Vague Patch Notes: Guild Wars 2 might be the MMO that defined the last decade

    
28
About the only thing you can't do is ignore them.

It’s been about a week or so since we did our Overthinking on the best MMO of the decade, and I ultimately rattled off five titles for that one. As for our meant-for-fun reader poll at the end, well, I don’t know who’s going to win in the end because the poll doesn’t close for a good while yet. As I type this, however, Final Fantasy XIV is in the lead – by a one-vote margin. Pretty much everyone who knows me would assume (rightly) that I’m pleased with that outcome, just barely edging out Guild Wars 2 in that particular poll.

Which is why it might be pretty surprising that I’d happily put forth the statement that Guild Wars 2 is really the MMORPG that defined the past decade.

I think that there’s a huge amount to be written on the impact of every one of the MMOs that I listed as one of the best of the decade, enough so that I could easily give each one its own entry in this column explaining how it influenced things. (If the demand is there… well, maybeMaybe.) But GW2 definitely deserves the nod because I think there’s no other MMO that so completely influenced how designers were approaching the genre over the past decade… to the point that I think you can even tie the game directly to the rise of much less persistent titles like Destiny and Conan Exiles. Really.

Let’s start by taking a step back to the original Guild Wars. Actually, you could arguably go even further back to the founding of ArenaNet, but what I think is much more important here is the way that the original Guild Wars was very much a contemporary with World of Warcraft, despite the fact that the two games launched close enough in time that there wasn’t much cross-pollination of design ideas until much later in both titles’ lives.

That seems instructive to me because – at least eventually – ArenaNet seemed to mostly throw away those design elements deemed too similar to WoW. It was a gutsy move, but it was also indicative of a core philosophy of focusing on getting to the “good parts” of a game that led to decisions in the first title.

Big ideas.

Please note that this I am glossing over some of the details for the sake of the overarching point; there were no doubt debates and changes behind the scenes that I do not know about or just don’t recall, and the design was not made by Steven Guildwarstoo walking into the ArenaNet offices and laying down the exact design document that would be followed forever. There probably weren’t even entertaining rap battles involved in hashing out design choices.

But what I’m getting at here is that GW2 had an overriding ethos from seemingly well before launch. We kept hearing about its design manifestos, its design philosophies, its goals, and how it was going to play like no games before it. Indeed, its whole set of goals seemed to be to take the lessons learned in the prior decade and bring them back around to the next level… subtly nudged by the way that it seemed to be bound and determined to undermine WoW and its dominance.

But the details about how are less important to me than the core principle behind everything that seemed to be animating the whole activity. Guild Wars 2, from launch, was a game that began as it meant to go on with explicit cues to such. Rather than the sudden experiential shift that WoW had normalized, GW2 was about pulling you in and getting you to the fun parts right away, and then encouraging you to keep doing the fun parts basically forever.

This was not, even at the time, a new idea. But it combined things well enough and smoothly enough that it was easy for its particular alchemy to be the first time you saw all these things working together, especially in a modern game.

Dynamic public events, for example? This was not a new idea, and Warhammer Online’s public quests were a high-profile exploration of the same notion. But GW2 pushed these events into center stage because it didn’t have normal quests for you to fall back upon. By excising a fallback, you were more encouraged to seek things out instead. No trinity? Easily a call back to the earliest days of MMOs, but also presented here as a more dynamic and open system intending to create interaction between classes and builds without dependency.

When GW2 launched, it didn’t play like most “modern” MMOs at the time. And yet it was also thoroughly easy to pick up and play. More to the point, if you liked what you were doing in the first few minutes of the game, you were going to like the game period; it would expand and widen and gain complexity, but there wasn’t a point when you were going to be thrown up against a meat-grinder of raiding content.

That’s not to say it didn’t have problems; rather, it’s to say that its problems didn’t change that it set up a different paradigm for MMOs. Where other games (like WoW itself, arguably) jostled uncomfortably against what it meant to have this shared but separate virtual playground, GW2 never made you feel bad about having more people around. Other people might not help you, but they basically never hindered you, and you could have what amounted to an entire conversation just through shared actions fighting a dynamic enemy threat.

A whole lot of the game is shaped that way. There is a bit of a story running through, obviously, a thread of events pulling you from place to place… but for the most part, you’re not following that. You’re being herded, not directed, nudged rather than pushed, guided instead of forced.

