So I caved in to peer pressure and got Guild Wars 2 ... a couple of weeks ago now (time flies fast when you're busy). If you're thinking about getting it and haven't yet.. I hope this helps :) Keep in mind that if you don't like MMOs usually, you'll really have to think about WHY you don't like MMOs before you'll get a good idea about whether GW2 is the one to try. Although no subscription is a nice bonus.
Disclaimer: I've put.. around 50 hours in among 5 different characters, and have each of them done with the first zone, lvl 1-15 (level cap is 80). This IS enough to get a decent handle on the questing and progression systems, but not enough to get to late game content i.e. dungeons and things of that nature. I haven't really gotten that far in another similar MMO anyway, so I won't have as much to say on those topics. I also haven't participated in any PvP, since that's not really my thing in MMORPGs, although I probably will try it out at some point. Again, I haven't PvPed in an MMORPG before so who knows what I'll have to say. Other than queue times suck (I've heard it's hours sometimes)
Now, let's get to the real post. Here goes nothing.
First off, let's get this out of the way: GW2 is NOT definitively the MMO for non-MMO gamers, although it does make some big changes. It is still very much like a traditional MMO. You have your classes, even very archetypical ones, each with their own gimmick. You have your zones, very set apart from each other. You have your crafting, your equipment, your talents, your skills, etc. The combat is even hotkey based, although it does make some significant changes. (I'll discuss that more in a later post, probably Friday) The thing that really obviously sets GW2 apart is the questing system. So let's talk about that.
In your typical MMO, you run around a town area in a zone, seeing exclamation points everywhere, then go do your quests (which in a well designed game are typically in about the same area), go back, get more, rinse and repeat. Every couple rounds you go to another nearby town area. This results in a forced downtime every set of quests - sometimes as little as half an hour and it can probably get up to 2 hours or so.
In Guild Wars, you have three types of quests: Story quests, Heart quests, or "tasks", and dynamic events. Story quests are, basically, your main quest line. Typically you won't spend nearly as much time on these as you will just doing quests out in the world. These are personal quests, instanced (no other players), with cutscenes (basically two guys on screen talking - most of the game isn't voice acted but these are) There's about one quest every couple of levels, and each one shouldn't take more than.. half an hour or so at best. They DO tend to get kind of difficult occasionally, especially since they scale you back HARD to the level of the quest, so no leveling past this. (Although you will still get better skills and things to make it a bit easier)
Heart quests are always present quests that you receive as soon as you enter an area, and almost function as one of those sets of quests in a typical MMO, allowing you to do many different things to advance a bar (individual to yourself - only your contributions add to it) until you're finished, getting a moderate XP reward and access to a vendor. These are what push you from area to area in the zone, since there's about one per level. There's very little reason to go back to to town - there are small vendors everywhere to sell your junk, and any crafting materials can be automatically dumped into a collections area (separate from your bank. It's a really ridiculously convenient system). A lot of the time the only reason you'll head back to one of the larger towns is to repair your armor and grab some more salvage kits (used to salvage useless gear for crafting supplies).
The dynamic events are where it gets interesting. These are cooperative events open to everyone in the area where you perform a variety of tasks - defend against an attack, escort an NPC (they're usually... okay at fighting, and generally you can revive them if they die), kill a boss monster, collect things, and a variety of others. These scale with the number of players participating, so at first you'll just have a couple PCs fighting a few enemies, and by the end you can have a couple dozen staging a fierce defense against waves and waves of monsters. It DOES tend to get chaotic sometimes. Some of these events tell a kind of story - depending on whether you win or lose, a different dynamic event will follow. For example, the last time I was playing there was an event to go attack towers on the outskirts on an enemy base, then go capture the base, then defeat the boss monster that spawned. I didn't lose any of those, but a typical response to a loss would be the enemies stage attack on YOUR base. You can actually lose access to waypoints (fast travel system) and vendors during these events, at least temporarily.
So, the heart events are essentially grinding of a different form, especially so you can complete a zone. Completing a zone requires all heart quests, points of interest (just locations), vistas (basically like the towers in assassin's creed minus gaining the map coverage. Look pretty cool though), and skill challenges, and nets a significant reward. The dynamic events are considerably more interesting, and if you don't participate in them you're missing out on what makes GW2 different - as well as a LOT of XP. If you don't do the events, you WILL end up underleveled pretty quickly. Your mileage may vary, but for what it's worth I do tend to get swept up in the events sometimes (especially the longer ones), and I've heard similar things from other people who don't typically enjoy MMOs.
Oh, another relevant point, especially for people that don't like
typical MMOs: No more competing with other players for mobs, resources,
or pretty much anything. It's not perfect, but it's pretty dang close.
Anyone that damages a mob gets full credit for it (although it seems you
have to do significant damage to get a drop), and anything else you can
interact with is fully instanced, so it doesn't disappear when another
player uses it. This is a REALLY nice system, and one of the smaller
things that makes GW2 really better, maybe even more than the bigger changes I've been discussing.
Don't forget to leave a comment, whether you agree or disagree or if I forgot something (or was straight-out wrong, though I hope that didn't happen), whatever! And check back again in a few days and I'll have another post on the combat system up (I'm thinking Friday. I tend to be pretty busy on Thursdays...)