(This is another edition of /RANT, a weekly opinion piece column on GameFront. Check back every week for more. The opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not reflect those of GameFront.)
A short while back, I wrote an article decrying the tactics used by modern MMO developers, where they treat the platform as a genre, not as a delivery method. That, to me, is what a massively multiplayer game should be — the only unifying factor should be those two words, massive and multiplayer. My basic problem was that most MMOs since World of Warcraft have settled on simply trying to be World of Warcraft, and in the process forgot to add anything in their games that might make them feel fresh, alive, and massively multiplayer.
Star Wars: The Old Republic was a good game, but a lonely experience, unable to justify a subscription fee for what was, essentially, a game in which a bunch of people were playing solo campaigns while occupying the same digital space. The Secret World was the same — it attempted a unique visual style and a deceptively modern environment, but fell back on the same unambitious and frankly lifestyle structure that makes one wonder why they’re paying for something that could’ve just been a single-player game with a tacked-on multiplayer mode.
Enter Guild Wars 2, a game that almost immediately began answering all my prayers.
From the outset, Guild Wars 2 eliminates the formulaic “holy trinity” involved in character creation. Any player can choose any race and pick any class they like, while the classes themselves are all uniquely versatile and provide a varied arsenal to deal with any situation. There’s no more predictable healer/tank/DPS setup, where you’re pretty much tied to one of three templates. Every character has healing abilities, speed buffs, damaging attacks, and defensive boosts. Some feel this breaks down the need to play together, but I’ve seen the exact opposite in effect. Everybody’s fighting together, playing with each other as opposed to around each other. Because everybody’s capable of everything, folk aren’t hanging out, unable to progress because they’re lacking a healer or don’t have enough tanks. The combat is free, open, and casual — casual meaning that anybody can just roll with another player on the map without formalities and official grouping to get in the way of the action. It’s so easy to just start fighting uninvited alongside strangers that it makes sense people are doing it more. You strip away the rigid structure involved with grouping to make it feel like an open scrum where anybody can get stuck in, and people accordingly get stuck in.
This is helped by the regularity of big group events. At any time, a farm may need protecting or a giant troll might appear in the cave, and players nearby will rush to deal with the situation. Again, there are no invites, no official grouping up. People are just spontaneously fighting together, dealing damage, laying down healing spells, and reviving their fallen allies of convenience. While these events are as scripted as those found in any other MMO, the fact they happen all over the map and draw in a big crowd of players adds a level of dynamism to the world that makes it feel like it’s far less structured than it is. In essence, the world of Guild Wars 2 feels far more alive than those of other MMOs, where players are all involved in single-player fetch quests, getting tasks from NPCs that thirty other players are gathered around. To me, the benefit of an MMO is the fact that it can feel so alive and dynamic, and it’s infuriated me that so many “me-too” MMO developers have utterly squandered that ability. Guild Wars 2 takes a step toward fixing that.
The fact that you gain experience for everything is also a contributing factor to the sense of energy one gets from the game. Exploring the map, finding areas of interest, crafting and gathering items — they all contribute to your EXP pool, as does helping out in events and reviving other players. I get a sense that Guild Wars 2 respects my time, something so few MMOs manage to do as they send me on banal solo tasks that I’m supposed to pay a regular fee to pretend to enjoy. No matter what you’re doing in Guild Wars 2, you always feel like you’re progressing. Even when you’re a high level, the game scales your level down in early areas to keep you invested in what you’re doing and not feel like you’re treading water.
This is not to say Guild Wars 2 is perfect, of course. I still don’t quite feel like I’m invested in the world and its story, and while combat is a little deeper than your usual MMO fare, it’s still very traditional, clicky, and spammy. While it does a lot to differentiate itself from the market, some of the fetch quests and map design feel like they’re sticking to formula. However, not being different enough is better than not being different at all, which most MMOs end up becoming. While Guild Wars 2 doesn’t exactly break the mold, it’s stretched its legs and misshapen it quite a bit. That’s a fantastic start.
All we need is for other MMOs to follow suit, and by that I don’t mean you fucking start copying Guild Wars 2 from now on instead of World of Warcraft. Guild Wars 2 should be proof that just because something is an MMO, that doesn’t mean it has to follow an exact blueprint. You don’t have to have three set-in-stone character archetypes. You don’t have to have thirteen “kill ten boars” quests that are little more than glorified solo missions. You don’t have to disrespect a player’s time by forcing them to do mundane, thankless tasks for no gain, and you certainly don’t need to have a lifeless world that feels static and uses other players as fancy window dressing rather than fellow residents of a cohesive digital realm.
Guild Wars 2 is a great start, and a fun game. The MMO platform is capable of even more.
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