Following a few hours playing Guild Wars 2 over the beta weekend, I had a clear sensation that this is the next generation of MMO.
Or perhaps more specifically, the next generation of casual MMO.
Before I explain, let me start by saying that GW2 looks fantastic.
The character creation menu is the most detailed I have seen in any game to date. I enjoyed tweaking the minutest details of my avatar, before jumping into the world.
The starter zones are bright and beautiful and although the stylized anime-feel might not be everyone’s cup of tea, I felt it successfully achieved the balancing act between realism and performance. Incidentally my laptop had no problems rendering the landscapes, struggling only when there were many player characters onscreen spamming spell effects onto each other.
As you will already be aware if you have been following the game for a while, the quest system omits the MMO tradition of directing the player to kill ten rats, presenting instead a range of optional areas to explore. Once you get to such an area, marked by a heart symbol on the map, you receive notification of clusters of objectives shared between everyone in the vicinity.
If anything is evolutionary in GW2, it is this quest system.
EverQuest brought us world bosses, Warhammer Online brought us public quests, Rift brought us… rifts and now GW2 to me represents the logical continuation of this mechanism, with an ‘anything goes’ free-for-all of killing and collecting.
Being able to go anywhere and join in to assist other players in driving out invading centaurs, protecting an NPC or just picking apples is massive relief. In most other MMOs, you would see yourself competing with these other players, afraid that might kill-steal your rats or collect the apple you were heading towards. Whatever systems are in use for scaling enemy volumes and damage felt ‘just right’.
MMOs are social spaces where gamers can play together, but too often the mechanics can stand in the way. Either by specifying player level, class or skill required to contribute, or by some arbitrary grouping rules such as group size, attunements and lockouts.
GW2 kicks most of these rules to the curb.
One such impactful change is the removal of the trinity – tank, healer and damage dealer. Instead every class has a mix of different skills and a self-heal, with an emphasis on using positioning to reduce incoming damage. I found the most affective tactic was to circle-strafe around higher level enemies spamming abilities in a ‘first come first serve’ basis. If you were waiting for an excuse to buy a Razer Naga mouse, this is it.
Another significant change is the abundance of teleports which provide quick access around battlefields. In previous posts I have commented on my enjoyment of travelling by foot, an aspect which Skyrim used to create sense of scale and wonderment. There’s none of that in GW2, teleports are purely utilitarian. I preferred not to use them during the beta, but I imagine 6 months down I will be grateful for them. This did lead me to question if there is room for pedestrian travel in the post-Diablo 3 world.
All of these features described combine to provide the ideal MMO for casual players.
GW2 is Free to Play (after the initial box purchase) and features simple, fun combat with no barriers to solo or grouping. It is sufficiently different that players who are burnt out on Generation WoW should find it refreshing.
In short, I can see GW2 being everyone’s second MMO, ideal to dip into for half an hour before dinner or with a cup of tea on Sunday morning.