While it's true that any MMO coming out in 2011 will launch as underdog to the mighty World of Warcraft, Guild Wars 2 developers ArenaNet have a respectable six-million-strong fanbase waiting for this one. And they've used all their experience from the first Guild Wars, all the feedback from their players, to develop a game that's genuinely attempting to move the genre forward.
It looks like a fantasy MMO, and the world of Tyria has all the things you'd expect from that genre: action bars, buffs, quests, a vast world, and factions. But Guild Wars also catered to the lone player's experience, and the sequel draws its strengths from there.
It's fun and exciting, right from the start. I've already played the Human tutorial: instead of a ponderous journey telling you to bop critters for a farmer, I was launched into a burning village, magic crackling overhead, centaurs attacking from all sides. I bolted through the chaos, battling the ugly hordes. Then a giant creature made of stone erupted from the ground, body made of dirt, fists hewn of rock.
It didn't feel like an MMO, which to me is a big step. ArenaNet want players to play a story that they'll shape as they go. From the start, your character choices feed into that: choices you make about your social background, such as education, determine how NPCs react to you, how the story guides you through the world. Which sounds par for the course for an RPG, but not an MMO where you're usually part of a vast, pre-crafted experience on a static world.
Every player will have a personal space in their home city, an instanced area that develops with their choices. Even in that instance, there'll be choices to make and things to do, such as deciding whether or not to help out an orphanage on fire. If you let it burn, the orphans will be displaced, wandering your homestead.
This is the sort of attention to detail that I'm excited about, and the sheer balls to look at the genre and make a conscious decision to improve it across the board, particularly to make it inclusive to the likes of me. Simple tweaks to the form make a whole lot of difference. If you enter an area with stuff to do, you'll be offered quests without ever visiting the questgiver. If you want to know why you're doing what you've been asked to do, then fine, visit the person begging for help. And your objectives change even as you take part: a farm under attack might light up on fire – do you fight off the flames as well as the attackers? There's no wrong decision, just extra choice.
It looks like a game for everyone, a game where you'll be able to be yourself while taking your place in a huge, exciting world. I can't wait.