Well, today’s the day. Or maybe tomorrow. It depends on how late I’m willing to stay up.
I like to think I’m the rational sort. I’ve often said that I’m “immune to hype.” I’ve had to work with people who live and breathe “marketing-speak” for over a decade and a half — and had to craft enough of it myself — that I can pretty well see through BS in its many forms.
So I’ve been wrestling with Guild Wars 2 for the last year or so, trying to figure out exactly what it means to me. “Immune to hype” doesn’t mean that I don’t get excited about things. I mean, I love Firefly and look forward to just about anything Joss Whedon does,but not because everyone else does. Which brings up the tangential point of groupthink. A lot of people probably think that the GameBreaker crew all like GW2 because, well, they all like GW2. I did two interviews with ArenaNet staff in the first half of 2011, before I even knew GameBreaker existed, and was hooked on the premise at that point, so it had nothing to do with that.
Also, an overhyped game is usually the result of a marketing blitz from the developers, who prattle on endlessly about how incrediblawesome their product is, with loads of flashy ads that don’t really tell you much other than that the game is incrediblawesome, and not why. Question the first: Have you seen an ad for Guild Wars 2? Question the second: Has ArenaNet ever told you something would be incrediblawesome without explaining why, in great detail, why it would be incrediblawesome, so you can make the judgment for yourself, and not just take their word for it?
The hype for GW2 isn’t what’s gotten me to look at it. I “discovered” it, more or less independently after those interviews I did last year.
So, what am I looking for in Guild Wars 2? As countless people have said, there have been overhyped MMOs that fell flat on their faces about a hundred times over the last few years. And I’ve allowed myself to be sucked in, just a bit, when I played those games, only to burn out in a distressingly short while after. I tired of Rift and SWTOR and even World of Warcraft after about three months. How do I know the same thing won’t happen here? What kind of analytical, non-emotional theory can I come up with to support, or even refute, the notion that I won’t tire of GW2 in a similar period of time?
The most basic thing is the people. I’ve never known a game where so many people, from so many other games, are planning to hit an MMO, and hit it hard. From the people I work with at GameBreaker, to the fans of the site, to the people I kinda-sorta tangentially know at Massively and elsewhere, I think this won’t be like some other games where I had a few friends from LOTRO who were “going to give it a try” and were mostly gone, leaving me to crawl on by myself, after a month or two. As I once said when I was trying to get used to a new kinship in LOTRO, I just don’t think I have it in me to “start fresh” in a game and make dozens of friends from scratch anymore. Going in with a good “base” is key and more or less ensures I’ll always have someone to play with.
But that’s got nothing to do with the quality of the game itself, which will be key to its long-term success, at least for me. And this brings us to the core of things. Will I stick with it for 3 months, 6 months, a year, several years? I’ve only ever encountered that with one MMO so far, LOTRO, and I think I know why.
In my early days of playing LOTRO, I was just so amazed by the world, crafted as majestically as it was, as JRR Tolkien himself might have imagined it. I just loved cruising around notable and even non-notable locations to the point where even harvesting ore around Nen Harn wasn’t so bad because of the beautiful, scenic lake I got to ride by… dozens and dozens of times.
The thing is, in nearly every MMO, I get that same kind of “ooh, ahh” feeling when I first ride through the world, but it tends to dissipate rather quickly. For LOTRO, however, it lasted several years, up until some of the most recent expansions.
Guild Wars 2 would seem to have that same kind of scenery, as well as the potential for more. I can foresee, several months down the line, just bopping around with my level 80 — or one of my many alts — through a lower-level zone and just enjoying the views, collecting crafting mats, and checking out waypoints and vistas, interspersed with the occasional bit of combat. On the other hand, is there any reason to go back to Hoth or Tatooine in SWTOR once you’ve passed it? And do you find yourself rushing through those planets on alts? I know I do.
Now, some of my LOTRO love might also have stemmed from the fact that I was relatively new to MMOs back then and I didn’t grow tired of them as quickly as I do now. I think some of the reason for that was that I didn’t really have a concept of “endgame” back then and was happy to just level my characters in this beautiful world. More recently, though, I’ve come to see leveling as just something that gets in the way. It might be fun the first time, but once it’s over, it’s on to the endgame grind, and maybe anticipating that has prevented me from truly enjoying that opening experience. Even in LOTRO, I found myself struggling mightily to complete the 65-75 leveling process from the last expansion only to butt my head against the endgame wall once I reached 75.
That was the point where ArenaNet hooked me about a year and a half ago, when I interviewed Jon Peters and Izzy Cartwright. They told me “the game is the endgame.” Because they’re not trying to create, in effect, two games — the relatively easy, cruising-around-the-world “leveling game” and the stuff yourself in a dungeon and never come up for air “endgame” — they can make what transition there will be between leveling and non-leveling activities that much smoother. And, as far as I can tell, if I don’t want to do the dungeons or tippy-top “endgame” content, I don’t have to. I just won’t look as cool, but I’m not that stylish anyway.
It all sounds pretty good in practice, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little scared. It’s all sounded so good, and I’ve been looking forward to it for so long — though not as long as some of you — that I’m legitimately worried about being disappointed. Through the betas and the stress tests, that hasn’t happened yet, but I won’t really know for sure for a year or so. For now, I’m just going to enjoy the moment and go where the game takes me. There’ll be enough time for being all analytical later.