There’s a lot of repetition going on in MMORPGs these days. Developers subscribe to this trend of continuing to implement features that mirror other games because they assume those features are why the games are popular. Class trainers who teach 30+ abilities, for instance. Sure, some gamers like huge arsenals at their disposal. But when one game comes out with 30 abilities learned by spamming the “train” button, the next 35, and the next 45, at some point we have to stand back and say, “Well, wait a minute. Why do we need all this? Why can’t we just customize our abilities right on the battlefield?”
Lucky for us, ArenaNet hasn’t given into the trend. The developers are attempting to think outside of the repetitive MMO box. Even down to the little details of Guild Wars 2, the hints of immersion and innovation are there. Yes, the game has trainers, but not for every aspect of combat. Players are able to switch abilities based on their equipped equipped. Combat can vary extensively between one encounter to the next– all without needing to spend 20 minutes clicking at the trainer. Minor details like this make the difference upon embarking on an adventure into Tyria, because we know that the developers didn’t say, “Let’s do this like those other games.” They said, “Let’s do something different.”
1. Weapon combinations
Speaking of combat, not only is the whole way that abilities are trained and customized a total departure from normal MMO methods, combat itself requires strategies that differ from the norm. Because of the fact that two weapon sets can be hotkeyed and exchanged during combat, this means skillsets can change drastically depending on which two sets players have ready to go.
The weapons can be flipped between while abilities are off cooldown, opening the way for unique combinations of crowd control abilities, buffs, debuffs, heals, damage abilities, leaps, and combo abilities. The fact that a player can use two skill sets during any particular fight instead of one seems like a minor detail, but it can make a huge difference when it comes to planning battle strategy. Different opponents call for different weapons. It’s refreshing to see this type of system in an MMO.
2. Combat rhythm
It’s also important, I feel, to note the way combat flow departs from most MMORPGs. Most players are familiar with global cooldowns, and the rhythm of combat they place on every fight. They become accustomed to firing off abilities as soon as they’re able to, directly when they come off GCD. Damage is king, right? Not so much in GW2. Well, damage is pretty nifty, but for some of the more difficult fights, timing is more important. Timing, situational awareness, usage of stuns and other crowd control abilities, and of course, movement.
It’s important to learn how to save a stun for when the boss does his super-spinny move, instead of just randomly using it when it’s off cooldown. Timing may seem minor in other games, especially while leveling, but matters a whole lot more here. And this makes a lot of fans who have gotten tired of rotation spamming pretty happy.
3. Environment immersion
When you first step into the GW2 beta, it’s easy to tell the developers spent quite a bit of time figuring out what look they wanted to give the game. Tyria’s a fantasy world, sure, but it’s not fantasy in the same way other fantasy MMOs are fantasy. The UI is artistic, yet wonderfully minimalistic. The game world is beautiful and serene in certain areas, yet edgy, gritty, and almost steampunk-like in others. Each area has its own feel of immersion, and honestly, not many MMOs do a fantastic job of this.
NPCs don’t just stand around, but take part in the events going on around them. NPCs chatter amongst themselves. Dynamic events kind of just happen randomly, with no warning bells– they’re actually, you know, dynamic. The world feels a lot more alive because of the care put into creating it. Oh, and the effects when diving underwater and coming up for air? Awesome.
4. No mailboxes
This one’s pretty minor, but let me tell you, after playing MMORPGs with mailboxes for years, it’s pretty nice to actually be able to retrieve in-game mail straight from the interface. Quest rewards and story quest “summons” also come this way. Game developers, we get it– you guys think it’s required to have players run toward mailboxes every time they need to check an auction. News flash– we don’t need mailboxes.
5. Automatic quest acceptance and completion
I know. You were expecting me to say GW2 has no linear, non-story quest system, because that’s what most of the media-hype articles try and say. Sorry, but GW2 does indeed have linear-type quests. Running around completing heart quests that are around your level is pretty damn close to running around and grabbing quests from local NPCs. The big difference? Quests automatically start upon entering the area, and automatically complete upon finishing. No need to talk to the NPCs, and they can be done in different orders. It’s a solid change for players who would rather explore than complete 647 quest chains.
6. Interacting with the environment
When the community first heard about GW2 players being able to interact with the environment, I think many of us weren’t sure what to expect entirely. Turns out we really can’t interact much with the environment. We can run around and pick up strange objects on the ground, and while minor, it’s actually kind of fun. Bars and rods can be used to stun and smack enemies around. Bombs can be chucked across the field into groups of mobs. Hunks of food can be eaten, or used as a weapon. Giant fish can be fed to tiny bears. Some random fun items, and definitely some RP potential here.
While questing, the interaction stuff pops up quite a bit, which makes questing a little more interesting. The nice thing about many of the heart quests is that there are multiple objectives to complete, and multiple ways to actually receive quest completion. Players can kill stuff if they want, collect items, feed bears, disable traps, or do any combination of those items to finish off a quest.
7. Expansive areas that make sense
SWTOR, I’m looking at you. Maybe Jedi and Sith really love huge-ass buildings that take forever to run through, but when those buildings serve no purpose other than to look huge and daunting, the actual players running through them feel more annoyed than daunted. Guild Wars 2 achieved the mix between expansive and purposeful just right if you ask me. The main cities are huge, gorgeous, full of useful NPCs, and fun to explore. They aren’t full of endless hallways and random elevators.
The leveling areas that I’ve seen so far are expansive, but not in the desolate, lifeless way exhibited by certain maps in SWTOR. In GW2, expansive maps are that way for a reason– each out-of-reach area contains some cool dynamic event, skill point location, or rare NPC. This expansiveness pairs extremely well with the “quest while exploring” method, because if you can explore a new area, chances are you can quest in it as well. And thanks to the scaling leveling system, exploring each of the large starting areas is entirely worthwhile.
8. Scaling leveling system
Okay, so maybe this one really isn’t a minor detail, but it’s awesome, so I’m going to give it its own section. Scaling leveling is one of the most unique features about the game, and one of the reasons GW2 is often called a game that focuses on endgame difficulty even while leveling. This isn’t an MMO where maxed level players will curb-stomp lower level dynamic content. This isn’t a game where players can grind out “green” enemies just because it’s easier. This is a game where player skill will always trump level, and where players will always find themselves at odds with the world around them. Three words: About friggen’ time.
9. Smart teleporting
Remember I mentioned large areas? Here’s another reason why the cities and areas are awesome, yet not annoying to travel through– you can still quickly get around in them, thanks to the way point system. If players want to hoof it and explore, they can, but if they want to zip here and there, they’re free to do that as well. The other great thing about the system? Yep, after discovering a way point, you can zip to it by bringing up the map. No need to run to a flight path, horse master, or portal NPC. Click the map, pay a few coin, and go.
10. Open-world experience and loot systems
This is another big one. I mention it because it’s something overlooked by so many MMORPGs. Many games feature public grouping, but GW2 takes the idea one step further and allows players to finally be able to help one another publicly, and still earn rewards for doing so. No more of this odd feeling like we need to search out our own side of the map to quest on, away from possible kill steals and spawn steals. The open-world system encourages player cooperation for every part of leveling, not just raids, instances, and dynamic grouping. Finally.