Working As Intended: Why classic Guild Wars matters, 12 years in

The spring season always sees a deluge of MMORPG birthday celebrations: Lord of the Rings Online, City of Heroes, Allods Online, Free Realms last week and TERA and EVE Online this week. Lost in the din, however, is Guild Wars — classic Guild Wars, ArenaNet’s original MMO, which released in 2005 against World of Warcraft, performed brilliantly, and let up only once Guild Wars 2 itself was underway. Even though it’s now clinging to life in a permanent sort of maintenance mode, I still consider it one of the best MMORPGs ever made, in spite of the fact that it’s missing several things I’d normally consider vital for an MMO. And in this week’s video edition of my Working As Intended column, I’m going to tell you why.

The MMORPG genre might be “working as intended,” but it can be so much more. Join Massively Overpowered Editor-in-Chief Bree Royce in her Working As Intended column for editorials about and meanderings through MMO design, ancient history, and wishful thinking. Armchair not included.
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46 Comments on "Working As Intended: Why classic Guild Wars matters, 12 years in"

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Ben Stone

The PvP and dungeons in GW1 still crap all over GW2. GW2 did a lot of things right but instanced group content and PvP were terrible compared to it’s predecessor.

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Jesse Wan

Ah, that Ritualist nostalgia. I missed Minion Bombing, and I really hated switching to Signet of Souls when the meta shifted.

luxundae
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luxundae

Nice piece and nice format! Thank you, Bree!

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Johnny

Like path of exile, this game has no mmo gameplay. And like path of exile, the devs have clearly stated it’s not an mmo. Please stop mixing up the meanings. It just confuses people. Especially when a new game is announced as an mmo then you find out it’s 16 players. It’s really disappointing.

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Veldan

Though I agree with you and would personally not call it an MMO, GW is more MMO-like than PoE. GW was pretty much an MMORPG in everything except the player count, and in towns it had even that. When there were special events, there were actually a hundred or more people playing together sometimes in the towns. Like with the Dragon Festival or the Mad King’s appearance at the end of Halloween.

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Ben Stone

It wasn’t a MMORPG because it did not have a persistent world shared by all players outside the towns, they were all instanced missions. It was a Co-Op RPG which is what the box I still have clearly states.

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Jeremiah Ratican

Aw, I miss GW1, I know I can go back but you know it’s not the same, I never could get into GW2. I loved GW1 for GW2 I wanted GW1 with new races and jumping but what we got was another game completely. I missed all the same things listed below like Heroes, and Builds. I remember hunting skills to test builds and trying new builds out. Not to mention the game was so easy to install and was clever in its design.

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Jeremiah Ratican

Also just to comment on what you said in the video, I think GW1 is dead not because of GW2 it’s because it doesn’t get any updates. If they supported it like EQ1 and EQ2 it would likely have a ton of players.

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wonder_llama

Bree, I think you made me cry. There are so many things I miss from Guild Wars 1…

The three things at the top of my list are:

1. The skill builds. Constructing my own unique little skill haiku out of 400+ dual-classed skills was awesome! And the skill capture system where you had to hunt down and slay boss monsters with effectively just seven (or even six or fewer) skills on the bar, with the rest taken up by skill-cap signets.

2. Heroes! Not only did it mean that we never had to wait for a PUG, it also meant the game could be played a completely different, equally challenging way by small groups and soloists. Guild Wars 1 was a much more tactical game when played with heroes, and working out effective hero builds became its own mini-game. It also meant anyone, absolutely ANYONE, could explore anywhere they wanted, could play through any scenario they wanted, could experiment with any build ideas they wanted. None of this lock-step, must have exactly these classes, at these levels, with this gear, using exactly these skills and this build, and run the scenario exactly this way, or else we boot you. Guild Wars 1 encouraged exploration and experimentation in ways most modern MMOs completely lack.