All of the lights.

You can see the game’s influences shot through the vast majority of other big games released in the decade. FFXIV no doubt owes the game quite a debt with its FATEs and chains of same; The Elder Scrolls Online was clearly influenced by its combat design and limited ability rollout; Black Desert Online is not without its debts to the active gameplay and flexible progression path. Even older games had to reckon with it. The idea of level-scaling the world got passed around a lot, but that existed in GW2 from launch. It was a necessity in a game where your activities at level 10 weren’t notably different from what you did at level 80, after all.

For that matter, yes, I consider games like The Division to be a further distillation of those same ideals wherein you don’t need to mash the concepts of your game into a narrow setup. You can have a game work as a shared online space even when only a small portion of it is continually shared; the important thing is making other players feel like a net asset, not a drain or an impediment. You want players to be happy to see others, or at least broadly neutral.

Survival sandbox games like Conan Exiles occupy a similar space. The game is a shared experience, but it need not be a continually shared experience. It doesn’t need to be a continual anything. If you don’t have discrete quests and lines of content to move through, you can get the same effect out of crafting an organic set of forces to nudge players, even if there’s only the vaguest of metaphorical arrows pointing in a direction.

It’s not a secret that I haven’t been happy with how GW2 has been handled over the last couple of years, but a lot of that comes down to how the game itself has removed some of the stuff that made it so compelling with its initial launch. As it has gotten more directed, it’s gotten less interesting. Adding raids into the game meant adding things like healers and tanks and all of that nonsense, intentional or no. Upscaled rewards give more incentive for newer content over old.

The list goes on, and in some ways it’s depressing to look back at the game’s old design manifestos and realize the ways in which the title itself has fallen short of those ideals. Then again, maybe that’s a sign of how high the game was aiming that it couldn’t hit all of its goals or couldn’t sustain them past a certain point, and mismanagement doesn’t change the history of the genre.

Guild Wars 2 launched in 2012, and it feels like in one way or another, basically every game has had to change to account for what it showed you could do with a game and how flexible an experience could be… but not in a copycat sense. If WoW offered a template, GW2 offered a filter to ask why a game had to limit your options at any given moment.

And even if GW2 might not be my main game, every time I’m in an FFXIV dungeon in which the boss requires me to grab a new item and interact with the environment in a new way, I know GW2 made an impact.

Sometimes you know exactly what’s going on with the MMO genre, and sometimes all you have are Vague Patch Notes informing you that something, somewhere, has probably been changed. Senior Reporter Eliot Lefebvre enjoys analyzing these sorts of notes and also vague elements of the genre as a whole. The potency of this analysis may be adjusted under certain circumstances.
newest oldest most liked
Subscribe to:
Reader
Anton Mochalin

Not sure about “defining the decade” but the new thing was that they made such type of open world “dynamic events” and “hearts” gameplay work really well so it became the main game mode for some category of players for both leveling and “endgame”. I still have fun doing the Silverwastes metaevent even after doing it so many times.

I don’t think the game’s value is diminished by the existence of raids, dungeons etc. The really nice feature is that they don’t “define the game” – you can do them from time to time or ignore them completely without diminishing your open world experience. Yes it’s “shallow” in that sense that all those game modes aren’t integrated into some larger whole, they are just like choices on a table, but you still get some loot and the economy of the game is fine-tuned enough to make that loot feel valuable enough.

Reader
Bruno Brito

Honestly, you’re overselling GW2.

The CONCEPT that started the game was something people were hyped about. The manifesto was something to define MMORPGs for the decade.

The game itself? You’re being generous. GW2 is shallow. It’s not innovative. It’s pretty.

Reader
Anton Mochalin

It’s shallow in a sense of “horizontal progression” and such things – getting one more weapon or mount or crafting material doesn’t make you much more powerful in most parts of content though possibly gives you some new ways to do things. It’s not super innovative in different types of gameplay and mechanics but it has a number of them implemented well enough to occupy an average player for a long time without making him feel bored. It’s just very good entertainment for those who like this type of entertainment – basically running around and taking part in “activities” like in some real theme park.

