Guild Wars 2 vs. World of Warcraft Part 3

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Welcome back, adventurers! It’s the final installment of the three part series, Guild Wars 2 vs. World of Warcraft, in which we find out what title is the right fit for you. In the first installment, we focused on lore and storytelling, in the second part, we compared each game on a gameplay-centric level. In this final installment, I’ll tell some personal MMO stories, and go over some nondescript pros and cons of each title. This time, it’s for all the marbles: Which game do I deem superior for newcomers to the MMO genre? Which will be the most fulfilling as an experience? Do you really need dozens of hours a week to enjoy these titles? The answers may surprise you, so without further ado, let’s end this editorial series with style!

I’m hoping you found these previous editorials intriguing, as I find MMOs some of the most complex, yet fundamentally basic games in the industry. They’re truly unlike anything else on the market, and can split opinions quicker than NFL draft picks, or what the ending of LOST really meant. My love of this genre has gone on for nearly two decades, and I still have the same passion for it I did all those years ago. There’s nothing like discovering a new world, dynamic things happening all around you at any given point, knowing that there’s a literal world to enjoy here. Fluctuating economies, expansive dungeon raids, ultra competitive team matches, and multiple-year narrative payoffs are the norm in this genre, and every game brings something new to the table. I think in the true spirit of MMOs, the best way to start this article is to share two of my favorite experiences with you: One from World of Warcraft’s launch week all the way back in 2004, and one from Guild Wars 2 that happened, no lie, less than 48 hours ago.

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It was launch week, and I remember my good friend Peyton and I picked up our copies at Best Buy the day of launch. As we installed our clients, I opened my Trillian (oh man, remember Trillian?) to talk with my best friend, whom is the biggest Warcraft fan I know. ‘Hey Doug, have you picked it up yet?’ I ask. ‘I’m buying it today’, he responded, and sure enough, later that night he had the game installing and the three of us were getting ready to adventure. There was only one problem: We all made characters of different races, meaning that we’d have to travel a bit. Little did we know just how big the game was, and how daunting a task it would be.

Peyton rolled a dwarven hunter who had a striking resemblence to Gimli from Lord of the Rings, and I created a human rogue. We started at different major cities, but the trek from Ironforge (his hometown) to Stormwind (my hometown) was only about an hour’s trek. Nowadays you can make the trip in about 45 seconds with flightpaths and flying mounts, but we wanted to explore this grand new world, so we hoofed it and met in the middle. Doug signed in after creating his character. ‘Hey Doug, we’re near Ironforge, where are you at?’ I asked. ‘It’s a place called Kalimdor, I rolled a Night Elf’. No sweat! Let’s just head over to Khalimdor, I thought! Wait, it’s not here on this map...I actually don’t see it on this continent. Oh. OH. It’s literally across the ocean...so how the hell do we get there? Peyton and I had a new quest: Find a city with cross-continental transportation, if that even existed. The game being brand new, and everyone discovering the mechanics of the game for the first time, we couldn’t really ask for exact directions: We’d have to walk.

Peyton and I would randomly kill monsters and collect small amounts of coin during our trek to a coastal city we learned about: Wetlands. It hosted a dock called Menethil Harbor, which would apparently shuttle us overseas to Kalimdor to finally meet up with Doug. We passed through incredibly dangerous zones, many of which had monsters that were upwards of nine times (!) our current level, and we died many times. It was a constant limbo of tiptoeing around high-level monsters as to not cause an ambush. This lasted for hours, and was hard not only on our gear or money, but on our morale as well. I remember taking a break on a cliffside, where Peyton was able to summon a small campfire for us. As we sat, gazing off into the mountain range below, it dawned on us that we had been traveling for upwards of four hours. ‘I wonder how much further we are’. We were closer than we thought, but it still felt like an eternity.

As we entered Wetlands about thirty minutes later, we had just enough coin to repair our dusty, rusted-out gear and be in tip-top shape for our journey overseas. ‘What are you guys up to?’ Doug asked. He had been leveling and doing low-level content in his starting area, learning the ins-and-outs of his class. ‘We’re coming to see you, Doug!’ we excitedly said. ‘What? How? How long have you guys been traveling?’

‘No matter, be waiting for us at the boat dock, we’ll be there soon!’

Peyton and I loaded up on the boat as it docked, alongside about a dozen other people, who were all much higher level than us. Being a lowly level 6 and level 8 respectively, we were greeted to a boat filled with level 25s and above, meaning we were definitely in territory out of our league. The boat set sail, and we were on our way: Our fellowship was soon to be complete!

