I like to think that I can appreciate games of many genres, but I’ve never managed to find an MMO that I’ve enjoyed. My only experience in the genre has been with World of Warcraft, which I slugged through until I hit around level forty. I can completely understand why many people enjoy the game and genre, but in WoW’s case, the story, setting, and grind failed to captivate me. I just couldn’t motivate myself to spend hours of my time watching my chunky avatar swipe away at murloc after murloc. I tried to stick with it until the higher levels where the more advanced skill tree and instances “make the game, like, so much better”, according to my friends. I couldn’t do it, and I declared that MMO’s were not my thing. With such limited knowledge in regards to the genre, it only makes sense for me to preview Guild Wars 2.
Since my failed experiment with WOW was years back, I have had relatively little exposure to MMO’s, meaning that I jumped into a game where very little is familiar to me.
Over my Beta weekends, I took a shotgun approach to gameplay, attempting to get a feel for Guild Wars 2′s varied races and classes. I was immediately struck by how unique the playable races were. Next to the standard human and human-variant races, there were many creative species, such as the Sylvari, a literal take of the Wood Elf. The Char, a somewhat antagonistic species, from what I understand, were also extremely enjoyable, as they were a far more interesting representation of your standard “evil fantasy race.”
One of the first things that struck me was how missions and events were far less cookie-cutter and much more immersive. The introductory mission for the human characters was incredibly exciting, as I was quickly thrust into the heart of a full scale invasion. As my “teammates” and I pushed forward, I couldn’t help but be impressed by the cinematic production value. It was far from the floating windows of text that I remember from WoW.
I was most curious about the much hyped combat system, which for me felt like it would be the deal breaker. If it was anywhere near the tedious monotony of WoW, I’d have a problem. I was lucky, as the game, for the most part, did plenty to keep the combat fresh and enjoyable. The combat system was more or less real-time, giving me plenty of inventory options and skills to deploy. Even though I found the combat to be a little too frantic and cluttered during large multiplayer battles, it was far more engaging than anything I expected.
Most staggering, however, was how Guild Wars 2 handles questing alongside other human players. In the introductory mission of the human campaign, I had to defend a large castle bridge as the sentry lowered the gates for me. After fighting a few enemies for a minute or two, another human player came into the fray, helping me hold off the foes. Quickly, more and more players came to join, fighting a force of increasing numbers.
Eventually, our gate lowered, and our impromptu party continued on into the castle, which eventually lead us into a massive boss fight. The whole sequence astounded me – seeing how seamlessly other players merged into my experience was a workbook technical beauty. There were no “lobbies” or waiting times to join what I believe was an instance.
From what I understand, an instance is more or less a “pocket” of the virtual world, separated and only shared by a small number of players. In the case of the bridge defense, I was certain that I had entered something like an instance, yet it was so seamless, without load times or waiting areas. This immersion was an element that seemed to dominate my experience with Guild Wars 2.
Guild Wars 2 seems like the sort of MMO that many wistful gamers dreamed about since the genre’s inception. I was always pushed away from MMO’s because they felt like they never provided what I wanted, whilst providing exactly what I didn’t. With WoW, instead of immersive storylines and a dynamic world with exciting gameplay, I got a text-heavy grindfest. The pocketed dungeons, while necessary, felt like they added an artificial feeling of connection with this giant world.
I’m not saying that Guild Wars 2 is the first game to live up to these seemingly Molyneux-esque expectations, especially only from two weekends of gameplay, but that isn’t really the point. What’s important is that the game isn’t just getting the hardcore crowd excited. Guild Wars 2 is seemingly drumming up a palpable level of excitement from the players, while not necessarily casual, that have always been turned off by MMO’s. Myself included. Perhaps more travelled MMO players may see the smoother presentation and action-based combat as casual-ization of the game, but as a man with a PC and a wallet, I just see it as fun time. And that’s why we play, after all, isn’t it?