Reader
Bruno Brito

It’s shallow in a sense of “horizontal progression” and such things – getting one more weapon or mount or crafting material doesn’t make you much more powerful in most parts of content though possibly gives you some new ways to do things.

No, it isn’t. The horizontal progression despite being shallow, is actually the best they have to offer. No. What’s shallow is how core systems work. The Power/Condition damage system is shallow. The Boon/Condition system is shallow and made one class impossible to balance ( Necromancer ). The combat system, being held up by these two systems and the lack of major customization in the weapon skills, is shallow, and make several weapons unviable for play.

It’s not super innovative in different types of gameplay and mechanics but it has a number of them implemented well enough to occupy an average player for a long time without making him feel bored.

That’s subjective. Dungeons in GW2 are extremely badly implemented. Fractals are fine, but also have the same dungeon issue where you can pretty much exploit-skip lots of encounters, which is TERRIBLE design.

WvW has been terribly implemented ever since it’s inception, to the point where nowadays they either make major changes to toss a coin at the WvW populace ( but never rework the mode per se ), or just minute changes. They basically given up.

SPvP is another awful implementation that while it got better over the years QoL-wise, it got worse considering how classes play and interact with each other.

I feel terribly bored by GW2 “activities”, so again, it’s subjective.

t’s just very good entertainment for those who like this type of entertainment – basically running around and taking part in “activities” like in some real theme park.

So, like a headless chicken? Because i like my stuff focuses, well-thought out and at least with attempts of making my play versatile.

Reader
Anton Mochalin

Headless chicken can’t see the beautiful landscape around not even speaking about choosing what content to play and GW2 is all about choice. GW2 gameplay is very versatile and there are no unviable to play weapons simply because you can always find content that’s easy enough for your weapon or playstyle or find a group for harder content – and the game isn’t for those who bother about “being carried” – today I carry you and the next day you carry someone else. The game is simply not trying to cater to players who care too much about BiS upgrades and such things. It is the game for casuals and actually all that horizontal progression is about all things being easily available – it’s easy to level up and gear for raids or world bosses or any other mode. GW2 is about experience, not achievement. The closest game to it in that sense is actually Warframe where you just slice through poor enemies with style. It’s just a playground and this attracts a lot of people but they expect a really shiny playground with inventive toys and GW2 provides that.

Reader
Bruno Brito

Yet, GW2 launched raids.

Anton, let’s agree to disagree. I played five years of GW2. I’m pretty aware of what the game is. You wanted a playground, i wanted a home. It failed as a home for me.

Reader
Anton Mochalin

As I said previously your problem with GW2 is that it’s simply not for you. The manifesto was generic enough for you to think that would be nice but you’re just not the target audience. The manifesto got implemented but just not for you – rather for a much larger group than yours.

What I really don’t understand is your problem with raids in GW2. Yes they are there, I’m not interested in them right now and I don’t do them and I don’t feel my experience is diminished in any sense because I don’t get that raid loot or whatever raids give. Maybe someday I’ll try them so I’m glad they are there and are keeping some people I meet in the open world in game. They aren’t even the “final endgame” for most advanced players – as far as I know a group with just exotic gear can beat some or all of them. The raids are just another form of “activities” for those who like long instance runs with larger groups.

Reader
Bruno Brito

As I said previously your problem with GW2 is that it’s simply not for you.

Except it was for me. It isn’t ANYMORE. GW2 was a pretty generalist MMO. Your condescence is noted and ignored.

The manifesto was generic enough for you to think that would be nice but you’re just not the target audience.

What a bunch of crap. So, now you’re saying to me you know Anet’s state of mind? Considering that GW2 was made for all playerbases except the raidcore one, it was well within my range.

The manifesto got implemented but just not for you – rather for a much larger group than yours.

You talk like you know what group i’m part of.

What I really don’t understand is your problem with raids in GW2. Yes they are there, I’m not interested in them right now and I don’t do them and I don’t feel my experience is diminished in any sense because I don’t get that raid loot or whatever raids give.

That’s your problem. You’re the kind of player who gets satisfied with whatever crap it’s tossed your way, and thinks that’s good design. The way you defend GW2 is akin to the most rabid fanboys i’ve met over the years ( lordkrall ) and i just don’t have the interest in debating with those morons anymore.

