Guild Wars is free this weekend. Completely free. If you want to play, you can go here, make an account, download the game, and play. It's that simple.
Well, that's not quite true. ArenaNet's kickass MMO isn't just free this weekend. It was free this week. It'll be free next week and next weekend. If you decide two years from now that you want to try Guild Wars 2, it'll still be free. It's just free.
Guild Wars 2 has always been the odd man out. The core game has previously offered up the same experience that you'd find in most other MMOs, with the only barrier to entry being the purchase of the game itself. (A game that has been $20 at most retail outlets for the past few months.) Yes, there are some microtransactions in the game, but they're no different from what you'd find in any other MMO and they're not in your face about it.
So why is Guild Wars going free? Well ArenaNet has been slowly letting players know about the first expansion for the game, Heart of Thorns. When Heart of Thorns launches on October 23, buying the expansion will give you the core Guild Wars 2 for free. Basically, the business model continues forward, but the one box you have to buy to stay up to date is the Heart of Thorns expansion. That'll set you back $49.99, just like the original Guild Wars 2 did when it launched.
"We were talking about expansions and Guild Wars 2 has always had such a clear business model. Buy the game and play it. We love the purity of the business model," ArenaNet president Mike O'Brien explained to me. "When we start talking about expansion packs, then we have to start talking about what you already have to own. When you start charting a future towards not just one expansion pack, but multiple expansion packs, that's just totally not right. So we wanted to keep things really clean."
That said, Heart of Thorns is in October, so why is Guild Wars 2 going free now? Well, that's because ArenaNet likes you folks. If you haven't played the game or have friends who haven't played, now is the catch-up time. You have nearly two months to play Guild Wars 2 and make it up to max level in time for Heart of Thorns. "We thought, 'If people are going to get into Guild Wars 2, what is the ideal time for somebody to get into the game?'" said O'Brien. "I think it's when Heart of Thorns is about to launch, but there's still plenty of time that you can still build up your character, so that when Heart of Thorns launches, you can be one of the first people in the jungle. It's ideal to do this with Heart of Thorns, but let's back it out enough that new players can get into the game right now."
Will this business model be carried forward for future expansion packs?
"I think you're asking about future expansion packs and we're not going to talk about that yet. This is about making the core game free," replied O'Brien.
It's worth noting that ArenaNet doesn't want a flood of spambots, so free accounts do have a few restrictions. First, you get fewer characters and bag slots. Second, there are certain chat restrictions, like the fact that there's a 30-second hold on starting a whisper conversation with a different player. You can continue a current conversation without interruption, but you can't whisper multiple players in succession. Free accounts also have to play to level 10 before leaving starting areas, to level 30 before using the Looking for Group tool, and to level 60 before jumping into WorldvWorld. ArenaNet likes you new players, but they put their current playerbase first.
Despite those restrictions, you can get in on this action right now. You can be walking across these vistas - Rata Sum, Divinity's Reach, the Edge of the Mists, Lion's Arch - right now. Bosses? Guild Wars 2 has those in ample supply. You can put yourself to the test against massive bosses like the Shatterer and Tequatl the Sunless.
New players have eight professions to choose from: vanilla MMO-style choices like the Warrior, Guardian, Ranger, Thief, and Necromancer, or more esoteric and unique options like the Elementalist, Engineer, and Mesmer. Does Guild Wars 2 have crafting? Yes sir, yes sir, three crafted bags full. Want to go solo? Lots of PVE content. Small group of friends? They have dungeons for you too. PVP takes place in structured matches or the grand WorldvWorld mode, where three huge teams fight for dominance in an ongoing war. The same game veterans have been playing for three years will be delivered to you.
"Guild Wars 2's core game is a great game," said O'Brien. "We're proud to make the game available to everybody."
"We're not going to change anything about progression in the core game," added game director Colin Johanson. "We love the way the game plays and works. We think the feedback we've received consistently across these three years is people love the game and all they want is more to do at level 80. That's what the expansion is bringing. When everybody's telling us they love the game, we don't want to change a thing about it."
All that, no subscription fee. And now, no entry fee.
Into The Heart Of Darkness
"But Mike" you ask, "What can I look forward to if I decide to keep playing Guild Wars 2 with Heart of Thorns?" Good question. I've already written about the new Revenant profession, the all-new Mastery progression system, and even sat down for an interview diving into some of the decisions behind the expansion. Reading those article will get you up to speed for the new information, like the focus of Heart of Thorns.