3. Lateral progression. Especially once Factions and Nightfall came out, you literally were expected to be max level by the time you made it off of newbie island. The entire remainder of the game was played at max level. And it was fun! And it wasn’t repetitive! And it wasn’t all just a boring grind! It’s truly sad comparing Guild Wars 1 to what passes for “end game” in most MMOs these days. In Guild Wars 1 the whole thing was end game, and it was good!

Guild Wars 2 has a lot of great ideas to it, but it’s a very different game. Even with the Heart of Thorns expansion, I became bored with it rather quickly. In some ways it’s really too bad that Guild Wars 2 exists, because it basically ensures that all the great ideas in Guild Wars 1 will likely never be seen again.

*sigh*

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Denice J. Cook

I loved this game to pieces, played it on and off for years, and really should really go back. I’m glad NCSoft smartened up (or signed that no-closure agreement with ArenaNet) and only maintenance-moded it, rather than shuttering this great classic permanently.

By the way, I have to admit that even an old codger like me enjoyed the video format!

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Vunak

GW1 was an amazing game. I played it for a long time off and on. I was hoping GW2 was going to be a graphically upgraded Open World version of GW1. But that didn’t happen. I play GW2 off and on briefly, but it just doesnt captivate me the same way GW1 did.

Happy Anni to TERA though. I have been playing TERA since before the NA release having played the korean beta and release until NA picked up steam. Unfortunately I have pretty much stopped playing it as well because of the direction the game is taking with P2W, Complete class imbalance and lack of meaningful content/content drought.

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Jeremiah Wagner

GW1 had certain features and concepts that I think are still ahead of the modern mmo’s. Let me name a few. 1) A low max level. This allows players to hit max level faster like current mmos but also does not force you to get new items and gear constantly making the stuff you have garbage along with being to high of a level for the area you are currently questing in (( ” Guild Wars 2 later tried to fix this by scaling areas , but I personally HATE scaling as it makes me feel like I’m not getting any stronger as I level up”)) . 2) BUILDS!!! I love creating builds , testing different synergy’s from grouping skills together. 100’s of skills and only being able to pick 7 or 8 actually makes your character more dynamic and personal if that makes sense. 3) Bots to play with you. I can actually play a healer while I’m questing solo!!! AMAZING!! 4) Ultimate skills that you learn from different boss’s or rare enemy’s all over. Seriously though the list goes no and on.

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Oleg Chebeneev

The game is clearly outdated now, barely anyone plays it and it is rarely mentioned anywhere on MMO sites. Is this what you call “matters”?

GW was a good game, but its time passed.

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Dolnor .

GW did exactly what it was designed to do…one of the few games I’ve tested (over 70) actually did! The server tech was world-class, the combat style was spot-on, the game-play was engaging, replayability was built-in. I was asked to help test the low-end platform performance…played using a 56k modem connection and no one in the test group PUGs could tell I wasn’t broadband, the tech was that good!

Many have lamented that MMOs are stagnating. Perhaps we need to look back at the mind-set & successes of the past before the genre can move forward into the future? -)

Dolnor Numbwit
Eternal Testing Newbie

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Jeff

Nothing compares to GW the artwork looked like a Dio album cover the things that game brought to the table still have not been improved upon. GW2 is a pale lame shadow of it’s predecessor. Arenanet isn’t the same company, they are actually a joke now…my hope and dream is one day someone will make a spiritual successor to GW.

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Veldan

Just watched the video (yes, my first comments were before bothering to actually watch it :p). It sure makes me miss GW, as well as the time that it was popular in. It’s a distant memory for me now, as it has already been 10 years (where did all that time go??), but it really was one of the best games I ever played.

My favourite thing to do, besides PvP, was to play missions that people said were very hard or impossible to do without real people in the group, and then do them with henchmen and heroes. I ended up clearing the whole game on hard mode that way. It culminated in me doing the pre-GW2 content Winds of Change like that, with 3 heroes and 4 hench. A few days after I completed it, the difficulty for several missions was nerfed because most players could not beat it even in a full group of real people. I don’t think I’ve been so proud of a gaming achievement since.

