You can already see the signs of dissention in Guild Wars 2’s official forums. One player complains that Guild Wars 2’s combat isn’t anywhere near as action-based as TERA’s (and therefore it sucks), another person says leveling feels too much like a grind, and some of ArenaNet’s diehards say it feels too different from Guild Wars 1 for their tastes. It’s the sort of critical ball that started rolling with blinding speed about a month after Star Wars: The Old Republic’s release and led to one of the most negative player backlashes in MMORPG history. But despite all that, I don’t think Guild Wars 2 will suffer the same fate. Sure, some of these concerns are valid, but I think ArenaNet has made enough good decisions to keep fans happy.
1. Story Doesn’t Get in the Way of Gameplay
Star Wars: The Old Republic’s greatest gift to the MMORPG community was the idea that quests didn’t have to consist tiny reams of text; instead we learned that they could have all the depth of interactions in games like Mass Effect (if you’re willing to throw tens of millions of dollars into the effort). The problem is that most of us treated that gift like I treated the Pogo Ball I got for Christmas in 1985 — we had fun with it for a few days and then left it to rot in our closets. Doled out in such heavy doses, SWTOR’s fully voiced interactions ended up paradoxically subtracting from the MMO experience.
Guild Wars 2 also places a heavy emphasis on voiced storylines, but it doesn’t make you carry them around your neck and they don’t take precedence over the action. Cinematic interactions usually only pop up during your class questline, leaving you to enjoy them at your leisure so you can spend the rest of your quest time with your friends without such interruptions. GW2’s story always stays in the background, as it rightfully should in a genre that revolves around working with other players instead of forging ahead alone. Best of all, you’ll never feel like you over-leveled an instanced story quest thanks to GW2’s scaling system.
2. Guild Wars 2 Understands MMORPGs Should Be About Player Interaction
Say what you will about the quest structure, think what you might about the dynamic events, but I still think the greatest aspect of Guild Wars 2 is the way it encourages us to play together. Gone are the angry moments when another player swoops in and steals your kill (and thus your quest objectives) in almost every other MMO; instead, you get a rare sense of satisfaction out of helping players in need because both players get experience points for the kill. Guild Wars 2 even forges a mild sense of community by only allowing you to fight alongside server mates in World-versus-World combat, while it also allows some social fluidity by letting you visit another server at your leisure.
I do have my worries about the system, such as the way it sometimes seems to discourage one-on-one chats because you just finish the kill and get on with your lives, but even at its weakest it avoids the sense of isolation that build up while in SWTOR’s cinematic world. Even if we don’t always talk to other players, we’re at least interacting with them, and I think most players will agree that Guild Wars 2 gets that crucial factor right.
3. Guild Wars 2’s World Feels Much More Alive
I deeply enjoyed some of the class storylines in SWTOR, but as I played I was always a little disappointed by how little life there seemed to be in the world itself. Patrolling elites essentially dodn’t exist, and most clusters of quest enemies just stand around waiting to be attacked. In retrospect, I think this killed the enthusiasm for SWTOR more than any factor — there’s rarely was a sense that you can just go out and slaughter random enemies and get some excitement out of it. Once you leave the vivid cutscenes, most of SWTOR’s galaxy is a pretty lifeless place.
By contrast, Guild Wars 2’s dynamic events go a long way toward breathing a sense of life into the world of Tyria, and I still find myself surprised by the little quirks. Just this weekend I alt-tabbed in what I thought was a safe place northeast of the Norn capital of Hoelbrak, and I tabbed back in to find myself under attack by an enemy I couldn’t see at first. It turns out that a bunch of evil Norns were using a trebuchet to hurl rocks at me from what seemed like half a mile away! That… that was so awesome. Tyria earns much of its charm from little touches like that, but even the simple shifts from night to day provide an essential dose of immersion that SWTOR doesn’t.
4. Guild Wars 2 Doesn’t Have a Traditional Endgame
I know this probably counts a downside for some of my old raiding buddies, but, at least these days, I like the idea of there being something to my MMORPGs besides rushing to the level cap and participating in scheduled raids. That’s ultimately the point of most traditional MMORPGs (unless they have a PvP structure that’s good for something other than a diversion), and that’s what made SWTOR run out of steam so quickly once most guilds had cleared the content. SWTOR still relies on an increasingly dated “hardcore” style that turns raiding into a job — once you’re done with your shift, all you want to do is leave and go home.
Instead, Guild Wars 2 is a casual game in the very best sense of the term. It does have a ridiculously high level cap for a new release (80), but much of what makes a traditional endgame (big bosses, giant PvP battles, hard dungeons) is wrapped up in the leveling experience itself. More than ever, the journey is more important than the destination. It’s therefore not a raider’s game like SWTOR or WoW, so such players probably won’t find much reason to stick around, but it also means that people with limited time can enjoy Guild Wars 2 without feeling like they’re missing out on much. I do think they’ll need frequent content updates to keep that model sustainable, but I’m not that worried because…
5. So Far, ArenaNet is Better at Addressing Player Concerns Than BioWare
Keep in mind that we’re just about at SWTOR’s half-year anniversary (we’ve already passed it if you count the head start), and yet we haven’t seen anything remotely like Rift’s half-birthday event. BioWare, it seems, is a little cautious about celebrating. Instead, features that should have been added months ago, such as better group-finding tools, are just now announced as making their way in via a patch that still doesn’t have a release date.
ArenaNet, on the other hand, went all-out in making players happy for last week’s beta event, taking into account the feedback from the previous one. For one, they doubled the amount of available servers, which helped with the concerns about lag. For another, the cash shop now feels less like similar interfaces in Facebook social games and more like a lore-based trading company. Others fixes included adding chat bubbles, allowing keybind customization, putting the energy meter for dodging in a more intuitive place, a redesigned minimap (I’m on the fence about that one), and improved feedback for when you’ve hit a target. If they can whip all that out in around a month, we have very few reasons to worry ArenaNet taking anywhere near as long to fix things as BioWare has.