"Heart of Thorns is all about endgame content; it has so much new endgame content for people to play," said O'Brien. "If people get to level 80, there's so much more to do past level 80. When new players level up through the core game, they're going to be in the mood for the ultimate challenge and that's what Heart of Thorns is all about."
Part of preparing for that new challenge is providing new options for the game's current professions. Enter elite specializations, which take each profession in a different direction; each offers up new abilities and a new weapon previously unavailable to the class. The full list of currently revealed specializations includes:
- The Herald - The Revenant might be a brand-new class with this expansion, but it still gets a specialization. Calling on the soul of the legendary dragon Glint, the Herald gets to use the shield to protect itself and its allies.
- The Daredevil - This Thief specialization is all about dodging and evading incoming damage while moving swiftly around the battlefield. The staff is the Daredevil's new weapon of choice.
- The Berserker - The Warrior's specialization adds new berserk mode, which is all about crazy burst damage. The Berserker gains the use of the torch.
- The Tempest - The Tempest makes the Elementalist a close-range fighter, overloading its elemental abilities to provide enhanced damage or healing. The Tempest gets to use the warhorn as its new weapon.
- The Dragonhunter - The tanky Guardian becomes a ranged character with its new Dragonhunter specialization. With a bow and arrow, the Dragonhunter can zip around the battlefield helping allies.
- The Chronomancer - The Mesmer, one of Guild Wars 2's most unique classes, becomes the shield-wielding Chronomancer. The time mage can freeze enemies, re-apply old attacks, or make allies immune to damage.
- The Reaper - Becoming a Reaper makes the Necromancer a frontline melee brawler, using a magical scythe to put fear into its opponents. The Reaper's weapon is the greatsword.
Heart of Thorns is endgame content, so ArenaNet is also adding Raids to Guild Wars 2. The expansion will have the game's first raid, with the first wing of that raid available at launch. Raids will be 10-player instanced content building on the same combat mechanics you'll already find in PVE content like dungeons and world bosses.
"We had a great discussion with our fans late last year where we talked about what types of challenging group content they'd like to see in Guild Wars 2," said Johanson. "We took that and carried that conversation to our own development team. What we found was of all the options available to us, raids were the best opportunity for us. There are a lot of traditional headaches with raids and those are the types of challenges we like to go after. We've been playing these raids internally for quite a while."
Guild Wars 2's raids won't have a lengthy attunement process or gear check. Likewise, the raids won't becomes far easier as further tiers of gear become available. ArenaNet acknowledges that even with the streamlined process, Raids may not be for everyone, but making entry easier means more players can get involved.
"One of the great things that we wanted to do with raids it to remove some of those barriers to entry," said Johanson. "One of the things you think about is attunement processes you have to go through before you even get to start playing the raid. We're not going to have any of those."
"You think of tiers of gear you have to grind through. We're not going to have any of that," he continued. "We're not going to put in a gear treadmill as our system of endgame progression. We're not adding new levels you have to fight though before you start raiding. When you remove those barriers to entry, you've opened up the capacity for a lot more players to be involved in this type of content. If you make it really fun, you're going to have a large chunk of your playerbase playing it."
"We've gotten this question a few times, 'Are raids only good for a small group of players?' We are not going to water down raids at all. Raids are really challenging and despite that, I think people are going to be shocked at how many people play raids," added O'Brien. "We've seen this throughout Guild Wars 2 as we ramped up the difficulty in Season 2. There's no question that players in Guild Wars 2 are looking for group challenges. The more we ramp up challenges, as long as we make things clear, players are respondent. This will push everybody to learn our characters to a depth we didn't know was there before."
What will get for facing these challenges? Legendary armor, new weapon skins, miniatures, new titles, and trophies you can show off in your guild hall. Raids will also reward mastery points and new mastery abilities eventually. The Mastery System is a big part of Heart of Thorns progression and that includes the raiding side of things. There's also more that ArenaNet isn't getting into at this time.
If you play with friends, you can also look towards the new Guild Hall system, which sees guilds heading out into uncharted territory to reclaim ruins for the guild. Once these ruins are yours, your guild can build them back to their former glory, in addition to accessing new guild services. You'll have a choice between the Lost Precipice or the Gilded Hollow at launch, giving guild two different visual experiences to work with.
And that's only the beginning for Heart of Thorns. But you're not even there yet. You haven't even played Guild Wars 2. If that's the case, now is the time to jump in. Who doesn't like free?