As someone who has sunk in thousands of played hours and thousands of dollars into a single online game World of Warcraft, since 2004, no game has managed to tempt me to look the other way. Until now. I have recently participated in the Guild Wars 2 final beta weekend. Putting my hyper-optimistic hat on, the game has blown my socks away. Even with my skeptical hat on, S$59.99 is a no-brainer for such a fine game that has no monthly subscription fees.
When considering a MMO game, money is not the major component. Time is. In this blog post, I am going to critically look at Guild War 2 from the eyes of a WoW veteran as well as a loyal Blizzard customer. I am not going to clinically dissect Guild Wars 2. That I have already done so in Google+ and the original write-up will be shared at the end of this post, together with a link to some of my favorite screenshots taken during the beta weekend.
From character customization to the environment, the art and graphics is top notch. I have played many video games. None has empowered me to create a truly beautiful and unique looking character to my liking. From the finest facial features to body shape and height, even down to costumes and make-up. I could spend hours customizing my character, name my character with a unique family name, and create a personal story. Why is this important? As a role-playing game, emotional attachment is a key factor. Guild Wars 2 just have that very edge. To get us attached to our characters, and to the virtual world that is so beautiful to look at. I want to be inside that world.
The Freedom to Progress
A typical online game usually consists of quest givers standing or pacing around a known location, dishing out known quests for us to earn experience points and rewards. Collect 20 dried wood pieces and 20 metal scraps. Kill 20 boars and loot 20 snouts. Sure, there are quest texts that tell you why these wood and metal pieces, boars and snouts are so important. Chances are, you yawn, skip the text, and do what is asked of you. Everything is linear. Predictability is a key feature for the traditional MMO games.
In Guild Wars 2, while there are still quest givers (like a few in the entire zone), most quests are driven by dynamic events. What do I mean by that? You venture into an area. All of a sudden, there is a call-out signaling to you that there is an event happening nearby. The farmers need some help. You walk into the farm while other players may have already progressed into the event. The event scales up as more players are in the area. Multiple objectives are shown on your screen. You can either help to drive out the waves of bandits. Or put out the fire on the burning crops. Or you could do some weeding, feed the cows. The choice is yours. If you feel like it, you could stay throughout the event, drive out as many bandits as you can or feed as many cows as you like. Alternatively, after a certain level of contribution, you could walk away and do something else. Chances are, there is another event happening next door.
So, what is the point in doing dynamic events? Depending on your level of contribution, you may earn a bronze, silver, or gold medal that has a direct impact to your in-game currency and more. But you don’t have to get a gold medal all the time. You don’t have to collect 20 dried wood pieces, 20 metal scraps, kill 20 boars, and loot 20 snouts if you don’t feel it. Participation is key. You don’t enjoy the event? Do a bit or none, then move on. You like what you are doing? Stay long enough and get a gold medal. The choice is yours.
Another thing I notice is that in Guild Wars 2, there is no quest log, which in a traditional MMO, it is essentially a list of to-dos. Online gaming should not feel like work. As I enter a designated quest area, a quest would suddenly show up on my screen. As I venture out of the area perhaps distracted by a nearby dynamic event, the quest would disappear, but the progress is saved. The next time I return, the quest reappears, together with my past progress.
A Fresh Approach to Combat System
I wouldn’t say Guild Wars 2‘s combat system is far superior than other MMO games. It is certainly sophisticated. In a traditional MMO like WoW, you tend to have 20 or 30 buttons lined up on your screen. You stand still, lock a target, and you cast a spell. You mix a few spells according to some priority or rotation systems. You may be required to occasionally move out of danger, or switch targets, that’s about it. And then in a dungeon setting, there is this tank-heal-DPS trinity. Each has a role to fulfill. There is no go till the trinity is formed.
In Guild Wars 2, every profession (i.e. class) has a self-heal spell. There is no tank or DPS concept. Fallen allies can be revived. You can move while casting spells. You have a finite number of spells (like 10) depending on your profession and the weapon type. You may switch to another weapon in the middle of a fight to switch 5 spells and potentially change your strategy. Casting spells generates unique profession specific resources that can be consumed for a more powerful ability. Even when defeated, you can still fight to survive using 4 abilities. When you win, you get back up. Is this a better combat system? Too early to tell. But I welcome a fresh approach.
The Freedom to Play When I Want, However Little I Want
Traditional MMO build their business model on recurring income. To get you paying a monthly fee and continuing to play the game, they put in place incentives that compel you to play regularly. Most are repetitive contents that may not even be fun by the time you have done it zillions of times. But you will do it nonetheless; keep paying while you are at it; keep paying even when you hardly log on.
Guild Wars 2 by and large frees us from the above scenario. You pay once and you can play as much or little as you like. There is no monthly fees. There will be micro-transactions though. But I wouldn’t mind paying if the game is fun, although I don’t have to. This is a fairer deal, I think.
A Few Other Things
Honestly speaking, I have no idea what the end game is like for Guild Wars 2. Those who enjoy PvP would indulge into World versus World battle. The level cap for PvE is 80 so I reckon there should be enough things to do before reaching there. Cynthia and I have already pre-purchased the game and we will have a head-start this Saturday. The game will be launched next Tuesday. To join us, more information can be found in my Google+ profile.
- Click here to see the beautiful screenshots I have taken during the beta weekend.
- Click here to read more about my first impression.