Horizontally Awesome

No, I’m not announcing my first adult film (Horizontally Awesome, get it?). I’m talking about why I enjoy Guild Wars 2 more than almost any MMO in the last few years: because it deals with horizontal progression, rather than vertical. I can play the game to play the game, not to treat it like a second–and maybe third–job.

When Guild Wars 2 dropped its first world event a while back, I logged on for the first time in months. I enjoyed what I had played of GW2 around launch as I PvPed some, leveled some, and generally figured out how the game works, but nothing ever really snagged me. None of the classes I played really felt like the one, nor did anything about the game make me feel like I just had to log on and play.

But during The Lost Shores event, I tried the Guardian class and fell in love. I have a gigantic sword, can AoE tank just about anything with it, and swap to a staff or scepter to immediately throw out support spells for my allies. When I say I was in love, I was in love.

So as I played further, I understood what ArenaNet was talking about horizontal progression and why it matters in games. You see, games like World of Warcraft and Star Wars: The Old Republic are based on vertical progression. That is, once you hit the level cap, you can only experience the rest of the game’s content by making your now-level-capped character more powerful by acquiring new pieces of equipment. You’re standing in one place, and growing taller. Vertical. Right? Right.

Guild Wars 2, however, throws that idea of progression out the window. Mostly. While there is a slight bit of vertical progression in the game, most of it is horizontal. You can hit the level cap, but all that level cap really does, is give you access to more areas of the game. When you go into lower-level areas, you are deleveled to where the content is still a challenge. A level 80 in a level 13 zone would be around level 13 in terms of actual power.

That means that, as a player, you are playing this game to play this game. Once you get to the level cap, the game itself doesn’t change like in traditional MMOs. There is no “endgame” because the endgame is just the game itself. The level cap basically just grants you full-access to it. You work for 80 levels for the right to do whatever you want to do.

It’s not a sandbox, but it’s pretty close to it. Guild Wars 2 is a game based on exploration and new ideas and making sure that the players get to partake in those ideas. Content is not arbitrarily gated from players.

Sure, I have to earn the right to see the new areas, but once I’ve earned that–by playing the game and having fun where I can–I get to do what I want. I don’t have to have a combat rating or gearscore. My gigantic sword doesn’t have to have a purple name to prove I’m shiny enough to enter into the Big Bad Castle of Baron Toocool Fornoobs. If I want to go there, I can. If I don’t, I’ll do something else.

In a horizontally awesome game, I can do that. There is a lot of hate out there because there is nothing keeping players around, no gear treadmill or carrot-on-a-stick forcing players to log on, and folks say GW2 will die because of it.

I don’t know what the game will look like in 2 years, nor do I care. I know that right now, it’s about having fun and letting MMO gamers–for the first time in my decade and a half in the genre–decide when and how that happens. On their terms. Not the developers’.

And if that wasn’t enough, check out the upcoming Christmas event, Wintersday, and tell me you don’t want to take part. I dare you.

By B.J. Keeton

B.J. KEETON is a writer, teacher, and runner. When he isn't trying to think of a way to trick Fox into putting Firefly back on the air, he is either writing science fiction, watching an obscene amount of genre television, or looking for new ways to integrate fitness into his geektastic lifestyle. He is also the author of BIRTHRIGHT and co-author of NIMBUS. Both books are available for Amazon Kindle.


  1. I dare to tell you, I liked Guild Wars 1 much more. Yeah, really! For sure I like GW2 but I don’t dig it nearly as much as I liked GW1. Reasons? I don’t want to write a novel sized report now, sorry. I already have two chars at level 80 and have a general MMO burnout at the moment.

    I am really glad that you saw the light that there are alternatives to the WoW MMOnoculture. Also, I don’t want to be the party pooper. GW2 is definitely something everyone has to try and give it a chance, maybe even a second or third, it’s well worth it IMO. I am just not too sure about the long term motivation, as this is my major problem.

    GW2 has some serious flaws, e.g. after oh so many hearts and events they all feel samey and at level 80 you wonder what is left for you to do. Took me 5-7 years to get to this point in GW1, in GW2 I am there after 2-3 months. 🙁

    But I will be around for Wintersday in GW2 for sure.
    P.S. I got the reward for the Karka event twice, dunno why I got it by mail a second time as I already got it during the event! 🙂

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