To Be Or Not To Be… an MMO

When is an MMO not an MMO? (Note that I’m going to leave the whole “RPG” suffix out of the present discussion as a whole ‘nuther kettle of fish. Note also that I’m not going to discuss this exhaustively or we’ll still be here in October.)

Guild Wars is an odd beast. It is an MMO, because it’s massive and has lots of players online all at once, and yet in many ways it doesn’t feel like the other MMOs I’ve been playing in the last, ahem, half-decade. Ironically though, it’s been reminding me more of the games I played in the half-decade before that  — Asheron’s Call in particular — than a lot of the other MMOs I’ve played more recently.

Asheron’s Call was, on the surface, utterly unlike Guild Wars. Nothing was instanced, for one, at least not in the way it’s done in GW; there were a lot of dungeons and other areas accessed through portals that were effectively instances, but none of them were private. Anyone who met the portal requirements could go in and would end up with everyone else who was also in there. Let’s call them public versus private instances. (It’s interesting that I never once thought of them as instances while I was playing AC — they were just a part of the greater world you had to use a whirly-purple portal to reach.)

And yet, in the last few days, I’ve been reminded of nothing so much as Asheron’s Call when I play Guild Wars. Part of it is the “town/outpost” system which, in Guild Wars, are the only public places where you can meet people who aren’t in your party; the only places, in effect, where you can interact freely with the rest of the player base. Asheron’s Call wasn’t like that at all but it did have several towns that served as player hubs; people would come out of the wilds or wherever they’d been and congregate in Glenden Woods, Eastham, Qala’bar and other places. The “in” town varied depending on fashion, player level and focus (PvP players tended to congregate elsewhere), but they were there and they were where you went to see other people.

I was no exception. I’d go off and do my thing, alone or with friends, and when I was laden down with stuff I wanted to sell or just wanted a dose of other people, I’d head off to whatever town was my base and hang for a while. In that sense, AC and GW aren’t that different at all. Even the landscapes are somehow reminding me of each other, though the Guild Wars graphics are a few light-years ahead of poor AC’s.

Post-Searing Ascalon

Compared with other big-name MMOs, Guild Wars stands out by being different in so many ways it’s understandable that many don’t think it’s an MMO at all. Let me count the ways…

There aren’t that many kill 10 rats quests. You’re not forever striving after some insanely powerful item that will only be useful until the next expansion comes out and you have to strive after the new insanely powerful item. It’s more instanced than many players — myself most certainly included — are comfortable with, and while the world certainly is huge, the instancing makes it feel somewhat disjointed (especially at first glance). And worst of all, when you go off adventuring you’re in your own little world — meaning you’re not competing with 27 other players for those foozle tails, and if you’re not competing over scarce drops for mediocre rewards, how can it be a real MMO?

Even more heretically, Guild Wars doesn’t lock you into skills or builds. The only thing you’re locked into is your primary profession choice — after that, you can moosh your stats, skills and even secondary profession around as much as you like, as often as you like.

Doesn’t that sound weird? It certainly sounded weird and a little suspicious to me a week ago.  But you know what? It works.

Guild Wars doesn’t try to appeal to the hardcore raider/achiever type. I’m not quite sure what their core player profile is, but I do know that it makes a nice change from the endless (if varied) standard-MMO treadmills; including, believe it or not, the crafting treadmills. I do love my crafting, but not having to harvest stuff and not wanting to make stuff I’ll have to figure out how to sell… it’s a nice change of pace.

Right now I have some fun classes (professions) to explore and try out, fancy-looking gear to obtain (note that it’s more for looks than uberness), and places to explore. Best of all, if I suddenly stop wanting to play next week I won’t have the nagging feeling that I’m paying for something I’m not using, since I’m not actually paying.

Baby necro -- too cool to be cold!

After a decade of worrying about getting the most bang for my subscription buck, that’s more of a relief than I had expected. So I’m going to stop worrying about whether GW is or isn’t an MMO and just get on with having fun. Strange concept, eh?

(In the meantime, I’m still playing EVE but on a much more casual level that doesn’t involve leaving the safety of my comfy station very much. I buy stuff, I resell stuff, and my planetary installation — just one for now, but a different one than the one I started with — is doing relatively well and has almost paid for itself in under a week. The whole all-PvP all the time deal in these world PvP games is just way too stressful for me, so this is working out very nicely. I’m not uber, but that’s never been what I was after, and EVE is one of those weird games where you can sometimes get more for your subscription buck by logging in less.)