Guild Wars 2’s sixth anniversary was this week and it got me thinking about how this game has managed to hold my attention for so long, because this is a rarity for an MMO. The only other game which has kept me playing for longer is World of Warcraft, and GW2 has given it a run for its money. Every other MMO has lasted maybe a year or two, but mostly it’s just a matter of months. Some, like Final Fantasy XIV, I love and will go back to occasionally here and there, but none manage to sustain my attention in quite the same way. So, I thought this was a good time to look back at my personal journey with Guild Wars 2 and how it has managed to hold on to me.
First thing is I must confess I never played Guild Wars before Guild Wars 2. I had seen it in the stores and thought about trying it, but I didn’t know anyone who played it and getting in after all the expansions were out seemed daunting. So, I wasn’t one of the people who were anxiously waiting for GW2 and following all the production. The first time I ever really heard about it was at the PAX East 2012 Future of MMOs panel. At the end of the panel Jon Peters played a quick demo of GW2 and then codes for the beta were handed out. The demo had me curious, but I swear I was hooked after the first demo weekend. I’m certain I bought the game immediately after playing on that weekend.
At that point in time I had gotten fairly burnt out on WoW and was feeling frustrated with SWTOR for multiple reasons, so for me personally GW2 hit at the perfect time. It was this weird and interesting cross between a sandbox and theme park game which really intrigued me. I often feel a bit lost or overwhelmed in sandbox games because there’s just too many options, I need some structure and limits to keep me focused. GW2 offered the ability to go where I wanted and see discover things on my own but offered a lot of structure and guidance on the journey to help direct me.
I also really enjoyed the professions and how they were true to their archetypes but also skewed them just enough to keep them interesting. For example, I was initially in love with Mesmer because the concept of being a caster and fighting with a greatsword was fascinating. I always tend towards melee classes in and this ranged greatsword combat was intriguing. Of course, I did end up going back to my roots with Ranger and Elementalist (both melee builds of course), but I did have a blast with Mesmer as well.
One big thing which has really kept me involved and interested in GW2 is the storytelling and the evolution of how story is told in game has been fascinating to watch. The Personal Story was the first attempt at deep storytelling in game, and overall, it’s an interesting story. However, I think the strongest part is the first third which changes depending on what race was picked when making my character. There are also various choices which can be made not only in character creation but also during the personal story which affect various things. Even in the later season stories and expansion stories have callbacks to these choices. None of these choices make substantial changes to the storyline, which is fine because if there are too many branching choices which drastically affect things the game would quickly start to feel like a single player game rather than a MMO. But the flavor choices really helped to make it feel like the story being told really was my story.
Then there was the first attempt at continuing the storytelling beyond the Personal Story with the release of Flame and Frost. This was an interesting idea where the new happenings in the world would start appearing and players would notice new things to do over time which would breadcrumb them into figuring out what was really going on. Unfortunately, the main thing I remember from this time was building signs for refugees for an entire month… and I promise you no matter how fun it might sound to build signs, it gets old after a month. I was curious about what all the refugees were running from and what was going on, but man that month killed it for me and it was at this point I took a break from the game though at the time I thought I might just be done.
Then ArenaNet did something I never expected, they introduced a two-week content cycle. Everything kicked off with Flame and Frost: Retribution and just like that I was back in the game. Having new things added in every two weeks was exactly the right pace for me and honestly during this timeframe is when I was the most engaged with the game. See the problem for me wasn’t the lack of interesting content rather the pacing was just too slow for what there was at the beginning. During the two week content we got not only some interesting story but also some of the best festivals the game has ever seen. One of these, the Festival of the Four Winds, was even recently brought back for players to enjoy. Next let’s see Dragon Bash!
While the pacing of the content was perfect the quality of the storytelling wasn’t always quiet there, especially when compared to the quality of the storytelling employed in the subsequent seasons of story content. One of the wonderful things about this time period in the game was once something was done it was gone, which not only increased my feelings of needing to get all the things done but also made everything feel a bit more unique. If you missed something that was it, you’d never see it which also a bit of a downside for anyone who did miss it. I remember friends who’d come back and would be completely confused why there was suddenly a giant tower in Kessex Hills and they all felt like they had really missed out on things.
Sadly, the two week content cycle wasn’t something ArenaNet could really keep going forever. The pace was breakneck and my impression has always been the quality suffered a bit due to the multiple teams working on different episodes. Plus, content was literally promised every two weeks so I wonder if maybe that limited what types of things we got in this time period. For example, Season One took place over the course of 2013 and the first few months of 2014 and during that time we didn’t get any new permanent zones. Compared to now when we get a new zone every chapter update I have to wonder if maybe the way they were set-up to produce content at that rate was a part of why.
I should also make another confession at this point, I never wanted an expansion for GW2. I literally had no interest in it at all and was sort of sad when Heart of Thorns was announced. I mean I was excited too because there were a lot of amazing things coming with it, but I was also apprehensive. Coming from many years of expansions in WoW I knew what a double-edged sword they could be, so I was concerned about players getting hyped up beyond what made sense and there being a backlash over it. I say all of this, so you’ll understand exactly what it means when I say I really love both Heart of Thorns and Path of Fire.
Both expansions took risks in interesting ways and I appreciate them for it. HoT was an expansion mostly focused on laying the groundwork for the future of GW2, of getting all the important systems in place. In some ways it could be said Hot transformed the game into something new while still retaining the heart of what makes GW2 great. The zones were some of the most treacherous to traverse that had ever been added to the game. Plus, the abandonment of the heart system was also a huge change in the game. Both of these changes did rile a lot of people up and there were some fixes which went out a few months after HoT launched which were needed; but just being able to take the risks and do something different is unique in a MMO business where most games play it safe.
PoF then took things in a completely different direction and brought the focus back to where is was when GW2 originally launched; on exploring and finding things for yourself. Plus, the addition of mounts was something I never expected to see in GW2 at all, much less the way they were done. Most of the time a mount is just a faster way to get from point A to point B and maybe there’s some cosmetic difference in how they look. However, in GW2 the mounts all have unique skills which completely change the player’s ability to traverse various areas of the maps and access some places which are completely inaccessible otherwise. Plus, the attention to detail in the animations for all the mounts is also great, though my favorite is still the Raptor shake. I lost my mind the first time I saw it because it was a level of detail I just don’t come across very often.
Thinking about all of this one thing is clear to me, the main reason I keep playing GW2 is because I enjoy seeing how things progress and change over the years. I’m always curious about what risks they’ll take next and what impact that’ll have. The fact ArenaNet can still surprise me at this point, in both storytelling and gameplay itself, is impressive. I’m curious though, what’s keeps everyone else playing and what’s your favorite memories from the last six years?