My MMO history is kind of embarrassing: a past of abandoned, mid-level characters, lost in server limbo, untouched for aeons, unloved, abused by my insistence on visiting high-level areas no matter the physical toll. I just haven't ever clicked with the genre. Guild Wars 2 seems to understand that there are players who don't want to focus on levelling, or raids, or alts, and wants them to come in and see what all the fuss is about.
So I poked my head in... to a booth at Gamescom. It was kind of difficult to leave: the game looks gorgeous, but beyond the pretty pixels it fundamentally understands that there can be more to the genre than grinding, levelling and alts. Awesome fighting, creative missions and a lot of action are the core of Guild Wars 2.
I'm shown a human character, fighting through the tutorial, defending a village from a centaur attack. She's lithe, dodging attacks and flicking fire at her enemies. She's moving while fighting, which is interesting in itself. There's no “wait here while I cast” moments in the sprinting, circling violence. It looks interesting, kinetic. When she switches weapons, her entire attack options swap out. You'll never feel locked into a character, not when a staff fundamentally has different attack options from a sword.
It's a world built to explore. Missions are dynamically generated in the world, from an attack, where you join the defence of small farm, to a giant dragon attack. Both these scale according to the number of players taking part, and within each sub-missions pop up. In the farm you can grab buckets of water to douse burning hay; while there are turrets to man during the vast dragon assault.
What's exciting is these are uninstanced – the dragon attack in particular looks like a raid boss, it seems like a world changing event, but it's just there for you to take part in if you choose and even the method of acceptance is there for the player to select: you can go up to the designated quest giver and get all the necessary info, or you can simply pop over and lend a hand. Those design choices are really interesting: up until now, I've found most MMOs off-putting, catering to a player base that requires structure and strives for the perfect balance. All that's there in GW2, but they're doing it while making a game for me to explore in, to stumble through, building an interesting story as I go. It's truly exciting.
Also truly exciting: meeting Daniel Dociu. Some quick investigative journalism reveals that he's the amazing artist behind Guild Wars 2's visual style, but he's also the face of Father Grigori. Look!