I've been playing games pretty much since I was five, so I've been doing it for awhile. I grew up on the NES (when it was out of date, since my parents only got it because lord knows why) and ended up skipping the SNES and going right to the n64. From there I've had almost every system at some point and played a shit ton of games. Almost a metric shit ton.
I found that I have a great dislike for the majority of games, because the majority of games are like the majority of anything: terrible. ~90% of everything is bad, and games are no exception. This has made me an excellent critic, if I say so myself (and I do) because I'm generally wary of the hype and have a knack for getting at the heart of problems with game design, story, etc. Outside of JRPGs, of course, because JRPGs agree with me about as well as bleach.
More importantly, I don't have a bias against MMOs because I get it. The fun isn't necessarily in the game being great all the time or having a totally polished quest system; the fun is in the people and the advancement. You like to feel like you're doing something and then can brag about it to others. In Vanilla and BC WoW, when you got full purples, you weren't just good, you were a badass motherfucker who didn't play by the rules. You were cool. And I get that.
But I'm getting off topic. Let's talk about Guild Wars 2, after a little more backstory.
When I first picked up Guild Wars 1, it was after hearing about how fun WoW was and wanting to get in on the action when I didn't have any way to pay for the 15 a month fee. Some people have incredibly fond memories of Guild Wars 1, and I can sort of see why. Its not a bad game, and the story is okay, I suppose.
My memories of Guild Wars 1 were thus: Necromancers were really cool, runes made no sense, Warrior-Monks were the best class for soloing, and it wasn't really an MMO so much as a single player game with a hub.
Overall better memories than most games (The Old Republic just left me with a bitter 90 dollar hole in my wallet and a sense of distaste for everything EA has done since), but nothing spectacular. So when Guild Wars 2 came out, I was really hesitant, even with all the good reviews.
I picked it up last week, and have made it to level 20 so far (I have a job and school, plus developing a tabletop takes a lot of time). So far, I'd say my experience has been positive, so this is a good way to jump in to a few compliments.
The combat system is fun. Not fun for an MMORPG, fun in a game. You feel like how you move matters, you feel like you can do things with skill to make the combat easier or harder, and learning from your mistakes doesn't require much beyond some clever thinking. There are some builds which are definitively better than others and some that are fucking useless, but not everyone needs to be great at everything so that's okay.
The world looks nice and the music is inconsequential because I just put on the sountrack from Bastion while I play anyway. Enemies are relatively unique and provide challenges even if they're lower level; crafting is well thought out and the fast travel system is actually okay although not to my particular taste (I prefer the mount system from WoW).
Mechanically the game is sound and I'm continuing to play it on mechanics. But make no mistake; it is far from perfect. Severely far from perfect.
You see, what World of Warcraft was always good at was keeping you from feeling the unwarranted self-importance that plagues modern gaming. You weren't the hero, ever. At the very most you were an elite group of shock troopers aiding the heroes in their quest. You were Delta Force, or the 300 Spartans. Powerful, but not immortal.
Guild Wars 2 sort of has that, especially in open world. In fact, in open world questing, the questing is almost perfect. You feel like you accomplish things without really becoming too important; when you fight a world boss, you do so with a large group of others helping you, and you all get rewarded for it. Its never "I am the hero." Its "We are the heroes" and that's what MMOs are supposed to feel like.
Annnnnd then you get to the story quests. There's this weird sense that they sort of realized halfway through writing each quest that you can't really be the hero, but at the same time you sort of are. They go so far as to call you the Hero of Shaemouth if you are human, and you're commended in basically every other race....except that you know just a few minutes away are 800 other people who are told exactly the same thing.
The biggest failing, though, is in the characterization of your allies. I played human; I like humans and play them in basically every game because I'm a human and I think I'm pretty all right. So the two people I have as allies so far are Quinn and Riot Alice, and then the police officer whose name I forget and whose job is really "give this dude quests."
Here's what I'm talking about; when I was given the choice to save Quinn or save a bunch of innocent people from being poisoned, I really didn't even have to debate. I saved the people, because fuck Quinn. My one interaction with him was saving him from his fuck up. Then he died. Who cares? I never got the impression that we were friends, he was just an asshole who died because I decided that people were more important than him.
Riot Alice meanwhile is almost a humorous parody of anarchists, which I guess is the point? But if it comes down to picking Riot Alice vs. a bunch of people again, I'll give you a hint. It'll be a bunch of people.
EDIT: Class is out, back to writing this instead of revising my English paper again.
The issue with having these characters that I don't care about is that in draws me way, way out of the story. Part of this is due to personal taste; my favorite stories are always ones with strong characters more so than strong plots (see my love of Bastion, which has a relatively simple plot with excellent characters), but another part is that without any characters to be really invested in, you're not going to be drawn in to the world.
I don't care if Riot Alice has troubles in her past, if she has feelings for my character, or if she has trouble with babies or whatever twist they decide to add to her later down the line. So what? Its like telling me that African children are starving. Yes, its sad. Will I really care about that individual more than a large group of people? No, of course not.
Unfortunately the feeling of the game is one of completion; you feel the need to do your story and the need to go out and complete each heart in order to get stuff done. So I have to, unfortunately, drag my feet through this schlock in the hopes that maybe they'll finally come out and ask me to go someplace that isn't populated by people I'm indifferent towards and let me do something a bit more epic than "Clean up this toy that's hypnotizing people."
Also, Northern Shiverpeaks if we want a Hubski guild.