As I’m sitting here thinking about Guild Wars 2 in this decade and where we are heading with the current story and state of the game, I can’t help but marvel at how much of an impact GW2 has had on me personally and on the larger MMO stage. The MMO landscape back in August 2012 was very different. WoW was getting ready to release MoP, FFXIV was still a year away from launching A Realm Reborn, and SWTOR had struggled in its first year and was preparing for free to play implementation. It was into this landscape GW2 launched, and I didn’t know what to expect from it.
Rift was the first MMO I tried outside of WoW, and I don’t think it held my attention more than a week. I loved SWTOR when it launched, even wrote some guides for it, but as much as I liked the first raids, it just couldn’t keep up when it came to the endgame. As a result, I was a bit hesitant about Guild Wars 2. I had played it during the beta weekends since I had received a code at PAX East that year, so I had some idea of what expect from those limited experiences. I was still not entirely convinced GW2 would be a game I’d enjoy for the long-haul. My two biggest concerns were the fact I had never played the original Guild Wars and I thought I might get bored without quests to point the way.
My concern on the first count turned out to be completely inconsequential. Although knowledge of the history of Tyria would have helped me see more profound implications quickly, the Personal Story was done in such a way that even complete noobs, such as myself, could understand what was going on. Plus, in Guild Wars, everything was told from the Human perspective, which turned out to be, as is often the case, a very slanted view of not only the history of Tyria but also the other races. This did cause some friction with longer-term players who felt everything presented in-game should be exactly how things are actually and not just one perspective. In this regard, I was perhaps a bit better off for not knowing that history.
My fear of being at a loss of what to do due to not having quests per se was also unfounded. The personal story provided enough direction without making me feel like I had to do that and nothing else. Plus, with the way zones scaled, it felt like I had a lot of freedom to go almost anywhere fairly quickly and explore. In fact, GW2 reignited my love of just wandering around and exploring because there was always something interesting to find. The event system, in particular, was enthralling because I’d stumble upon one event and that would lead to another, and before I knew it was 1 – 2 hours later and I had completely forgotten what I had logged on to do in the first place. It didn’t matter though, because I had a blast the whole time.
In 2013 ArenaNet pushed things again when they implemented the “2-week content cycle”. This was honestly the point where I was most involved in the game and played pretty much all of the time. The thing with this cycle was there would be a largeish patch every month and a smaller one, which added a few more things between each big one. Players only had until the next big patch to play through the content before things changed and it went away. This was exciting because the world was changing for the first time since the launch, but there was also a lot of pressure to not miss anything because once it was gone, it was gone. Although this pace ended up being unsustainable and resulted in some uneven storytelling due to having completely separate teams working on each large release, this was one of the most exciting times to play. I’d never seen an MMO pump out so much content at such a regular pace before or since.
2014 brought another exciting innovation when they implemented the megaservers. Previously there’d be multiple copies of maps made as needed depending on how many people were on that map. While this system was generally good, it did have the drawbacks of people having to create characters on the same servers as their friends to be able to play with them, and even then, sometimes getting on the same version of a map as them was a real bear. The megaserver systems always prioritized parties and guilds. Of course, there were issues at first, but they were sorted quickly. While some other games suffered due to the implementation of similar systems, GW2 seems to have thrived with it. Coupled with the fact the world is set-up in such a way that it’s never a bad thing to find other players, megaservers have worked out well.
The first expansion, Heart of Thorns, brought two fascinating things to players: Gliding and Guild Halls. Gliding was perhaps the biggest game-changer to an MMO I have ever experienced. It fundamentally changed how players moved around maps and even fought. Not to mention it was such a blast, players regularly requested it to be added to the core game as well, which we finally got in the Winter 2016 update. As excited as I was when I saw gliding in the announcement trailer for HoT, I completely underestimated how much I’d love it. Also, since players can’t continually glide forever from everywhere, ArenaNet avoided some of the drawbacks other MMOs have experienced with flying. Gliding was an effective and sometimes strategic way to move about areas and it’s honestly still my favorite way to move around zones. Heck, sometimes I’ll jump off tiny ledges to get a second of gliding in, I enjoy it that much.
Sadly, Guild Halls have not faired as well as gliding has. The core concept of guild halls was excellent. Having a place to hang out with guildies and to be a launching point for adventures was a great idea. However, ArenaNet was concerned if they made guild halls too useful, players would never hang out in the cities and guilds who couldn’t meet the requirements for the halls would be disadvantaged. As a result guild halls quickly lost a lot of their shine and many stopped using them. Additionally, if guild missions had also been updated with any regularity, or at all, the guild halls would have also retained more of their usefulness. Hopefully, ArenaNet will be able to revisit these in the future and find a way to make them compelling without unbalancing things because they are honestly one of the coolest and least utilized aspects of the game.
The second expansion Path of Fire brought players one of the best implementations of mounts I have ever seen in an MMO full stop. Great care and effort were put forth to give the mounts each unique movement abilities and animations, and as a result, they feel more “real” than mounts in any other MMO. Because each mount has unique ways to move through the world the choice of which one I want to use if often a matter of “where do I want to go and how do I want to get there,” which helps to keep things interesting. I still remember how excited I was the first time I was sitting around in town on my raptor and my character reached forward and patted it on the neck, just as I would a horse. It was a beautiful moment.
In between these updates, we’ve received multiple seasons of story content, in which ArenaNet is continually pushing the quality level of their storytelling forward. Playing through Season 2 and then going back to Season 4 and now Season 5, makes the jump in quality all too apparent. Not only was Season 2 a much less focused story, but the way it is told has far less finesse. For example, back in Season 2, I never once thought it would be possible to ride on the back of a dragon and fight. There’s also less telling us about what’s happening and more just letting the players experience things and draw their own conclusions in the most recent season.
While the path for Guild Wars 2 hasn’t been without its bumps, the last seven years have been great. I didn’t even touch on all the quality of life updates they’ve done over the years, yay wardrobe and unlocking dyes across your account (just two of my favorites). While Guild Wars 2 may not be everyone’s favorite MMO, they are firmly in the top ranks of currently open and relevant MMOs. ArenaNet, thank you for the last seven years of adventures and I can’t wait to see where you take things from here.