But YOU not feeling your experience diminished, doesn’t mean the rest of the game don’t. Go see their fucking forums. Go see how having Raids diminished the PvE crowd out of dungeons and fractals being evolved to something better, because their focus is on raiding and LS now. Go see how the WvW community got neglected over the years because of how the company went full PvE focused.

Raids take resources out of other areas. It’s that simple. You being an Anet buttsniffer explain why you feel like this turd on your table is tasteful, but i’m way more exigent with the shit i’m paying for.

Who gives a shit about raidloot on a game without gear progression. I give a shit about a six year game still having exploitable dungeons.

Maybe someday I’ll try them so I’m glad they are there and are keeping some people I meet in the open world in game.

I didn’t ask.

They aren’t even the “final endgame” for most advanced players – as far as I know a group with just exotic gear can beat some or all of them.

You don’t know. So, please, don’t bother opinating on something you don’t know. You’re a open world player. You don’t know how awful are the other slices of GW2.

The raids are just another form of “activities” for those who like long instance runs with larger groups.

Again: You don’t know. Have you played since launch? Have you seen the state this game launched? How exploitable dungeons were/are? How the core systems are so damaging to how the game is played? Have you done a world boss and seen how they’re zergfests? Played WvW? Conquest SPvP?

I’m tired of your condescence, i’m tired of you thinking GW2, a game who advocated for BEING FOR EVERYONE, not being for me, when i played way more long than you, and my issues with the game derivating not from how the initial concept is, but how the game developed overtime without solving it’s core issues.

I’m sick and tired of GW2 apologists while the game gets 130 workers laid off. You guys did a shitload of damage towards Anet communicating, and it’s because of your existence as a rimjobber that they feel their way of doing things is viable.

So, do me a favor. Don’t answer to me anymore. I’m honestly tired of debating with you. You’re going to keep being a Anet rimjobber, accept everything they shit on your mouth. I’m through.

Reader
Anton Mochalin

No I’m not going to stop because this is an open discussion and because I see you’re wrong and moreover I suspect you know you’re wrong but aren’t ready to admit that. Maybe GW2 was for “everyone” except any person who’s played more than one game knows there can’t be a game for literally everyone. And exactly because of limited resources – and even Blizzard has limited resources – Anet needed to make a decision at some point based on the game’s reception – which segment to cater to. And they decided to cater to the casual crowd which one could argue (I don’t know that but it can be one of the interpretations) was initially those “EVERYONE” ANet “advocated for”. Their meaning of “BEING FOR EVERYONE” – and this is quite well-demonstrated in Eliot’s post we’re commenting – was that no one is not locked out of most things just because of not being levelled/geared enough etc. This is not totally true but taking into account how easy it is to get to the level cap this is true enough for an average player who feels like continuing playing. But who is usually locked out of content? – all sorts of more casual players and we understand that casual/hardcore is a continuum. So they no doubt delivered on that understanding of “FOR EVERYONE”. Re. raids taking Anet’s resources – I’m not very interested in counting companies’ resources except maybe for when I’m an investor or owner or at least an employee, so I take any game including GW2 as it is – and that’s what more casual crowd does. When we feel bored we just leave -for a while or forever – there are many good games and other forms of entertainment out there. I’ve spent ~400 hours in GW2 and I don’t feel any desire to leave. I see new content coming to the game regularly, I see other players everywhere in the open world who are very nice to me and I had no problems finding groups through LFG to do instanced content. So GW2 works well as a modern MMORPG game. I don’t care if ANet has financial problems or not (it doesn’t, the game is still very profitable for a 7 year old MMO) – but I see you’re always mixing ANet and GW2. GW2 is a game. ANet is a company. GW2 will still be playable and in many aspects be a good game even if ANet sells it to some other company which would keep it in maintenance mode. And those people laid off last year were mostly not even working at GW2 at that time – they were working on GW3 or whatever next game they were planning to make.

