Fox takes a critical look

zondag 11 maart 2012

To mount or not to mount, that is the question.

Guildwars 2 must be one of the most anticipated games of the year. Now that the press beta weekend is a few weeks in the past and new closed betas are coming, starting at the end of march, we can really start to countdown towards a release this year. The more information that gets out, the more we get the complete picture of what GW2 is going to be like. And for some people, something is missing. Mounts.So should mounts be added in GW2? An mmo without mounts seems to be kind of strange at first glance, but let's take a deeper look. Starting with the origin of mounts. Many online games like World of Warcraft, Everquest, Lotro, SWToR have implemented this system into their gameplay, but this is not the start of things. Mounts are originally a single player game mechanic to make moving around in the game world less time consuming. One could even consider the bicycle in Pokemon games a mount. It however is all about one thing, movement. World of Warcraft does have a mount that can serve as a repair and general goods merchant, but in the end that is just a feature wich does not change the main fact that movement speed is the mount's primairy intended function. This does not change the fact that for many people mounts have gone beyond movement speed to something far more important to them, they are a way to look more awesome.

Flying effectively destroyed Orgimmar for me.

The sky is the limit so for starting off i would like to adress flying mounts. It seems very mythical to ride off into the sunset on your very own dragon or mythical bird creature. However there is a very big catch. Flying on mounts effectively allows you to acces areas without content. It disconnects you from the world below. This may sound like a good thing, after all, why would you want to encounter other content then the one you are going for. The question should rather be, why would you not want to encounter other content in a supposedly living, breathing world? Flying mounts are a sollution to a problem that has sprouted in current mmorpg design. The second downside of flyers is far worse however, as they do not only disconnect you from the world, they also make the world much less majestic and daunting. If you play an mmorpg you want to be drawn into a very awesome giant and at some times scary world. It's what gives you a feel for the story and what gives you immersion. I personally remember the first time i visited Orgrimmar in Wow, it was a huge city, a bastion of the orcs that stood tall into the bare lands of Durotar. And then all of a sudden, even tough the scenery became even more awesome with cataclysm, it lost it's value to me. I don't want something like this in GW2, for the simple reason that it takes away the feeling of being part of this awesome world.

Now let's get down to earth again. Mounts equal movement speed, and why would you want things to go faster? While i don't like flyers, i will say that World of Warcraft, like many other mmo's of the Wow-type, needs mounts. The way the game i structured in terms of questing and travel simply demands it.
While builds like this GW1 Droknar runner aren't really
possible in GW2, the game does allow characters to boost
their own movement speed just enough for the space
between waypoints not to be a hassle.

When we are looking at GW2, there's an entirely different picture. Questing, or in this case eventing occurs all around the world, and you basicly stumble into it. You don't get rewarded for completing a quest, but you get rewarded for contributing in an event, even if it's just a little bit. This basicly means that almost no content is obsolete. So what about travel? We all need to visit the merch sometimes to sell our junk and stock up on any supplies we need. The waypoint system is a great help in that regard. It basicly works as a save point. Once you've unlocked it, you can fast travel to a waypoint at any time. So you can fast travel to town and back. However, GW2 also contains a personal storyline, wich consists of more of a standard quest-like experience that tells the story of your character. To acces this content you need to talk to several npc's around the game world. They probally will not always be in the direct area of a waypoint, and so you will need to walk. In world versus world, the same thing is required, while you can teleport to the closest waypoint of where you need to be, you'll have to stretch your legs. So are mounts needed for this? I'd say no. GW2's character design assures that every class has several movement speed increases/leaps and other ways of moving faster in between waypoints. And while not even being close to the GW1 runner style builds, it's just enough to make the trip convenient. So are mounts needed for the basic core mechanic they were intented for? For me the answer is no.

One of the rarest mounts in Wow,
does it add to your character?
In my opinion it doesn't.
Character progression is of course an important aspect of any role-playing game. So we have to take a look and see if mounts add to this system. Many people have stated that having mounts adds to customisation of your character. They'll say that it's another piece of customisation like armor and weapons with wich you can make your character more unique. I don't agree. In my opinion mounts, while adding a whole lot of awesomeness on the screen, do not add to your character in any way. They do the opposite. A giant beast you are riding that is 2-3 times the size of your character does not add value to that specific character. In fact if someone looks at you while mounted they will see nothing but the mount. World of warcraft had a problem with customisation for many years, and only recently realised that people value unique armor and weapons allot more then mounts. The transmogrification system is the first good decision i've seen from Blizzard in a long time, and it has really added to a sense of real character progression to wow, wich before didn't excists at all, because people all had the same top tier armor. I understand the concerns people are bringing in this aspect, as many of them come from a game that, until recently, had no real visual character progression except for mounts.
Some examples of GW2 medium armor customisation.
It is the reason why they are so important to some people, and why they are brought up as suggestions again and again. Guildwars 2 will not need this kind of character progression because it will feature even more progression then GW1 on the actual character. And isn't that exactly what character progression is supposed to be? I would want the choices i make for my looks and creation of my char, as well as the things i achieve within the game to have an inpact on my character. I'm absolutely certain that character progression in Guildwars 2 will be more then enough to compensate for the lack of mounts, and that in fact you will feel more connected to your character then ever, just because of this. I feel not having mounts fits perfectly into Arenanet's character progression system, along with the extensive personal story and the focus on who you are in the gameworld.

