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The Case for Guild Wars 2

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On Jumping the Shark #139, while talking about upcoming releases, we rather clumsily stumbled around next week’s release of Guild Wars 2. I say “clumsily” only because none of us have really paid enough attention to the mechanics of the game to really know what it’s supposed to be all about. We know it’s an MMO, and in a time when most of the big MMO’s are barely modest derivations of every other MMO/WoW, what else is there to know? The game not having a monthly subscription model isn’t remotely reason enough to buy it. So, Garion333 helpfully posted this link in the podcast’s comments section. It leads to a page loaded with Guild Wars 2 info written for people who aren’t familiar with Guild Wars. This one might really be different, folks. Watch the video above and check the site if you want details that are actually detailed.

For me, here’s the thing – I’m not sure it’ll matter…

Watching the video and reading more about Guild Wars 2 gave me all sorts of favorable impressions. This game targets a lot of the bigger problems I have with MMOs. They’re throwing out the Kill 10 Foozles quests, they’re putting in dynamic quest chains that are capable of spreading across regions so that everybody in the room isn’t repeating the same actions over and over again. If a town is decimated in your quest then that town is decimated for everyone else too, whether they participated or not. That’s pretty damn cool. I haven’t fully read up on the combat model yet, but it’s clearly not the hack-a-skill and wait-for-cooldown tedium we’ve all come to know and be bored with. And they’re specifically designing the game so as to not have to deal with The Grind of spending hours upon hours leveling up your character just to get to that 30 minutes of gameplay that’s actually cool. (Cough. Star Wars. Cough.)

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Combine that sort of stuff with a model that has no monthly fee nor (I don’t think) a micro-transaction-driven economy and suddenly the game looks like it’s worth a look when it releases next week.

So how come I’m on the fence? I hate to say it, but because it’s an MMO. I don’t mean that in a smug “all MMO’s are shit” kind of way. I’ve been giving this a lot of thought this week as I try to decide if I’m going to buy Guild Wars 2. The problem is that the big reason I play RPGs is that I like fantastical stories and not just stories, but stories with a beginning, middle, and an end. I want a place to start and a place to finish because that’s what a story demands. If it doesn’t end, how do I know when I’m done?

Sure, I can just be done when I tire of the place, but that’s not really my point. What would the story of Witcher 2 be if it didn’t have an ending? Or Ultima V? Or Baldur’s Gate II? Endings don’t just let you know when you’re (probably) done playing the game. A great ending is the culmination of everything you’ve put into the game. It is pure satisfaction (or frustration). Just playing around in a sandbox until you get bored isn’t the same and knowing that there will be no climax to my adventure in Guild Wars 2 makes it hard for me to want to suit up for it in the first place, no matter how good the experience of playing might be.

YouTube video

On the other hand, I was a big fan of Mount & Blade and there are some elements to how the Guild Wars 2 world works that seem like an intriguing MMO parallel. Here’s a rather sizable quote from the Mass Info page:

Dynamic Events – So there are no quests in GW2, you never go to an NPC and read a wall of text that says for you to go collect 10 bear furs. You see content as it happens, right in front of you and everyone else. Well how am I supposed to level you ask? The answer to that is Dynamic Events. They’re always happening everywhere around you, when you come across one you’ll get a notification that there are new events nearby. Dynamic Events are structured so that you might see a single one-off event all the way to 20 events within a chain. Though a chain isn’t a very accurate description, they’re more like tree branches. Events aren’t merely black & white though, it’s not as simple as Event 1 goes into Event 2 and then Event 3.

Let me give you an example:

Say there’s a Dredge army making their way out of their base. You could possibly get together with people and defeat the Dredge allowing you to push into their base, defeat their commander, rescue captured soldiers, and then even defend the base against rallying Dredge who try to retake it.

Now let’s say you either ignore or fail to kill the Dredge army, that army will then create a base in friendly territory, they’ll build walls, create siege weaponry for defense, etc. They’ll then send out bands of Dredge to sack nearby towns, they might send out a sniper to the nearby hills to kill merchants. Now it’s your job to defeat them, destroy their new base, liberate any taken towns, and even then push back to their original stronghold. This all stems from ONE single event, the Dredge army marching from their base and there are 1,600 of these events currently, all hand scripted.

On top of all of this ArenaNet has said things aren’t going to just respawn 5 minutes later, events can take hours, days, weeks, and even months to be back in the same exact way you may have seen it originally. Also, this has to take into account player interaction, if no player does anything the enemy will still move on and conquer the world whether you’re there or not. Events also affect other events like a chain reaction, some events can have zone wide consequences, some are triggered through player interaction with an NPC or an object in the world, weather systems, day & night cycles, etc. Nor does this take into account the different experiences you’ll have playing with different profession combos making even those experiences unique due to profession synergy.