As we approached the dock to Kalimdor, we grew excited, but exceptionally nervous. Sure, we lucked out by running cross-continent in our homeland, but this is a different beast all-together. We had no money, we had no weapons that could handle any sort of actual fighting, and we had no idea where we were. Just then, a night elf approached from the distance. It was Doug! We had finally made it, and our fellowship was finally complete! The three of us from that point forward were always within a city or two of one another, always able to help one another if situations got tough. This lasted well into our later levels (40+) in which we felt like seasoned veterans of the world, helping new players experience their own journeys in their own, unique way.

Now, this story is pretty memorable for me for quite a few reasons. First, it was our first true ‘adventure’ that wasn’t aided by questgivers or an overarching narrative pushing us forward. We were taking matters into our own hands, and dealing with the consequences as they came up. Peyton and I had the good fortune of going to college at the same school, and even living in the same dorm. Doug, on the other hand, lived on the other side of the US, so seeing him in-person simply wasn’t feasible. In a weird way, this trek was a representation of a real journey. We didn’t necessarily hit the highway, but for us, this digital travel was just as important.

Secondly, this story? It literally cannot happen again. After Cataclysm, Wetlands is completely under water, the boat docks have redirected to new places, and much of Azeroth has been changed in the wake of Deathwing’s destructive presence. Our story is truly a tale of a time long forgotten, and that sense of urgency and innocence that we felt is now left with a sense of melancholy. I actually re-ran that path a few months ago, and although it’s much easier now that I’m above level 85, it’s still surreal. The world has physically changed for good, and even my home city of Stormwind is in a proper rebuilding phase. It’s akin to visiting your childhood neighborhood after you’ve been gone for decades: You still remember it fondly, but you realize that things are different now, and those streets and sidewalks you used to play on are now shells of what they used to be, or so your mind makes it seem. It’s the passage of time, it’s the realization of how naive you were in your youth, but it’s always a perfect reminder of where you came from, and how far you’ve come.

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I was dying. This godforsaken swamp was going to kill me, yet again, simply because these portals would not stop spawning monsters. I was a few kills away from gaining a level, yet I couldn’t get my bearings. I had been in the swamp for hours, nothing seemed to make the experience enjoyable. I was also growing more and more burnt out of this entire series of events, as it felt like I was making zero progress in a game where progress was supposed to be limitless and constant. I just wasn’t getting it. Guild Wars 2 just wasn’t for me.

Then it happened.

I see a human thief and charr warrior appear, and destroy everything in their path. They destroy the portal, and all is well. The thief comes to my aid, healing me and bringing me back to my feet. ‘Are you okay? Looks like you had a rough time of it’. Yeah, tell me about it. ‘I just hate this zone, and I seemingly can’t leave’ I said, mentally fatigued. ‘We’ll help you out, where are you headed?’, the charr said. ‘I actually don’t know, I don’t think I’m really grasping the game too well.’ I sigh.

‘Well then, we’ll show you the ropes’.

Cut to three hours later, and these level 80 heroes were helping me, a level 13 (at the time) thief get his bearings. It was a tour of how the game worked, a walkthrough of how inventory works, and the main differences between this game and World of Warcraft. ‘Ah, I see, you’re one of the holy trinity types, aren’t you?’ the other thief asked. Holy trinity? I didn’t quite follow. ‘Yeah, the Holy Trinity: Tank, DPS, and Healers’.

I was stunned. It finally clicked with me, now that he put it that way: Guild Wars 2 was much different than World of Warcraft, in everything from the way the game played, to the way in which you have to THINK about playing the game. Fast forward another few hours, and we had leveled me up to a solid level 18. The charr and thief helped me get over tough obstacles, overly-difficult Story Events, and even taught me how to properly gather materials for maximum crafting effectiveness. Remember, EVERYTHING in Guild Wars 2 grants you experience, they said, and they weren’t kidding. They would coach me in the balance of doing Dynamic Events, crafting, gathering, and general exploring. There’s a method to the madness, and once my mind was freed of skill cooldown timers and Holy Trinity gameplay mechanics, I was able to actually enjoy the experience of PLAYING Guild Wars 2. It’s a game first and foremost after all, and all I needed was a few friendly people to get me on the right track.

