In August of 2015 ArenaNet did something unexpected. They made the core Guild Wars 2 campaign free to play to anyone interested in giving the game a try. For a series that has been predominantly buy to play, this was an interesting move that still continues to this day. Curious players that may be receptive in starting a Free Account have probably contemplated the list of differences between Free Accounts and Box Purchase Accounts, wondering if a Free Account is even worth the effort. As a veteran Guild Wars 2 player, I have restarted the game under a Free Account to ascertain whether a Free Account is worth anyone’s time.
For a new player, a spreadsheet table of the features can only really mean so much to you. The list of capabilities certainly means something to many of us who have played Guild Wars 2 for years, but to someone who has never stepped foot in Tyria before, how do you determine the worth of features like the limited bag slots, or lack of profession masteries, in real-world experience terms? How much of it will actually affect the game of someone whose first experiences won’t be tarnished by knowing first-hand what they are missing with the expansions?
Interestingly enough, quite a bit of the Free Account experience is tainted with glimpses of what new players are missing, even during the early game. Obviously from the moment you create your character, new players who are interested in the Revenant class won’t be able to play one, as it requires the Heart of Thorns expansion. Generally, this is a relatively insignificant barrier, as the Revenant is more of an advanced profession anyway. Core Revenant, meaning a Revenant without either of the specializations, aren’t played nearly at all, so barring new players from the class is probably a good idea, especially when showing new players any kind of build depth as they level. The Revenant is notorious for having very limited skill selection.
Once loaded into the game with a newly created character, the tutorial feels almost exactly the same as when I played it so many years ago. New players will undoubtedly get the feel of combat before they are thrown into the large PvE world. Once zoned into their starting area, however, is where the real game begins, and the limitations slowly start to appear with Free Accounts. On many occasions I’ve railed against the itemization in Guild Wars 2. For Free Accounts, the slow build in the number of items you get is misleading. After level 10, gear drops and crafting materials become more common, and quest rewards start to net players modifiers to add to gear.
Knowing how to handle these items is important, as I would imagine the lack of the extra 2 bag slots, which can net new players 8 spaces at minimum but 40 spaces at maximum, will be felt as one of the main detractors of Free Accounts during the level ascension process. Leveling-up is actually one of the best parts in Guild Wars 2. I forgot how it felt to have to struggle to level to 80. As a veteran Guild Wars 2 player, creating a new character and getting them to 80 is mostly trivial. At this point I’ve banked enough various leveling aids, that I never have to step foot outside of Lions Arch, and I’ll already be max level.
In comparison, the struggle of becoming powerful enough to even participate in certain content in even the starter zone, is a feeling of enjoyment that I often experience at max level in Guild Wars 2. The ability to trivialize your accomplishments is all too familiar to me, as chest after chest of exotic gear flows into my inventory, and ascended trinkets drop with relative frequency. In the same way Classic servers have become popular for a number of different MMOs as of late, playing a Free Account in Guild Wars 2 still gives a genuine classic MMO feel that a lot of new players will surely enjoy.
Unfortunately, new players will undoubtedly notice the “buy me FOMO” before leaving the first starting zone. Bag space is surely one piece of that problem, but prior to level 60 it is still quite manageable. Rather, what players will notice that everyone else has that they are missing, are the mounts. Mounts are unquestionably the one item new players will see, they will want them, and even in the legacy game, they make all the difference in the world to travel the world, and get world completion. Mounts are also misleading. Many new players may not realize that mounts are not only specific to the Path of Fire expansion, but they can only be unlocked at level 80, and through the mastery system.
On the one hand, mounts are ingenious, because they market themselves. On the other hand, new players may not understand how far they are from actually getting the mounts they see players riding around on. This is exasperated when expansions like Path of Fire overwhelm new players by providing Max Level Boosts to players that haven’t learned the basics of the game past level 20. Essentially, by bypassing the entirety of the leveling gameplay, many rookies may get discouraged when they haven’t been slowly weaned into unlocking and setting up their specializations, obtaining and spending skill points, and discerning which abilities coincide with a play style that will work for them. That doesn’t even mention the fact that, simply buying Path of Fire won’t net them a mount immediately, and they would still be stuck having to learn about a mastery system that isn’t a part of the Free Accounts.
As a new MMO experience, the early game has a lot to offer, and provides a very good core experience for players that are looking for something new to play. There are very few actual limitations that would prevent PvE focused gamers from having a fantastic time, exploring and learning a new game. How does this change as players advance in level? That is what I will focus on next time as I try to determine if a Free Account in Guild Wars 2 is worth it.