What’s the Difference?

Whenever I write about Guild Wars, the response I always hear is along the lines of, “That is different from Guild Wars 2.”  This is pretty much always going to be the case since GW2 has more in common with other MMOs like Rift, LotRO, and WoW than it does with its own predecessor.  I don’t think that most readers know just how different the two games are, but don’t worry, that’s why I’m here.  I could go on at length about how similarly named professions, skills, or conditions are different, but I want to focus on the larger picture.

Hey, Ventari. I see those magic beans are working out for you.

Hey, Ventari. I see those magic beans are working out for you.


This is the only major thing the two games really have in common.  It’s the same world with the same history and mythos.

How the World Works

GW1 is heavily instanced and discrete.  Any time you enter an explorable area or mission, you and your party are separated from the rest of the world and get your own private instance.  You only run into other players in towns, outposts, and possibly a couple missions in Factions.  Towns and outposts function as hubs from which you enter the world and are the only places you can teleport to.

GW2 on the other hand has a very open world where you are almost never instanced away from other players.  You can also physically go anywhere with the only possible restriction being that you will get your face stomped in if you wander into an area with much higher level enemies.  Outside of the racial cities and Lion’s Arch, there aren’t hubs scattered about like there are in GW1, but there are waypoints everywhere.

Game Flow

GW1 is very similar to single player RPGs in this respect.  You have a primary quest series for each campaign and Eye of the North and it is told mostly through missions.  Missions are (usually) long, instanced dungeon-like areas where you have primary and bonus objectives to complete.  Most cutscenes and story progression occur here.  Generally, you follow the primary quest until you reach a mission, do the mission, and then pick up the quest line again which will take you to another mission eventually.  There are sidequests and areas not part of the critical path, but they are of course optional.  Story determines your progress through the game and, as a bonus, is actually in chronological order.

Priory-prior Durmand

Priory-prior Durmand

GW2 has no predetermined flow.  You can follow the personal/living story, but there is nothing making you do so.  Anet tries to make it appealing through good XP and item rewards, but they don’t require it.  You can wander through the different zones, filling in hearts (which are quests, let’s be real), map points, etc. or do PVP to gain levels.  To paraphrase what I told someone in-game earlier this week: story is A thing in GW2 while it is THE thing in GW1.  Level, not what you’ve done, pretty much defines your progress through GW2.

Player Characters

While most of the races you see in GW2 make an appearance in GW1, some even as henchmen or heroes, the player character in GW1 is always human.  Your character’s level and gear are nearly irrelevant.  They do factor into calculations and such, but if you plan on doing all of the story in the game (to say nothing of the side stuff), then you will be spending at least 90% of the game at level 20 with max armor.  It becomes a fact of the game, rather than a factor.  You have a primary and secondary profession and can put any 8 skills, with exceptions I’ve mentioned elsewhere, from those two professions on your bar.  These skills are what determine playstyle, not necessarily the profession you chose.  The only “stats” in the game are HP, energy, and your professions’ attributes.  You must be in a town or outpost to alter skill bars and attributes, meaning you must prepare ahead of time before committing to an action.

In GW2, you can choose from five playable races instead of just one.  The player has the typical MMO grind: level up and get better gear.  You have 5 weapon skills, a healing skill, an elite skill, 3 utility skills, and class abilities.  If a weapon has a great auto-attack, but two bad extra skills, you cannot change that while in GW1, if a skill was bad, you simply never put it on your bar.  So you have more skill slots to play with in GW2, but it lacks the complete customisability of GW1.  There are no secondary professions, but the upcoming specializations may perform a similar function in expanding play options.  Profession choice determines your playstyle.  Once chosen, you must find a combination of weapon and utility skills that fit how you want to play within the profession’s style.

This is the map around Lion's Arch in GW1. The shields represent missions.

This is the map around Lion’s Arch in GW1. The shields represent missions.


GW1 combat is party-based.  You have a party of 4-8 (or rarely 12) characters that can be other players or NPCs.  In the case of heroes, you can customize them like you can your own character, but henchmen have their own builds and you just have to work with what you’re given.  If possible, you need to coordinate builds so you have healing, damage, and damage absorption covered in some manner, plus anything special that makes a mission or explorable area easier.  You must carefully pull most enemy groups, keeping positioning and other groups in mind, so that your party works optimally together or you risk a wipe.  In other words, it plays more like old school RPGs like Baldur’s Gate than it does a modern MMO.  GW1 is also a game of small numbers.  You don’t do hundreds of points of damage in any single hit or have thousands of HP.  You can probably rig some situation where you do, but it’s certainly not the norm.

GW2 combat is that of a typical MMO.  The baseline is you against usually 1-3 enemies and you are watching cooldowns, positioning, and using your invincibility frames (dodging) at the right time.  Rarely have I had to carefully consider much of what I was doing in the story or open world.  You can just run in and engage a small group and be reasonably assured that you will make it out alive, barring you doing something really stupid or mistiming dodges.  Other players can help and the game accommodates this, but anything outside of the [Group] tag in the open world doesn’t require it.

Other Differences

GW1 has no jumping, no trading post, and no crafting system.  Yes, there are “crafting materials,” but they are functionally a type of barter currency.

Although the party leader is the one taking center stage in cutscenes, NPCs in GW1 usually refer to your group as a whole and in plural terms, rather than glorifying the actions of any one character.  I have always felt like the game is treating itself as a team effort.

Rata Sum looks a bit less hi-tech somehow...

Rata Sum looks a bit less hi-tech somehow…

Enemies in GW1 do not respawn until you re-zone, except in some very special circumstances.

There is a reputation system of sorts in GW1.  The reputation you gain in Factions is account-wide (yay!) while the groups in Nightfall and EotN must be impressed on a per character basis (boo!).  Does reputation make a difference?  Generally, no.  PVE-only skills use your rank with the corresponding group to determine effectiveness, instead of your attributes, but many skills are still very effective even at rank 1.

GW2 locks everything according to level.  You can’t do the story, fight underwater, use certain skills, equip certain gear, and so on until you hit a particular level.  GW1 has a level requirement for two things: Nightfall’s early progression and starting EotN.  You can bypass the former by earning enough reputation points instead, although if you’re doing sidequests, you’ll hit the level required anyway.  Even the “requirements” listed on gear are not actually requirements.  If a bow says it “requires” 9 Marksmanship, you can still equip and use it without that attribute, but you won’t hit the maximum damage or get the full effect of bonuses like +Energy.

After all of that, it should be fairly clear that the two games are very different.  GW1 is more like a step between MMOs and old school RPGs while GW2 is a typical MMO (albeit with a lot of QoL improvements) with Guild Wars paint.  I didn’t cover all of the differences, as that would be a monumental task, but I believe I’ve made a point.  Somewhere in there.  Probably.  Like always, feel free to leave comments, questions, compliments, and words of comfort below.

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