This late summer and fall gets into the throws of one of the biggest MMO battles we have yet seen. Headstart for Guild Wars 2 begins on August 25th. Just one month later Blizzard throws down with Mists of Pandaria for World of Warcraft. Two juggernaut games going head to head and people still believe the MMO genre is going away. Really? I don’t want to spend this column stacking these two games up. You guys have all the details on both, you know the rules. You know the games. Instead I wanted to talk about the strategy behind this decision to put these two games so close to each other at launch.
I will start with the philosophy of starting a character entering a new game and a new world. If the game looks cool I always say that this is a fresh start. Like an explorer landing on a new island. Guild Wars 2 is offering players that start. The new world with some amazing mechanics starts players off with a bang. Anyone who has been in beta knows that Guild Wars 2 does not hold the players hand into the game. It kicks off with epic battles and a sense of completion, a very different strategy from older MMOs.
Mists of Pandaria begins with a whole new continent and of course the Pandaren. While many people joke about the Kung Fu Panda style, keep in mind that Warcraft had it first. More importantly the opening of Mists is well, a lot like old Warcraft. Now I do confess in the beta that I only played a Pandaren. However, at one point I rolled an Orc Monk, just because I wanted to be an Orc Monk. Anyway, I found myself right back in the Valley of Trials. This was a bit of a let down. It put me back at the start with no bonuses or buffs to starting my character at higher level, even though I have two 85s. In this area I think Pandaria will suffer to draw in new players. Warcraft should be looking to hold onto their dominance of the market with core players who will return to check out the expansion.
The next area where both games need to be concerned is in the mythical Endgame. World of Warcraft does have some great elements going for it. Raids, Arenas, and dailies all come to mind, as long as they are fun of course. However, WoW has always fallen short in one major area: massive scale PvP. As much as I have had fun with some of the PvP zones and Battlegrounds in the past with WoW, I still think it never measured up to some of the other MMOs out there. Pandaria had some rumors behind it that it could be a major PvP expansion for the game. I really don’t think open PvP zones are the answer to WoW’s endgame philosophy. It just seems too little too late, if they wind up like Wintergrasp.
Guild Wars 2 has taken a very different approach. They adopted PvP straight from the greatest PvP MMO ever created, Dark Age of Camelot. I know people sing the praises to DAOC, but even in today’s age of MOBAs and instanced PvP games, DAOC’s system holds up. Why, it kept you playing the game for a point. You wanted your realm to stay strong, you wanted to win, and you had common enemies and bragging rights on your server. That is something that WoW never could capture. I think Guild Wars 2 has a system in place which will keep players in the end game all the time. Not to mention that you can go out into server vs. server PvP at level 2. It scales up and off you go. Guild Wars 2 has battlegrounds and all that as well. However, it is nothing compared to attacking keeps and fighting across open landscapes, let’s not forget fighting in water too. In this area, I think Guild Wars 2 has a huge bonus against Pandaria.
So, for some reason both companies decided to go head to head, similar to 2008 when Age of Conan and Warhammer Online both launched before Wrath of the Lich King. In the end we will see who comes out on top. I think WoW will always have a large number of players who are hardcore and worship at the altar of Blizzard, and there's nothing wrong with that. I do think a new church is rising though. Guild Wars 2 is really shaping up to change the MMO landscape, and is by far the most solid challenge to WoW yet. What do you think? Leave us a comment below!