Reader
Anton Mochalin

And I don’t feel any desire to leave even though I have a backlog of more than 200 games in my Steam account with titles like Witcher 3 or Metal Gear Solid 5 or Subnautica waiting to be played. GW2 works surprisingly well for me who’s tried and felt bored with so many other MMOs. And I don’t get why would one try to exploit its dungeons or fractals except maybe once “for memes” – why would you do that, to get one more yellow item or a chance of exotic item a little bit faster? I do content for the content, for the experience that’s not measured in XP bar at the bottom of the screen and GW2 provides a lot of amazing experiences. I’m not much of an “apologist” for GW2 – I don’t even see why would it need to apologize (being a game). It’s playable. It works. It’s for everyone in the sense that there’s not much locked content for casual players. A lot of casual players would still like Fortnite or Diablo or Battlefield or Clash of Clans better and it’s totally okay. But you’re just angry about the game being not to your tastes anymore and what I’m trying to show is that it’s not because ot the game’s quality or playability at this particular moment of its history.

Reader
Axetwin .

I had been thinking about leaving a similar comment. On paper GW2 could have EASILY defined the decade. In execution, it couldn’t even decide on what it wanted from players once they finished the main story. Hell, it took them years before they nailed down how players should be leveling.

Reader
Loyal Patron
Patreon Donor
Armsbend

Lol no. Last decade was 100% defined by ArcheAge. There is no other contender.

GW2 is one of the most forgettable MMOs in the history of the genre.

Reader
Eamil

You’re confusing “genre-defining” and “subjective best.” I guess AA broke new ground in pay to win cash shop BS, but other than that it definitely didn’t make waves in the genre as a whole. Its premise is just “EVE on the ground with fetch quests.”

Reader
tiltowait

Archeage was far more innovative than any other MMO of the last decade. GW2 brought very little to the table.

Reader
Leiloni

Black Desert Online is not without its debts to the active gameplay and flexible progression path

This part is just factually not true. A lot of the folks who made Black Desert had previously made C9 (Continent of the Ninth Seal). They got Black Desert’s combat, as well as it’s class system, from that game that they themselves developed. And they didn’t exactly veer too far away from it, either.

Reader
Loyal Patron
Patreon Donor
Kickstarter Donor
Paragon Lost

You didn’t sell me at all on the whole “That Defined the Last Decade” for mmorpgs. I personally feel that WoW did that, like it did in the previous decade. Not saying that’s a good thing, I’m just not buying the above statement in regards to mmorpgs. (shrugs))

Reader
Leiloni

I think GW2 tried to define the decade and the genre but failed. For me had they made changes to combat and class design it could have been amazing. But those things are just too weird and different from how other both action and tab target games do it that I just could never play it anything more than casually.

Reader
Loyal Patron
Patreon Donor
Kickstarter Donor
Paragon Lost

Yep, that’s my feeling as well.

Covynant001
Reader
Covynant001

After reading through the arguments I now understand GW2 is the true culprit in destroying the genre rather than WOW.

Thanks.🤣

Reader
bobfish

Destiny is the only MMO that had a significant impact on the genre for the decade, by proving their viability on console.

No other MMO had any noticable impact on the genre at all. Unless you want to look at negatives, such as SWTOR finally proving AAA subscription MMOs are no longer financially viable for western developers.

Reader
Eamil

SWTOR would have been fine as a subscription game if it wasn’t just a terrible game.

Reader
Peter J Reynolds

By the statement that it “defined” the decade implies that it made such a significant change to the genre that the impact caused changes to other mmos the genre. Honestly it seems like it was the opposite for GW2. When it first launched it had that kind of road map, but to stay relevant GW2 was changed to continue to have the population. I do love the game, the world, the art style of GW2, but over time it lost it’s way of the original road map. I cannot whole heartedly say it defined the last decade for mmos.

Hell, They don’t even let you move your actions around on your action bars! So many times I was frustrated by the limitations of their UI system.

Reader
Eamil

I think the fact that I can agree with you and still agree with the article as well is just a testament to how stagnant the MMORPG genre has become.

Reader
jealouspirate

I agree, GW2 made a lot of good player-friendly decisions that have almost all been copied by other MMOs. In that sense it’s been very influential and important.

What’s strange to me is how over time other MMOs became more like GW2, GW2 became more like the standard MMO. More and more instanced content, more “on rails” quests, higher tiers of gear, raiding, etc. If you hold GW2 up to Arenanet’s “MMO manifesto” video from before launch they are hardly recognizable as the same game.

I was so incredibly hyped for GW2 and got a lot of fun out of it, but unfortunately it really lost the magic somewhere down the line.