This, to me, is a lot like what I loved most about Mount & Blade. The world moved forward and how much you participated in that was up to you. If a lord laid siege to a castle I could go help the besieged, or join the group running the siege, or I could just go on my merry and the siege would resolve itself. The idea that the Guild Wars 2 world could operate this way is intriguing as all get out. The flip side of this is the world of Mount & Blade does wait for me when I’m not actually playing the game. If I leave it for a week, what I go back to is the same world I left behind. If I leave Guild Wars 2 for a month and come back, will I be completely lost? I don’t think I want a game that I have to keep playing all the time in order to know what’s happening in the world.

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So, will I be joining up when the game comes out? I haven’t the foggiest. I haven’t, however, ruled it out and that is more than I can say for most MMO releases.



Todd Brakke

Todd was born in Ann Arbor with a Michigan helmet in one hand and a mouse in the other. (Never you mind the logistics of this.) He grew, vertically anyway, and proceeded to spend over 16 years as a development editor for Pearson Education, publishing books, videos, and digital learning products under the Que and Sams Publishing imprints. Because that wasn't enough of a challenge, Todd has also been a 20-year part-time snob about video games, writing reviews, features, and more for multiple outlets. Follow him on Twitter @ubrakto or check it out his website at

35 thoughts to “The Case for Guild Wars 2”

  1. I pre-ordered it the other day. Only reason I’m in is becuase so many people I know are playing. I’m honestly not that excited about it because I think the fantasy MMO genre has been beaten to death. What more am I going to get out of this that I didn’t get out of Dark Age of Camelot, Everquest 2, WoW, Warhammer Online, or Lord of the Rings Online?

    I’ve looked at the class/race combos and I’m rather “meh” about it all, but I’m in. We’ll see how it goes.

  2. They make a good pitch, but I’ll wait and see some gameplay videos I think. I’m kind of burnt on the whole MMO thing (although I can’t help but be interested in TSW). They have to prove to me that not only are they eliminating the MMO tropes I’m tired of (1-9 keyboard combat, kill 10 bears, worlds you can’t really impact, etc.), but that they’re actually replacing them with something better.

    1. Quick comments on the tropes you mentioned:

      a) “1-9 keyboard combat” – GW2 is like that, but also isn’t. You do have 10 skills to use; the first 5 are tied to the weapon(s) you’re using, 6th is always some sort of healing skill, 7-9 are utility skills that you can choose freely, and 0 is always an elite skill. While you’ll be using those skills most of the time, GW2 has a very definite focus on mobility – so you’ll be strafing and dodging most of the time, while using those skills, and (depending on the class) switching weapons and such. I’d say they didn’t change the trope much, just enough to make it “fresher”. And it works just fine, in my opinion.

      b) “kill 10 bears” – that still exists, though with some major differences to other RPGs. You don’t need to take a quest from a quest giver – as soon as you reach an area, there are quite a few activities that you can do to help, and those activities fill up a progress bar. There are usually a few options, so you can either kill something, collect something, or interact with something, and they all add up to fill the needs of whomever is there. There’s almost never a set number, so it’s less immersion-breaking than the old “get 10 of this and kill 4 of that”. It might seem a small difference, but I think it is a bigger deal than it seems to be.

      c) “worlds you can’t really impact” – dynamic events help a lot in making the GW2 world more dynamic – sometimes areas will be contested, and as Todd mentioned, the map can change quite a bit – but it will most likely be in a “flow” between several different states. Those changes are almost never permanent, though, and they will repeat themselves. ArenaNet said they’ll change dynamic events regularly, though, and that might bring more permanent changes. We’ll see.

      So, GW2 is an MMO, and therefore it relies on those tropes (which are in fact more RPG tropes than MMO tropes alone), but it tries to change them enough to still play similarly, but still feel fresh. I personally feel they largely succeeded in doing so, but I can see people feeling otherwise. I’m personally very impressed by what ArenaNet did with Guild Wars 2, and I’ll probably play it for months and years to come.

  3. You should look into the characters personal story quest line. Every character you create has their own series of instanced mission/quests tailored toward your character and the choices you character makes. From what I’ve seen these stories vary greatly across different races and people who make different choices. These storyline quests go with you all the way through leveling your character and take you across the map while also revealing the greater story behind Guild Wars 2 all the way to it’s conclusion.

