When it comes to MMOs, the first ones that come to mind are always going to be the big ones. World of Warcraft, League of Legends, DOTA, and Starcraft are always mentioned first. There are some good free-to-play MMOs that are around even though the monetization strategy can be clunky, or in some cases brazen cash grabs that turn people off from the games completely.
With the MMO market being so dominated by WoW, there are games that get overlooked, ones that are trying to solve some of the problems that bigger MMOs have. Anyone who has played an MMO extensively knows the problems without having to think very hard. The quests can be repetitive, the grinds can be insanely hard, people will be jerks and kill the players who aren’t paying enough attention … the list goes on and on. There are games that recognize this and are doing what they can to mediate the problems in the wider MMO world. One of these games is an MMORPG called Guild Wars 2.
If you haven’t played it, you’ve probably seen ads from it. It seems like your standard fantasy setup, and although there is a rich tapestry of backgrounds for the races and the world, it doesn’t deviate too much from what you’d expect. There are elf-like races that commune with nature, smaller races that are genius in steam punk mechanics and can build technological wonders, and there are humans who are … well, humans. There are other races that are more original such as the Norn, which are based off of Viking lore, and the Charr, which are basically what you would have if you crossed cats with Roman legionnaires.
So far, so standard. There’s nothing that would jump out at you from this and I have to admit that the very first time I played Guild Wars 2, my opinions on it weren’t great. It felt like they were doing everything they could to make things different from World of Warcraft, so the fighting system was difficult for me to wrap my head around. I made the mistake of choosing a difficult class, so I couldn’t get my bearings in the game, and felt like it was being purposely obtuse.
Once I was able to get past that barrier, I found Guild Wars 2 incredibly enjoyable. They take pride in doing things differently and expanded the classes—so while you had your regular warrior and thief classes, you also had classes like Mesmer that could create clones of itself to fight. The costumes were varied and inventive, and they also had female armor that looked like it would actually do some good. There are, unfortunately, also the ridiculous outfits that look like they belong out of a bad movie. Bikini tops, short skirts, and midriff-baring armor makes you feel ridiculous when you’re running around in the mountains fighting minotaurs while wearing it.
While Guild Wars 2 hasn’t fully passed the hurdle of making their women not look ridiculous when it comes to certain classes, they have made improvements on the questing system. While there are still a lot of “kill this thing” or “find these things” quests, the structure of the quests are looser than one would expect. Step into an area and all of a sudden, you’ll realize that there’s a little to-do list in the top corner of your screen that is telling you what you can do to complete your quest. Finish it and you get karma, as well as a vendor where you can spend the karma you’ve acquired. It takes out a lot of the trudging back and forth between quest giver and quest objective. You can go through the entire game without ever talking to the people you are doing these quests for if you want to.
The other place where Guild Wars 2 shines is how it encourages cooperation between its player base. Players can revive other players, and in fact are encouraged to do so. If there’s a giant boss, players will come in and help each other, sharing the experience and goodies. What this does is it fosters an atmosphere where people are enticed to help you rather than beat you. It eliminates some of the competition in the game that has people doing the most jerky things. Beyond making cooperation something that can help you, Guild Wars 2 also makes it so even if someone else just picked up a resource, you can still pick it up. This means no fighting for crafting materials and no fighting for quest items.
In the end, Guild Wars 2 has an entirely different feeling and can be a good game to play for those who had tried to play MMORPGs and found that the regular MMOs were too focused on player versus player, raiding, and factions. There are no forced factions in Guild Wars 2 despite the name making it sound like there would be, and because there’s no factions, a lot of the tension has been taken out of the game. The focus of Guild Wars 2 is on the personal story of the hero as well as the fight for the world around them. The faction-like enemies that you would fight aren’t other players, but NPCs who you can mow down, making you feel like a bowling ball sending baddies scattering like pins from your path.
There’s only one other major nitpick I have with Guild Wars 2, and that’s the jumping puzzles. They’re a neat, innovative gameplay idea, putting platforming into an MMO that will reward you for figuring out how to jump from one place to another, but … that only works if the camera will play nice and not zoom in to ridiculous angles that make the jumps harder, and if the jump button is more responsive. I love the feeling of finally getting through them, but as you may have guessed, they can be the bane of my existence. Still, I’ve been playing the game for over a year and running around to explore new areas still doesn’t feel like a grind to me, so that has to count for something.
If you’re someone who needs that competitive aspect and will feel lost without the PVP, there’s still world versus world, but it’s nowhere near as prevalent or mandatory as it is in World of Warcraft. But if you’re looking for something that’s different enough to keep you wanting to explore, and with some different fighting mechanics, then Guild Wars 2 is a safe bet. There are other things I haven’t touched on like the crafting system (which I routinely ignore in MMOs) or the lack of mounts (which the world doesn’t seem to need), but there are enough good things about Guild Wars 2 that it’s worth checking out.
Granted, things may change by the end of the game since I haven’t reached the end-game content, but until then I’m perfectly happy running around and exploring a vast, open world with interesting characters. Maybe they’ll decide that they don’t want to have lesbian characters in the game any longer and cut out those parts of the stories, or they’ll make it so you can only make gruff-looking males and beautiful females, but right now Guild Wars 2 presses so many of the right buttons for me that it’s getting a free ride.
So what are you waiting for? Go create a gigantic Norn or an itty bitty Asura and start crafting your own story. I’ll be right there with you, swinging a broadsword while fully clothed in chainmail armor.