Welcome to the second installment of the three-part series, Guild Wars 2 vs. World of Warcraft. Last time, we took a quick look at storytelling, lore, and how narrative was integrated into each title, and which I’d recommend for newcomers to get fully engrossed in. In this installment, we’re going to pull back the curtain, and look at the mechanics of gameplay, questing, progression, and which title offers more for YOU, depending on what type of MMO experience you’re craving.
Let’s get this preface out of the way, because I know it’s stewing for a number of you: ‘Gameplay? In an MMO? Pft, you mean they actually HAVE gameplay?!’ Yes, MMOs get derided many times for their adherence to basic, yet effective, gameplay staples. You’ll commonly see the term ‘carrot on a stick’, or ‘treadmill’ senses of progression, not unlike gambling, or other inherently human displays of addiction, at play in an MMO. It’s a Six Flags themepark, repeating patterns for higher rewards, depending on time invested. It’s a skinner box in the digital age, and it’s highly devious in execution. Yes, I’m aware. I’m also aware that MMOs have given me better, more well-rounded gaming experiences than any other genre, on a consistent basis, for over ten years. It’s why I keep coming back, even after multiple years of going off to do other things. Can these games be addicting? Absolutely, but responsibility and moderation always win out, and add to the enjoyment of not only these games, but any game. That turned into a ‘eat your vitamins’ rant, didn’t it?
In this installment, we’ll format things a little differently than last time: We’re going to dissect very specific gameplay scenarios, and compare each title not only on their own merits, but against one another, in seeing if they deliver what is promised. There are very basic mechanics both games share (experience points, leveling up, skill trees), so we’re going to talk around them, seeing the pros and cons of each game’s approach to these staples. First, we’ll go into the bread-and-butter of not only MMOs, but RPGs in general: Questing.
In World of Warcraft, the primary way in which you see content, the quickest way to hit the level cap, and arguably the most enjoyable part of the game is all the same: Questing. You enter an area (usually a city, encampment, or outpost) where NPCs have exclamation marks over their head. You speak to the questgiver, they give you a task (kill X of Y, take X to Y, explore X for me, etc), and once you fulfill the conditions given, you return to the questgiver and receive your reward (gear, money, accessories, or reputation with the NPC’s faction). Easy peasy, right? It’s basic, it gets the job done, and it’s proven effective for progression. These quests will have you killing monsters (which grants experience points), exploring new portions of the map (usually leading to a new quest hub), all the while giving you bits of story to chew on, or context to relate your surroundings with.
This style of player progression is known as a ‘gear treadmill’, as you’re constantly moving (from questgivers, to new environments, through dungeons), but your results are always the same (slightly better gear to fight slightly better enemies, that drop slightly better gear, rinse and repeat). While this can be a major turn-off for many gamers who crave variety, I’d argue that without this effective mechanic as the backbone of the experience, you’d have a lesser game. The foundation is extremely solid, which allows Blizzard to really spice things up with creative ways to give quests, even more creative ways to DO quests, and ramp up the goodies along the way. I can tell you many times in which seeing the next story beat provided me more closure than a nice shiny sword or piece of armor. The quests may work the same from level 1 to level 90, but this actually works in the game’s favor in my opinion, as you find a comfortable groove to really get to know your character.
In Guild Wars 2, there are no ‘quest givers’ perse, but random NPCs sprinkled across the world map that grant ‘reputation’ for a specific segment of the landmass. As you enter an area, your quest log is automatically updated with a number of things you can do: Farmer Bilbo needs help running his farm, so you can help him by killing wolves that are pestering his cattle, take out the bandits who camp out in the cave beside his farmstead, actually grab some farm tools and help him plant some carrots, or water his crops. As you do something (or a mix of things) listed above, you’ll be rewarded by filling up the ‘reputation bar’, which acts as an unlock mechanic for Farmer Bilbo. Once his deeds are taken care of, and his farm’s back in tip-top shape, you swing by to say farewell, and Farmer Bilbo allows you to buy specific goods from him, at a discounted price of course. This works extremely well, as the reputation bar takes no more than about 10 minutes to fully fill up. You get a nice XP bonus, you can buy specific gear afterwards, and odds are, you’ll be shuttled to another set of Dynamic Events while taking care of the farmstead. It’s a creative way to keep you moving forward, and you truly feel like you’re giving a helping hand. No matter if you water the plants, kill the bandits, or plant the carrots, you’ll get an equal amount of xp, letting you play ‘your way’. Your rewards are usually repair kits, accessories, and occassionally a nice weapon/armor piece.
