Lately, Jessa and I have been playing a lot of Guild Wars 2. The thing that really brought me back to Guild Wars 2 is the removal of my primary complaint about it at the start: the level grind. In particular, there are a couple of new features that made this less of a problem for me.
The reason the leveling annoys me so much in Guild Wars 2 is basically two-fold. First, Guild Wars 2 is a mostly-open world MMO, meaning that you can pretty much go to anywhere on the map immediately after the tutorial. The catch is that a lot of this grand map will be indirectly locked off if you’re not high enough level to deal with the mobs located there. The reason this one in particular sticks in my craw is that they’ve made levels irrelevant up to your level by downleveling you when you are in a zone that is below your level – so if they can downlevel you, why won’t they uplevel you, or, better yet, remove levels altogether?
The second, and more egregious, annoyance is explicitly blocking off the personal story with a level requirement. This is so immersion breaking it’s inexcusable. Imagine having someone tell you that you are urgently needed to go behind enemy lines and rescue someone… …And then tell you that you need to go run around in the open world for a few days before you can do that. This is the main reason I gave up on my personal story (and, for a time Guild Wars 2); having the content that I was actually interested and immersed in locked behind a wall of game mechanics was more than I wanted to deal with.
So what changed?
First and foremost, the Guild Wars 2 team seems to be being more generous with experience in a number of ways. At some point, my characters got a scroll that would automatically level them to level 30. This skips most of the worst grind (the early stage) and provides access to the entire racial story arc. This is nice because just doing the storyline is going to level a character 15-20 levels, and it leaves them at a reasonable stopping point in the story. Additionally, by the time they would need to go exploring, there is actually some of the open world to explore – by level 40, there are about a dozen zones to explore. In addition to the level 30 scroll, there are also tomes of experience awarded for daily awards that provide a single level. In the last couple of months, I’ve gotten enough of these to level a starting character to level 80 using only the scroll and the tomes.
The second thing that has changed may be me – I have found a way to enjoy exploration in Guild Wars 2. In the original Guild Wars, I really enjoyed the vanquishing runs: going through an entire zone and killing all the monsters. Since monsters didn’t respawn in Guild Wars 1, this was a challenge that combined organization (to systematically go through the entire zone) and perseverance (to find and kill all the monsters). In Guild Wars 2, monsters in zones respawn (since they are no longer instanced), but instead they have various things to find and do while you are in a zone. Finding all the points of interest and doing all the mini-quests has finally clicked as similar to vanquishing in Guild Wars 1 – it requires similar organization and perseverance to achieve and comes with similar reward scales.
Finally, at some point, the economy inversion was resolved. I don’t know if this was a natural occurrence of the player volume or a change by the Guild Wars 2 team, but it’s a really nice change. Specifically, when you craft an item, it actually has value to other players more than the value of the components (in the early stages of the game, crafted items were almost universally worth less than their components). This makes crafting a profitable activity rather than a way to grind achievements. While the economy is certainly not EVE-level, it’s better than it was at launch.
In any event, Guild Wars 2 has clicked for me, and it’s definitely fun. While I sometimes feel the additional constraints that Guild Wars 1 didn’t seem to have, there is still plenty of space to explore.