You will give the people an ideal to strive towards
They will race behind you, they will stumble, they will fall
But in time, they will join you in the Sun
In time you will help them accomplish wonders
Jor-El, Man of Steel
Let me preface this by saying I bought the Collector’s edition of Star Wars The Old Republic, I bought the Lifetime Subscription for The Secret World and I Prepurchased Guild Wars 2.
Guild Wars 2 is coming out at the end of August and a lot of people are wondering if the juice is worth the squeeze, if the game is as good as the hype around it suggests. Guild Wars 2 is the last of the ‘Trinity of Story’, by which I mean to say that Guild Wars 2, The Old Republic, and Secret World have all trumpeted story as an important part of their games. While certainly other games including Wildstar, Blade & Soul, and Elder Scrolls Online are talking about story, they’re far enough from launch for it to be superfluous. This primer than is for people to compare the games and try to understand how Guild Wars 2 is similar and different from each of the other games and make informed choices about whether or not to play it.
Guild Wars 2 employs the same basic technique of storytelling that both TOR and TSW use with fully-voiced quests. Just as with TSW but unlike TOR not every quest is voiced, some quests can be gotten simply by passing through an area. Unlike TOR and TSW, Guild Wars 2 characters don’t move around. A complaint about TOR often related about how the NPC’s weren’t doing anything, that they were pretty stationary; all three games employ the same basic techniques in this regard. The biggest problem with Guild Wars 2 application of story is that is feels like the weakest of the three MMOs. Bioware is Bioware and they can tell a good yarn. TSW feels like Dreamfall: The End of Days; it feels short but robust. Guild Wars 2 has a hard time finding its stride story wise and I’m sorry to say it’s the presentation that hurts the most. It has a hard time making the player care more about what’s happening around them from moment to moment but I feel as if the blandness of the story helps make it remarkably replayable.
Guild Wars 2 like TOR and TSW uses its own engine, and the graphics are both spectacular and mundane for it. I liken it to impressionism, which is painting by dots up close but when seen from far away the vista is magnificent; that’s basically Guild Wars 2 in a nutshell. Guild Wars 2 also employs the ‘bloom effect’; you know it well as the bright sunlight effect from Guild Wars 1, or from any number of Asian MMOs. The pretty graphics then don’t seem to strain the systems and servers as much as either TSW or TOR, but only time will tell.
Combat in Guild Wars 2 bares much more similarity to TSW then TOR. While Guild Wars 2 employs an auto attack option and a hot bar like most MMOs there are significant changes to how it is implemented. Guild Wars 2 allows on the fly weapon swapping which instantly changes most of your skill set pretty much just like TSW although more casual friendly. While you do have to break new weapon types in no one class has that many weapon types to use and it’s fairly easy to handle. Much ado has been made about mobility in combat, and while it’s true you are more mobile than say TOR, you’re much less mobile than say Tera. Also rather than mobility the combat in Guild Wars 2 is more accurately described as a mix of WoW PVP and kiting mobs. While the complaint has been given that ranged combat is easier than melee combat I believe that those who have played TSW will feel right at home as a melee character. Melee combat is not about kiting and more about watching attacks and then dodging rather than jumping around like ranged combat. It’s a subtle difference but it’s obvious that ranged combat will be the favorite of the more casual players. Dodging in Guild Wars 2 like TSW is an option and is much looser than TSW, with a quicker timer and the ability to multiple dodges in a row.
Quests in Guild Wars 2 work much like they do in TSW rather than TOR, which is to say your main story quests are tiered and must be done sequentially, the events that you read about are much like the tiered quests of TSW but again more casual friendly, events are given and finished without talking to the actual quest giver, it gives it an easier more organic feeling and frankly it beats tracking down quest givers. One obvious difference is that it also means that you lose the initial charm of the quests that TSW and TOR have in listening to the quest giver tell a story but they also work better as daily missions in replayability.
Guild Wars 2 like TSW but unlike TOR (yet at least) employs a cash shop. While TSW carries a cash shop in conjunction with its subscription, Guild Wars 2 is entirely free after the initial sale. If you’ve played any F2P games originating in Asia you have an idea of what is in it. In US dollars the ratio is basically the same as Microsoft Points; 80 to $1. In the shop are cosmetic items to make you look cool in town, plus items to give you more space to put bags for your inventory and bank or items to give you bankers in the field, there are also items that give you’re a slight advantage in gaining experience for leveling and such. For now the cash shop is mostly cosmetic, in that nothing sold is particularly game breaking; while you’re sure to hear whining about it after launch for now it’ll be just that whining.
Let me remind the reader that I don’t play much PVP but what I saw of Guild Wars 2 was impressive. It has the persistent PVP grounds that TSW and TOR have, but everything is bigger and better. Best of all there’s no windup for PVP as everyone gets bumped up to level 80 for PVP.
Guild Wars 2 seems to want to have a system of raiding more accurately called R.B.O.M. or ‘Raiding by other means’ whether or not that works for you is highly dependent on whether or not you like to raid. Keep in mind that raiding is only popular with a small but loud minority. Personally I couldn’t care less about raiding but I do now that a lot of hardcore players love the stuff. I can’t see Guild Wars 2 appealing to them without raids. From a business standpoint having something is always better than not having something. I see the raiding issue, therefore, like the group finder issue from TOR, if players want it enough it will come.
Most impressive to me are the intangibles in Guild Wars 2. Certainly being able to send gathered items to your bank from anywhere in the world giving you valuable bag space is a nice touch. Much like WoW many years before it, Guild Wars 2 seems to have mastered the art of doing nothing badly and everything at least fairly well.
I came into the last beta feeling that Guild Wars 2 really had nothing for me. I’m not a huge PVPer but I could see how this game could and would appeal to those who were. I like to solo a lot and this game really goes all out for those who don’t like to get into parties. The combat is growing on me and as I play TSW more and more I see the possibilities. If WoW made grinding fun, than Guild Wars 2 makes playing with other people enjoyable; it takes it upon itself to make sure that people can and will play together even if they never say a word to each other. No more kill stealing or loot hording, everyone can be involved without the waste of time that parties can be. You’re encouraged to play however you like. At the end of the day I’m most concerned about the story, I don’t know that it has enough oomph to make people care, and 80 levels is a lot of grinding. The best thing for Guild Wars 2 is the no sub fee, players are enormously fickle these days, now more than ever, Guild Wars 2 can afford people to only play five or ten days a month. It’ll likely sell five to ten million in the first year and then keep healthy on the cash shop. All in all, Guild Wars 2 takes some of the best parts of both worlds with TOR and TSW. The combat is more fluid and looser than TSW but not as open ended even with weapon changes, but obviously more so than TOR. The story is less engaging than either TOR or TSW but that helps enormously with replayability. Best of all, Guild Wars 2 lowers the threshold for people to play every facet of the game, and playing MMOs with other people is what it’s all about. If you’re worried that Guild Wars 2 doesn’t have the legs don’t be. If you think this is the second coming, tone that down a bit you’re bound to be disappointed. However, Guild Wars 2 will appeal to alt-makers in a way that TSW is unlikely to and even more than TOR does. PVP is seriously fleshing out to be the best yet and one can see that endgame and raiding is likely to be the first new content on the list.
Post Script: I’ve been listening to the Man of Steel Teaser w/ the Russell Crowe voice over and over again and it’s amazing.