There’s something off about Guild War 2’s approach to socialization. You might remember that I’d worried about the strength of its community back in August. While it’s since proven itself to be an outstanding MMORPG in most respects, it’s bad news for a game that seems designed to favor socialization over hardcore progression that I recently met a level 61 player who didn’t know he could use /s command to chat directly with other players. He’d been in numerous dynamic events and even jumped into PvP for a bit, but for him, the experience of Guild Wars 2 was no more social than speeding down a busy highway. There are problems here, and I can point to two major ones that together pose significant challenges for the continued success of ArenaNet’s ambitious MMORPG.
1. Guilds Lack Cohesion
I’ve been in 11 guilds since I started playing Guild Wars 2. Eleven. That’s a personal MMO record. World of Warcraft comes in second place with six, but that’s only because I’ve played off and on for eight years now. Guild Wars 2, by contrast, has graced my hard drive for a mere three months. By and large, I’ve found that its guilds seem to lack the cohesion of guilds in other MMOs, which may prove disastrous for the experience of all players.
My typical experience with guilds in Guild Wars 2 goes something like this: I join up, seduced by the promise of dozens of active, social members and frequent expeditions into dungeons and PvP, only to find myself dumped into a guild chat channel where no one responds to simple chat or to my offers to help — aside, that is, from a hopeful guild leader. This status quo maintains itself for perhaps a week, but eventually I’ll open up my guild tab to find most online players representing another guild or even cavorting about on a different server. The good news is that I think I’ve now found a decent guild; the sad news is that my standard for “a decent guild” has declined to where all I require is that people chat and acknowledge each other’s existence.
Meanwhile, I’ve seen guilds who transplanted from other MMORPGs that seem to be doing fine, because the bonds of kinship were already strong. What makes Guild Wars 2 fertile grounds for existing guilds, but a terrible incubator for new ones? The culprit, it would seem, is Guild Wars 2’s ostensibly attractive open-ended approach to guild membership. Even though you can only “represent” one guild at a time (thereby letting their tag appear by your name and letting you access guild chat), you can join as many guilds as you want — even across servers. It’s a good idea, in theory, as it lets you flip between progression-based bands of hardasses and buddies who might be out for pure, simple fun without the drama that such guild shifts create elsewhere.
In practice, too many players use it as a “flavor of the month” feature. They join up for a couple of days and hang around, but after they encounter an ad or invitation that promises even better times, they represent the new guilds. Few new guilds get a chance to build a community in the midst of all this fickle shuffling, and consequently most seem to die as quickly as they’re founded. That’s got to be depressing for players like me who jumped into Guild Wars 2 alone, and I suspect we make up a huge chunk of the playerbase.
2. Guild Wars 2 Needs a Dungeon Finder
It’s sad when a dungeon-finding tool is in such demand that players make entire new websites to fill the need. One even has an Android app. To my knowledge, at least, even Star Wars: The Old Republic never got that bad during its reluctant march to free-to-play and its eventual adoption of the controversial mechanic. I’m well aware that PvE in Guild Wars 2 is technically a secondary feature, but as I said in my review, it seems odd to omit a dungeon finder in a world that lets you jump between waypoints with all the ease of cutting and pasting a hyperlink.
It’s particularly worrisome these days: now that many players have reached the level cap, there are only a few looking to run the story-mode dungeons needed to unlock the harder explorable modes. Worse yet, I’ve been in multiple groups for story modes where level-80 leaders kicked level-appropriate players because they worry that their lack of experience will make their run harder than it needs to be.
There are arguments against dungeon-finders on the grounds they hurt community, but these days, I’m not convinced that standing in the middle of Lion’s Arch and begging for a group is somehow more social than queueing in a tool. If you ask for an extra group member more than once every five minutes, you’re accused of spamming (and let’s be honest: you kind of are). It also means that valuable time that could be spent on leveling alts or finishing your dailies gets wasted on begging. Begging isn’t fun. If anything, it’s worse now with Guild Wars 2’s otherwise entertaining Fractals of the Mists, as its “endless” structure leaves players on different tiers of progression. These days, at least on my server, 80% of the posts in Lion’s Arch chat seem composed of these messages.
It’s worth noting that I’m not worried that a dungeon-finder tool will “ruin” the social experience of ArenaNet’s game as it may have done with World of Warcraft. Unlike WoW’s, Guild Wars 2’s dungeons demand cooperation and communication on every playthrough, and that difficulty alone prevents players from slipping into a familiar trinity-based rhythm that trivializes the experience and robs the dungeons of most of their novelty and fun. Without exception, I feel like I know the players I’m with once I finish a dungeon, and I highly doubt that feeling will vanish with a group-finding tool. If ArenaNet ever implements its long-promised “guesting” tool, even servers won’t get in the way of hooking up with some of these random-players-turned-friends again.
These aren’t the only problems, of course. I could point out that the punching-bag design of Guild Wars 2’s outdoor dragons yields little of the cooperative excitement of world bosses in other games, or how many dynamic events sometimes make me feel less like a member of a powerful fellowship than just another nameless sans-culotte ransacking the Tuileries. But these are secondary problems, dwarfed by the issues posed by Guild Wars 2’s flighty guilds and the missing dungeon finder. Sure, a good guild will solve all these problems — but a good guild, like most good things, is hard to find.