in the game. But they have longer cast times than the things they’re trying to interrupt.)

Not that he has anything you’d want to interrupt anyways. Elite skills aren’t amazing anymore. And he has a bajillion other skills, who knows which one you’re going to need to interrupt?

People have been writing on the forums about how it doesn’t matter now because you can dodge skills. Whereas it used to be that skills were always targetted and, for example, Meteor Shower would hit whatever location the targetted enemy was standing at when it completed casting, now there’s a bunch of circles on the ground you can see and move away from. This is a silly response. If I can use an AOE in such a way to change your team’s positioning and the positioning doesn’t even matter, what does that say about the game? If I can be basically anywhere on the battlefield and it doesn’t even matter, is that a game which requires skill? It used to be possible to cast AOEs and get everyone on the other team to spread out in case no interrupts got off. Now, all the team just rolls in one or more directions and it doesn’t even matter because it’s impossible to snipe targets.

Oh yeah, everybody has AOEs now. Did I mention that?

  • Very little variation in skills
  • Many skills have “special” conditions
  • Lots of crowd control
  • No dueling (and its sub-reasons)
  • No cast time
  • No ability to respond
  • No “Main” skills which give meaning to the rest of the build
  • Positioning is largely irrelevant.

Here is the overall mindset which unifies these components, and the story ArenaNet has written with Guild Wars 2 as the sequel to Guild Wars 1:

We do not want it to be possible for anyone to be The Best.

Here is ArenaNet’s Design Manifesto. Read it. The first half is great. The social aspect they have definitely made strides of improvement on, with mining nodes being assigned by account rather than to the world (I can mine it and you can come right after me and do it too) as well as loot and experience (no more last hitting competition). The art and music I love; Daniel Dociu had me considering going into environmental art for a career when I was younger. But the combat is shit, and combat is everything in an MMORPG. Trust me, if I could get by in a game actually doing what I wanted, I’d fish and cook and trade most of the time, with training into some high damage low survivability profession on the side to protect the ones I love. It’s what I’d do in real life, if I could actually fish and cook for a living. But that’s not how it works. You have to fight things, because fighting is what leads to everything else and what makes an RPG an RPG – it is therefore the most important piece. ArenaNet agrees. Too bad they did it wrong and fixed a problem that wasn’t there.

Finally, since combat is such a core part of the gameplay of any MMO, we’ve put a lot of emphasis into rethinking combat. So much of traditional MMO combat is rote and repetitive. You execute the same strategy over and over again, just augmented over time with better and better gear. After a while it starts to feel like you’re playing a spreadsheet. Combat needs to be about making creative choices, and it needs to feel immediate, active, and visceral. So we’ve put a huge focus on strengthening our combat, giving the player limitless choices, and providing the thrill and joy of being in combat. […]

And while you’re discovering new opportunities, new weapons, new combos, and new strategies, you’re surrounded by the pure visceral joy of combat. Smash a monster with a plank and watch him fly through the air. Avoid the Oakheart’s roots as they creep out of the ground looking to entangle you. […]

It all gets back to our basic design philosophy. Our games aren’t about preparing to have fun, or about grinding for a future fun reward. Our games are designed to be fun from moment to moment. […]

Now watch this video, from Riot, the developers of League of Legends.

“If we can make this the most awesome it could be, without any constraints, what would that be?”

“You hit them with something unique, but it’s iconic in a way, it’s recognizable, and it just makes sense.”

“One thing that’s important to us is theme. A character has to have a really central theme, you have to look at a character and almost be able to know just from the splash image what its abilities are going to be what it’s going to do in the game how it’s going to function what role it’s going to play.”

“What we really want to do is create a good variety of champions so that every player has a few to several champions that they just get absolutely stoked about, instead of having a whole slew of champions that everyone’s kind of just lukewarm about.”

That’s what Guild Wars is. “Lukewarm”. Casual. Because there is so much freedom and no constraint in the individual level, the constraints have moved to a higher level. Sure, you can do anything you want. You can even have every third auto-attack heal all nearby allies. Warrior who does ranged, Ranger who does CQC, Elementalist who does daggers and Guardians who do scepters, you can have it all! In exchange, you get nothing in terms of greatness.

No longer will you get a feeling of accomplishment, of power, of overcoming obstacles. In exchange for being able to fire your arrows through your pal’s flame circle, you will no longer be able to coordinate nor experience the intricacies of chaining stuns and responding to interrupts and escape with your life. In exchange for lots of health for everyone and damage for no one, you will now need to play long hours to gain anything of importance whether it be PvE, dungeons, or PvP, eating up your time to do other possibly more important things. In exchange for dodge and instant cast times, you lose the ability to trap others and punish them for their mistakes. In exchange for a PvP mode where you do not need to “grind”, or EARN, your skills, weapons, armor, runes, and any meaningful understanding of how to properly use a skill, you will pay the price of being in games where you never lose and learn, never play against your betters, never truly have to use your mind.

“You mean you’ll actually have to think rather than follow a set pattern? OH MY GOD”
“They’re going to make you hit all of your buttons instead of just your heal button.”

That’s exactly what Guild Wars 2 is. I mash all my buttons. Usually in the same order, but it doesn’t really matter anymore. I just mash whatever isn’t on cooldown.