The knight in armor, charging into
battle, for the moment i think it will
just stay a dream.
Since this game has such a different and diverse combat system, some people even suggested mounted combat. Mounts being another sort of weapon that swapped out the first few skills for mounted skills. While this all sounds very nice and exciting, and i could see warriors and guardians as mounted knights and  thiefs or engineers as some weird cowboys, you can't do this effectively without destroying the experience for players next to you who chose not to do mounted combat. A mount always gives the feeling that said character is stronger, even if there really is no difference at all. At close combat, there is even the possibility that your character will disappear under the mounted players, wich isn't really what you would want. It would also require enemy npc's to be mounted from time to time, it wouldn't be very believeable if players could do mounted combat, while enemies couldn't.
You can "mount" a trebuchet and use it to fire on enemy
troops or fortifications.
The simple fact is, mounted combat hasn't been done right by any rpg games in my opinion, so putting such an experience into an mmorpg just to be able to have it as a feature would be a bad call, as GW2 already is taking many risks and doesn't need this to make a good game. However, this doesn't mean that GW2 will totally forbid you to mount anything to fight, there are many objects we can mount to fight, like canons, turrets, lasers, asura golems, siege weapons and probally many more. So why these obects and not mounts? Because you can controll where you allow these things to be used, they aren't an extension to the player but more an oppertunity for the player to use the game environment.
That's a very good thing, for using your environment makes you feel part of it, and increases immersion.

Where's my character again?
This brings me to the next thing i would like to bring up, immersion and lore. I want to be drawn into a game when i play it, feel part of the world and being dragged along the story and events that occur, seeing strange and unlogical things doesn't add to this experience. One of those things for me, while you may find this silly, is things appearing out of thin air. While WoW is a much more cartoony and lighthearted game it even bothered me there. Another one of those things is characters on mounts they don't belong to be in, and i can't see a Charr or Norn fit into an asura mount, or an Asura riding things that are way to big. I still remember Gnomes on Mamoths in WoW, uugh. Lore wise i don't even see Norn and Charr wanting to mount anything but turrets and cannons. And when looking at lore, we can't get around looking at the original games, and i can only think of one enemy, Dragnar Stoneplate, to use a drake mount, maybe there are a few more. But the point is, most tame animals were only beasts of burden for merchants or ranger pets. To now have everyone suddenly mounted would be weird. I'm also gonna repeat here what i said in the mounted combat part, if a world has mounts, you need some npc's friend and foe, to be mounted for immersion sake. And that's a whole lot of extra work.

Thank this guy for flying in Kalimdor
and Eastern Kingdoms. At the same
time it shows how much work is
needed to implement mounts into an
environment not made for them.
This is something we really need to consider, the amount of work needed to implement mounts. While mounts may seem a simple feature they affect everything, from lore to map design and even character animation. Most games that are have mounts had them from the very beginning, and there's a reason for that. The descission to have mounts is a design choice that needs to be made early on in the process of a game. It affects the way you devellop levels and the way the general game mechanics work. It's a huge amount of work to redo something that wasn't meant to have mounts to something that does. The people wanting mounts can only hope that Arenanet develloped with the possibility of mounts in mind, otherwise i don't see it happening. When we look at world of warcraft, for a long time you weren't able to use flying mounts in Kalimdor and Eastern Kingdoms because it wasn't optimised for flyers. The cataclysm expension maskes that they really had to redo all the zones to be able to fly in them. It is the reason that the Draenei starting zone and the Blood Elf starting zone are still offlimits for flying, they weren't included in the rehash from cataclysm. This is why i think mounts, at least at launch, are impossible.

So to mount or not to mount, this is my conclussion.
I feel that mounts, while being a technical difficulty and an immersion-breaker in some parts do not add value to your character and aren't needed for speed increase either. The waypoint system together with some speed skills is the perfect way to increase the importance of your character and to keep this amazing world very impressive and even daunting where needed.


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