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Guild Wars 2

Why Guild Wars 2 matters

So, Guild Wars 2 is good. Very, very good. It's easily one of the best MMOs I've ever played. We don't do reviews around here (yet...) but take this is my whole-hearted recommendation: I've been playing MMOs for what seems like forever. Guild Wars 2 is the most fun I've had in one in years.

But Guild Wars 2 isn't just good. It's an important game - at least as important as the launch of the original World of Warcraft.

Why?

 Most importantly, it's successful. Guild Wars 2's launch and subsequent player interest should be the envy of the MMO industry. A million copies sold on pre-orders, 400,000 players playing concurrently, and sales halted so Arenanet could put the required servers in place.

After a year of high profile false-starts (it feels mean calling them failures) including The Old Republic and The Secret World, Guild Wars 2 appears to be beating expectations. Players really like this game. That feels rare for an MMO launch. 
That success story can only get better. Guild Wars 2 doesn't rely on a subscription fee. That means gamers and the industry aren't going be subjected to the slow torture of declining subscriber base announcements that have plagued World of Warcraft, the Secret World and Star Wars: The Old Republic. 

There's more to it, though. Guild Wars 2 isn't just important because its successful. It's important because the route to that success was via innovation, player-centric design, and gorgeous, gorgeous art. 

There are dozens of examples of how Guild Wars 2 innovates. I want to highlight one.

It's about grouping. Guild Wars 2 assumes that you're playing an MMO because you want to see and interact with other humans. You're almost always playing with someone in Guild Wars 2; you're constantly bombarded with notes of new events or guided to new areas with tasks to complete. These groups aren't formal - they're improvised according to what's happening in the world around you. 
Making two or more people play together is a hard problem that all MMOs face. It's a problem with roots in how players think about themselves, the systems and interfaces you give them to play with, the mechanical and artistic design of the world, and most importantly, player liquidity. Some games closet off their group content in instances, using group finders, dungeon tools, raid finders and zone chat to arrange bespoke parties. 

Guild Wars 2's genius is in almost entirely rejecting that. Instead, Guild Wars 2's world is its group finder. Its event system nudges players together. Its quests and areas have objectives loose enough for you to work with a friend, without waiting for them to find the last of the ten lion ears you've been collecting. 

Even better: it's eliminated any design punishments for playing together (high level players can help low-level players, there's no dependencies like tanks and healers, and XP for kills is shared equally for anyone who gets involve), and it throws rewards for playing as a team around like confetti.  

This is brilliant, brave game design. It flies in the face of orthodoxy. But it's not rocket science. It's also what MMO players (both veteran and ones that dabble) have been asking for for years. Instead of solving these core problems, the MMO industry relied on cloning what World of Warcraft did before. 

And that's just not good enough. Not today, not ever. 

That's why I think Guild Wars 2 is so important. The lesson I hope the rest of the industry takes from Guild Wars 2 shouldn't be a set of easily copied design decisions. The next wave of MMOs shouldn't just focus on group content, ditch the subscription fee and throw in some three way world vs world. 

The lesson should be that players want, and and are willing to reward, innovation. Every MMO developer should look to Arenanet and NCSoft and think, not "how can we do that," but "how can we make MMOs better."

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Kandosii's picture
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100% agreed

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Agreed, although I'd question the extent of its innovation in player finding. Experiencing the instanced dungeons can still depend on either having players that you can count on, or spending an inordinate amount of time spamming the chat feed. Also, while the grand open event battles are impressive and a joy to be part of, I remain to be convinced that they are true social experiences—it's more like being part of an NPC mob, the other players remain out of reach and uncommunicative.

The levelling-down system is worthy of praise though, making even starter areas a challenge. Unfortunately, that doesn't quite jell with the way exploration and crafting is rewarded in the game, almost crying out for you to farm low-level areas, while making them a pain to be in.

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The main problems that MMOs can't overcome is the fact that most on-line gamers are extremely instrumental. There is almost no grouping in the game and all this piece of writing does is to validate the ideas behind the design. If you have people who "need" to be side-by-side to satisfy the conditions required to get a reward then they will stand side by side and mash buttons but it isn't cooperative and it doesn't have the experience of being in any way interpersonal or social. I can see why GW 2 went this way, they considered the way games are actually played and try to design a way for people to play casually around that but it's also a more superficial experience because you can't really intervene in the world to help anyone because you can't tank and you can't heal. Your single heal (on elementalist for example) is used and everyone dies. There is little organisation and no real possibility of instituting it via the game mechanics. You can't control mobs for people to perform their role. It's a landmark rendering of a world, possibility the best in human history, and a masterpiece of technical execution but it's seriously flawed as an effect of trying to accommodate the major problem with on-line games: the anti-social, instrumental, avaricious people who tend to play on-line games.

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The downlevelling prevents you from overcoming the problems in the game's design and prevents you from engaging with the game in a more satisfying way. Tonight, at level 75, I went to do one of the story missions I'd left because I died too much, the mission was around level 40 and it remained too hard, I died about 10 times. You don't have any way to overcome these problems because of the downlevelling. In WoW I'd always out-level the content and enjoy playing a lot more. Also, because your character is pretty poor at everything ("balanced") you don't have any sense of value since you can't really do anything to help anyone. The instances are sickening experiences of uselessness as you run around just spamming buttons since you don't really have a role available to you. The class mechanics are the weakest part of the game. After 60 you've more or less got the skill points set and on my 75 character I have 55 un-used skill points. I don't like the final two skill points, they are too much like toys (golems, shape-shifting etc). I would rather enhance core skills via a role than just collect crap I can't equip that does nothing very useful. It's like a game for children really.

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