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Guild Wars 2 Column: Once You Go Charr, You'll Never Stray Far

By Jason Winter on April 21, 2014

“Guild Wars 2 will change the way we play MMOs forever!” That was a common claim we heard, both from ArenaNet and from idyllic fans, while the game was in development. While much of what the game did wasn't brand new in the MMO space, the way it was all implemented and brought together made it so that I now have trouble playing a game that doesn't implement those systems.

Maybe that's a little like the “This isn't like WoW!” snobbishness that I see in others when they're confronted with a new game, but I like to think that I like the GW2 way of doing things not just because I'm used to them but because I think it's actually better than what came before. Opinions vary, of course, but I played plenty of other MMOs before GW2, so it's not like it was the first game I played and I can't imagine anything else.

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I'm not the only one who apparently thinks this way. Many new MMOs are also adopting GW2-style mechanics – which again, weren't all created by ArenaNet, but which seemed to rise to front-of-the-mind prominence by their inclusion in Guild Wars 2. There are some aspects of Guild Wars 2 that I like about it but that I'll admit to not thinking I need in every game – non-trinity-based combat being one of them – but there are others that I just feel lost without when I play other games, and I'm glad they're finding their way into most new games.

Dynamic events. Rift admittedly brought dynamic events to the forefront of MMOs, touting the feature as integral to its gameplay. The difference is that you can play Rift as a more-or-less pure “themepark WoW clone” by doing quests, dungeons, etc., all while pretty much ignoring or avoiding the events. You'd have a tougher time doing that in Guild Wars 2; hearts and personal story will only get you so far.

Also, the events in GW2 are much more... uh, dynamic, than they are in Rift. In the latter game, nearly everything is about some portal opening up in the sky and creatures pouring out of it to cause havoc. Even if there are only a few basic archetypes, GW2's events feel more fun and varied, with different enemies to fight, different objectives, and different NPCs bringing the story elements to light.

It seems like every new MMO these days, from Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn to The Elder Scrolls Online is implementing some kind of dynamic event system, though few make them as major a part of the game as Guild Wars 2. Still, the more MMOs can do to break up monotonous level-one-to-max quest grinding, the better.

Small skill bars. Here's one that ArenaNet might be able to claim credit for innovating in the MMO space, with its eight-slot skill bar in the first Guild Wars. You can question whether subscription MMOs are dead and everything will be free-to-play in the future, but I think one of the least questionable trends in MMOs is the adoption of smaller skill bars. I truly think we're not going to see any more MMOs with 30+ skills available to the player at any given time.

And really, do you need that many? A typical combat rotation only uses around five skills, with maybe a few more for special situations and one or two “Oh #&@%!” buttons. Anything else is likely to be extremely specialized and can probably be rolled into an existing ability or a passive skill.

I'll agree that some sort of ability to “swap” is still needed, so abilities can change on the fly, but having three dozen buttons available at once is just unnecessary, the video-game equivalent of hoarding: “I know I haven't used this in over a year, but I might need it someday!” And, as much as some people might dislike the “casualizing” of MMOs, this is undeniably a step toward making MMOs more accessible to a wider swath of people by reducing the number of decisions they have to make in real-time.

Level-adjusted gameplay. My first MMO was City of Heroes. When I encountered sidekicking, I thought it was such a naturally great idea that I was surprised to see that every MMO didn't have it. Without it, I couldn't have played with friends who were more than a few levels higher or lower than me, and I would have spent a lot less time playing in general.

Guild Wars 2 goes in the opposite direction of sidekicking, in that it “levels down” players instead of leveling them up – which is probably a slightly better implementation than what CoH did – but it still accomplishes the goal of letting people play together without levels being a significant barrier.

This is a huge deal these days and is the reasons many games, World of Warcraft being the most recent and notable, are letting players skip levels. It's not because the companies want to make money off of “selling levels” (OK, maybe a little bit). It's because they want to make money off of people who want to actually play with friends without having to spend 20+ hours leveling to “catch up” or with guild mates who are a few levels off their pace. Amazing that it's taken us so long to figure out one of the biggest reasons people solo in games – not because they're antisocial but because they can't find people to play with near their level.

Of course, that got me embroiled in a long Twitter chain the other day about “Why do we even still have levels?” but that's a topic for another time...

Active combat. Guild Wars 2 isn't “pure” action combat like TERA – it still has tab-targeting, after all – but these days, I just can't play a game that doesn't have some kind of action elements. Standing in place and hitting stuff, especially if I have casting bars for skills that require me to stand still, just doesn't do it for me any longer.

Going back to City of Heroes, I logged in briefly just before it shut down in November of 2012. GW2 had only been out a couple of months, but CoH still felt absolutely glacial in its pace of combat. Suffice to say, as good as my memories were, I couldn't see myself playing it again, even if it had stuck around.

Very few new games strictly adhere to the old “standstill” combat of old, and I couldn't be happier. Tab-targeting is something I'm still relatively OK with, and it makes a game a little easier for people who don't have perfect twitchy/FPS-caliber reflexes (like yours truly), but please don't glue my feet to the ground when I'm casting a spell or notching an arrow to my bow.

Is there anything you can't live without now that you've logged serious time in Guild Wars 2? Or is there some aspect of Guild Wars 2 that you wish would be more widely adopted?

Jason Winter is the semi-proud owner of an underwater legendary weapon. He's been gaming long enough to remember when the Atari 2600 was a thing and when Ms. Pac-Man was all the rage. Get off of his lawn and find him on Twitter @winterinformal.

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