You Are Not A Clone – Character Diversity in Guild Wars 2

28Mar12

No two people are the same. This simple truth is simultaneously the basis of humanity’s greatest strengths and most detrimental weaknesses. Whether it’s our appearance, personality, beliefs, or culture, our diversity is perhaps the single most identifiable, all-encompassing trait of the human race. We all have different preferences, motivations, and fears. Lifetimes have been spent studying what makes us who we are, and there will never be an end to what such introspection can discover.

How can a concept so limitless and abstract be contained in the virtual world of a video game? If we’re being honest, the likely answer is that it never will be—not in its entirety, anyway. The best game designers can do is attempt to present us with such breadth and depth of choices that we forget we’re playing within their set of rules. Guild Wars 2 aims to make huge strides in that area in a number of ways.

Substance over style

Perhaps the most significant aspect of Guild Wars 2 that will allow players to differentiate themselves from one another is their personal story. Beginning with character creation, players will make choices throughout the game that result not only in different situations for the current chapter, but will affect future parts of the story as well. Such extensive branching provides thousands of possible stories a character could experience. This is in stark contrast to the “on rails” philosophy most other MMOs present when it comes to storytelling, where you may have multiple dialogue options, but they all lead to the same destination. That’s not to say Guild Wars 2 goes totally off the rails—there will certainly be points where all story paths converge to allow players to take part in the happenings in the larger world—but how you reached that point and how you arrive at the next such point will differ from one character to the next. If you’re a fan of both “choose your own adventure” books and RPGs, Guild Wars 2′s take on personal story should be right up your alley.

It’s often been said that our experiences shape who we are. In Guild Wars 2, this will be true of our characters as well. The dynamic events system will put the world in a constant state of flux. Each time you stroll through a region will be a new adventure, as the various events cycle from one stage to the next. By the time you reach level 80, your character will have had its own unique journey. Gone are the days of completing static quests in nearly the same order as everyone else does. Dynamic events will make the world of Tyria feel alive—a place where your actions mean something. Whether it’s slaying dragons or breaking bar stools over the heads of our drinking buddies, each experience our characters have will distinguish them from everyone else. The trials and tribulations they face will give them a history all their own.

When it comes to defining your own style of play, there’s a host of options enabling you to do so. The robust traits and attributes system should combine with weapon-swapping to create an incredibly deep and versatile range of viable builds, where few players are using the exact same setups. This appears far more flexible than the talent systems popular in most of today’s MMOs, which tend to pigeonhole players into one or two specific builds if they intend to remain competitive for a certain mode of play. Whether you prefer PvP or PvE, you should be able to fully contribute to either without spending hours gawking at a spreadsheet, theorycrafting and number-crunching. It’s difficult to envision what the metagame will look like in Guild Wars 2, if a clearly defined one forms at all.

The announcement that ArenaNet was abolishing the holy trinity of DPS/heal/tank solidified Guild Wars 2′s place as an innovator in the MMO genre. In other games, classes are often only able to fulfill one of the three roles. Occasionally more hybridized classes are able to contribute to two or all three of them, but usually players must choose to focus on one specifically to be effective at it. It’s practically unheard of that a game would allow all of its classes to fulfill all three roles, much less accomplish them all simultaneously. By supplanting the classic holy trinity with its own trinity of damage/support/control, Guild Wars 2 does just that. Equip whatever traits and weapons you want, take on whichever role you want. How you play your character and react to specific situations is infinitely more important than how you build it. The liberty to play the way you want is what Guild Wars 2 is all about.

Judging a book by its cover

We’ve all heard the phrase “don’t judge a book by its cover,” and probably contemplated the wisdom behind it: you shouldn’t judge someone or something by appearance. It’s a pillar of modern political correctness. Yet try as we might to avoid it, even the most open-minded of us still make instantaneous judgments at the subconscious level based on first glances. Most of us have the good sense to realize initial impressions can be and often are wrong, but the way our “cover” looks still plays an important part of human interaction and psychology.

Video games, particularly RPGs, present us with a unique opportunity to create a digital projection of our mental self. Unlike the bodies we’re born with in real life, our characters’ looks are entirely under our control (within the limits of the game). How we choose to represent ourselves to others in a virtual world can say a lot about our personalities. Whether you want everyone to know you’re wealthy, have a quirky sense of humor, or a unique style, most MMOs provide you with ways to do that. Our characters are windows into our souls. Just how much one can see through those windows varies from player to player, just as appearance may reveal more or less about each person in real life.

In Guild Wars 2, players will have a variety of outlets to visually distinguish themselves from one another. This begins, of course, with character creation. Players choose one of the five races, each very different from the others. There are no limitations on race and profession combinations (a rare quality in MMOs). After selecting your race, gender, and class you move onto other physical attributes; such as body type, hairstyle, and skin color. There are some very detail-oriented sliders for features such as nose width—enough of them to make your character look truly your own, without being too daunting. Lastly, the name you select can say more about you than any other part of your character. People will initially react differently to “Leetdude Pwnpants” than they will to a name more fitting to the game’s lore.

As is the case with most MMOs, armor is an important part of your character’s appearance in Guild Wars 2. Rather than restricting by profession, armor is divided up into three levels of protection: light, medium, and heavy. If you see armor out in the world that you like the look of and it seems as if it would be of an appropriate weight for your character’s armor class, chances are you’ll be able to find and equip some for yourself. This should open up more opportunities for players to really tailor their apparel to their taste. Once you’ve found the gear you want to wear, the prodigious dye system will offer 400 different colors to unlock and apply to your armor. Up to four different colors can be combined on a single piece, allowing an overwhelming number of outcomes to choose from. If you’re worried that with all these options you’ll never find the exact armor or weapon skin you want with the perfect stats, don’t be, as Transmutation Stones will allow players to merge the appearance of one item with the bonuses of another of the same type.

Thinking independently together

With the range of options available, Guild Wars 2 will allow players to diversify their characters as few games have before. The choices we make, the appearance we go for, and the ways in which we play the game will make each character unique. By removing many of the superfluous limitations that hamper character diversification in other games, Guild Wars 2 brings the focus back to developing your character exactly as you want. It’s about time. We could all do with a little more freedom.

[This post was submitted as an entry to GuildMag's third blog carnival.]

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One Response to “You Are Not A Clone – Character Diversity in Guild Wars 2”


  1. 1 Blog Carnival #3 | Character Diversity | GuildMag - Guild Wars 2 Fansite: Magazine, Podcast, Editorials and more

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