From the day that Guild Wars 2 was announced, I followed the game with vigor. I set about consuming every ounce of available information for years and in the process, interviewed some of ArenaNet’s lead figures, including Colin Johanson, Jon Peters, Daniel Dociu and its President Mike O’Brien. From the moment I played the game during its closed Beta stages it seemingly rectified everything I loathed about the genre: the constant need for healers, dull static combat and repetitious quests.
Within twelve months and despite having already played the game for over six during closed Beta, I still loved the game. I’d managed to level over 3 characters to 80, obtained two Legendary weapons and had an account value at well over 20,000 Gold (I once spent the time adding up its value, though 2 Ghastly Shields tends to help!).
If I were to pinpoint when Guild Wars 2 and I fell foul, it’d honestly be difficult to tell. My love for Guild Wars 2 was much like a Justin Bieber fans - insatiable and irrational. I was so absorbed in its community that I freely admit as a Journalist I was failing to see past its flaws. It was only after taking a vacation with my wife for two weeks that I began to become frustrated with many of the games systems and core mechanics. Back when I was a teenager I honestly thought CounterStrike was the only game the world should be playing and only then after holiday abroad from the confines of my office did I realise that, actually, it was good but not quite as good as I remembered. The same applies for Guild Wars 2.
The little things began to bug me about ArenaNet’s chosen course weren't just usual PvP balance issues that plagued the game since closed Beta (bunker builds, an inability to counter them 1 on 1, limited game modes) but also the larger issue of its chosen Buy to Play model having long term repercussions on ArenaNet’s development approach.
On the surface many of Guild Wars 2’s systems are a dream for players: shared resource nodes and questing, a lack of a holy trinity (something I hugely supported) accessible dungeons and Dyanmic Events all sounded wonderful on paper. In practice, most of these changes even play really well. As for the long term prospects however, even after thousands of hours I’m still not convinced it’s right for me or the game despite it clearly reaping rewards financially. I’m not suggesting that what ArenaNet have crafted isn’t popular or of a certain quality as the game has clearly tapped into a niche that the world was waiting for, but Guild Wars 2 is, without question, a casual massively multiplayer game.
I must stress that I dislike the term casual because it doesn’t say a great deal but is also filled with connotations of poor play and irrelevant, forgettable gameplay. While I don’t exactly agree with that description (many friends would) I think Guild Wars 2 does infact fit that mould. Most of the design choices ArenaNet made offer no longevity to a game that showed so much promise because everything comes to the player so easily.
You might argue that there are things in Guild Wars 2 that are difficult to obtain: Legendary Weapons and Ascended items being the primary two. However, these are only difficult due to RNG, not through game difficulty. Praying to the Mystic Forge Gods for a Precursor or for far too long Ascended items was more of a nuisance than anything else.
There isn’t a single part of Guild Wars 2 that offers any challenge to the player. It’s PvE has descended into nothing more than a zerg-train while its world bosses, despite some significant tweaks are painfully easy. When it comes to dungeons or Fractals, they aren’t any better and are some of the easiest content I’ve played in all my massively multiplayer life.
Part of the problem behind such easy PvE is the fact that through a lack of a holy trinity ArenaNet have struggled to provide order and function to groups and encounters. Where scripting and positioning is incredibly important in more traditional variants on the genre, Guild Wars 2 lost this entirely. As a result encounters have little choice but to descend into scrums because it’s impossible for players to control an encounter - you simply react to the chaos. It’s still somewhat fun to complete content in this manner but that’s primarily because ArenaNet are excellent at creating lovable settings. Who doesn’t want to kill a giant Dragon made of bones? Whether or not I was having fun outside of slaying one World Boss was another matter and for the most part, with the exception of the Tequatl encounter, I wasn’t. The lack of rewards in all aspects of the game because of the reliance on scraps, RNG and Gem Store items only made matters worse.
I'd often ask myself: "Why would players ever run low level content (despite the brilliant down-leveling system) when there’s no true incentive?" Dynamic Events have been abandoned and everything outside of the Gem Store offers nothing of any visual value. Statistically Ascended items are still relatively pointless and prove a costly, time consuming and largely irrelevant increment on your attributes. All that’s left is for players to partake in the three remaining cornerstones of the game: PvP, WvW and Living World (the fourth being general PvE).
