Guild Wars 2: Old Habits Die Hard

As MMO players we have come to be conditioned into thinking that MMOs work in particular ways and are designed in particular ways. Every MMO is, for the most part, the same game with a few little differences here and there. Some have better features, some do things better or worse than others, some throw in a novelty here and there (story, removal of auto attack, etc), but in essence they are pretty much built on the model made famous by Word  of Warcraft.

Enter Guild Wars 2. This game is so different to the standard MMO model in so many ways, that many people are having a hard time “getting it”. It isn’t just WoW with a new coat of paint. It’s core design philosophy is completely the opposite in fact. A lot of people just cant wrap their head around that. They are not “dumb asses”, as one friend put it. They are just conditioned to approach MMOs in a particular way.

“I’m power leveling!”; “Where are the raids?”; “If I cant heal or tank, how can I help somebody?”; “If there are no tanks, what is the point in having different armor types?”; “This game is the least social and cooperative of any game I’ve ever played!”; These are the kind of comments I’ve heard a lot in the past week and they all stem from our MMO conditioning. These people, in one aspect or another… just don’t get it yet.

We had people hit max level before the game even officially launched. We have people power leveling via crafting (and having their guildies supply them with mats to do so). We’ve got people running “from heart to heart”, treating them like quest givers and then going “I’ve run out of quests for my level! Halp guyz!”. Guys! This is not your standard two game type MMO. In your standard MMO there is the leveling game (“the boring bit”), and there is endgame (the bit everyone wants to do). The focus in other MMOs IS endgame and as such it makes sense to rush to get there. It isn’t the case in GW2. What you are doing as you level is what you are doing at end game. There are not two separate games. It makes no sense to rush to level cap. It gains you no advantage and you skip … well.. the actual game! What’s the point? There is no endgame! There is only THE game!

We have people who can’t get their head around the lack of the trinity (tank/heals/DPS). They see the game as just being a free for all pew pew fest. I can see how they would get that opinion. It certainly feels like that in a crowded event area. That sort of play won’t get you though tough stuff like Exploration Mode dungeons, or competitive PvP though. So if there is no trinity how does cooperation work in the game? How is it not a solo pew pew fest? Carefully timed and coordinated application of boons and conditions are essential. Using combo fields for things like condition removal is essential. This game does not have a tank to protect the group and mitigate its damage. It does not have a healer to keep the tank up.  Instead, everyone must look out for everyone else. People must use their boons & conditions to protect each other and mitigate the damage the group is taking. This requires people to really be on the ball. It requires everyone to have the level of situational awareness that used to be reserved for the tank. It also requires more coordination and cooperation than any other previous MMO. Don’t believe me? Have fun wiping in many of the dungeons then!

The comment that I find most bizarre though is the “together alone” comments. The ones that claim that this isn’t a social or cooperative game. If social and cooperative is defined as people working together as a team to complete tasks, helping one another out,  and enjoying the game together, then this is the most social and cooperative MMO I’ve every played. ArenaNet built a game based on cooperation and community. It’s their foundational principle. It removed everything from the MMO genre that hindered people working together or pitted one player verse another player and then added everything it could think of to encourage people to play together. It worked.

Charr Necro

 People are conditioned to think that unless you are in a party with someone you are not being social or cooperating. Those same people don’t realise that “the party” is itself an artificial constraint against cooperation with others. It is still “our little group” and “them”. ArenaNet has created a game where there is no artificial barriers to cooperation. It shows too. People everywhere are helping their fellow gamers out. Be it rescuing them from taking on one too many mobs, helping them down that elite boss that spawned on their head, resurrecting them from death, helping them clear a path to a resource node, or the like. There is also the regular spontaneous banding together to take on a challenging mob or situation, of course. I challenge anyone to show me another MMO that has this much helpful interaction between it’s players.

 Miss chatting with random strangers? There is nothing to stop you from doing it. All the mechanics for doing so are in the game. Want to form a party with people? You are free to do that too if you wish (yes I am aware that some of the grouping mechanics are not working as intended atm, ie.. busted). This game is no less social or cooperative than any other MMO. I’d argue that it is more so. In the end, it is just done in a way that hasn’t been done before. Some people can’t wrap their head around it. It’s the good ol’ MMO conditioning rearing its head again.

In summary, ArenaNet have created a world for you to explore and enjoy. Don’t rush to level cap. Just explore and get lost in the world. Live it. Have fun doing it. That’s the game. Play the game with an open mind. Forget that it is an MMO. Forget what an MMO is supposed to be. Play it like it is a new genre of game, or your first experience with an MMO. Leave your preconceived notions of how things are supposed to be at the door, and play the game how it actually is. I bet you’ll end up having a ball!


  1. Siha says:

    Yeah, I saw a loooot of confusion – not so much in the beta weekends, but definitely after headstart launch – from people who hadn’t taken the time to find out how the game works , but just assumed it would work the same as every other MMO they’d ever played. (You’d think the substantial differences in the UI design and layout would be their first clue, but apparently not.)

    That said, I disagree – as you know – with your points about the social play. I do understand how the GW2 social model works, I just prefer the old-style model for those particular facets of MMO gameplay. (It also didn’t help that a lot of the “alone” feeling came from something that turned out to be a bug — the inability to “Join In” with friends.)

    I’ve seen a lot of pro-GW2 commentators saying that those who are criticising the game just don’t get it (yet). Please consider the possibility that we do get it, we just don’t like it. ;) The MMO genre has absolutely been in need of fresh blood, and GW2 is definitely that, but rationally comparing the New Way and the Old Way of doing things and concluding that in *some* cases you prefer the Old Way is *not* actually the same as being so conditioned by the Old Way that anything new or different is automatically worse.

    (In my case, I actually do like the game; there are just some choices they’ve made that I *don’t* like. Which is inevitable, as no game suits anybody perfectly.)

    • Alo says:

      I concede that fact that there are certainly those who “get it”, but don’t like it. I think such people are the minority though.

      Also, whilst your blog post certainly helped spark some of the ideas regarding the social aspects of the game, they are not the only source of the “together alone” comments. Don’t feel singled out! :) You probably *do* get the social model of GW2, but your comments at the time of writing it tend to indicate that at one time you did not. Like you said though, the bug with overflow servers and joining friends probably didnt’ help much in that regard.

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