Read the first journal here.
It’s been a little over a week to let the glow of Guild Wars 2 fade. My initial impressions from both the beta and first few days of playing were largely positive. The game seemed to improve in many ways upon a genre I really didn’t like. But is that enough to make me like the genre?
The answer would seem to be no.
No matter how much Guild Wars 2 tries to dress itself up, it’s a more traditional MMO than it lets on, and for me at least, that’s a net negative. To sum it up in a word would be “repetition.” Another word would be “repetition.” Care to try for a third?
There’s just something about this game, and subsequently this genre I suppose, that seems so shallow to me. Story is exceptionally light, which is supposed to be forgiven as “that’s not what these games are about.” In turn, you would think you’d have to make up for the lack of a real plot by having gameplay be incredibly dynamic and engaging.
It is, for a little while. But once you spend a few hours picking up every weapon your class can use, and taking thirty seconds to unlock all five skills with each of them, there’s not much more to it. Once you find a weapon you like, you are stuck with the same set of five primary moves until kingdom come. Sure, you have a few more on the other side of your number bar, but most of them are largely passive effects, or when activated rarely feel like a major contributor to combat. That likely changes at higher levels, but for now it’s all just so…dull.
My Ranger, for instance, simply walks up to any enemy, presses “1” and starts auto-firing her shortbow as her pet bear tanks. If I want to, I can mash on numbers 2 through 8, producing a few effects that hinder the enemy with super arrows or make my bear better, but I’d be just as well off if I stood there auto-firing “1.” But that’s just basic enemies, you say, MMOs are all about the big world events and hugely powerful bosses!
But this is what I don’t get. While defeating a boss in a single player game is usually an exercise and skill and power, here it’s just a jumble where you don’t feel like you’re contributing at all. Sure, it’s great that there are thirty of us trying to take down this Svanir Warlord Chief with fifty billion HP, but when the screen is exploding with a constant parade of weapon and spell effects from 30 different players, you don’t feel like you, yourself, are doing anything useful. I can sit firing my bow and mash all my number keys, but really, is a three second bleed effect or a five second poisons doing anything that actually matters? Rather, with bosses, the game becomes “don’t accidentally die before he does,” as killing him requires no actual strategy. I’ve even just pressed 1, alt-tabbed into Google Chrome, and come back five minutes later when he was dead. How is this engaging gameplay?
The “world events” that the game tauts as being unique require little more strategy either. “It’s not grinding!” they say, just because they’re not asking you to kill X of specific enemy. Even if they are. There are a few types of these events, sure. There are the aforementioned bosses, escort/protect quests, defeating waves of something invading somewhere, or gathering some random resource inside a given area. There are variants of each kind, but they all start to blur together. The “heart” missions are all variants of these spliced together, and are necessary in order to properly level and progress. I’ve done about 40 of them, but to learn there’s more than 300 in the world is mentally exhausting knowing they’ll all be the same. It’s like in Just Cause 2 where it was fun to 100% towns by blowing stuff up, until you realize there are 437 other similar places on the map. After a few dozen, there’s no motivation to keep going forward even if they were originally fun.
Fun is something I’ve been looking for these past few hours and levels, but I haven’t been able to find it for a while now. The game plays like some sort of OCD completionist checkpoint paradise, where you run to different waypoints, vistas and points of interest. Points of interest are particularly hilarious because very often they serve no actual purpose other than showing off a bit of scenery and giving you another tickbox to fill. “YOU WILL EXPLORE” the game demands.
I do think combat is much smoother than past MMOs I’ve played, and the landscape is definitely better looking. But there are plenty of things that other games have done better that are maddening here. Picking up loot is a tedious task, as the “F” button covers a wide array of actions, including reviving and talking, both of which you will often do by mistake instead of picking something up, or vice versa. You have to go through each individual corpse with “F” which might be OK in a game like Skyrim, but if you’ve just done a world event where 40 dead centaurs lay at your fight, it’s impossible to tell which you’ve already checked, and which you haven’t. Diablo/Borderland’s “shit on the floor anywhere” style of loot dropping full of lots of obvious bright colors of where good loot has landed is sorely missed here. Good loot, in general, is missed as evidenced by my Ranger’s one outfit change and weapon upgrade in the last twenty hours of play or so.
This feels like a very big world with very little to do. Yes, there are world events and heart quests and vistas every five feet, but when you’ve done a dozen, you’ve done them all, and I can’t imagine doing 300 more when combat is this repetitive. Further exacerbating the “sameness” experience is the fact that every zone you enter will knock you down to the “correct” level for it if you’re too high. It makes sense in theory, but in practice it makes every combat encounter feel identical as enemies are always the exact same level of difficulty, taking practically the same amount of hits to kill. I’ve felt weak many times stumbling into higher level areas I wasn’t supposed to be in yet, but I have yet to feel powerful anywhere.
The main story quests are the only ones that seem in any way interesting at the moment, but the problem is that to get to the next one you have to grind your little heart out to reach the appropriate level to continue to story. It’s like if in Mass Effect the main storyline stopped until you landed on a planet and killed 100 Husks before you were strong enough to progress. And you had to do this in between every mission.
This is a well-made MMO. The problem is that I seem to hate MMOs, and Guild Wars 2, so far, has not done anything spectacular to change my mind about them. I’m not giving up yet, and I’m waiting to hit level 30 so I can start dungeon-ing which is the supposed “point” of MMOs, but I can’t imagine it being much more than a string of world events all jammed in a cave somewhere, and that wouldn’t be much of a revolution.
MMO fans, explain what I’m missing here? Why this genre? Why is all this endless repetition and clunky combat enjoyable?