Michael Iantorno PhD Candidate, Game Designer, and Writer

Guild Wars 2: First Impressions

There’s been a lot of huffing and puffing on the internet about Guild Wars 2. It seems all summer long message boards and blogs have been extolling the game as a revolution of its genre. The boldest of these pundits have even labeled it a World of Warcraft killer (a moniker that officially lost all meaning after it was applied to Star Wars: The Old Republic). At best these comments can be deemed as hyperbole, but could there be a kernel of truth at their core?

Having played the game for a week now, I’d like to put this issue to bed. Guild Wars 2 is not the MMO messiah. It’s not going to turn the industry upside down, and it certainly won’t send World of Warcraft to bed with the daisies.

However, it is still very very good.

A misconception has been made that Guild Wars 2 aims to revolutionize its genre. This is more or less an impossible notion. The MMO industry is a dawdling behemoth. The enormous overhead tethered to massively multiplayer projects forces developers to be extremely risk adverse. Unlike offline titles (which can play the long game with digital sales), MMOs need to sell a large quantity of boxes and subscriptions upfront to break even. New titles tend to stick with what already works, focusing instead on adding a handful of new frills to act as market differentiators.

Furthermore, it’s only been recently that the technology has caught up to the imaginations of developers. The large scale skirmishes of Planetside 2 and combat telegraphing of WildStar were simply not possible four or five years ago. The server technology and fidelity of internet connections just wasn’t there. And despite these great leaps, developers still find themselves clipping their own wings to keep their projects within scope.

Evolution is the name of the game, not revolution, and that’s exactly what ArenaNet brings to the table.

This refinement is illustrated well by the progression of player crafting through Guild Wars 2 and its predecessors. In EverQuest, crafting was more or less an afterthought. Reagents were bought or dropped randomly from monsters, and there was little of value to create. World of Warcraft refined the experience by adding collectable resource nodes and recipes that rewarded equipment and other goodies that immediately empowered a player. Guild Wars 2 further develops the idea by eschewing recipes entirely. Players are instead presented a discovery grid where they can mix and match ingredients, concocting combinations of their own and receiving bonus experience for doing so.

Although the notion of trade skills dates back to the primordial era of multi-user dungeons, one could scarcely confuse the crafting system of Guild Wars 2 with its great grandfather in Realms of Despair. These incremental improvements are in fact what keep games feeling modern and compelling. If other titles have taken this approach and failed, it’s because they’ve suffered from tunnel vision. Star Wars: The Old Republic boasted a narrative that put Blizzard’s lore to shame, but the combat felt ancient. Age of Conan in turn offered satisfying twitch combat, but lacked the comprehensive questing and raid content we’ve grown accustomed to. Guild Wars 2 succeeds because it addresses the whole package.

There are few mechanics in the game that can’t be considered a direct improvement over World of Warcraft. Crafting, as already mentioned, is stellar. Combat is tactical and fluid, encouraging a freedom of movement impossible in World of Warcraft. Player versus player combat is hardly comparable; the battlegrounds of Azeroth feel like playground spats next to the server versus server skirmishes of Guild Wars 2. Questing, dungeon crawling, character advancement – it all just feels better.

But there is nothing revolutionary to be found here. In order to enjoy Guild Wars 2, you have to purge that expectation from your mind. Guild Wars 2 succeeds by refining the mechanics of its predecessor World of Warcraft in the same way World of Warcraft succeeded by refining the mechanics of EverQuest. Innovation takes a backseat to polish, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. World of Warcraft is fast approaching its tenth birthday, and we should be eager to welcome its spry younger brother to the fold.

In the end, ArenaNet has brought us a highly enjoyable and addictive MMORPG in the classic mold, and that’s all we really could have expected of them.

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By Mathew
Michael Iantorno PhD Candidate, Game Designer, and Writer