Two weeks ago I reminisced about how much I missed Guild Wars. So nostalgic was I that I reinstalled it with all of the expansions that I never got around to, and jumped back into the game that set a new standard for how online games could function.
And then I discovered that the game had changed rather significantly in the last five years. The sense of community seems to have faded, at least in the campaigns, and so the feeling of questing, adventuring, and monster-slaying no longer feels wholesome. What happened to Guild Wars?
It's natural for an online game's player-base to dwindle over the years. Players eventually accomplish all of their goals, complete all of the game content, or reach a point where it's no longer worth the time commitment to keep playing. New players may discover it later on, but after the initial spark has passed, it's all downhill from there. Evidently, Guild Wars is in that "dying" phase.
I logged into my original character looking to complete bonus mission objectives that I'd missed. I looked around, hoping to find a party, but realized that the original Prophecies campaign was a total ghost town. I only saw two other players running around, scarcely enough to form a full party. I checked the district settings, and found that I was in the only "active" district in America. It used to be that so many people were playing the campaign that there'd be multiple districts just to support all of the players.
It seems that ArenaNet added "Heroes" (henchmen NPCs that let you customize their talents, skills, and equipment) as a way for the game to still remain playable for the remaining player base. The heroes are surprisingly functional, and it's admirable that ArenaNet has included features to help keep the game alive, but I think it's also made players complacent to just rely on the heroes all of the time.
At one point I did a shout "Anyone LFG for the mission+bonus?" and the only response I got back was "You can do it with heroes and henchmen." So I resigned myself to acquiring some heroes and then running the missions by myself. But once I had heroes, I lost all motivation to party up with other players, because I thought "Why bother waiting around trying to scavenge enough players to form a party, when I can just jump straight into it with my heroes?"
And so it seems to have created a cycle. Fewer people playing leads to more dependency on the heroes, more people using heroes leads to even fewer people available for live parties.
The effect of it all is that I'm left to concentrate solely on the game content, devoid of the social aspects of working with a team of players invested in common goals. Without that social aspect, the game starts to feel really shallow and repetitive. Doing missions and quests feels like I'm just repeatedly hacking and slashing enemies in order to talk to a forgettable NPC in order to get to a new town where I can do the same thing all over again.
I must say that it's rather disheartening, because it makes the campaigns a chore to deal with. As I understand, many of the end-game areas are still active, such as the Hall of Heroes and many of the high-level dungeons. There's also some kind of event going on to promote Guild Wars 2 that I think will let you transfer things from GW1 over. Or something. I don't know. All I know is that I'm so out of the loop that I don't even know where to start.