The Top 5 Important MMOs of 2012: Guild Wars 2

2012 is going to be a revolutionary year for MMORPGs, but which titles should you be watching? Find out in our Five Most Important MMOs of 2012! Up today is... Guild Wars 2!

Check out ZAM's other Top Five Most Important MMOs of 2012:

If 2011 was the year of blockbuster RPGs and FPSs, then 2012 will certainly be the year of MMORPGs and online games. With almost a dozen highly anticipated titles confirmed to launch in 2012, there can be no doubt that this year will be a revolutionary one for MMO gaming. That being said, not all of you will have the time to check out all of these big releases, so ZAM has compiled a list of what we consider to be the Top Five Important MMOs of 2012. In this top five series, we'll look at some of the most innovative titles of 2012 and why you should keep a close eye on them. Today ZAM Staff Writer Paul "LockeColeMA" Cleveland will talk about.... Guild Wars 2!

"It all gets back to our basic design philosophy," wrote Mike O'Brien, executive producer for Guild Wars 2. "Our games aren't about preparing to have fun, or about grinding for a future fun reward. Our games are designed to be fun from moment to moment." The game has put forward enough information (and boasting) that it easily made the top of my list for anticipated games in 2012. So what is Guild Wars 2 claiming to offer to differentiate itself from the rest of the pack? Read on to find out!

For the past couple of years all MMORPGs appear to have based their content on the most successful juggernaut in the field, World of Warcraft. The two biggest titles recently, Rift and Star Wars: The Old Republic, are no different: they take WoW's model of quest-based leveling, the holy trinity of tank-healer-damage dealer for grouping, and then put additional features into it. That's not to insult these two games; they do what they do well, and they are certainly different enough from WoW to stand on their own in the industry. But their style has been evolutionary; Guild Wars 2 is aiming to be revolutionary. There seem to be three key parts to this: throwing out the quest-based leveling system, breaking the static group dynamic mold and making the social aspects of the game cooperative instead of just competitive.

When we say that GW2 is throwing out the quest-based leveling system, that doesn't mean it is going to replace it with grinding. I spent too many years of my life leveling that way in Final Fantasy XI to ever go back to such a method! Instead the team aims to make a dynamic world and event system. Instead of having the classic quest-giver standing with an exclamation point over his head and pages of quest text crying about bandits in the village, players can run across a village and find it under siege from said bandits. Without needing to accept a quest at all they can jump right into the action, and will receive rewards for helping the village. From the descriptions I've heard, it reminds me a lot of Rift's invasion system, where you come across an event and can choose to join or not without actively accepting a quest or a group. However, this is apparently the model for all leveling in GW2; there will be NPC scouts to notify players about events nearby that they can participate in. There is also a main story line specific to your character, to give players the best of both worlds: interaction with a changing online environment, as well as traditional RPG storytelling.

As mentioned, other games have moved into more dynamic content and forsaken the traditional "mountain o' quest text" model for cinematic storytelling as well. None of those, however, have decided to cut out the tri-role model of grouping. In GW2, each class will have defensive and/or healing options to choose from; there won't have to be a designated healer to care for a group. When characters lose all of their hit points, they fall into a "downed" state but can still use some abilities and be revived by a teammate or by killing an enemy. The combat of the game will encourage making use of the unique skills and abilities of each profession, but will not pigeon-hole certain professions into roles like in most MMOs. Players' abilities will interact with each other; for example, an elementalist casting a Fire Wall will set the arrows shot by a ranger on fire, inflicting additional damage. Further, skills can be chained for additional effects and damage, both intra-profession and inter-profession. These skill chains will be used to synergize the professions in place of the normal roles we associate with MMOs.

Honestly, this is a core change from what we've seen in most games, and also the riskiest. From the information I've read, the environment will play an active role in many encounters; I'm not sure how well players will be able to react and stay alive without a healer to keep them up. Goodness knows that too many STILL stand in the freaking fire. It's a gamble to see if these players will be receptive to a game where a healer doesn't have their backs.

When the original Guild Wars came out, it described itself not as an MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing game), but a CORPG, or competitive/cooperative role-playing game. Make no mistake: GW2 is an MMORPG, but they're striving to keep the cooperative edge of the original game. "With traditional MMOs you can choose to solo or you can find a good guild or party to play with," O'Brien wrote back in 2010.  "With GW2 there's a third option too: you can just naturally play with all the people around you." To that end, the game is designed to prevent the drawbacks found in other MMOs. No longer will you have to worry about other players tagging the monsters you wanted to kill, denying you experience or item drops; anyone who participates in a kill in GW2 receives full experience and drops. The gamer will also feature a sidekick feature that will allow players of different levels to play together by modifying the level of the players to the zone they're in. And the dynamic event system means players don't need to worry about completing objectives for a quest they don't possess or have already finished. All of these features combine to encourage players (at least in PvE) to work together in their everyday actions, rather than the forced grouping needed for dungeons in other games. 

Now, all of these points are why I think Guild Wars 2 has the potential to be a game-changer in the MMORPG scene, but that's hardly the extent of the gameplay itself. The game is gorgeous, the professions look unique, the storytelling seems solid. Combat is more active than some of the other games on the block; there is no innate auto-attack function, for example. Same as with the prior game, it will have no monthly fee: another test to the system, to see if a big name game that wants to go head-to-head with the largest titles in the genre can succeed while using an alternate payment plan. It seems like the big question now is: will their gambles work? There's a reason WoW-like games are the industry standard. If they pull it off, however, Guild Wars 2 could redefine the genre… and odds are the other big names will start taking their ideas and incorporating them into their own games. I hope that this is the breath of fresh air that the genre needs!

Paul "LockeColeMA" Cleveland, Staff Writer.


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