Guild Wars 2 is important to the point that if I was going to compare its significance to anything, it would be a mix of Mirrors Edge and Half-Life. I’m going to spend most of this piece explaining why, rather than talking about the gritty ins and outs of how it works – you can get your game breakdown of all the amazing locations, races, classes, mechanics and abilities elsewhere in plentiful amount. This is about something bigger and hopefully more interesting than an explanation on how each thing in the game works. If you like, this is a conclusion to a couple of thousand words review, so, lets skip to the rather long end.
Well, we’ll skip to the end in a moment. Before I can continue, I have to disclaimer all of this by saying that I’m not far into Guild Wars 2 yet. I’m only level 17 or so, but right now I’m absolutely confident in the opinions I’m putting in here – I wouldn’t be publishing them if I wasn’t. It could all change, yes, but I have it on good journo-authority that the quality stands up further and further into the game. If it turns out I’m wrong, I’ll retract this whole thing, but I just don’t see that being the case. I understand the game and the games attitude, and it is good.
Some context on me and MMOs first (I promise it’s relevant and not another ego trip). I put maybe 18 months into Runescape, way back when it was 2D, and then probably 9 months into Lineage 2 when that was slightly relevant. I did both of these for the social side – literally so I could play with some friends – and they were enjoyable to an extent. The experience with these ended with the effect of being sick-to-my-stomach of that MMO formula, meaning that when I did try WoW or DC Universe Online, not even 8 billion million subscribers or Batman could keep me interested.
The problem was that each game felt roughly the same. Go to quest marker, kill 10 things, come back, kill 20 things, come back, go to a place and kill a boss. They felt static; the worlds were there to be interacted with in a set and often very cynical and time wasting way. I hate that. And, yes, lots and lots of people do very much enjoy MMOs enough to spend a fortune on them, so I know they’re doing something right, but it is absolutely not for me.
However. Guild Wars 2 doesn’t feel like this, and what it does feels like is hugely important. It’s still an MMO, sure. There are cooldown timers and loadouts and a very familiar looking interface, but it’s different. It’s something more, and that’s why it’s a bit like Half-Life.
You see, Half-Life doesn’t really contain any absolute core mechanics that aren’t in Doom (bear with me before you go beserk, and this isn’t a perfect analogy). You have various weapons to cycle through and you progress through areas shooting at things with the aim of saving the games environment. Half-Life and Doom are both FPS’s is what I’m saying, much like Guild Wars 2 and WoW are both MMORPGs. One is the sturdy grandfather who laid down an excellent template, and the other is an evolution that says “hey, we can do better than this” and goes on to dramatically modify and improve on yet still retain that template. [Fans of Doom who will argue that it is a perfect game can choose another early corridor shooter at their convenience]
The thing is, Guild Wars 2 has a fundamentally different attitude towards the player than what each other MMO seems to present. You notice it first with how reactionary and fluid the game feels. For example: rather than running to a quest marker and being told what to do, I go to an area and am asked to participate in something. That’s a big difference, even if it’s only a psychological difference rather than a mechanical one, because in reality that something that I’m going to participate in will be very similar to a normal MMO event.
But, in asking if I and anyone around me wants to participate in something that’s already going on, the game feels far less static and the event much more important. The event is happening if I take part or not, and it’s happening right now. Giving me the option to chip in makes the game world come alive and by extension gives me a more realised place inside it.
Another advantage of having the events as world based rather than “quest” based is in making it completely natural for random people to fall in together. Big events tend to snowball, like when a cave troll escaped onto a farm and was causing havoc. Me and the couple of people were getting destroyed by it, but as more and more people jumped in to help – people who were just passing by or doing something else entrirely – we fought it back. There was no discussion, no activating of quests. It just happened, and then everyone got a prize at the end.
Everyone getting a prize at the end of that event is indicative of the rest of the game, too. It doesn’t matter that you helped on something that wasn’t your “quest”. It doesn’t matter that you joined half way through (your prize is tiered to the amount you helped, and it always feels fair), Guild Wars 2 is very much of the “it doesn’t matter” ethos. You can join multiple guilds, automatically bank crafting materials, mine resources that someone else has just mined, and help out lower level friends and have fun because it will drop your level appropriately. I’m in a constant state of being surprised that Guild Wars is respecting my time and intelligence.
It’s an incredibly friendly game, basically. It wants to help you, to serve you in having a good time. All of the nonsense that is usually packaged with an MMO has been cut – and I think it’s because there isn’t a subscription fee. ArenaNet aren’t trying to pad your time out, they just want you to have a better one so you keep coming back, and it’s incredibly refreshing. It’s what MMOs needed: some actual respect for the player.
This all culminates into why Guild Wars 2 is so important. I mentioned Mirrors Edge in the intro because that did one thing: it said “this is how we do movement now”. Guild Wars 2 is how we do MMOs now. No nonsense, no time padding, no grind, no more hovering exclamation marks. Instead: respect for the player, diverse ways to play, friendly interfaces and empowering people to play together. This is an MMO that makes sense to people who like RPGs but have been close to offended by how MMOs work. Finally.