A Level Foundation: Masteries

UPDATE: Mastery points are now confirmed to be half of the progression. They provide an unlock while experience maxes a given tier out. The following presumes that mastery points are the entirety of the progression.

Heart of Thorns is rampaging across the internet as the first expansion for Guild Wars 2. As such, everything stated during the PAX South presentation (credit to reddit user tigrrbaby) has been covered elsewhere and in great detail.

Rather than rehash the feature list, I’d like to examine some of the features for what they could provide Guild Wars 2, what potential pitfalls the feature has based on what we presently know, and how the feature could improve the base game and where.

Since the overall thrust of Mike and Colin’s presentation was introducing horizontally-focused core systems to expand going forward, I’ve entitled the overall series A Level Foundation.

First up is masteries, the new account-based horizontal progression system.

Sources

Most of the analysis presented below is based on the transcript above and these interviews:

Quick Overview

To have a solid definition to refer back to, I’ve copied some on Colin Johanson’s words from the transcript:

The mastery system is an account-based, PvE progression system. As you progress through the jungle, it is available to every character you have that is level 80 – you will complete content and overcome challenges in the jungle that reward you with mastery points.

What Masteries Could Provide Guild Wars 2

First and foremost, masteries provide progression past level 80. Further, they provide progression to the account, regardless of the number of level 80s (altaholics rejoice!). But that’s the simple stuff that ArenaNet already covered.

A Common Progression Basis

As described, it appears to me that masteries will on the one hand unlock additional skills and traits for a profession, but also on the other give a common core of “Jungle Survival” skills to every profession.

This immediately lowers the amount of class elitism possible in the Heart of Maguuma. If encounters are structured to require a jungle survival skill, it doesn’t matter which profession is present so long as the skill is there. A player’s skill with their given profession matters more when everyone attempting a challenge possess the required common skills.

Will there be more efficient professions for a given encounter? Definitely. But with the wealth of options each profession has for helping in an encounter (even the “selfish” necromancer has plenty of powerful control), the common progression basis reduces how much efficiency matters over having the needed common skills.

Optional Difficulty

ArenaNet has stated that mastery points will be gainable all across the world, both in Maguuma and in the original zones. They’ve also stated that the closest analogue to the mastery system is World vs. World’s ranks.

WvW ranks give a fixed number of points per rank (1), but where those points are spent can be anywhere among over a dozen different trees.

These combine to mean that while there will be plenty of challenges, points are all equal once acquired. Want to do that specific “challenging group content” (*coughraidcough*) that requires this set of skills costing 15 total mastery points? Rather than needing to grind the previous raid tier (or do something you absolutely hate), you can find the set of 15 things you want to do, acquire the mastery points, and be set for that encounter.

Add in the mention of all the areas that mastery points matter, and if you specifically like only a few types of content you are not pigeon-holed into doing things you loathe. Raid junkies can do the subset of things that unlock all the skills they need, and leave the lore for the people who love it. Hang glider addicts can ignore raid skills in favor of having the most pimped set of wings in the jungle.

Further, it doesn’t block people from changing their preferences over time. Hated raids due to a laggy connection? Well, new blazing fast internet got installed and now picking up some of those skills is great.

(And who knows, maybe they’ll allow limited refunds of assigned points…just like the existing WvW system)

Finally, it gives completionists who love saying they have it all an excuse to do just that.

The overall difficulty is optional, and up to the player. As the system is structured, it covers upwards of 90% of the player types out there.

Regular, Simple Expansion

Sure, the WvW ranking system has slowed down tremendously from its original debut, but how many different trees were added in a fairly short amount of time shows the expansion strength of a point-based progression system.

The potential of the mastery system goes both ways: adding new means to get them, and new means to spend them. 

New world boss? Add a mastery point. New jumping puzzle? Add a mastery point. New Living Story chapter? Add a mastery point to the overall achievement.

Likewise, want to add a new raid boss that requires a 30 foot jump to avoid a rising magma flow? Just add the skill. Want to implement a life-size version of pinball where players become self-controlled balls*? Just add the skill.

*Honestly, highly unlikely, but it’s a funny image. Imagine an asura bouncing between coconut trees.

It’s a far sight simpler than the existing kludge of either requiring an excessive amount of skill points (ohai, inferior healing skills for 25 each), or traveling to a bugged event chain because gold is short.

Troll Reduction

For those who love the organized raids that already exist (Tequatl, Triple Trouble), trolls are a supreme annoyance if not a complete derailing of the entire encounter.

But under a mastery system where some skills are required or you die, a troll has to invest an equal amount of time as a player who legitimately wants to play the content.

Trolls take the path of least resistance. Farming out a bunch of mastery points just to be a jerk to a set of people is a lot of work that most of them won’t bother with.

The Pitfalls of Masteries

The most obvious pitfalls of masteries are the reverse of its advantages:

  • Skills aren’t really that common among professions, creating required professions for certain encounters.
  • Mastery points aren’t the same regardless of how they’re acquired. (Note: having an event give 2-3 if it’s extremely difficult isn’t this pitfall. Having a set of events that give Group Encounter Mastery Points is.)
  • The system isn’t regularly expanded (based on all the foundation talk, I highly doubt this one is even a possibility).

But beyond that…

Masteries could be too restrictive

If mastery-gained skills and the encounters/content that need them are poorly spaced (by this I mean, you need 25 mastery points to try out the next encounter, when really there’s only 5-10 in the near vicinity), they will feel like they are barring a player from content, rather than providing an apt reward for someone’s hard work.

This is a really tough balance to strike, and since it changes with every player it won’t ever be perfect, but one way to ease the balance is to build the mastery requirements slowly.