My personal preference between the two? I hate to say it, but I’m an old fogey and prefer to World of Warcraft approach to questing. I’m not sure if Guild Wars 2 is just shaking things up TOO much and took me out of my ‘comfort zone’, but it always feels like I’m two steps behind where I’m supposed to be. There are Dynamic Events EVERYWHERE, and you won’t run more than a half-mile before running into a batch of them. Call it my OCD tendencies, or call it me being snoopy, but it always catches me off-guard, and I feel I MUST see what all the hubbub is about. No matter if I was gathering materials, going to get my gear repaired, or going to see a Dynamic Event ‘vendor’, I always feel sidetracked when the ‘New Dynamic Event!’ prompt pulls up. Yes, it gives variety, but it doesn’t necessarily give me time to clear my thoughts. I may also have been guilty of actually keeping tabs of my quests in an Excel spreadshit for maximum quest-stacking optimization in WoW, so perhaps it’ll still take a while for me to warm up to Guild Wars 2’s systems. The game’s only a few months old, after all, while WoW has had eight years to really perfect their tried-and-true system.
One benefit GW2 DOES have in regards to Dynamic Events, though, is that I never know what to expect, or who I may run into. In pre-release materials, ArenaNet would always claim that Guild Wars 2’s Dynamic Event system would be a perfect way for solo players to find pick-up groups, and always have a fulfilling social experience. In that regard, it’s been hit-or-miss with me. In theory it sounds brilliant, but in execution, I’ve actually gone longer without talking to anyone in Guild Wars 2 than I ever did in WoW, even playing solo. Since Dynamic Events are so prevelant, and you’ll ALWAYS have other players doing the same content, it never feels like you’ll be lacking in social interaction....so there ends up being no chatting, or social interaction. You’ll see a group of people end up at one Dynamic Event, and once it’s done, everyone scatters away, going back to whatever it is they were doing beforehand. MMOs are always compared to theme parks like Six Flags, and this has become the very embodiment of it: Stand in line for your turn on the rollercoaster, have fun riding it with others (who you never speak with, usually), then go on your merry way. Sure, there’s more people around you at any given time in GW2, but are they really there for you, and your enjoyment?
World of Warcraft’s main problem is one of total solidarity. In your leveling in Azeroth, unless you’re near a major hub, you may go hours without seeing a single soul. Sure, you may have some people chatting in General Chat, but actually seeing someone could be few and far between. In fact, before Cataclysm launched, there was an entire section of the game that was so barren, and so dull, it lives in infamy: The Barrens. Aptly named, The Barrens used to be a nonstop desert for miles and miles, with quest givers being spread out all across the land. It could take upwards of TEN MINUTES of running to find a questgiver, much less another player. In Cataclysm, though, Blizzard brilliantly spiced up The Barrens, and now it’s one of the better-paced areas in the entire game. There’s such an inside joke about The Barrens, in fact, that Blizzard made a t-shirt that exclaimed ‘I Survived Barrens Chat’. It may have been dreadful, but at least they were cool about it? I guess? Regardless, it’s fixed now, so we’ll never have to speak of pre-Cataclysm Barrens ever again. Ever. Ever.
Many gamers love competition, especially with the rise of e-sports. Player versus Player (or PvP) content is what many MMOs live and die by: If your game doesn’t have a dedicated PvP system, many gamers won’t even purchase your product. It shows who the ultimate player or team is, and brings about fame, fortune, and honor, at least digitally. Or, if you’re a pro-gaming clan, PvP can add up to big bucks on the world circuit. Regardless, both GW2 and WoW have solid PvP components, but once again, their approach is very, very different.
In World of Warcraft, you can run Battlegrounds, Arenas, and rated (ranked) versions of each. Battlegrounds are giant landmasses that work in a Capture The Flag fashion, with Alliance battling out against Horde to secure items, capture waypoints, or capturing flags. Some larger levels even include siege weapons, although those are primarily seen in the later expansions (Wrath of the Lich King, Cataclysm, Mists of Pandaria). Arenas are 3v3 team-based deathmatches, and they’re definitely the most competitive form of in-your-face battle in WoW. Both Rated Battlegrounds and Rated Arenas work on points systems, and have full leaderboards, division ladders, and even cash prizes and invitations to large-scale conventions to really prove your worth. They’re lucrative, and very difficult. I’ve not really dabbled in Arenas, simply because they’re extremely intimidating. There’s some guilds entirely dedicated JUST to Arenas, so if that’s your cup of tea, you’ll have plenty of company.