    Guild Wars 1 was a story driven game and from what I was able to play of Guild Wars 2 during the beta weekends they haven’t neglected the emphasis on story.

    Even when not pursuing your main storyline quest chain everywhere you go you are immersed in character dialog and snippets of the current local or global situation from nearby npcs. When you start off most of the problems are local things that normal people have, but as you progress and reach higher level areas people start to talk about the larger threat and you see signs of bigger things afoot. The whole environment is geared towards immersing you in the story of the world.

  4. Some things first, Todd. While the dynamic events are a way of making the game for dynamic, they are not how Guild Wars 2 tells its story. There are story missions (which are instanced, by the way) and dungeons, with suitably epic confrontations on the way.

    Sure, smaller stories will be told by dynamic events. ArenaNet already said that they plan to add dynamic events to all areas frequently, or to replace dynamic events with others from time to time. That means that you may revisit a low-level area months from now and find a whole lot of stuff you’ve never seen before, and you can do that with your high-level characters, as they’re scaled down when in lower level areas to make sure it’s still somewhat challenging and satisfactory.

    GW2 has a lot of good ideas, ideas that are by themselves worth the price of admission. ArenaNet is fully commited to this game, and they’ll be working on it in the foreseeable future. Judging from what I’ve played of it so far (in the Beta Weekend Events and stress tests), it’s a really fun game, casual friendly, and very well designed. It may well be the “MMO for people who don’t like MMOs very much”, which might fit you just perfectly. 😉

  5. By the way, I’ll be in the US Sanctum of Rall server. Also, who will create the official NHS guild in GW2? 😉

  6. I think the best feature of Guild Wars 2 no one is talking about is the fact that they reward you for helping other people. Someone is down on the ground, go pick their ass up and be rewarded some exp. If someone is having some problems with a mob, go over there and help them and get the loot and some from it without being in the same party with the guy. I mean, this game rewards you for not being a dick to people. It’s awesome. I cannot emphasis how much my body is ready for this game.

    Also a NHS guild would be fun, they’re cross server and all that fun stuff.

    1. I’m trying to figure out how to set up a guild and was curious about that. It IS cross server? That’s pretty awesome. I hate having to make everyone play on the same server.

      The help system is great and something we touched briefly on when I talked to the designer, Eric Callum, about it. I agree that it’s a super awesome idea and incentive. For once being rewarded for kindness instead of killing is kind of a weird concept but hopefully one that will stick.

      1. Not only guilds are cross server now, but you can also be a member of many different guilds (though you can only represent one at a time).

        And yeah, the whole “coop” approach to design is what sold me on the game for good. So refreshing to see that.

    2. Another kindness, when you’re level 80 you can still play with your newb friends guildies that are level 10, when you enter a lvl 10 area, it ‘sidekicks’ you down to a matching level. This way it’s still fun to fight and you don’t kill everything just by sneezing.

  7. I would get down in a NHS guild. Don’t think any of my pals are playing, all 2 of em, so I’ll be looking for a decent set of folks to team up with.

    1. I think I’ve all but decided to take the plunge. What the hell, right? Plus, I’ll actually have a lot of time this weekend to play (knock on wood).

      I’ve given rhamorim carte blanche to try and get a guild going in the NHS name. (Even if I like the game, I’ll never stick long enough to be worth a damn administering one myself.) We’ll get the details posted when it exists. Roberto, what was the server you mentioned you planned to start out on?

        1. Oh hell. Now I have reason totry it too. I’m still not sold but I love the idea of an MMO that won’t penalize me for not having much time to play.

          Rham sounds like our expert. I know this is meant to appeal to non MMO types like Todd, but does it have the same hooks that makes wow enjoyable? I like an ongoing story, personally. If the story is compelling.

          1. Here’s a quick interview with two of the GW2 designers focused on lore, story, and choice in GW2:


            No one has really seen the whole of the story in GW2 (for obvious reasons), but I have no reasons to doubt that it’s there and that it’s good. I don’t think it will be The Witcher 2 good, but it should be definitely better than GW1 was.

        2. This will absolutely be a day one purchase for me. I have my next semester of school starting the next day, but who needs sleep?

          Totally down for a NHS guild.

  8. I’m not an MMO fan, but I keep trying. Guild Wars 1 started out as an online Diablo-like game and got more and more MMO-ish as it went along. It made sense to go that way though.

    Anyway, GW2 is not the next generation of MMO gameplay to me. It’s like MMO 1.5 or 1.75. We’re nearly there and I feel latency and hardware issues are all that hold us back. That said, Guild Wars 2 take a lot of what we hate in WoW-like MMO’s and fixes a TON of that. A TON, but it doesn’t fix it all.

