Everything you know about MMOs is wrong: how Guild Wars 2 subverts expectations

Everything you know about MMOs is wrong: how Guild Wars 2 subverts expectations

Guild Wars 2 is a return to Tyria, the world of the first game. It was a world that could use improvement, as areas were small and instanced, you could only play a human, the game had a strong focus on PvP and, though it looked nice, the aesthetics could come across as bland and unimaginative. Now I’m dancing the robot with my adorable Asura engineer when I’ve got a moment to spare.

Guild Wars 2 feels like the right game for the right time. Star Wars: The Old Republic is enjoyable, but the game’s dungeons, grouping, and key rotations feels old hat. The Secret World is quirky and absorbing, but its class-less, level-less system, and mission structures can seem experimental and ahead of its time. Guild Wars 2 feels like what World of Warcraft 2 would be, if there were such a thing.

You’re still in solid MMO territory with tab targeting and a medieval fantasy setting, but the process is streamlined to cut out extraneous or tedious busywork. The game play feels smooth and organic, and above all, convenient.

A pack of lone wolves

Races that were enemies in the first Guild Wars are now playable, including the feline Charr and intellectual Asura. You could easily draw parallels between the classes in Guild Wars 2 and most other fantasy MMOs, but the big difference here is there’s no trinity of tank, healer, DPS. Every race can be every class with no penalty, and every class is viable, so the selection critera for what you want your character to be really comes down to “What do I think is coolest?” Your class is important, your race is more or less a skin.

Grouping is also handled differently than most role-playing games. My friend asked me, “So is it a game like FFXI where you have to be grouped to get anything done?” No, I told him. “So it’s more solo stuff like The Old Republic?” No, I told him again. It’s not a contradiction; grouping has gone from a chore to my favorite feature, because Guild Wars 2 handles it organically.

Instead of thinking about grouping in terms of game design, think of it from a logical perspective: if you saw someone who was doing the same quest as you, doesn’t it make sense to team up? Share the bounty, share the experience. But other MMOs have relied on the all-powerful “/invite” command, and have decreed a group of adventurers shall number only five, and only these five can claim the experience of slaying a monster. You others will have to wait your turn.

That’s game design, not something logical that would exist in these fantasy worlds, and Guild Wars 2 dodges those stereotypical mechanics. When I run through the wilderness outside the city, I receive notifications of events nearby. Bosses, escort missions, collection quests and other things to do are peppered throughout the map, and a ring appears to highlight the area it’s taking place. See that giant ooze those adventurers are fighting? Help take it down! You’ll get credit, experience, and loot for your trouble, no /invite required.

You don’t even need to worry about threat management or playing a healer when you join up with these groups. There are no tanks, healers, or DPS specs in Guild Wars 2. Every class has a self-heal ability, every class can revive a fallen friend, and every class can deal damage. Enemy AI doesn’t accrue aggro the same as it does in most MMOs, so positioning becomes more important than threat level. It also gives a more personal feel to groups, as you’re no longer tied to staying below a threat threshold or dependent on someone else for heals. Whether that’s good or bad is debatable; I’ll admit to enjoying the MMO trinity and focus on teamwork it brings.

Earlier, I’d encountered another example of the Guild Wars 2 organic take to grouping. I bumped into a fellow Asura NPC who wanted me to check out a local laboratory. I could see plenty of other players heading in from where I was standing. “Crap,” I thought. Part of this quest meant killing bad guys, while another part involved collecting data crystals. With so many people heading in and coming out, I figured that it would be a considerable time before I could find a data crystal or enemy that hadn’t already been claimed by another player’s attack.

Turns out, I could help finish off someone else’s enemy and still get credit towards completion of the quest. As for the data crystals, they turned out to be the easiest of all. At first I thought it was a fluke or bug, but I saw it happen over and over throughout the world: people would run up to a collectible item at the same time as me and then run away, but the item would still be there. It wouldn’t disappear until I’d claimed one for myself. Yes, I was still collecting X amount of Y and slaying wandering mobs, but so far in Guild Wars 2, there’s not all that pesky “game” stuff to get in the way of the experience.

This is my story. But I don’t know how to tell it.

The first Guild Wars was lacking in the story department. Here’s the world, there are bad guys, go kill them because you’re an adventurer. Guild Wars 2 takes a page from The Old Republic and gives you a unique, voiced story to take you from inside your race’s home city – or somewhere close to it – into the greater world of Tyria. Your story quests often head into instance versions of the world at large, sometimes into sectioned-off dungeons, but they’ve all been interesting so far.

I say “interesting” because while I enjoyed the story quests quite a bit, it took me awhile before I could decipher why I was having trouble with the enemies I encountered while completing them. The recommended level for a story mission is indeed given, but the game never draws your attention to it. Guild Wars 2 isn’t that great at telling you how to do a lot within its world.

Likewise, it took me at least five minutes before I found my character sheet – normally mapped to C in most MMOs – because it was mapped to H, for “Hero Sheet,” in Guild Wars 2. Saving myself from death a la Left 4 Dead came completely out of left field. When your health depletes, your character drops into a downed position, and a bar begins to drain. Your character gains a new toolbar with different abilities. Use these abilities to kill an enemy and you’ll rally, coming to your feet. If you’re not being targeted, you should also have a healing ability that refills your health as you channel it, so that you rally once it’s full again. It makes sense once you understand the system, but there is precious little done in-game to introduce you to the mechanic. That situation will be common in your first few hours with the game.

New players may feel like they’re being set adrift, although there is always the community to ask for help and some in-game information to help you along. When so much in changed from the standard designs of MMOs, you can expect a learning curve, and a little more help in the early portions of the game would be welcome. 

These things drag Guild Wars 2 down because the rest of the package feels so clean and smooth. The game is convenient to play thanks to the quick and painless process of completing a quest, so when I spend more time trying to figure out how to access my inventory than I spend slaying monsters, it becomes a problem. These are minor flaws, and there is fun to be had in discovering how to do things like crafting, but it could take some time to learn how the game works.

Should Guild Wars 2 sound like it’s worth your time – and I’d argue it is – there is one thing that you absolutely must do.