The charr warrior and human thief, I’m proud to say, are now guildies of mine. They invited me into their ranks, and every time I log on, I’m treated to them and other likeminded, carefree players who just love the experience of playing Guild Wars 2. It was exactly what the doctor ordered, and made sure that I didn’t wash my hands of the game before truly understanding it, and giving it a chance. Yes, I’m still an amateur, and yes, I still make silly mistakes, but now I have new friends who have my back, and go out of their way to be mentors.

Soon, they said they’d train me for proper PvP combat. Let’s do this.

Now that we looked at a few memorable moments, it’s time to air some grievances, and point out things I do and don’t like about each game, as compared to one another. This is all based on personal preferences, so your opinion may not line up directly with mine, but that’s what this is all about! Finding out what YOU enjoy out of these experiences, and picking the one that’s right for you.

First of all, with Guild Wars 2: I hate the level-matching system. If you’re a level 80 and go into a level 10 zone, you’re automatically de-leveled to a level 10. Your weapons and armor take stat reductions, and you’re going toe-to-toe with enemies that you could literally slaughter with a sneeze in any other game. Sure, I know this is to help everyone do everyone’s content as a group (much like my story above), and keep it challenging, but there’s no sense of true power progression because of it. You’ll never truly FEEL like a badass returning to your hometown starter area, because, well, you’re not a level 80, you’re actually a level 6 again. Enjoy!

In World of Warcraft, it’s true that once you leave an area, the likelyhood of ever returning is very minimal. Why would you go to a level 20 zone when you’re a level 90? Sure, crafting materials and various leathers could be found easier, but you’re not necessarily running CONTENT from those places. For me, I love helping younger players, and nothing sends a true ‘woah’ factor in rolling up to a level 15 with your fully epiced-out gear and rare mount, offering a helping hand. I remember running through major city hubs and just staring at other characters for hours, wondering where they got a certain shoulderpiece, or eyeballing a nice set of daggers from another rogue. While that sort of happens in Guild Wars 2, gear just doesn’t have the same appeal: You’re given chances to acquire gear so often, and make gear on a whim, that new gear isn’t the most enticing prospect. Sure, call me a ‘gear whore’ or a fan of the ‘gear treadmill’, but I always felt like I was working for something, and it was always just within reach.

Guild Wars 2’s sense of progression is aimed at a much different audience. Yes, you can level up quickly by doing Dynamic Events, crafting, and gathering materials, but it never feels meaty enough to actually represent everything. What’s the incentive to level up, if you just end up leveling down when you enter a low-level zone? There’s no tangible reward, besides seeing new places. Sure, that has its own appeal, but the great thing about exploration is feeling like you progress through the world, and if that feeling of progression is taken away, you’re left with an empty impersonation.

World of Warcraft, though, has a problem with numbers: There’s so many people playing, and so many different things to do, everything can feel overwhelming. Yes, leveling up takes longer in World of Warcraft, and there’s no auto-shortcuts to depositing materials to a custom bank, and no way to automatically sell stuff on the in-game Auction House. You actually have to visit a physical building to put your items up for sale, and while it can be time-consuming and sometimes inconvenient, it builds for a more cohesive, lived-in world. World of Warcraft’s old way of doing things can be a blessing for some, but now with more competition in the MMO landscape, people may not feel they have the time to truly invest in WoW’s age-old ways. Even though great strides have been made to lower the amount of time it takes to really start enjoying WoW, it’s still a timesink.

There’s no two ways about it, in order to fully see what the game represents, be prepared to spend upwards of 60 hours learning the ins-and-outs. Much of those 60 hours will be spent doing the same style of thing, over and over, for slightly better rewards. Not only that, you’ll have a certain set of World of Warcraft players that will tell you the game doesn’t ‘really’ start until you hit the level cap, which is now level 90. Be prepared for roughly 120 hours of entertainment, if that’s the case, and that’s if you level relatively quickly. THEN, once you hit 90, the true grinds begin: Reputation grinds, daily dungeons, PvP grinding for honor, raiding, and more. It’s almost too much to take in all at once.

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Have you made your decision yet? Do you think you know which title is right for you? Before I get to my final verdict of which I think you should pick, I’d like to talk about the best, and most cost-effective ways to enjoy these games. Yes, they can be a timesink, but they don’t need to be a moneysink, as well.