Instanced zones, combined with all content being group content and groupable (and later customizable) NPCs, was a brilliant concept. And then there was the skill system and horizontal progression, the fair and competitive PvP, the beautiful world and atmosphere… this game was a treasure. I’m not sure one can appreciate it today the way we did back then, because obviously times have changed, and technology moved on.

I’ll always hold it against Arenanet that they made GW2 a sequel only in name. We have plenty of “true” MMOs. Plenty of games with dungeons, plenty with vertical progression, plenty with crafting and trading systems, plenty with zergfest PvP, plenty with super easy leveling that’s accessible to absolutely anyone with eyes and hands. But we have no game like Guild Wars.

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Jeremiah Wagner

I COMPLETELY AGREE. The one thing I dislike more then the direction they took the GW series is the fact that they used the Guild Wars name so there can never be that hope of ever playing an actual GW2.

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Schmidt.Capela

Sorry, not going to watch the video; I really dislike getting my information in podcasts/webcasts/streams/etc, both because I prefer reading in nearly every situation and because understanding spoken English is kinda hard for me.

But yeah, I really loved GW1; to this day I consider it quite more enjoyable than GW2 ever was, and my main regret about it is that the PvP-focused advertisement kept me away from the game for a long time. There are many systems in GW1 that I really wish more other MMOs would implement.

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TomTurtle

Oh my heart. Seeing the various locales drums up my nostalgic emotions.

No game since has come close to repeating what GW1 did, and I find that to be a shame because I would really love it if one did. The entire package notwithstanding, even elements from the game being ported into other MMOs would be lovely. I still sorely miss how simple GW1’s gearing and build swapping system was. Build experimentation with having so little to fuss about gear and using the expansive skill system gave me a lot of freedom to try out various themes in a fairly quick manner.

I beat both the Prophecies and Factions campaigns figuring things out on my own without jumping between campaigns to grab any skills or heroes and that was quite challenging. And the vast majority of my playtime with that game was solo and never did I feel like I was being shortchanged in content or rewards. I yearn for that feeling in another MMO, GW2 included. GW2 is great in many of its own ways, but even that game still falls into many standard MMO problems, lack of solo play and challenge included.

aYates
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aYates

I tried the free trial back in the day and I was like, “no jumping?? Wha…?”
Thanks for the informative video, Bree.
As a WoW player I never got the appeal of GW1, but you definitely gave me a new perspective with your video.

I recently tried GW2 and I liked it, but it didn’t completely suck me in. Plus, from reading articles on this site I’m unsure what direction they’re going in, so maybe when they announce the next expansion I’ll give it another try.

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Angel

Guild Wars will always have a warm place in my memories. It was the first “MMO” I convinced my previously only an FPS RTS playing Husband to try. We spent so many hours together with our heroes and henchmen exploring tyria together. Because of Guild Wars, we’ve went on to enjoy many other MMO’s together, GW2, Rift, NWO, WOW, and FFXIV. But Guild Was was amazing. Nothing like the feeling you would get after you finally managed to complete an area and/or mission because you worked so hard on building a working deck for you and your team. I really wish GW2 would have put more into deck building. We played it for about 8 months straight after launch, but then something happened and we just can’t seem to get back into that game, not like we were with GW. It makes us sad because we wanted so badly to love its successor the same way.

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Jeremiah Wagner

YES!

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Veldan

Yeah, I think GW2 targets a completely different playerbase. If you really loved GW, chances are you’ll like GW2 a lot less. I actually don’t know of anyone from my old GW guild and friend list that played GW2 for longer than a few months.

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GiantsBane

I think that highlight the problem with many gamers / people in general, expecting the next evolution of a game series / product to remain the same with only minor tweaks, while balking at how enormously better GW2 improved on the franchise following the first game.