Where PvP is concerned it has been largely neglected in favour of pursuing Living World and while changes have been made, the game mode has stale. With a handful of maps but only one mechanic (Point Capture) it feels repetitive and lacks diversity. Worse still, many balance issues still persist to the point where playing is often a headache. Lastly, there still remains too little incentive to take part when armor and items aren’t unique to the game type and when leaderboards are only accessible online. The Feature Pack revealing only two new unique armors is too little too late.
As for WvW, I was originally hoping that it would capture some of the magic of Dark Age of Camelot and instead what we were presented with was a game mode that pales in comparison. Maps are too small, zerging is too prevalent, Keeps and Towers have no fundamental purpose and the addition of WvW Upgrades proved pointless when there’s no tangible advantage to them. When the game engine is also inherently incapable of running the game smoothly with large quantities of players on screen at once, questions have to be asked as to whether it was the correct choice of avenue for ArenaNet to pursue. Make no mistake, I’ve partaken in plenty of epic fights in WvW (I was in one of the top WvW guilds on Aurora Glade) but few of them involved Keeps. The vast majority were simply out on the map, encountering random zerg trains. In comparison to the Alliance versus Alliance battles of The Elder Scrolls Online, World versus World really doesn't fare well (AvA is hardly perfect but does run exceptionally well).
Finally and my biggest bug-bear when it comes to Guild Wars 2 is ArenaNet’s pursuit of the Living World concept. First and foremost, I hate it. It’s drip-fed forgettable content that for the most part has been poor. Its formula is repetitive and I believe has come at the expense of everything else in the game. The point at which I gave up all hope for the Living World providing any sense of meaningful narrative was during the culmination of Scarlet Briar’s arc. During her demise the acting, circumstances and lead up to her death were simply awful. The fact it was hampered by issues which plague PvE (unstructured encounters and zerg-style play) didn’t really help matters, but neither did the script or the awful voice acting.
Having played similar Living World chapters leading up to Scarlet's demise, all with the same repetitious cycle of new achievements, new weapon skins (linked to RNG) and the same process leading up to the story, I’d simply had enough. The bite-sized chunks of content left me so disappointed because you can physically see the need for ArenaNet to replicate the formulae, only making minor adjustments, because of the speed in which they’re working at. I don't want to be able to log in and complete a Living World update and all its achievements within an hour. I want to play unique content that has longevity and not experience a constant feeling of Deja Vu: season 2 is a little better, but it still feels formulaic.
What I found so frustrating about Guild Wars 2 more than anything was that ArenaNet singlehandedly rejected some of the things that made the brand and the game great: Guild versus Guild and Dynamic Events. Where Dynamic Events are concerned, I believe they abandoned the process because it significantly reduced their revenue potential rather than the raw Living World model. Creating complex Dynamic Events (one of the best things about Guild Wars 2) would be unquestionably time consuming and expensive, while it would also be difficult to bolt on the “must have” themed items that appear every update (do we really need any more bloody backpacks?). And although there are Dynamic Events within the Living World updates, they’re simple and repetitive, often being little more than a chain of “Kill This > Proceed To Here.” By then ensuring that there’s a dollop of RNG strapped on top (Black Lion Scraps and Black Lion Chests) it’s is a recipe for instilling a gambling mindset into its players (thus extracting more money). Annoyingly ArenaNet don't even need to add RNG to obtain items if they wanted money from players, all they'd need to do would be to make items and armor directly purchasable.
As for Guild versus Guild, there’s really little need for me to discuss its value. Anyone who has ever taken part in it knows full well it’s one of the best game modes in the genre. To reject it entirely, with no real reason, left Guild Wars 2 with very little opportunities for guilds who were seeking something truly competitive. Combined with a leaderboard, unique item rewards and in game rankings and the end-game is secured: I firmly believe it would have singlehandedly guaranteed Guild Wars 2’s long term survival for swathes of players.
Will I return to Guild Wars 2 again? It isn't likely. The recent GuildMag interview hardly filled me with confidence and it's clear ArenaNet still treat many of the issues surrounding the game with complete disregard. To move away from the Super Adventure Box (also arguably one of their best creations) in favour of Living World is enough to make ones blood boil. Despite my complaints, Guild Wars 2 is an exceptional massively multiplayer game that held my attention for thousands of hours. But for players like me who've reached the "end", there's very little left besides achievement chasing. The journey is great the very first time you play the content but it only suffices once. That just isn't good enough and it isn't something I can continue to support.