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With Guild Wars 2, it’s relatively easy. Just buy the game! You can head to any major retailer, or check out the official page and purchase that way. There’s no monthly fees, you can take multiple breaks and not worry about your characters going away, so there’s no incentive to feel like you owe your life to a single game. It’s been a huge blessing for me this year, as not only is money tight, but time is very limited as well. That’s what a newborn baby girl will do, after all! I can feel like I can take a long break, take care of other business, and continue up where I left off, without missing a beat.

With World of Warcraft, the money investment can seem daunting at first: There is the base game, plus four expansion packs, all that range from $30 to $50. Blizzard, realizing this fact, did two things that work to your benefit, especially if you’re a new player. First of all, you can play World of Warcraft for free up until level 20 using the World of Warcraft Starter Edition. If you choose to update that client to a full account, you can choose which games you’d like access to in an a-la-carte style through your Battle.net account.

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My personal recommendation if you choose WoW, though? Pick up a World of Warcraft Battle Chest for $20. You can find these at any local retailers, and it includes the full editions of World of Warcraft, The Burning Crusade, AND Wrath of the Lich King, a 250+ page strategy guide, plus your first month of playtime is paid in full. That’s a RIDICULOUS deal, seeing as how the game is normally $14.99. To put it into perspective, I paid $50 for vanilla WoW, $40 for Burning Crusade, and $40 for Wrath of the Lich King upon releases, and the only one that came with free game-time was vanilla WoW. That means you’re getting roughly $145 worth of content for the price of a large pizza and a drink. Plus, within one month, you’ll not only have enough content to complete, but you’ll definitely know if you’d like to keep your subscription up, and if you’d like to purchase the other two expansions (Cataclysm and Mists of Pandaria). Even if you decide it isn’t for you, you’re only out $20, and you have a month to see what all the fuss is about. A great deal all around!

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Now it’s the time we’ve all been waiting for, right? Which game do I recommend to YOU, as a new player? I’m taking everything into consideration, from the gameplay mechanics, visuals, in-game economies, lore, pricepoint, and fanbase.

The overall winner, and the game I feel would give you a better MMO experience, is Guild Wars 2.

This may seem weird to say. Haven’t I spent eight years of my life with World of Warcraft? Didn’t I, in this very article, talk about how Guild Wars 2 almost turned me off for good? The answer to both questions is a resounding yes, but as bizarre as it seems, this article isn’t about me: It’s about you.

Guild Wars 2 is just beginning, being only a few months old. ArenaNet is constantly retweaking and rebalancing, the community is finally starting to uncover Guild Wars 2’s many secrets, and there’s much more on the way in regards to PvP, dungeons, and end-game content. The lore is fresh, inviting, and the world is beautifully vibrant, waiting for you to explore. While paying $60 up front may be a bit daunting (especially considering the WoW Battle Chest gives comparably more content for a third of the cost), there’s no strings attached: There’s no monthly fee, and if it’s not quite your cup of tea, you can freely leave at any time, only to come back years down the line to see what has changed. However, if you do find yourself hooked, there’s a great community here, and a ton of content to explore, so you’ll happily get your $60 worth.

The MMO genre is a very personal experience, and while I could regale you about tales of 2004-era World of Warcraft, talk about the sense of discovery, the concept of true character growth, and why these new high-falootin’ MMOs like Guild Wars 2 with their action and pompous vibrant nature are what’s wrong with today’s youth, that’s not YOUR story. You’ve yet to discover the secrets that lay within this genre, and experience the type of things that only an MMO can bring.

As I traveled through a deserted Wetlands, water flooding over the very buildling I learned how to ride a horse at, I realized that you can’t really get over your first love. Everything that comes after will compare, and you’ll always find something that doesn’t quite meet the same rose-tinted expectations you’ve come to base your thoughts on. Wetlands used to be the portal to a fresh new beginning, casting a ship abroad, waiting to finally embark on an adventure we knew nothing about. Now, I sit at the dock, and think of how far I’ve come. Not only in World of Warcraft, but as a person: I’m a father now, and I see the world differently. These experiences that shaped my gaming mindset will always stick with me, and nothing will quite capture that sense of discovery ever again.

I urge you, start your story. Discover what drives you, and experience the secret, profound nature that an MMO can bring you. There’s nothing like it, and you’ll be glad you did.

Sitting at the dock, I notice it’s empty. There’s no level 25s venturing forth, there’s no NPCs singing drunken bar songs, and there’s no level 6 dwarven hunters or human rogues, wondering where in the hell the boat to Kalimdor could be. There’s an odd beauty to the silence, as I look across the ocean.