When I met my wife, she was a console gamer, but she had never played an MMO. She was interested in giving some of the games that I liked a try, so I introduced her to some games with IPs we both already liked, namely Lord of the Rings Online and Star Wars: The Old Republic. She wanted to get into the story of those games, but the complexity of those WoW-like games’ systems was a big deterrent for her. Honestly, I can’t blame her; a lot of MMOs, especially from the era where the WoW clone reigned supreme, can seem almost willfully obtuse sometimes. She has a lower tolerance to stumbling around a game not knowing what she’s doing than I do — a testament to her good sense.Guild Wars 2. Now I’m happy to say that between Guild Wars 2 and The Elder Scrolls Online, she spends as much or more time in MMOs than I do. And that’s because Guild Wars 2 makes a great introduction to the world of MMOs for so many reasons.
Manageable skill bar
The first reason is the limited size of the skill bar. Choices can be wonderful, but they can also be incredibly paralyzing when you’re first starting out. Guild Wars 2 eases new players into its combat systems, unlocking one weapon skill and specializations at a time and gating your slot skills behind hero points that you earn by leveling up and exploring the world, but it doesn’t introduce things so slowly that you get bored before you get your whole kit or hold your hand so much you feel smothered. And then it tops out at just 10 buttons (15 if you count your weapon swap), which feels a lot less intimidating than the three or four 12-slot bars full of skills I have on my endgame SWTOR characters. This also cuts down on the finger gymnastics, which is nice.
Guild Wars 2 also has some of the best quality-of-life features of any MMO I play. When I get gear drops I can’t use or otherwise don’t want, I can break them down into crafting materials out in the field (as long as I have salvage kits in my inventory), then I can hit a button and send those materials directly to my crafting bank. Or, if I’d rather, I can list items on the auction house from anywhere. Cleaning out my inventory takes no more than a minute or two and doesn’t require me to return to town, getting me right back into the parts of the game I actually enjoy.
Also, returning to any area I’ve been to is cheap and easy. Just open the map, click a waypoint, pay a few silver, and there I am. Some argue that fast travel like this shrinks the world, but I’ve never felt that way. After all, I have to have visited the waypoint first place. I have to say, when I was new to MMOs, if there had been a quick and easy way to get back to that place I was an hour ago, I would have spent a lot less time feeling lost and frustrated.
Flexibility of play
Another great thing about Guild Wars 2 is the flexibility its classes give the player. Guild Wars 2 generally eschews the traditional tank/DPS/support trinity, instead making every class more or less a hybrid of all three. You can be a mesmer who focuses on buffing the group, or blocking damage. Necromancers can command a small zoo of undead pets, spread debuffs and DoTs around, or even keep allies alive. Even if you’re only interested in DPS, most classes have a number of choices to make, such as whether to focus on direct damage or damage over time, ranged or melee weapons, slot skills that prioritize a passive self-buff or an active cooldown, and so on. This allows new players to experiment with different playstyles without starting all over with a new character every time.
Better yet, if the game lets you do it, you’re probably not totally ruining your character. If the game had a randomize button that gave a character a totally random class, build, weapons, gear, and slot skills, five such randomized characters with reasonably skilled players at the keyboard could jump into a dungeon or low-level fractal and finish every time. It wouldn’t be efficient, and they might wipe a couple of times if their random build is really terrible, but they could finish. That’s not to say that Guild Wars 2 content is a cakewalk, but the point is, just about any random build you make up will get you through most content. Best of all, respecs are free and can be done wherever you are, so if you realize you don’t like how this build is playing, you can change it up on the fly.
Not only are classes flexible, but level scaling means that grouping is flexible as well. You can bring your endgame-geared, meta-build-wielding level 80 to play with your level 10 friend, and your friend won’t have to feel like you’re mowing everything down for them. Yes, a well geared level 80 will be noticeably more powerful, but every mob in the zone isn’t just going to fall down because a true level 80 sneezed in its general direction. Fractals and PvP also scale sub-80 characters up to 80, so newbies can jump into those modes with friends as soon as they’re comfortable.
Accessible but deep
An easy, simplistic game would be great for beginners, but wouldn’t hold most players’ interest long term. It would ultimately end up feeling like a waste of time, so the ideal starter MMO would also have to have depth to it. Yes, you can get by in the early levels of fractals without knowing what you’re doing, but that won’t cut it at the higher tiers. Yes, any group makeup is viable in dungeons, but raids require people who understand how to work together and how to play their specific roles well.
Also not obvious to the casual player is the depth and complexity added by needing to understand when to dodge, when to block or destroy projectiles, and when to break defiance bars. I’m not saying it’s the deepest game ever by any means, but I think it strikes a great balance between accessibility and complexity, both drawing new players in and giving them something to work toward.
Finally, the game is free-to-play. MMOs aren’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea. Let’s be honest, MMOs aren’t even most gamer’s cup of tea. I just wouldn’t feel right talking an MMO newbie into paying an expensive box price, or worse yet, a box price and a monthly subscription fee, for something they may or may not be into. Yes, I guess I could buy the game for this hypothetical newbie, but I want folks to play the game because they enjoy it, not because they feel obligated. If they end up not liking Guild Wars 2, or even if it just takes them a while to break into it, they aren’t out anything for having tried it.
Guild Wars 2 ended up being the perfect entry point to the MMO genre for my wife, but your mileage may vary. Do you think Guild Wars 2 is the best place for beginners, or do you have another game in mind? I’d like to hear your thoughts in the comments!