But alas, some people can’t take off the nostalgia goggles and are doomed to forever yearn to live in the past, decrying everything not mirroring it as inferior (I can’t help but roll my eyes everytime someone brings up UO when a pvp game’s being discussed as if it were some shining beacon all other games with pvp elements must aspire to.).

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Veldan

This has nothing to do with nostalgia. When a new game goes into a very different direction than the previous, it’s not better or worse, it’s different. GW2 didn’t improve on the franchise. It changed it. Some like it, some don’t, but like I said, if you like one you probably like the other a lot less, because of how different they are. Looks like you’re in the GW2 camp.

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GiantsBane

I enjoyed GW in its time, that time passed however and I don’t hold it in a lower regard than the new one. You realize that improvement requires change right? Just because things were changed more than some people would of liked is irrelevant, this whole yearning for old games to create sequels that are almost identical with minor tweaks and improvements otherwise they aren’t “truly part of the franchise anymore” is silly and yes based heavily on nostalgia.

I do see your point, but like I said change is a necessary part of progress, and you’ll never make everybody happy. Trying to do that tends to disappoint more people than it meant to make happy in the first place.

miol
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miol

Wasn’t one of the reasons they abandoned Utopia for GW2, that the amount of skills were starting to become unmanageable?

How do trade card games actually deal with that today?
Or do they simply embrace the inevitable, after a certain number of released cards?

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Veldan

Well, in my opinion they did a perfectly fine job balancing things. Yes there were occasionally things that could be considered too powerful, but the frequent balancing patches always took care of it. A shifting meta is something positive, it adds flavour to a game and keeps the fresh feeling.

miol
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miol

If they have kept adding more skills, the potential amount of work to deal with them seemed exponential! The Utopia article at least suggests that!

That’s why I’m asking, how TCGs deal with that today, as they keep on releasing new cards for decades now!

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Terren Bruce

TCG’s deal with it by retiring older sets and only keeping the most recent sets officially supported. So for GW1 to emulate that they’d have to remove sets of skills with every released expansion.

That sorta explains why they went with GW2 instead. It wasn’t a sustainable system they had going.

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Veldan

Well yes, it is exponential in a way, because every new skill you introduce has to be power-checked against every skill that’s already in the game. Ideally though, if all the existing skills are already balanced, it’s not exponential, because then there’s only one level of power against which the new skills need to be checked.

I don’t have much experience with TCGs, but I know that not all TCGs bother with a good overall balance. Some of them simply allow some power creep, causing the newer card sets to be slightly more powerful than older ones, which conveniently serves as an additional incentive for people to purchase new cards all the time.

miol
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miol

…not all TCGs bother with a good overall balance. Some of them simply allow some power creep…, which conveniently serves as an additional incentive for people to purchase new cards all the time.

I’m embarassed to have not thought about that!
Thank you for pointing that out! /bow

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Veldan

No need to be embarassed for thinking that the goal of game design is for the game to be good. If anything, it means you’d be a very likeable game dev :)

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Sylkesh

Very interesting video Bree, thanks :D Made me want to play GW1 again ^^ ;-)

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BalsBigBrother

Awww Bree, noooooo stop showing me games and making me want to play them again when I don’t really have the time. :-)

Serious answer thank you for the video and I am glad you are still doing these sort of retrospectives on some of the greats from the collective mmo history. Please please do more in the future.

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Jacobin GW

GW1 was the best arena pvp MMO and was ahead of its time. The endless skill and class combinations had so much strategic depth that the player could tinker for years to refine a build. Think MOBA where you have access to every single skill on one character but only a few can be taken into battle.

The only grind was for cosmetics. If you wanted to look cool you had to put in work. Nowadays you just pull out your credit card.

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Koshelkin

“It took root in my soul.” – I love when people get so enthusiastic about their MMO’s.

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