Although I have little time at the moment I spent a few hours this week in Guild Wars 2 and the new World of Warcraft add-on Mists of Pandaria. There were only a few hours between playing a fresh-faced Pandarian monk and a Norn necromancer and I was really surprised how different both tutorials worked for me. Before I start going into details I must admit that I played a lot of WoW in the early years but dropped it due to a lack of time, so haven’t been around Azeroth for a long time. And I never played Guild Wars 1, so I definitely have it easier to get back into WoW, than start learning a new game.
Nevertheless, when I got back into WoW a lot of things changed when it comes to the skill system, the quest help and some smaller interface functions. The WoW tutorials are very linear with a pre-defined line of quests one should follow. The interface and in-game interactions are very well described and pop-up in the moment you need them. As a veteran player it might sometimes be annoying with all the offered help you do not need, but then again, you can easily skip all tooltips and hints. I was even more impressed when I stopped running through the Pandarian starting zone and reactivated my old paladin back from the days. The new skill system was easy to pick-up due to unobstrusive but helpful tooltips how to distribute the skill points.
Entering Guild Wars 2. I rolled a Norn necromancer because I liked the style. The interface looks pretty familiar if you already played an MMORPG and some of the in-game information visualization is pretty standard as well (quest hosts, map highlights). Regarding the tutorial, Guild Wars 2 does a lot of things wrong. There are pop-up messages pointing at different GUI elements or some which introduce key shortcuts. From my first hours of play, it seems that these messages pop-up randomly or at least not necessarily at the time you need a description of the respective mechanic (or much later after plenty of time already using the mechanic). I missed also tooltips for items or equipment slots, because I did not know how to use them or what effect they would have if I use them. In addition, the quest system is designed very flexible right from the start, so you receive additional quests for events around you, but they come and go very fast, which might ask a bit too much from beginners.
In my opinion the lack of linearity in the beginning is not the biggest issue of Guild Wars 2, but it is how the tooltips do (not) adapt to the player’s actions. Of course it is easier for the tutorial designers to provide the right information at the right time when the first minutes or hours of play move along a linear path. Guild Wars 2 should focus on the basic actions and goals of the game and save some of the complexity for later on. Techniques like phasing allow different players in the same game area to see different things according to their status, which could serve a tutorial very well.
That being said, I enjoyed Guild Wars 2 more than the return to World of Warcraft, because of the more flexible way of questing and leveling and the impressive visuals of Tyria. Then again, I only had a few hours of time, which is far away from sufficient to rate an MMORPG.