Contains nuts. Takes may be hot.
I wouldn't say I'm sniffy about MMOs, but it's a genre that I avoided for a long, long time. I'm not sure why, maybe because of the time-sink aspect, or maybe because I can see through the Skinner boxes, but it wasn't until I bought a PC for Half Life 2 that I started to dip my toe in. With Eve Online, of all things.
I like Eve a lot, and I did have a lot of fun in that universe during my 6 month mooch, but I was really after Elite. Despite CCP's inspirations, it's just not the same thing, and the level of commitment required to get the most out of it, is well, a second life. I like to solo, so obviously I fell out of it, and I wouldn't actually play another MMO until WoW, a few years later.
(Amusingly, I ended up playing WoW for "research" - Ruffian were eternally pitching - but ended up playing for fun, it's a sticky little thing...)
IMO WoW is a patch-work beast at best. I jumped into Azeroth around the time of Wrath of the Lich King, and continued playing it until just after Cataclysm, and there's a lot about it that I ended up loving. But it's a world of inconsistencies. Flying over zones and seeing stuff play-out beneath you really does evoke a magical fantasy far better than any console game I ever played - it's genuinely hard to describe the sense of scale if you've never played it - and the art style, and environment work cements the magic in a way only Blizzard seem able. But fuck me I hated the Burning Crusade areas. So dull. So green. And again, because of my tendency to solo, I never really got into the raiding, so most of the end game escaped me.
I can hear you moaning...
I would have been quite happy never playing another MMO, tbh, but my girlfriend had other ideas, getting me hyped for Guild Wars 2 during her time beta-testing it. It looked fantastic, and this would be one of the few opportunities there'd be to jump into a new world on day one. So off we all went...
Guild Wars 2 is great. I don't know what it is about the world in particular that I love so much - because as usual, I don't bother reading anything the game puts in front of me - but it's crack. Not because of the Skinner box, but because of the exploration. There's immense variety between the zones, and despite the world being replete with the same sort of Murloc mashing quests as WoW, it feels somewhat more dynamic and engaging because of the event chains that spawn. You can quickly get sucked into a series of dynamic quests that drag you, and a bunch of other players, around the map over the course of several hours. It's hard to describe, but it's addictive fun when you find them.
Like any MMO, the world is just enormous. And that, for me, is the hook. It took me just over 200 hours to 100% the map with my first character and I thoroughly enjoyed the vistas, hidden caves, under water cities and mountains the env team built. The scope of it is just incredible. But it wasn't perfect, or at least, it missed a trick at the start.
Those 200 hours meant I'd basically rinsed the content. There were no dailies, the achievements list was sparse, gear hunting just wasn't much fun, and none of the dungeons appealed. The typical MMO stuff falls off me like water from a duck's back. I tried to dip my toes back-in for the living world stuff, but having not read any text, well, ever, following a story and events had no meaning. Especially if I was only popping in once a week and didn't even know where stuff was meant to be happening. So, predictably, I bounced. Again...
Personally, I'm blaming No Man's Sky for me even thinking about firing up Guild Wars again. Or maybe it was just the timing of the new expansion. But either way, I've re-rolled, and I've started again, and oh my fucking god the crack is back.
I really can't recommend GW2 enough, now that I'm 30% through my second crawl around the world. Forget all the trappings of MMOs, if you want an environment to just run around and explore, then Arena Net's has to be my favourite. It's stunning. It's womble-tastic in its overground, underground-ness. Fuck procedural universes, there's magic in a talented art team tucking away delights into the recesses of zones. Or fucking enormous cities on a hill, dominating your view, that you know you'll be walking around later.
Importantly, it seems like they've fixed a lot of the issues I had with it during my first play-through. There's way more apparent structure and guidance. You can chase the dailies (for some pretty nice rewards), or you can just clean up some of the map. PvP and WvW is still there, although they're not for me. You can chase after a massive list of achievements. Levelling is easier. The crafting is a little more rounded. And those lovely event-chains seem to be a little more active, and far less buggy.
Tbh, it's an incredible game for the money. No subscriptions. No hassles. No stupid pay-walls. Sure, it has the usual micro-transactions for costumes and certain items, but you're not going to be worse off for not monetising. But this is one of the very few games that I've parted with my actual earth cash in order to buy stupid moon gems. I've not regretted it.