There is a kind of beauty, a kind of awe that exists when you “follow a set pattern” correctly. You think you can just walk into a group of everyone with your set of skills and get your whole chain off, back to back to back to back? You think that because you have a skill which burns the enemy and all your other skills do extra damage to burning enemies, you’re going to get in all of those bonuses before the burning expires or the enemy team has something which removes that burn? In contrast to the stupid professional game reviewer above who doesn’t understand why the holy trinity exists, it is the pinnacle of all PvP to get to the point where your tanks are correctly keeping all the attention (either forced through skills or otherwise to the player controlling the enemy), the healers are directing their skills and attention where it needs to be while managing their mana and cooldowns, and the DPSs are free to wreak havoc on the enemy team. Guess why that’s hard.

It’s because there’s a fucking enemy team right over there trying to do the exact same thing to your team and will use everything they can to mess you up in some way.

That’s why sometimes, you HAVE to wait. You HAVE to juke around, HAVE to wait to use your spells. There HAS to be a lul in the action. The calm before the storm is the source of the joy which comes in victory, because happiness is simply the release in tension. Instead of passionate sex leading up to a great climax, all we have in Guild Wars 2 is constant ejaculation everywhere.

Yes, putting heals and conditions on every skill and giving everybody a bajillion health and a bajillion condition removals means you’ll have to think more. No more supposed retard mode push this key to heal. But in return, everything’s now disorderly – by definition, entropy has increased. It is harder to think, and harder to organize, precisely because you can do everything and because all skills have so much utility. This does not make Guild Wars 2 a game for thinkers. On the contrary, these mechanics have made it into a game very friendly to non-thinkers. Now, you can do anything and still be mostly okay. Sure, this means that the “actual” thinkers will get ahead cause they know to actually choose and use skills properly and when they’re needed and in the correct order. Choosing the correct skills, using them properly and in the correct order…

…is exactly what the standard MMORPG does, with its set Tank, Healer, and DPS. The only difference between that and the mess that is GW2 is that the standard Holy Trinity has everything locked into stone as far as it can go. The equipment is designed for those purposes. The skills are designed for those purposes. And people learn to do specific things and become a master of a trade, rather than a jack of none. They may be dumb in a sense, but doing dumb correctly is better than doing smart incorrectly. It’s as if there was a war going on, or no, better, a zombie apocalypse. Imagine Left 4 Dead, where you and a ragtag group of people have to fight through things together. Fatties, anorexics, diabetics, asthmatics. Now imagine a Spartan group, replaced across time, in the same zombie apocalypse, with magically implanted general knowledge about today’s world. Who are you going to go with?

There’s a reason why generic is generic.

It’s because it’s good.

It’s because it works well, and has the capacity to work superbly.

ArenaNet has taken the path of the convention in the “real world”. They claim both uniqueness and equality, that everybody can do what they want and still be the same as everyone else. I have no inherent problem with uniqueness; I believe people should strive to “achieve their greatest potential” and “be the best that they can be”. If it is their destiny to get crushed under my heel, so be it. I accept my fate as well. All things in their proper place – who am I to say that it is not my place to be wrong and to learn, or to pay the ultimate price and to be no more? You cannot reconcile equality with uniqueness. They are inherently exclusive – or more accurately, uniqueness is exclusive. Everybody wants to be “unique”, to have their own domain where they are king, yet in other domains be nothing but footsoldiers in arms with their comrades. That is why the non-culture today has had to sell equality with uniqueness. A pile of shit with a bag of treats.

But because such a thing is fundamentally impossible, what equality ends up creating is this stagnant stew of static that we all have to swim in. Rather than navigating through the difficulties and training oneself, now people claim every other thing is “overpowered” – or in conventional speak, “Exploitation”, “Elitism”, and “Oppression”. Greatness is no longer allowed; instead we have things (no longer people or actions) like iPhones which in reality are overpriced pieces of shit for what they do, but are considered God’s Gift to Mankind because everybody thinks it’s good and everybody has it without doing anything of meaning. Literally, society today is either circlejerking or crying about some other groups of people not being in your circlejerk. It’s the foundation of all modern politics. It’s the foundation of the convention today. This is the endgame when the goal is not greatness, but

FAIRNESS.

Thankfully, reality in the end does not truly allow equality. That doesn’t make it any better though. It’s still a pain to deal with bullshit, no matter how hardy you are or how efficient you are at dealing with it or how quickly you can evade it. There’s a reason why bullshit has a name. It’s because it’s bullshit and you don’t want to deal with it. I’ll still play Guild Wars because I like training my spatial awareness both at the tactical and the strategic level, but it’s lost its main fun. I played GW1 for the PvP, to be amazing and to be amazed. Skills, cast times, cooldowns, mana, team positioning, objectives, all of it. Now? All of it is gone except objectives and a sad imitation of positioning. Ultimately, I don’t want that in a game, even if it has nice things about it like the art and the music and the amazing cities.

If I could change just that margin, get back my original Guild Wars combat maybe, or find another MMORPG with similar enough things in all but this philosophy, I’d jump to it. If I could mod the game, I would.

Ultimately, even if it has cars and airplanes and the internet, I don’t want the philosophy of fun and fairness to be in the world I live in.

Every moment I find a way to mod this reality, I do.

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4 thoughts on “Equality Not Uniqueness

  1. Pingback: A Late Introduction: Year One « All Else Is Halation

  2. Pingback: (Don’t) Play Nice « All Else Is Halation

  3. Pingback: NOT SO FAST: Rengar in LoL and Shadow Form in GW | All Else Is Halation

  4. Pingback: NOT SO FAST: Rengar in LoL, Shadow Form in GW | Game Theory

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