Flameseeker Chronicles: Why Guild Wars 2 is the ideal starter MMO

    
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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.

Finally, she decided to try a game that was new and a little friendlier, and that was 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.

Quality-of-life features

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.

Free-to-play

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!

Flameseeker Chronicles is one of Massively OP’s longest-running columns, covering the Guild Wars franchise since before there was a Guild Wars 2. Now penned by Tina Lauro and Colin Henry, it arrives on Tuesdays to report everything from GW2 guides and news to opinion pieces and dev diary breakdowns. If there’s a GW2 topic you’d love to see explored, drop ’em a comment!
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Anstalt

I don’t play GW2 so cant comment on any specifics. The only thing I would point out is that everything you’ve listed is about ease of play – how to get someone into the game and for the game to be easy enough for them to play.

Thats fine, accessibility is good and all.

What’s missing from your article is anything to do with MASSIVELY MULTIPLAYER!

It is the only unique selling point of the genre – being able to play with 100s of other people in the same area. Literally the only usp. I would have thought that any “starter” MMO being recommended should include something to really capture the imagination of the new gamer, to show them “this is what being massively multiplayer is all about”.

Now, maybe GW2 does have some decent MMO stuff in it that will capture a new player’s imagination and make them want to stick in the genre. But you haven’t mentioned anything at all.

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Sleepy

Path of Fire kind of soured me on GW2, whereas unlike most people I really liked (most) of Heart of Thorns. The design philosophy in PoF seemed to be “stuff every zone full of mobs so that you can’t go five feet without getting jumped”.

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Nate Woodard

I would agree that GW2 very much like its predecessor is a great starter MMO. Funny thing is some of the things that make it a good starter MMO are what turn me off.

I speak for myself when I say one of the biggest problems with GW2 in my mind is that you really don’t ever feel a sense of completion. Because of Dynamic Events, that aren’t that dynamic, every zone you go to or revisit, it seems like you are always doing the same thing. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve cleared out a centaur horde in Queensdale.

Gaining new levels really doesn’t feel impactful. I’m not sure that’s a boon for a starter, but it certainly comes to mind. The gear progression is a mess. This is mostly good for someone getting into mmos, as it really doesn’t matter what gear you have to play the game. At end game or to do advanced gameplay, they really need to get it sorted.

And probably the biggest turn off for me has been the story and the way its delivered. Yeah, that’s about it.

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Ironwu

GW2 is a great starting MMO, as is Elder Scrolls Online.

I would personally recommend ESO over GW2 as I think the level scaling works better in ESO (way better) than in GW2.

I also find the story and NPCs better in ESO.

But, it is really down to personal taste. Since the cost to get into both games can be very low, and they both have strong F2P elements after the initial box cost, I think folks should try both.

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Bruno Brito

I would love ESO more if weaponswap wasn’t in the game. I hate that mechanic.

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Ironwu

In ESO, I have weapon swap bound to my sniper button on the mouse. Makes it fast and easy. In some of my characters, I use the same weapon on both sides and swap to just change abilities. :)

GW2 also has weapon swap, so I see that feature as kind of a wash between them.

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Bruno Brito

Yeah, but i still don’t like it. I make use of it when i have to, in GW2 and in ESO, but i find the mechanic boring and a crutch for balance.

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McGuffn

In most cases I don’t see it as a crutch for balance. In both games it is there to keep the skill bar manageable.

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Bruno Brito

How so? Why not just allowing you to choose several skills towards a limited skill bar?

There’s nothing manageable as a 3kit engineer, which was what i used to play. It was on the realm of EQ2 number of skills with twitchy gameplay.

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Life_Isnt_Just_Dank_Memes

It really is. Core GW2 is one of my fave games ever made. It always struck me as odd when so many people who were so into GW1 in our alliance bounced right off of GW2.

I think it all comes down to whether you are a tab target or an action combat type player.

The Guild Wars franchise to me, is the best starter series for MMOs.

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kalech

I want to love GW2 as much as I used to. I played a lot when it was new, I played in the betas and followed development religiously.

But most of the things that appealed to me are gone now. Open world is laughably easy. Dodge? Why bother. Play any build you want, because it doesn’t matter. But if you go into endgame running anything but a meta build, you risk getting crap.
I miss when mobs actually hurt. I miss dungeons. GW2 brags about “No trinity!!”, but in reality you have players speccing strongly into dedicated buffing/protection because the raids require it. Which means you do still have the trinity, just a different flavour.

I still think GW2 is a nice game, and I don’t dislike it. I just think they didn’t stay true to the concepts they launched with.

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DargorV .

GW2 has lost a lot of its appeal when they started steering development towards the cash shop. Of course plenty of gw2 players will pretend such is not the case but its become ridiculously obvious in the last year and a half that anything new or interesting the model team can come up with is automatically branded “Cash shop release” rather than “unlockable”

And no, buying gems with gold doesn’t make it any more okay, that is the dumbest argument you could ever make. Going around the problem doesn’t fix it.

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Randy Savage

Some of the best outfits in the game are locked behind achievements.

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Hikari Kenzaki

Interesting article, we were just talking about this last night. Pretty much agree with everything here, granted, we aren’t newbies to MMOs, but it takes a LOT to convince me to try a fantasy game and/or keep playing it over my other fantasy games. They’re just not my thing.

Of the “Big 4,” GW2 is the only one I play. The F2P aspect is a big win for it, though what finally got us into it heavily was Path of Fire. The other 3 games all put odd barriers on how new players come into the game.

As an earlier article this week pointed out, Free Trials don’t work that often.
WoW… I streamed it because it won votes… it’s laughably simplistic and old school. I just couldn’t get past it. I think WoW is probably also a good First MMO, but can’t really say. It never hooked me.
ESO… just never drew us in and the free trials were too short to get a feel for it. Even as an experienced MMO player, I felt I was missing a lot of Elder Scrolls references.
Then there’s FFXIV, which we finally remembered why we didn’t play its ‘unlimited trial’. We duo. And it’s impossible for two new players just looking to try out the game.

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styopa

“it’s impossible for two new players just looking to try out the game.”
Not arguing with you, but why would you say this?

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Hikari Kenzaki

Trial account characters can’t form teams.

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styopa

Oh, fair point then. That’s pretty shitty for an MMO.
Considering that you’re basically still almost in tutorial country when you’re capped at 30 (the learning curve to FFXIV is embarrassingly shallow – really baby’s first mmo) that’s a little ridiculous.

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Dilly Dolly

Yay. I’ve only approached GW2 among the big four. Not only because of the mechanics written in the article, I love the diversity in the game too, unique 5 races, cultures; representative of minority owo
and imo with a western-asian acceptable art style.

…Friendly for players into different culture styles.