    The proverbial “I can play this for 15 minutes and feel like I did something” exists here for sure, but there’s also the more personal “personal story” that’s in there and gives everything a tinge of more intimacy. No, this doesn’t cure a true sp RPG player’s desire for an MMO world to be completely tailored to their experience, but it does do a better job overall of making things more tailored to what you’ve done. What I’m saying is GW2 is not the Witcher 3 or Mass Effect 4 and it probably never can be because of the fact it’s an MMO. What it is is an MMO that’s as personal as SWTOR, but with more interesting and innovative mechanics.

    As someone who hates the tedium involved in grouping in an MMO and the completely lame aspect of waiting for respawns for kills and whatnots, GW2 effectively does away with that. That doesn’t make this a 100% story-focused, 100% sp experience. It makes it the most interesting and easy to get involved with MMO RPG that I’ve ever seen. As soon as you’re into the world you’re a part of something bigger and you can choose to walk away from any battle or quest or whatever at any moment. You can always come back. Or not.

    As you mentioned, Todd, the true question is how will the dynamic events (which are PR speak in a number of ways) play out over a long period? Will you incidentally end up running a quest chain a couple of times perhaps entirely by accident because you came across it just after people had killed off the centaurs in X village, but not Y village yet. It’s possible, but from what I’ve seen so far that hasn’t been a problem.

    Blah blah blah. There’s so much promise with GW2 for MMO’s. And yes, there is a F2P aspect to the game. There’s a market where you can pay for things as there always has been, but it continues to be only for those who choose to pay. It’s entirely unobtrusive. But for those of us who are tired and bored with the WoW model of MMOs, this game does enough fresh and innovative ideas to warrant a purchase. I bought into SWTOR knowing full well I’d burn out on it in a few weeks; I looked at SWTOR as a large sp experience. GW2, however, is something I can put my money towards now, treat it however I like and still come back a year from now and pick up where I left off without having to pay a penny more. Do I think everyone needs to dive in this very second and pay $60? No, but I took a chance based on their PR and the fact they did deliver an interesting MMO experience before. Couple that with my experience in the beta/stress tests and I’m quite happy with the results. I think it’d be a shame for you to never give the game a shot. However, I wouldn’t fault you for waiting. That’s NEVER a bad idea with an MMO. Ever.

      1. One of us! One of us! One of us! One of us! One of us! One of us! One of us! One of us! One of us! One of us! One of us!


  9. I have a European home server and guild already – how does the multi-guild thing work, can I join a US based guild as well?

    1. Yes, you can. Just add me in your contact list (try adding “Wolfox”, it should be enough) and send me an in-game email and I’ll invite you to the guild as soon as I create it, which should be later today.

    1. Nice graphics, gameplay is smooth. It assumes a familiarity with MMO’s, which I have. Kinda throws you in there, which may be hard for the unitiated.

      Since the starting areas are full, the ‘events’ have a decent amount of participation, I don’t know if that will hold up as people level and move on.

      I am playing an elementalist, and what is neat is when the environment changes, lets say fighting underwater, my fire spells are different and create different effects, like a ‘steam bubble’ that heats the water.

      I havent played alot, so thats all I have.

      My account already had someone try to reset the password, sometime last night, so some form of two factor authentication would be nice, whether it is a smartphone app that generates a 6 digit code or those security tokens.

      1. Yeah, as a potential rather than an early adopter, participation moving forward is a real concern I have.

        Bit lame to be shuffled down a single set of paths just because nobody plays a certain area any more with any frequency.

    2. I’ll probably have something posted tomorrow. Didn’t have as much time with the game as I had planned this weekend, but still dropped about six hours or so and will tack on a few more tonight.

      1. You are positively going hardcore Todd, slow down man 😀

        All this NHS guild talk… must resist. I don’t have time to play games as it is hardly, so the wife probably wouldn’t be pleased with me if I spent $50 on a game I’m unlikely to touch for a while.

        1. Yeah, I’m interested, but I just can’t justify pulling the trigger. I have so many games already, and so many things needing my time. Maybe in the winter? I dunno.

      2. Don’t go too hard on the personal story though… some of the missions are CRAZY hard if you don’t go prepared.

        Also, I hope we get to play together later today. I tried yesterday to no avail, it seems. 😉

    3. Unfortunately there were a number of bugs with guilds and party/social stuff over the weekend (though I’m told that has been resolved as of today?) so I was mostly playing a solo experience. It was still huge fun though and I haven’t yet dipped a toe into the PvP or WvW – maybe this weekend

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