It was a strange feeling, to actually be looking forward to an MMO. I’ve avoided the genre like the plague for years now, first for the reason that I thought my addictive gaming personality couldn’t handle the skinner box nature of it. But I dipped my toe in the pool with Star Wars: The Old Republic, and found that not only was I not addicted, I didn’t even like it.
It would be unfair to judge all MMOs based on the rather terrible SWTOR and ten minutes of World of Warcraft, so I’m not writing the genre off altogether. And after being invited to the first Guild Wars 2 beta months ago, I thought I might have found a game in the genre that would actually innovate and shape the genre into something I could tolerate.
I’m three days in to Guild Wars 2 now, which is technically six days in, considering my time with the beta. Not much has changed since then, as evidenced by the fact that I picked a human noble once again and followed the exact same plotline for ten levels that I had previously.
It’s really quite gorgeous, for an MMO at least.
Guild Wars is trying to do the MMO genre differently. So far from what I’ve seen, that means less grinding and less of a propensity to hate everyone else around you, as much of the time, you actually want them there. Unlike SWTOR and many RPGs in general, there’s nary a fetch quest to be found. At least not in the traditional sense. The story missions have you actually going to interesting locations and killing interesting things for interesting reasons (well, sometimes), and somehow manages to be more convincing at storytelling than SWTOR for all its voice acting ever was. Granted, the story isn’t great and is typical RPG sword and sorcery tripe we’ve heard a dozen times, but it’s a plague of the genre that has to be accepted to some degree. It’s hard to make a compelling MMO story about you being the “chosen one” when there are 100 other “chosen ones” running all around you with five at a time talking to the same quest NPC you are.
Breaking up story missions is a whole world to explore. And I do mean explore. Guild Wars has a leg up on Skyrim with its sidequesting, as you won’t just be following an arrow on your compass at all times. Rather, the game rewards you for actual exploration, giving you meaningful XP for simply discovering new areas. The closest it gets to actual grinding is when it asks you to help out local NPCs in these areas, but even that is mercifully broken up as you can usually do one of a few tasks to satisfy them, and not all of them are just “kill 50 rats.” Some are actually quite innovative.
The area where Guild Wars shines the most, however, is in dynamic events that constantly happen in almost every area throughout the world. They range from the boring (collecting inanimate objects as group) to the exciting (fending off waves of centaurs) to the awesome (50 players band together to take down an infrequently spawning world boss). These events yield by far the most XP and they give you “karma points” that you can use to buy amazing gear later in the game.
My Ranger will look like this. In 80 hours maybe.
These events force you to band together as allies, and even for someone who usually just wants to be left alone (me) there is something cool about banding together with 15 other random people and smashing some ice giant skulls as a posse
Combat is the most fluid I’ve seen in an MMO to date, though that’s not saying much as the genre is usually pretty clunky, and still is here to a certain extent. I’ve found for me at least, how much fun I have fighting largely depends on the class I’m playing.
It’s interesting, I’ve started two characters, a Guardian and a Ranger. One makes me hate the game, while the other actually has me loving it. Let me explain.
I’ve always been a brawling fighter. I pick the Barbarian in Diablo, Brick in Borderlands, and was born under the birthright of the Curbstomping Lord of Fury in Skyrim (I forget his actual name). Unfortunately, there’s just something about melee classes in MMOs that just doesn’t sit well with me. It happened in SWTOR, and it happened here again.
Sometimes it feels like I’m fighting thin air.
My Guardian has a tendency to miss his auto attack swings, or not swing at all, on a basis so consistent its annoying. Contrast this with my Ranger who can run circles around her enemies while raining down arrows and not being touched. It also doesn’t help that picking the Guardian made me the most support-y tank in the game, and as I’m playing solo much of the time, this isn’t terribly fun.
The Ranger is a lot more smooth and her various pets add an additional fun factor to her class. I haven’t tried out any of the other classes other than Warrior in the beta, but I’m not sure why he and the Guardian couldn’t have just been combined into one brawling unit.
Combat, though a step up for the genre, isn’t without flaws. Button mashing can be king, at least at these lower levels, and combat rarely feels tactical as any sequence of numbers will usually kill a foe. And as fun as it may be to be in a large group wailing on a large monster, it can really be a giant clusterf*** where you either can’t see what’s happening, don’t feel like you’re actually contributing, or both. I’ve had boss battles where I just sat in the background with my Ranger auto-attacking, went and fixed myself a drink and come back only to find him dead, and me with a full XP bonus. With 50 people all firing 10 spells at once, it’s impossible to tell what’s going on and you just hope you don’t get killed by a one-hit KO from a powerful foe. If you do, there are 10 people reviving you instantly as they’re showered with XP for helping out allies.
Feel the wrath of my bow and boobs!
Similarly wonky is leveling. My Guardian was constantly a few levels below where he was supposed to be the in the story. This was even after completing ever aid quest in the area, finding every waypoint and doing every random world event in sight, when I last left him he was a full four levels behind the next story quest, making it borderline impossible to continue. Random world events are the fastest way to level, but in his starting world of Queensdale, they seem to either take forever to spawn, be very far apart or take a long time to execute.
But my Hunter? Currently she’s overleveled by 3 for her next story quest. This is largely due to her area in the Norn foothills having a world event every ten feet practically, and these events taking far, far less time than the one’s in Queensdale. Between her propensity to actually level at a proper pace, and her ease of use during combat, it’s hard to find motivation to return to my Guardian, who may be left in the dust even if he is supposed to be my primary character.
And as fun as all this can be, it can get pretty damn repetitive. Yes, I know that’s a staple of the genre, but even if the types of help quests and world events are diverse in many ways, it’s largely the same thing time and time again. I obviously know the game has way more content to offer, but after being spoiler by games with powerful stories lasting only 8-15 hours, I’m not sure I have it in me to put in the hundreds of hours necessary to be a high level player.
Guild Wars 2 appears to be a great MMO, and is accessible to someone who normally can’t stand the genre. Whether it will capture my interest indefinitely, I’m not sure. Sometimes it’s a blast, others I can barely find the motivation to play. I’ll check in soon with further thoughts as I progress. What do you make of it so far?