I have played them all. From Everquest to Star Wars: The Old Republic, I have played all of the major releases that have graced the MMO market over the past few decades. While some may argue that MMOs are a grand waste of time, I would assert (instead) that MMOs are games that are to be enjoyed just like any other — within your own bounds of comfort. Unfortunately, however, the marketplace for the MMO has not radically changed in the past few years. At all.
While World of Warcraft is a good game, most people who played WoW have played it into the ground. It was the first to become a mass market success, and it should be recognized for that alone. If WoW had not been half as successful as it was, there would not be such growth in the MMO field today. Rival companies saw the success of Blizzard and attempted to emulate it endlessly. This is what led to countless copy-cat MMOs that failed to make it past a few months out of the gate. The few that have (LOTRO, Rift, and to a certain extent SW:TOR) made it into mass market consumption all made it by taking what WoW does well and then pushing it one or two baby steps forward.
LOTRO and SW:TOR can get by just on their branding alone. After all, who does not wish to be in Middle-Earth or that famous galaxy “far, far away” for a few hours? Rift was able to truly innovate through its usage of a dynamic questing model in the form of … rifts … but failed to break out of the exhaustive paradigm that WoW established nearly a decade earlier.
So where are we now? The market is flooded with MMOs that are all copies of each other. The Old Republic is an enjoyable game, but it suffers from stale combat that no amount of voice-over work can save. Rift, while enjoyable for a time, is also a victim of tried combat. LOTRO is hanging on by virtue of a rabid fanbase alone. WoW has changed into a casual-friendly game in order to boost flagging numbers caused by burn-out. On the horizon, TERA looks to become one of the first to employ “action” combat in an MMO, but every other part of it is as stale as most other Korean MMOs (Aion, etc).
Fortunately, Guild Wars 2 looks to make a lasting impression on the market. While there are some traditional MMO staples apparent in Guild Wars 2, ArenaNet has sought to radically change the way in which MMOs are perceived to the consumer base of gamers.
First, and most importantly, Guild Wars 2 stands with its predecessor (Guild Wars with its numerous expansions) as an MMO that does not charge a monthly fee. Subscription based gameplay has existed since Everquest, and while it may be a lucrative model for developers, it drives a sizable chunk of a potential playerbase away immediately. ArenaNet has not only copied the pricing model from the original Guild Wars, though. It has copied the model and, and the same time, transformed the Guild Wars universe into a modern MMO. Guild Wars 2 is an open-world, persistant MMO experience, complete with all of the bells and whistles that consumers have come to expect from this field.
There is questing in the game, but it is not as one would traditionally expect. There are no quest-givers. Some NPCs want things done for them, but it is never an exercise of fetch and grab. Guild Wars 2 is introducing a dynamic event system that takes the place of the traditional questing system. As the player is running about in the world, events will happen around him or her. Whether the individual chooses to participate is completely up to the player — the event will go on regardless. These events can be player-triggered, but more often than not they are functionally dynamic.
I am not going to go into great detail over all of the innovations that Guild Wars 2 brings to the table. If you are interesting, check out this link that holds an exhaustive write-up of all of the changes that are coming to the new game.
I can assure you, however, that Guild Wars 2 represents a shift in the way in which MMOs are handled by the developers and the consumers. If this game is successful (and it looks like it will be), it will fundamentally change the way in which gamers expect their MMO experience to be handled. This is positive. We are better than a series of stale experiences that all have one selling point specific to each game. We are better than quests that require us to kill an arbitrary number of boars.
We, the consumers, have the ultimate power of the market and industry. If you wish to support a change in the way in which MMOs are created and sold to us, give Guild Wars 2 a close look. You can thank me later.