Guild Wars occupies a strange spot in my gaming history.
It came along ten years ago this week… something I only noticed when another bloggers mentioned the anniversary… at a point in time when the future of MMOs seemed golden.
EverQuest had brought a lot of players into the genre in a way that no MMO or proto-MMO before it had. It confirmed that there was a bigger audience out there than was suspected, and that audience would pay to play. Other games came on the scene like Dark Age of Camelot and Star Wars Galaxies that were clearly differentiated for EQ. It seemed like we would have all sorts of unique choices when it came to MMOs going forward.
Meanwhile, EverQuest II and World of Warcraft had both launched the previous November (we hit my 10 year anniversary with WoW last month and I totally forgot) but, while WoW was clearly taking off, we were not yet at a point where “must make a WoW clone!!!” was the dominating developer thoughts.
The market was also small, at least when it came to the number of titles. It felt like you could realistically know something about all the major titles on the market as well as those under development. The whole VirginWorlds podcast era was predicated on the idea that you could talk about the MMO market segment in detail in a weekly one hour or less session and pretty much cover all they key players.
At the time I was just back into the MMO thing, having quit EQ and the genre back before Planes of Power launched. As noted in the relevant anniversary post, Gaff got me to play EverQuest II at launch.
By the time Guild Wars launched in 2005 I had given WoW a try and wasn’t really thrilled, something I mentioned to a co-worker who had played EverQuest over lunch. A surprising (to me) number of my co-workers ended up playing EverQuest. This particular one had also burned out on EQ and was somewhat reluctant to get in on the subscription MMO level grind again. It wasn’t that he hadn’t enjoyed some, or even most of his time in Norrath. It was just that feeling you get when you’re too busy to use something you’re paying for.
He told me the game he had his eye on was Guild Wars.
He was keen on the MMO, or MMO-like, multi-player experience without the whole monthly fee. Buy the box and you’re done, like a REAL video game. That is what made it stand out among the so-called third generation MMOs. (And this ignores the whole Guild Wars isn’t an MMO thing, which I can’t even begin to address. As with H1Z1, the company simply saying it isn’t an MMO doesn’t make it so. The definition is both complex and situational in my mind, but there is also a certain amount of “quacks like a duck” in there as well.)
He was kind of our scout into this game. He picked it up at launch and I would go by and ask him about it now and again. He talked about the character models and the way cities were shared but that zones or content was all instanced and the skill system where you were limited to the number of active skills you had.
And the graphics. He was effusive about the environment. Most people with whom I have spoken to about the game over the years have praised that aspect.
At the time though I was fully committed to EQII, a game that had been changing and evolving… and breaking now and again… since launch. Too much to keep up with there to start a new MMO-like game.
Then we all defected to WoW and the focus was on Azeroth. Then I started EVE Online for a bit, then the blog started, then there was the instance group and so forth. Somewhere in there I entered the VirginWorlds sphere of influence and would listen to Brent and sometimes co-host Brenden talk about other MMOs, which got me both more interested and more aware of the wider genre which, as noted above, seemed like a thing a single person could know about.
And Guild Wars was a common topic. Brent and Brendan would talk about it, Van Hemlock was big on it, there were other former bloggers keen on the game, so it was always part of the mix. Eventually I bought a copy. I know this because the box is still sitting in my bookshelf.
At some point in the past I dumped a bunch of boxes but, for whatever reasons, I chose to keep these particular ones. The EverQuest and the EverQuest: Ruins of Kunark CD jewel cases are on the far left, while the original EverQuest manual is next to A Theory of Fun on the right.
And you can see there isn’t just one, there are TWO Guild Wars boxes.
Yet I cannot recall ever really playing the game.
I remember taking a couple of runs at it. I found exactly FOUR screen shots from Guild Wars after sifting though my hard drives that indicated that I made at least two characters, one male and one female, at some point. I think that might have been after a podcast discussion where somebody was effusive about the female character models in the game.
I also recall at one point trying to get a group together in Guild Wars with Potshot and Ula during one of the hiatus periods of the WoW group. I have a distinct memory of us in a small town with very pretty and detailed flowers… and being unable to jump over an ankle-high obstacle… but little else. Something didn’t click because we clearly did not stick with it. I did not even make a blog post about it. I have literally written more about games I never played myself, like LEGO Universe, or games that never launched in the US, like KartRider, or games that never even existed, like Planet Michael, than about Guild Wars. I have certainly written more about games the instance group has tried and dropped. Runes of Magic has gotten many more words than Guild Wars, for example.
This might be my first Guild Wars post in more than eight and a half years. And despite having been aware of the game since before launch, I have very little to say about it.
Meanwhile the landscape of the MMO market has changed. The golden age ended, for me at least, with the crash of Warhammer Online, which killed the idea of being both popular and different from WoW. After that the tomb was sealed when the idea of another mass market subscription MMO, the now cringe-inducing idea of a WoW-beater, was laid to rest when Star Wars: The Old Republic went free to play. Now we talk about niche games and funding and variations on business models and funding and fanciful ideas about developer independence and funding and cash shops and what went wrong back in the day and how it is all Blizzard’s fault.
And yet Guild Wars is still there, which is kind of amazing given the propensity NCsoft has for shutting down games that simply are not making enough money. It has been overshadowed by Guild Wars 2 (which I can actually remember playing still!) and is never going to see any further expansions or content updates, yet it still abides.
Anyway, it has been ten years. Happy anniversary!
Other places writing about Guild Wars at age ten: