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Casual gamer review: Guild Wars 2 (part: the first)

The "2" doesn't lie: there are dragons aplenty.I’m a gamer, but I lack the most valuable commodity a gamer can ask for: time to play games.

I’m busy!

I work a lot, and that sometimes means I travel far from my gaming PC.  I’m also married, which is wonderful, but it does weigh on how my free time gets allocated.  Then come the other commitments—things like writing comics and blog posts… So I don’t get to game quite as much as I used to.

Under those constraints, you would think that I’d prefer games that lend themselves to “snacking” behaviors—short, satisfying bursts of play—as opposed to games that require an investment of time; games that are diametrically opposed to MMO’s.  But I’ve always been a fan of fantasy themes, and the character development mechanics of pen and paper role-playing games, and the most easily accessible confluence of those, given my aforementioned challenges, are MMORPG’s.

I’ve sampled many massively multi-player games.  Some I’ve played for a month or two, others for just a few days.  In the case of one notable game, I “dabbled” somewhat extensively for about four years, alongside 12 million other folk (to quote Villager #3: “I got better”).  All of these experiences, (gaming, working, writing, marriage…) have helped me to come up with personal criteria that, well, until right now, were somewhat ill-defined, but that help me choose games that pay good returns on my investment of time.

For my money (for my time, that is), a good MMO will reward me frequently, hitting that Pavlovian sweet spot several times an hour.  It will challenge me, but not sadistically.  It will offer me alternatives to large-scale, organized play, as avenues to advance my character after achieving max level.  It will have interesting mechanics, but not demand three credits of college statistics and a night school Excel competency course to master.  It will be visually and aurally stunning, because those things matter to me.

I could keep going, but that’s already a lot to ask of a game, and its not surprising that many games can’t satisfy half of those expectations.  Guild Wars 2, however, satisfies them all, and more.

I had been reluctant to try Guild Wars 2.  The first one hadn’t moved me.  I was experiencing some post-Skyrim, post-ThatOneReallyBigFantasyMMO sword and sorcery fatigue.  I had avoided most media about the game—I resented the pervasive hype for it on practically every MMO-related site.  I didn’t preorder, play in the beta, or during early release.  I picked it up on a whim, while experiencing a lull in my enjoyment of another game, and I’m glad I did.

Guild Wars 2 does a lot of things right by this casual player.

Take PVE questing, for instance.  Rather than picking up a quest by talking a “!”-festooned NPC, completing a singular, repetitive task, and then returning to the now “?”-adorned NPC for your reward, Guild Wars 2 quests are tied to entire areas.  As you enter a questing zone, you are immediately granted the relevant quest.  And rather than having a singular objective, like “Kill boars and bring me 10 boar hearts”(which may necessitate killing like 30 boars, because WTF, everyone knows only 1 in 3 boars have hearts), a single quest might be equally accomplished by killing monsters, healing nearby NPCs, collecting resources, or interacting with the environment in a variety of ways.  And when you finish, your reward arrives through in game mail, along with a message of thanks.  If you choose to seek out the quest giver (who is generally within the radius of the quest area), they’ll also sell you upgrades, for a job well done.  Questing in Guild Wars 2 never feels as stale as in that other game, and I haven’t yet felt like I’m forced to grind to make any progress

Another core element of the PVE experience is the inclusion of dynamic events; impromptu quests that make the world feel alive.  Guild Wars isn’t the first game to try this:  Warhammer: Age of Reckoning and Champions Online, among others, have had timed events, zone-based challenges, and the like.  What Guild Wars 2 brings to the table in this regard is quantity and quality.  There are dozens of events per zone—some that escalate two, three, or four times, before culminating in huge boss fights.  It is amazingly fun to see ad hoc armies of players take down a truly massive, or powerful monster.  And the best part: each player is automatically rewarded according to his or her contribution to the battle.  No loot council, no DKP, no drama.

Anyone with a vague interest in Guild Wars probably already knows this, but: No Raids.  I can’t underscore how personally gratifying that is.  Even though its been well over a year since I quit the pipe stopped raiding in that other game, I stiff suffer from RAD: Raid leader Anxiety Disorder.  I wake up in cold sweats, sure that our main tank is going rage quit, or that a critical healer will no-show and we’ll have to call the raid, and 24 other people are going to blame me for wasting their time… /shudder.

Yeah, that’s over.  Instead, the focus here is on five-player dungeons, and they’re tough!  With fewer people, you really have a sense that you’re contributing to the success (or failure) of a run.  Everyone has to pull their weight, and because Guild Wars 2 de-emphasizes the “holy trinity” of tank, damage, and healer, it’s not too hard to pull together a competent group of players and take a run at one.

Beyond questing and dungeons, simply exploring the game’s gorgeous environments gives you massive experience rewards and random loot for your efforts.  Crafting, which seems like an afterthought in many games, is complex and rewarding.  Manufacturing items (or parts of items) grants a small experience bump, but discovering new recipes gives you enormous experience boosts—I’ve earned whole levels affixed to a crafting station, discovering new things to make.  Admittedly, I’ve felt somewhat resource-starved, and crafting doesn’t feel like something particularly useful to your first character, so much as for your subsequent characters, but the experience boosts make it a very worthwhile endeavor on any character.

I haven’t touched on the best part of my Guild Wars 2 experience yet:  the community.  That is something I never thought I’d say about an MMO.  Certain games (I ‘m thinking of one in particular…) have created an expectation that MMO communities should be caustic, vile, and obnoxious.  Mercenary and selfish.  Elitist and jerkish.  And there is PLENTY of that in Guild Wars 2, don’t get me wrong.  But the game itself encourages cooperation.  For instance, players get credit for helping take down monsters together—no more kill stealing.  Ad hoc groups form, quite organically, in the course of questing.  No /invites need be sent.  It just makes sense to help one another out.  If you fall in combat, whether in a dungeon or in the wide-open world, another player can resuscitate you and get you back on your feet—mid-fight!  I make it a point to help out anyone I can, and it comes back to me in spades.

All of this without paying a monthly subscription fee.  Needless to say, I’m a fan.

Since I’ve prattled on for quite a while, I’m going to stop here.  This is “Part One” of a two (maybe three) part series on my Guild Wars 2 experiences.  Next Thursday, I’ll be writing about guilds and wars (PVP, that is), so stay tuned.

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This entry was posted by Chris Avery.

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