Lack of progression is the second biggest killer of MMOs (progression you can’t be bothered with being number one), which is why I’ve always maintained that GW2 will live or die by how successful WvW is (and to a lesser extend the arena stuff). Consider everything you currently find fun in GW2, remove the progression, and ask yourself if you would still do it? Now ask yourself if you would do it more than once.
Most ‘dynamic’ events are dressed up “kill X” quests, and while the dressing is often times very nice (more on that in a bit), the point remains that if killing boars or whatever did not lead to something, most would not spend hours killing boars for the ‘gameplay’ factor. That’s why people still mine Veld in EVE 10 years later, and no one is going to be fighting back the centaurs in a month (more on that later as well). Has GW2 improved MMO combat and exploration from the generic themepark model? Yes. Is it improved to the point that you would play it just for that, repeatedly? No.
And because the answer is indeed no, you need the MMO secret sauce, progression, to keep you going. Take a look at player behavior around a ‘dynamic’ event that triggers shortly after it just finished. Notice how many people can’t be bothered to care the second time around. If the gameplay itself was that good, they would, but for most events, it’s just more of the same and the window dressing has been seen, so you ignore it and keep going.
The sheer volume of content will keep people busy for some time, and that along with its quality justifies the $60 buy in. And for many that’s all that matters, which is fine. But for those who play MMOs for the community and the continuity that goes with these games, the lack of progression, and ultimately purpose (outside of PvP), is something to keep in mind.
Now about that nice dressing: Anet has put in a lot of detail into GW2 content, and most players are going to miss a whole lot of it because WoW has trained them to be leveling monkeys rather than engaging with an active world. And because GW2 is not a ‘real’ world, you could be forgiven for not caring about the actions of NPC X, because we all know they are going to reset sooner rather than later, and tomorrow nothing you did will matter.
Still, the detail is there, and it’s pretty cool. One little example was an NPC that is collecting chocobos (or whatever GW2 calls them) in the human lands. Once you herd them into a pen, you can watch a little animation play out, and then trigger the escort quest. Once the NPC makes it to town, they again have some animation play out before turning into a vendor that sells baby chocobos. Out of curiosity, I stood around and watched this NPC, wondering how they are going to reset back to the first phase of the event. I was fully expecting the NPC to just go poof after a minute or so, but in a great show of detail, they actually walk into a nearby building and only go poof when they reach a door you can’t open. Minor? Very. But still pretty cool. Once.
Oh and about those centaurs. As expected, they are currently on the endangered species list as the hordes plow through the zone, meaning that ‘world’ event is always locked in its final victory phase. By the time Wilhelm gets around to playing GW2, you can bet the centaur will be fully in charge, and the final ‘defeat’ event will be waiting for him. Should he and his gang decide to ‘impact the world’, they can have a nice bit of content progressing through the phases, until they ‘win’ and move on, allowing the centaurs to again reset things.
Is the above better than 100% static quest hubs? Yes. Is it the virtual world dynamic that UO had in beta with its ecology system? No. So yay for progress, but let’s not cheer and celebrate until we actually get there, eh?