I have been playing Guild Wars 2 since it launched its early access nearly two weeks ago. Having had some time to digest what this game has to offer, let me go over some of my initial thoughts. Firstly I feel the combat as a whole is very satisfying, especially when my character uses her two weapon sets and ten different powers while defeating several enemies in a flashy and colourful dance of death. Of course like most MMOs there are some things left up to the player to understand. For better or worse, I have spent time on the wiki looking up information that any single player game would have been expected to give up front. Traveling around the world is a breeze and there is always something to find or do while moving through each area. Moving great distances is easy thanks to an instant travel system that really makes the flight paths in W.O.W. feel like antiquated time wasters. Even the story itself has left me laughing once or twice. (once i even laughed with the game instead of at it). Much of the dialogue ranges from “okay”, to the quality of the play I wrote in middle school (The play had a dancing bunny. that’s all I really remember about it through my repressed memories). For the longest time I knew I should love this game, it just never really connected with me on a fundamental level. Was I missing something? then it hit me one night when i was talking to my friends in the guild chat while we all did separate things in totally separate areas of the world. I had played on my own, with groups of my friends and I had been involved in the massive area quests with hordes of strangers. Not once had I talked to or voluntarily group up with a stranger.
My fundamental problem with Guild Wars 2 is that it isn’t really an MMO. It is much more like the first Guild Wars than it first appears to be. The period of time I had the most fun playing the game was the first day it came out. Several friends and I had the game pre purchased, when the servers went up at three in the morning, we started playing. We moved around the world together and experienced what at the time seemed like the second coming for the MMO genre. We explored the main city, Lion’s Arch, together for at least two hours. After playing for more than twelve hours we had to get back to reality (my wife is very understanding of the fact that I'm nerdy but I don't like to push it) and we stopped playing for the night. Much of that experience felt like the first Guild Wars. The first guild wars was mostly instanced, the only areas that you would see other players out of your party were the cities. the rest of the game was more like a single player game than an MMO. The only real difference was that there were now other people in the world having their own unique experience around us while we played together. That to me is not what an MMO should be.
Massively Multiplayer Online game. Guild Wars 2 has all of those aspects in spades. The world is massive and the servers can be packed full of people all playing in the same area running, questing, fight and in some cases dieing. What it doesn't do is really pull all of those things together into one cohesive experience. The reason for this is relatively obvious to me. I have never had to directly interact with other players in this massive world. Instead, everyone has their own instanced version of events that allows for a minimum amount of player interaction. If my character cuts down a tree, my screen is the only one affected by that action, everyone else can still see and interact with that tree. This is great for making me not hate the other players as we rush over one another for a finite number of mineral deposits. In the grand scheme of things it also means that I (and i believe other players as well) can totally ignore the other people in my world.
One of the hallmarks that this game has been built on are the massive open group encounters. When one of these takes place there are so many spell effects characters on screen that it can become a little confusing. Add to that all of the pet skill animations and the player tags, it is impossible to really understand what's happening between the other players and the NPCs during a battle. Because there is no trinity (tank, dps healer) the battles have no defined roles for anyone to play other than “hit attack buttons while other people also hit attack buttons and see the health bar go down”. The lack of roles makes each big battle and fight with the umptienth worm in a farmers field feel basically the same. When the boss is dead everyone goes on their separate ways never having had to talk or coordinate while fighting. I have never seen a moment where a group of strangers has been forced to work together in any real way by the events in the world around them. Its all just so insular. There can be more than thirty other players at a time all fighting to kill the same enemy, yet if tomorrow someone were to tell me that all the other players are actually just incredibly well programed NPCs I don't think it would change how I play the game at all.
Those are some of the bigger reasons why Guild Wars 2 has failed to grab anything more than my passing attention. By making it so I don't need interactions with people that I wouldn’t already be interacting with it also loses the most unique thing that I feel MMOs have going for them. That “thing” is community, and the feeling of being part of something bigger than yourself. If I just want to play an action game, I can find far better single player or small scale multiplayer games to play. The only reason that I would ever even look at an MMO is because they have other people to make the world interesting. Take that away and all you are left with is Guild Wars 2 PvE world, an instanced world full of people who feel more like ghosts than other people interacting and adventuring in the same world as me.
I should say that I find the PVP in the game to be opposite of the PvE. Its totally based on other people working together and it rewards those people who want to work together with strangers. At this time I have not yet gotten to the end of the game, so for all I know the game will change and become exactly what I’m looking for in terms of PvE. The saving grace for this game to me is that all my friends are playing it. The lack of a subscription fee doesn’t hurt either. If it wasn't for those two things I think I would have been long done. Of course who knows, maybe the end game will blow me away and change my mind about this whole thing.