Do some video games age badly?

There’s a moment in one of J.R.R. Tolkien’s masterpieces where one of the characters realises that some things change so much that you can’t go back to things as they were before. And sometimes when playing an old videogame I think you may experience something similar.

This past Easter weekend the news leaked that some fans had been running a private server of the long since closed down MMO City of Heroes for the last six years in secret from most of the community. This on top of recent bad news about another fellow NCSoft studio; ArenaNet had made me want to play Guild Wars again. Not the 2012 sequel that most now know but the original 2005 Co-Op RPG game that came first; Guild Wars.

You see Guild Wars is a game I’ve played before. Actually I’ve had a number of attempts to try and play it. I played the 10-hour trial more times than I care to remember when I kept debating whether to drop money on the game. Guild Wars is one of those games that I’ve never played for as long as I should have, much like it’s sequel. The laundry list of things I have to do is still large, but at the very least I still harboured a desire to play through the main campaigns.

Guild Wars 1 screenshot.

Guild Wars is still an exceptionally beautiful game

So this past weekend I downloaded the installer and started the process of logging onto a game I hadn’t played for years. Surprisingly a relatively painless process and it didn’t take that long to get up and running. However almost as quickly as I had managed to log into the game I was hit by a strong sense of disappointment. And not just because of the reorientation process, i.e. there’s a lot of learn again but because it just wasn’t the same. The movement, skills based combat and interface felt a step back. Everything felt old, not surprisingly given how long ago the game came out, but worse still the overwhelming feeling whilst playing the game again was of wanting to play something else instead.

In other words the game compared unfavourable to some more modern games in my current library. Now of course this is unfair to Guild Wars. If was and arguably still is a great game but however irrational of me, I can’t shake the feeling that playing the game again doesn’t feel ‘right’. Knowing somewhere deep inside that maybe the chance I had to play this game has come and gone. Perhaps I’ve simply left it too long and the game’s time has come and gone.

This isn’t the first time I’ve experienced this. Far from it. Although here I am writing about a game I’ve played before, you can also play a game many years after its release and still go through a similar experience. One time I remember in the early millennium finally buying Perfect Dark and Excitebike 64 on the Nintendo 64 years after release. Excitebike 64 still felt fresh and fun, Perfect Dark however felt juddery, slow and archaic. No matter how much I tried I just couldn’t get to grips with Goldeneye’s successor and it was a game I should have loved. Probably not helped by the newer First Person Shooters, like Halo, that had arrived in the years following. I even remember posting about Perfect Dark on an internet forum at the time and being meet with similar feelings as my own. Many also felt that as a game it had aged badly, or as least not as well as some of it contemporaries.

One thing is for sure, videogames do age. Both technically and conceptually. Some naturally much worse than others as some genres really develop over time. But the fact is that we players who play video games do also grow and change. And that can affect our opinions and reactions to older games. And therefore this is perhaps as much a comment about me rather than any critique about Guild Wars.

However almost as quickly as it took me to load the game, my adventure with Guild Wars comes to an abrupt end. Again. Maybe for the last time given that some day ArenaNet and NCSoft will turn off the servers. Although who knows as maybe as I may try the game again some day.

Whatever Arenanet is considering working on next, maybe a game that is truer in nature to the original Guild Wars, than its sequel ever was, might not be a bad thing. Hell I might even get around to playing it properly in a more timely manner this time. Maybe.

Coincidentally this post is being published to the day of the release of the original game; 26th April 2005. This wasn’t planned, just a happy accident I realised as I looked up facts about the game. So Happy 14th Birthday Guild Wars.