September 3, 2012 by Tim

A while back I mentioned that I wasn’t planning to play Guild Wars 2, but due to an NDA, I didn’t feel like I could go into any depth as to why. Obviously that’s no longer an issue, so I figure now is as good a time as any.

It’s not that I feel that GW2 is a bad game… it certainly isn’t. In fact I think it’s set up to be a pretty solid MMO. So why I chose not to play it is not based on any huge, fundamental flaw, but rather on a large collection of very tiny, individually unimportant details. Details that, in my opinion, added up to a game that didn’t do enough to really make it something different.

It certainly tried in a lot of areas, and even succeeded in some, to do something unique. But I felt like, mostly, all it did was build a slightly better wheel. I feel like they ended up with a good MMO. However there are a lot of good MMOs out there, and I’m feeling pretty burnt out on “good” MMOs.

As I’ve mentioned previously, despite its end-game flaws, The Old Republic set a new standard for cinematic storytelling in an MMO. And TERA, despite its “grindyness” (and end-game flaws) had real-time combat that was exciting and worked fantastically. Were someone to mesh these two games, with a handful of WoW’s best features and an end-game ready to go out of the gate, they’d have a pretty amazing MMO.

Guild Wars 2 is not this game.

Again, just to reiterate, that doesn’t make it bad. It just makes it… not amazing, as far as I’m concerned. Most of what I saw in Guild Wars 2 seemed like regular MMO fare, often with a slightly more polished delivery, but standard stuff nonetheless. And some of the new ideas didn’t go far enough.

Taking for instance the way weapon skills work, an idea that I lauded last August when I first heard about it. The idea that the more you use a weapon, the more skills you learn with it. No running back to a skill trainer and paying them to learn a new move at predetermined level increments. This sounded more organic and interesting than that. It wasn’t, in practice.

In practice you realize that you unlock all of the skills for a particular weapon type within fifteen minutes of using it… and then that’s it. Those are the weapon’s skills for the rest of your gameplay. You may switch between pistols and rifles as you find new gear, which varies it up a little since each weapon has unique skills… but there will be stretches of time, ten or more levels even, when you’re just using pistols for instance. And those five skills are it.

The fact that you unlock all of a new weapon type’s skills so quickly begs the question of “why even need to unlock them then?” I mean, certainly we as players are no so dumbfuck stupid as to be totally overwhelmed if we picked up a new weapon and had five skills at our fingertips. Do we really need to spoonfed one new ability every couple of minutes, so that our puny brains can get a handle on all of them?

It ultimately feels like a system for weapon skills/abilities that is, yeah, different than what we’ve seen before… but is it really all that better?

Usually if I gripe about a feature in a game, I like to also muse about how I would have liked to see it done differently. In this case I think it might have been more engaging to make your choice of weapon not only a playstyle choice, but tie it into the overall progression/lifespan of the character more.

For instance, if you pick up a sword for the first time, there are, let’s say, eight abilities for the sword. You can only have five on your action bar at any time. So right there, there’s some choice to suit your preference/playstyle, and you feel like you still have some options for the future: different combinations. It’s not “these are the only 5 skills you will ever get for this sword.”

Next up, the more you use a particular sword ability, the more the ability itself levels up. It gets slightly, incrementally more powerful. Perhaps at certain thresholds, you have the options to customize the ability a little (ex: at ability rank 10 you can choose extra range, or extra bleed duration for an ability. Whatever you don’t choose is locked out. At rank 20, you’re presented with a different two options.)

I want choice in my MMOs. I want as much choice as the game can give me. In a world that I’ll be sharing with thousands of other people, I need as much opportunity to feel like I’m playing the unique hero the game is telling me I am.

GW2 did a better job with the other half of your skill bar, in giving you a bunch of class abilities to earn, which just makes the abilities related to your choice of weapon just that much more stifling.

Some of my other irritations with GW2 are a little more aesthetic, in areas I feel like they cut corners in ways that a current gen video game shouldn’t need to.

An example of this sort of thing I would offer is an area in the game where a vista point is on top of a tall tower. In order to get up onto this tower and access the vista point, you need to locate a huge nearby catapult that some dude is using to launch cows. It’s a pretty amusing premise, especially when you realize you have to use it to catapult yourself towards the tower. However, upon activating the catapult, the screen goes black, and then suddenly you’re “landing” on the roof of the tower (which is really just the tail end of a ‘falling down’ animation to make it look like you’re landing).

Overall is it a minor gripe? Sure it is. But it all contributes to a feeling of being less-than-complete. WoW routinely launches or fires characters out of cannons for a variety of quests, and that game is eight years old. It can’t be a technical limitation. I suppose we can at least be thankful that ArenaNet added jumping this time around, but it’s harder and harder to swallow an MMO these days that doesn’t animate, well, just about everything (swimming, climbing, etc). TOR, as another example, had about seventeen different planets, and not a single one of them had a body of water that was more than ankle-deep.

At any rate, I spent a decent amount of time with Guild Wars 2 since the alpha test beginning last December, leading up through the beta. What I saw was good, but not amazing. I was not filled with a “must play” sensation, and with so many other games and things to do, I decided to let GW2 alone.

The exception to this decision will be if my wife decides she wants to play it. She’s expressed a little bit of interest in it (particularly the Charr), and we haven’t played an MMO together since we quit WoW last year, and we both miss that.

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