Matt decides to tell his life story.
Our honourable mentions are games we feel deserve praise but didn't make it into our games of the year list. This might be because the game in question wasn't released in 2012 or simply because only one person felt the game was worthy of consideration. This is our chance to give these games some time in the limelight.
Unfortunately Guild Wars 2 didn't make it into our official top 10 Game of the Year list. Being the only person in the office who played it for any significant length of time, and the only one who actively plays MMOs, it was a tough sell to the others.
However this shouldn't detract from what ArenaNet have achieved with their much anticipated sequel, which is for the most part an incredibly well made MMO which doesn't suffer from the usual drawbacks of other games in the genre.
In order for me to explain properly why this is my honourable mention of 2012, I need to tell you a story of friendship, virtual New Years Eve parties and ultimately, addiction.
The story begins in 2001 whilst I was taking a year out before starting University. I'd dabbled with games like Everquest and Ultima Online but never actively played either, partly due to not having a proper source of income but mostly because I wasn't a huge fan of the fantasy genre. When Anarchy Online released shortly after my birthday of that year it was a buggy, near unplayable mess. I tried it and saw promise though: It was an MMO promising dynamic missions, interesting classes and a deep skill system all wrapped up in a luscious sci-fi setting. three years later things were different, not just with the game but also with my life: I had a part time job, a credit card (one of the biggest mistakes of my life) and ample free time during my third and final year of my studies.
I created my character and began my adventure on the planet of Rubi-Ka. Anarchy Online was like nothing I'd ever played before. This was in the days before games would profusely hold your hand and guide you every step of the way. To say Anarchy Online had a steep learning curve would be a massive understatement.
We're used to items in MMOs having level locks. You obtain an incredible helmet, only to find that you can't use it until you're level 20. Well in Anarchy Online items had levels, but without any kind of lock. This meant it was feasible to equip any item provided you had the necessary attributes. Boosting these attributes was done through a process call 'twinking'. The process itself was very simple; you would equip weapons, armour or implants that had specific boosts to key attributes which you needed. This would then raise a stat you originally didn't have in order to equip that specific item.
So while concept was simple, it led to people (myself included) to spend hours and sometimes entire sessions dedicated to trying to equip that weapon. This was my first step on the road to obsession.
The second was the social aspect. My character was a Doctor, making solo play quite difficult as it was a class designed for healing rather than DPS. This naturally forced me into finding groups for questing and mission running. I'd played online games before so there wasn't any novelty factor, but playing in a persistent world where your actions built a reputation was incredibly new and exciting for me. As I advanced in levels I made quite a name for myself on the server (there were only 3 servers). It reached a point where as soon as I logged in I was inundated with requests for me to run a mission, heal a raid or craft some implants. You see, in school I was never the cool kid so to have this newfound popularity, albeit virtual popularity, was quite simply, empowering. I felt important and at an age where I was struggling to find purpose in life, I had stumbled into a world which offered just that.
In the real world I was a struggling student facing uncertain job prospects and years of debt. In Rubi-Ka I was one of the most sought after Doctors on the Atlantean server. There was a certain spot in Adonis, an area in the Shadowlands expansion, where I would spend upwards of 12 hours at a time with a group killing the same 6 Hecklers (a monster that offered an excellent time-to-xp ratio). When I finally decided it was time to sleep I'd say my goodbyes, log off, only to come back 6 hours later and group with the exact same people who obviously decided that sleeping is overrated.
I started playing Anarchy online around Christmas 2004, just over a year later I was spending New Years Eve at the GridStream party in Reets Retreat. Whilst waiting for my American friends to bring in their New Year, it was the first time I'd ever fallen asleep at my computer.
I woke up to find the dance floor completely empty. Everyone had logged off except for me, still there in an animated dance loop. I left, made my way to the Borealis Whoompa and opened up my friends tab to see if anyone wanted to group for Adonis Hecklers.
I continued to play for a few more months, desperate to hit the level 220 cap, until it suddenly dawned on me: I was addicted. However, this wasn't what caused me to stop playing.
It was the realisation that the grind that MMOs are so famous for had well and truly kicked in, and so on the 8th of May 2006 I logged in one more time. This time it wasn't to join an Alien Invasion raid, but instead stand at Omni Trade and give away all my gear to anyone who wanted it. Yep, even my QL216 Massive Bolt Charger that took weeks of camping Afreet Ellis to get.
So how can any of this possibly tie in to my honourable mention of Guild Wars 2? Well, the failure of MMOs, especially in 2012 is largely attributed to their outdated subscription models. We've seen both The Secret World and Star Wars: The Old Republic launch with disappointing sales followed by dwindling subscription numbers. Guild Wars 2 on the other hand has been both a critical and commercial success. Is this due solely to its subscription-free model? Perhaps, but I think it's partly down to how the majority of people actually play MMOs.
After Anarchy Online, I moved on to RF Online. After that I moved on to Eve Online. I dabbled with World of Warcraft for a bit and then proceeded to play most MMOs that were released throughout the years: Tabula Rasa, The Lord of the Rings Online, Age of Conan, Aion, Dungeons and Dragons Online, Pirates of the Burning Sea, Rift, Star Trek Online, The Secret World and finally Star Wars: The Old Republic.
I spent varying amounts of time with each, most of the time with the same group of friends I made from Anarchy Online. MMOs no longer offered new exciting worlds where we'd meet new friends and discover both the game's world and its underlying systems together. I already had my group of friends. I already knew the basic mechanics, especially now that most MMOs were simply trying to replicate the incredible success of World of Warcraft. We were like locusts, churning through content, hitting the grind and then going back to our main MMO. Once we had seen all the content we needed to, we would then go back to our main. Everyone has their main, and for the vast majority that was World of Warcraft.
Being able to play without any kind of subscription is certainly an attractive prospect, and is certainly a major factor in having the game still installed on my computer, but I still don't think that's why Guild Wars 2 stands out as a success amongst others in 2012.
Any new MMO would have to do something incredibly special to draw someone away from their main for any significant length of time. Guild Wars 2 does a number of things which makes it not just a good MMO, but a game that will draw in both the core and more casual fans of the genre. Firstly, it hides the grind incredibly well. Let's not fool ourselves, most of the time we're still killing X number of mobs. Only now we don't have to pick this quest up from an NPC, we just walk into the quest area and it pops up in our tracker. It makes exploring the world of Tyria a fluid activity and something you want to do rather than a relatively niche pastime.
Allowing you to group with your friends regardless of any level mismatch is also nice touch. It may take away some of the power trip you get from re-visiting lower level areas and destroying anything that moves, but it breaks down another barrier which allows people to engage with the game.
The PVP is another aspect that Guild Wars 2 and its predecessor do very well. Again, it's all about removing barriers, but still rewarding players for the time they've put in. Separating PVP and making all weapons and skills available from the get go makes it lean more towards skill based match-ups rather than who has acquired the best weapons and armour.
I could go on for pages about little things I like about Guild Wars 2, but ultimately all that needs to be said is the most important thing: It is an MMO that actually introduces new and interesting mechanics. It also has a guilt-free subscriptionless model allowing me to play whenever I want. If you and your group are looking for a new 'main MMO', then you might just find what you're looking for with Guild Wars 2.