Can a Free To Play Game Compare to Paid Subscription Models?

Guild Wars 2 is an MMORPG I’ve recently picked back up, similar in style to World of Warcraft or Final Fantasy XIV. How does it compare?

We can’t compare the number of subscriptions between the games, because Guild Wars 2 is free to play. It is also difficult to compare their populations, as ArenaNet, the publisher responsible for Guild Wars, does not openly share their numbers. Thus, we must read reviews or play the game for ourselves to determine if it is a worthy competitor in the world of MMOs.

Mechanics

The core mechanics of this game are very similar to that of any other MMO you might play. As your character gains experience and levels, you earn new abilities. These abilities are bound to your number keys, and you in turn use those new abilities to destroy bigger and badder enemies and gain more levels, and so on and so forth.

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It’s fairly simple, but Guild Wars 2 managed to expand on this formula in a way that I was not expecting. Each class (ranger, elementalist, thief, etc.) may only use certain weapons, but is able to swap them out at will during combat. For example, as a ranger, I may shoot at long range with a bow, barrel roll into the enemy, and swap to a knife for close range combat with a single key bind. Upon switching, your action buttons bound to your keys will automatically swap to make use of the weapons abilities. It’s extremely effective in helping your character feel unique and to align it with a play style you truly enjoy.

In addition to these weapons, characters may also equip two underwater weapons and headgear. In Guild Wars 2, underwater combat is its own beast. Your land weapons will do you no good in the realm of sharks and undead merfolk. I feel that this is another missed opportunity in other MMOs to expand upon game play styles and immersion.

Aesthetics

Human Necromancer Concept Art from Guild Wars 2
Human Necromancer Concept Art via ArenaNet/Guild Wars 2

Guild Wars 2 launched in 2012. It’s very slightly dated, but all in all a very beautiful game. The characters are reasonably detailed, and the character creator is one of the most in-depth you could ask for (barring games like Aion, that allow you to turn your characters into freaks of nature).

The game world is fairly rugged and realistic, but enter a cutscene and the magic happens. A quickly painted watercolor-esque background with the characters conversing in front of it. It’s not exactly first rate technology, but it’s a pleasant change of pace. The loading screens are gorgeous paintings, and the combination of 3D modeling and 2D paintings give Guild Wars 2 a distinct and attractive style.

Oh, and your character gets their own voice in the cutscene- Not just the standard subtitles.

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Character Development

Upon loading Guild Wars 2 for the first time on a new character, a player is given a series of choices to make for their new adventure. Based on these decisions, your character’s attitudes and the main story-line of the game will change. These choices aren’t drastic in the grand story arc, that I can tell so far, but it does set you up to really role-play your character and see real stories unfold based on your choices.

Player Character from Guild Wars 2 at the loading screen
Norn Ranger via the Guild Wars 2 Login Screen

Player choice continues on throughout the game, allowing you to decide different ways to approach battle plans, how you would speak to someone who was threatening you, or what type of alliance you would consider joining. It’s a feature that other games touch on, but this is the first MMO that I have experienced to allow your character to witness repercussions as often as they do based on their choice.

Time and Budget Management

Of all of the MMOs that I’ve played, I think Guild Wars 2 is probably the easiest to pick up for a small amount of time. There is plenty of group content like dungeons and raids, but for someone looking for a brief getaway, the game has plenty to offer. The gorgeous maps are full of checkpoints and vistas that reward players for taking the time to fully explore the maps with both items and experience. Filling these out in conjunction with killing the monsters in your way and participating in random events that pop up across the map seems to be more than enough to get you the experience to progress to the next area.

A positive feature is that there is rarely a downside to exploring. There are plenty of games that result in dead end caves for the sake environment-building on the map, but plenty of my own explorations have rewarded me with treasure, a boss monster to defeat, or a hidden road to a vista I didn’t know I still needed for completion.

Guild Wars 2 is free to play, and is totally worth it without spending any additional money after the initial game purchase. However, as most free to play games do, there is a shop selling in-game perks, currency, and items. The items are pretty tempting, such as unlimited use salvage kits and makeover bundles, but I haven’t felt like I’m missing out on core game play benefits by not purchasing them.

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It’s difficult to compare this game to others without really playing it. And that is just what I intend to do! Join me on Wednesday nights (9:30 PM PST) via Twitch as I casually level through Guild Wars 2 on my Norn Ranger. We can discuss pros and cons, aesthetics, quality of life, and game-play in general.

The video above showcases the stream debut in all of its unpolished glory.

Have you played Guild Wars 2, or is there another free-to-play MMO you’ve enjoyed? Let us know in the comments!

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