In Guild Wars 2, a major premise of the game’s story takes place in World versus World versus World combat. Think of it as a mutli-team castle siege, with other people from your server teaming up with you, in order to hold landmasses from other, competing servers full of players. These will have hundreds of players on the battlefields at any one time, and is truly a sight to behold. Sneak behind enemy lines, use powerful siege weapons to knock down the doors to a keep, and even witness Braveheart-esque showdowns in the middle of empty fields, all at once. There are also practice versions of WvWvW that can be enjoyed with just players on your server, that don’t necessarily count towards your server’s ranking in the World Ladder. I think the coolest thing about WvWvW though, is that if your server is victorious, every player on the server (whether they play PvP or not) get benefits, namely boons that add stat benefits to your character for a set amount of time. This is a great way to rally support for ‘your team’ who is fighting in the battlefields as you do your Dynamic Events, as their success is your success, in a very direct way. ArenaNet is working on adding full-on esports support, with ladders, scoreboards, leaderboards, and more. They’re definitely taking PvP to the next level, and I’m excited to see how it all unfolds.
In PvP, I’m definitely giving the advantage to Guild Wars 2. Never before has PvP felt so involved into the literal lore of the game, and while other games have done a decent job of it before (Warhammer Online, Dark Age of Camelot), none quite capture to cohesive feel that Guild Wars 2 does. It’s seamlessly integrated, and you can even hop on PvP and WvWvW from level 1 onwards. Your character will automatically be upped to level 80, and you can show those bad other servers who’s boss. You gain regular xp from participating, so you could theoretically go from level 1 to level 80, strictly by playing PvP. Pretty fantastic stuff.
For me, this (alongside lore) is the make-or-break of a good MMO. If your world isn’t engrossing, if it isn’t fun to explore, then why the hell am I spending time in it? Once again, both games offer great value here, but it really depends on what you want.
In World of Warcraft, the primary bit of exploration comes from questing. You’re given a quest to go clear out a cave, you go into the cave, then notice there’s an exit that leads somewhere new. After turning in the completed quest, you’re now tasked with discovering what’s on the other side of the cave. You’re very much strung along by the questgivers, but that doesn’t mean you can spent a night running around, discovering everything in sight. Odds are, though, that places just off the horizon may be a bit high-level for your character, but the option to explore is always there. You’re never walled off from content (unless it’s reputation-based, or level-based dungeons), but explore at your own risk. Odds are good, though, that if you can see it, you’ll eventually get a quest to go explore it. From my personal standpoint, I adored exploring Azeroth, as I was such a Warcraft fan from the original RTS titles, every nook and cranny I could find would add to my love of the setting. Once Blizzard added an in-game Achievement system, all bets were off: Get rewarded for exploring every square inch of the map? Check. Get rewarded for reading all 300+ lore books scattered around the continents? Check. Cook, and eat, every type of recipe in the game? Check. It’s that little extra bit of incentive to spend more time in the world, and with any good MMO, the amount that you give, is the amount that you’ll get. I felt like I was playing my own personal version of a Warcraft book, where my character was the star, and I’ll never forget the first time I ever laid eyes on Black Temple, or learned my way around Blackwing Lair. I can still recite a majority of areas by memory, and if you asked me to draw you a map of any major city, I could do so in a matter of minutes.
With Guild Wars 2, ArenaNet decided that exploring the world is just as important as any other mechanic in the game. The amount of XP given for exploring is STAGGERING, and as you explore, the more Dynamic Events become available. The game’s also incredibly beautiful, so peering off into the distance, or looking at the sunrise from atop a mountain range is stunning. There’s many times that I’ve spent an entire night just unlocking Vistas, certain areas that are built EXCLUSIVELY to unlock and enjoy the view. There are dozens of Vistas on each continent, and they all show off the world to a great degree. Something else ArenaNet added that still blows me away is platforming. Yes, THAT kind of platforming! They’ve included jumping puzzles all around the world, all naturally occurring and ready for your character to explore. You’re usually rewarded for these as well, with Vistas or even unlockable treasure chests! It’s a BRILLIANT move, and more often then not I’m eyeballing every structure in the game in order to see if I can parkour my way to a new view. It really makes you pay attention to your surroundings, and appreciate the world around you.
My personal preference? I’m actually going to give them a tie, because I love them both for different reasons. As far as a GAME is concerned, Guild Wars 2 takes the cake on exploration. You’re always rewarded, ArenaNet labored to make the world full of scaleable geometry, and there’s always a new place to discover. With World of Warcraft, it feels that the world is much more lived-in, with a full backstory, history, and lore working in its favor. This could just be the Warcraft fan in me talking, but when I read new patch notes for WoW, I always read the lore portion, and see if it has an affect on the world that I can go see. With Guild Wars 2, I always read the changes and additions, in hopes of new Vistas and jumping puzzles. It really depends on what you want out of your MMO, though: An incredibly rich, tactile world to interact with, or a world full of history and mystery, waiting to shower you with revelations? Guild Wars 2 may have the looks, but World of Warcraft has the heart.
No matter how different World of Warcraft and Guild Wars 2 seem, they both have the same basic premise of interaction: Combat. You fight stuff, you kill stuff, then you gear up to fight more stuff, usually with hotbars full of skills that work on cooldowns. These are both games of time/resource management, and they both work with timers to a great degree. That being said, the way each title implements these mechanics has seemingly split the MMO community down the middle. Some enjoy the old, while others are cherishing the new.
World of Warcraft is based on a snap-to mechanic, meaning that once you have a target in your sights, your character ‘snaps to’ the enemy, so no matter what skills or spells you use, you’ll always aim directly at the enemy, even if they’re moving. You can change targets with a simple right-click, or Tab, but once you’re locked on, your skills primarily stay focused on the one target. Of course, you’ll have Area of Effect spells that will hurt multiple foes within a certain radius, but if you’re playing a Rogue, Warrior, or other primarily-melee classes, snap-to is the name of the game. You can use this to your advantage during PvP encounters though, as breaking a ‘line of sight’ will cause spellcasters to lose their targeting on you, allowing you to retreat and collect your bearings for another approach.
Guild Wars 2, on the other hand, its more comparable to a shooter. If you’re a spellcaster, you can aim towards a target whom you’re locked on with, but if they sidestep out of the spell’s way, you’ll miss completely. It’s much more action-oriented, and you’ll see a true sense of skill when you witness characters flipping and spinning out of harm’s way in WvWvW combat. It’s the best MMO combat I’ve ever experienced, but it also has a very long learning curve, especially if your goal is to be good at PvP encounters. Hell, I’ve nearly played for 30 hours, and I’m STILL not good at it! It sure is a blast, though, and is extremely rewarding when you finally start figuring out your character’s mechanics and spells.
My personal preference? I’ll have to give it up to Guild Wars 2, as combat truly feels like something you must practice and become skilled at, in order to improve as a player. I adore the World of Warcraft cooldown-management style of play, but it’s not quite as tactile and ‘alive’ as Guild Wars is. That’s not to say that there’s no skill involved with WoW’s combat, it’s just that if you’re not on top of your game, even at low levels, Guild Wars 2 can become very challenging, very quickly. WoW gives you a bit more times to catch your bearings, but you won’t ever see me being crazy enough to be the healer for a 25-man WoW raid. I can’t imagine what it was like when raids went up to 40 players. Sure, Guild Wars 2 is based on dodging and using skills at key moments, but endgame WoW has skill cycles, cooldown management, resource management, and must be able to adapt skillsets on the fly depending on what part of an encounter you’re on. Madness!
Whew, we’re finally at the end of part 2! Hopefully I’ve clarified a bit about each game’s mechanics in such a way to clear up their differences, and you can make a more informed purchasing decision. I love both games, but I will definitely have days where I’ll prefer one over the other: I’ve played WoW so much since its 2004 release, the way the game operates is literally burned into my psyche, and was probably passed on to my daughter in her DNA. With Guild Wars 2, so many subtle changes were brought to MMO formula that while it’s refreshing, it’s also frustrating. Dammit, I just want to go to a questgiver, I don’t want these Dynamic Events! I can’t hold that against the game itself, though, I have to blame my expectations.
Next time, in the FINAL INSTALLMENT of the Guild Wars 2 vs. World of Warcraft series, I’m just going to cut to the chase: Which game is right for you? I’ll talk about specific experiences, nagging things that both games do that piss me off, and most importantly, which game I’ve had the most fun with. While this installment was a bit more directed, next installment is going to wrap it all up. Guild Wars 2 vs. World of Warcraft: Who is victorious? Find out next time, and until then, be sure to leave any questions or comments in the comment section below! Have specific questions about one game or another, or have any personal experiences you think others may enjoy? Share them here!
Until we meet again, fabled heroes!