Massively Multiplayer Online games (or MMOs) have been an addiction of mine for as long as I’ve been a gamer, I’ve always loved the idea of coming home from a day at work/school, logging in, and disappearing into another world. I enjoy being part of a community, and working with other people, or on my own to lead a character through another world. I remember being part of World of Warcraft a long time ago when it was first released, and marvelling at its huge open world, vast player counts. I could go wherever I wanted, whenever I wanted, in a world that didn’t just belong to me, it belonged to everyone. This epitomises, and still does, what an MMO means to me; it’s a way of releasing and being somewhere else for a few hours, it’s freedom.
So naturally, when Guild Wars 2 was announced I was incredibly excited. I remember in May 2007 reading about Guild Wars 2 for the first time in an issue of PC Gamer magazine. I read about how Guild Wars 2 was going to blow every other MMO out of the water, with its dynamic events, and its freedom to level the way you want to. It sounded like it could be the WoW killer. MMOs in recent years hadn’t made me anywhere near excited as Guild Wars 2 had, it was widely accepted that it was a stagnating genre, one that, with each new release, was becoming more and more of a guilty pleasure; MMOs were no longer the incredible spectacles they used to be. When Guild Wars 2 was released, ArenaNet basically came good on all the promises they made, it won countless GOTY awards and is still played on mass to this date. I still play it, and it’s recently made me realise, Guild Wars 2 ruined MMOs for me.Charge!
This may seem like a confusing statement, but it really isn’t. Allow me to explain. Guild Wars 2 raised the bar for other MMOs, here was an MMO where 1 payment of £40 granted you complete access to every feature the game had to offer, this was in a world where MMOs without subscription fees seemed too good to be true. And did this decision to remove the subscription fee damage the quality of the game? Not at all, the standards Guild Wars 2 are exceptionally high. It offered just as many hours of content as its subscription based counterparts, and in some cases more. Just this is enough to put me, and I imagine many people off subscription model MMOs. But wait, there’s more.
Guild Wars 2 completely redefines what it means to level in a massively multiplayer game, it takes the idea of linear quest paths and completely reworks it into something a lot more rewarding, with a lot more freedom. By no means is the leveling mechanic in Guild Wars 2 perfect, often I would find myself either too low leveled to progress to the next area properly, or a much higher level than the next area of the game recommended I be. But, if you can overlook a few shortcomings, the leveling mechanic is a breath of fresh air, a new and exciting innovation that MMO players everywhere have been waiting and begging for. There are no static quests, you don’t need to finish one to unlock the other. Right from the word go the ‘quests’ of the game are presented to you as hearts, offering tasks for you which, once completed, reward you with both gold and experience. It’s a brand new way of questing. Add to that the mouth watering prospect of dynamic events which pop up as you are leveling in certain areas, often changing the structure of the world around you all together, and you have a truly unique leveling experience, that no other MMO has even come close to (in recent memory). It makes progressing through the game feel, crucially, like a game, and not just a mindless grind where you’re willing yourself to carry on so you can eventually see the end game. The closest I can come up with to being at all similar to Guild Wars 2’s dynamic events mechanic is Rift’s, well… Rifts.
The leveling mechanics are not Guild Wars 2’s only innovation. ArenaNet decided to create a combat system that is completely unique to Guild Wars 2, one that relies heavily on player skill and player decisions, but also grants the freedom to switch it up at any point. Each profession can wield a whole host of different weapons, ranging from war hammers to rifles; these weapons determine what your first 5 skills are. This allows you to experiment with weapons, switching between different sets, and finding the ones that suit you best; another aspect of freedom that most other MMOs do not offer. Dodges and rolls are another exciting new mechanic introduced, which if executed correctly, allow you to avoid an instance of incoming damage or crowd control. This may seem simple, but they are by far my favourite new edition. I often find myself trying to dodge away from attacks and spells in other MMOs, and ending up disappointed when I get hit in the face with an axe. The rest of your skills are chosen by you, these ‘utility’ skills include, escapes, crowd control spells, auras, heals and lots more different types of abilities.
All these new, innovative additions are what keep me from enjoying other MMOs, the step forward that Guild Wars has taken within the genre is large enough to make not only me, but also many people that I know, be completely unable to go to any other MMO. It has not only raised the bar for years to come, it has showed the games industry how these games should be done. I can only hope that Guild Wars 2 is a sign of great things to come, a foothold, in a mostly stagnant genre. That subscription fees will be gone, and other MMOs will give me the freedom I have come to expect. I expect freedom in combat, and I no longer expect the decisions I make to be final, I never realised how important it was to not be confined to single skill paths or leveling techniques until Guild Wars 2 showed me that I can play the game my way, experimenting until I get it right for me. This is how Guild Wars 2 ruined other MMOs for me. And if you haven’t already, I urge you to pick it up and give it a try, and maybe it won’t ruin MMOs for you, but I am sure that it will open your eyes to what is possible, and what future games in this genre need to do to even compete with Guild Wars 2’s dominance.