I have teased Guild Wars 2 for incorporating a touring system with Foursquare check-ins rather than sandbox-style exploration, but Guild Wars 2 isn’t a sandbox, so that’s not entirely fair. It’s a themepark, and yet it does more for exploration than most sandboxes ever will. “Mapping” — that is, visiting every point of interest, viewing every vista, completing every heart, and capturing every skill in a given zone — is what I consider the core of the game. The exploration isn’t just something you do if you’re a bored achiever-type; it’s heavily rewarded with titles and experience and travel hubs, never mind the goodies you earn through completing a map. Guild Wars 2 takes exploration as a gameplay mechanic seriously, which is something few MMORPGs, even sandboxes, did prior to 2012 when it launched.
The game is not keen on wasting my time
I’m over travel as a time sink. I was perfectly content with the mark-and-recall plus boats travel system of Ultima Online, but MMOs ever since have seized upon travel as a cheap way to stretch out game time, or more recently, boost cash shop profits. Guild Wars 2, like its older sibling, turns travel into a minor gold sink rather than a time sink: Discover the waypoint once and you can warp to it for a small fee again and again. No more hoofing it across the world or riding griffonback for an hour just to meet with your friends and finally do the thing you logged in to do. Just go. Or be cheap and run if you really want to; you’ll be rewarded with harvests and dynamic events and some of the most spectacular capital cities to ever grace a video game along the way. The choice is always yours.
Elements of the crafting system deserve to be copied
I’m first and foremost an economy junkie when it comes to MMORPGs, so you won’t hear me heaping praise on the auction house or economy or crafting system as a general rule. But ArenaNet included three mechanics as part of its crafting system that are in dire need of duplication across every themepark: crafting using materials stored in banks, harvesting nodes accessible by everyone, and storing materials in-bank from the field. These are simple quality-of-life perks that hurt no one and prevent the crafting system from becoming a hateful inventory management minigame or antisocial race to the best nodes.
Buy-to-play became my favorite business model for MMOs the day classic Guild Wars launched, and though guild wars 2 gold implementation can be obnoxious (seriously, I’m not buying lottery tickets for weapon skins), the game as a whole is exceptionally cheap. It’s easy to get by without ever buying anything from the game store; I’ve limited myself to buying two bank upgrades, three character slots, and a chunk of gold to fund my crafting habit, none of which was strictly necessary. When new MMOs launch or old games try to entice me to return, I inevitably compare what they have on offer for their fees to what I get from Guild Wars 2 for no upkeep tax at all. Penny for penny, far too many MMOs, even “free-to-play” games, fall on the short end of that comparison.