For instance, take a set of chained encounters, each of them requiring more mastery skills (all numbers for illustration):

  1. First encounter requires 5 mastery points for its skill.
  2. Second encounter adds another 10 for a trait-like utility.
  3. Third encounter needs another 5 for a second skill.
  4. Fourth encounter requires hang-glider use and the previous 20 points.

Even better would be to stagger the requirements around:

  1. First encounter requires 5 for a skill.
  2. Second encounter requires 10 for a  trait, no need for the first skill.
  3. Third encounter requires a different skill for 5.
  4. Fourth encounter requires both skills and the trait.

In this case, you can enjoy any of the first three encounters for a pittance of mastery points, but doing the fourth capstone one requires the abilities of all.

Having steadily-built or staggered mastery requirements allows people to access most content quickly, but bars the more difficult stuff for people to progress towards and feel accomplished when they reach it.

Masteries are too unnecessary

The other side of being restrictive is having relatively few things in the game that require (or highly suggest) the use of them. This is just as bad because then it begs the question “why bother having mastery points?”

While an argument can be made for “casually accessible” and the like, ArenaNet has pitched the feature as long-term progression that enables them to create deliberately more difficult and challenging content.

Masteries are a simple (and flexible) gate to ward off people who aren’t interested in that sort of challenging content. Some people just want to watch centaurs burn while defoliating the countryside*. Masteries prevent those people from joining in on something they ultimately won’t enjoy.

*DESTRUCTIBLE TERRAIN OR RIOT. (Sorry, channeling Twitch chat for a second there)

Personally, I don’t see the system falling into this problem at all, but it could happen.

Unnecessary Elitism

Hand-in-hand with most efficient combinations is the possibility for people to throw unnecessary requirements onto other players (100 MP+, show title…on an encounter that requires 10MP of investment).

The best way to avoid elitism that can be backed by “facts” is to make the bare minimum requirements for a piece of content crystal clear. Not just, “You Require 5 MP Toward a Skill.” Instead, “You Require Hang Glider Air Gust (5MP) to access this content.”

Then, when some idiot attempts to say “you’re not good enough,” a player can throw back “I have every single skill needed for this.” Elitism looks really stupid and trite when it can’t be backed up by arbitrary requirements.

Mastery Drought in the Base Game

It’s already been confirmed that certain masteries won’t be available outside of Maguuma thanks to broken map potential (c’mon, flying to the top of the Durmand Priory, then falling off, would have been fun).

But locking too many skills and abilities to the Heart of Maguuma would be an end-game death sentence to the base game after people have acquired the mastery points they want from it.

Going back into the base game and inserting or modifying encounters to make use of various mastery-based mechanics is nigh critical to avoiding the “empty zones” problem ArenaNet is deadset on preventing.

How Masteries Can Improve the Base Game

Trait Acquisition

It has already been confirmed by Colin that the mastery system is outright replacing the existing character-bound trait acquisition system. Thank Grenth and good riddance.

Adding New Mechanics to Existing Encounters

This was partially covered in the final pitfall possibility, but it bears repeating here. Masteries provide a mechanism to minimally gate content, allowing for clear signposts of “This might be too hardcore for you at present.”

Remember the anti-hype guy at PAX South who asked for “PvE that doesn’t suck”? Open world PvE is atrociously easy for a moderately skilled player, even in Orr (and even easier if you cut Orr out).

Giving him (and a lot of other players) tough content should not be restricted to the Heart of Maguuma. Nameless Champion #632 can instead get new mechanics that require the use of one of the new skills, creating a second (or third, or fourth) place in the base game to use the skills.

Further, this incentivizes people trying out getting mastery points who would have passed it over because “that’s HoT content, I don’t have HoT.”

With the system being added to the entire game, I doubt that masteries will only be available to people who have the expansion. Sure, some masteries will be restricted (hang-gliders), but having encounters in the base game that take advantage of the system gives a payoff to both expansion and non-expansion players.

Adding Worth to Exploring the Farthest Reaches of the World

This is also functionally confirmed due to the wholesale replacement of the trait system, but there are dozens upon dozens of rare events, out of the way locations, and odd challenges all across Tyria.

Stick mastery points on them! Encourage the diehard explorers to find the literal highest point on every map, the casual PvE player to rally a group to take down a tough champion, and the gathering nut to find every last rich ore node in the zone.

Mastery points are their own reward that is account-bound and semi-exclusive. This is an amazing advantage because some of the hidden gems of Tyria can be sought out for their mastery points, and returned to when people find out that they’re actually pretty fun.

This also gives a business case to adding those small one-off events like the Skritt Burglar, Modus Scleris, or additional mini-dungeons. A few of those were added after release, but got minimal exposure due to being out of the way while everyone was farming Plinx.

Mastery Point Meta Achievements

Perhaps adding a mastery point to every out of the way thing is overkill and would far outstrip the number of things to spend them on.

So instead of giving full mastery points, group similar tasks together (e.g., the Modus Scleris events) under an achievement, and once the achievement is done it rewards a mastery point.

This also has the advantage of letting a player work on it piece by piece where the game wouldn’t already calculate it by default (map completion being an example of default calculation). Today someone might find the first Modus Scleris event, but have to log off shortly after finishing it. They still made progress.

Conclusion

Masteries is in my opinion a genuine horizontal progression system that stands to enrich the game, both by increasing the difficulty in certain areas, and by encouraging players to find out of the way content.

UPDATE: Scratch that. See this post.

While it has its share of potential pitfalls and tightrope balancing acts to do, the foundation of it holds up as something that can minimize grind while creating progression over time.

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