Guild Wars 2 has finally arrived, and with no small splash on impact. With something like a million beta testers, and so many sales they actually had to discontinue digital distribution until they could properly maintain server density, there is no question that is has been successful. But is it worth your time? Let’s see…
Back in 2005, a unique title was released under the radar. It’s concept was simple: blend the features of an MMO with the capacity to hot-swap skills, combine professions, and adjust stats at ones will. Oh, and no subscription fee. Almost 7 years later, Guild Wars has become kind of a big deal. Stepping back into the land of Tyria a few hundred years after the original, Guild Wars 2 aims to carve out its own niche in the market just as its predecessor did.
You are…well, who and whatever you want to be! You can choose from 5 races: the war-hardened, beastial Charr, the dubious, short, and perhaps egotistical Asura, the huge viking-like Norn, the appetizing, tree-like Sylvari, and the good ol’ fashioned Humans. Of those races, you can be one of the eight professions: Warrior, Guardian, Ranger, Engineer, Mesmer, Necromancer, Thief, or Elementalist. Each is unique, boasting in no particular order: pets, undead, meteors, giant shields, flame-throwers, turrets, war-hammers, and so on. Professions all have their specialties and uses, though there is a strict abstaining from the trinity of tank-support-DPS. Each does have roles they’re more suited towards, however.
Depending on your race, profession, and answers to a series of short questions during character creation, you are customized to your own unique story. These range from stopping an insurgency against a Queen, to uncovering a rouge groups of malicious scientists, to stopping the wrath of ancient ghosts. One might be surprised at the amount of attention given to the story, especially compared to that of the original Guild Wars, which seemed to lead the player along at the nose at every turn. Events and characters take place in an instance to give the feeling like you’re in your own personal realm instead of doing the same introductory story-line quests as every other level 3 player. Beyond that, parts of the story have cross-roads where you can pick your own path, say to lure the enemy into a trap or to flank them while they’re still traveling.
It doesn’t go as far as making you feel like you’re the only one doing your path, but it does help with immersion. Eventually you pick between one of the three main factions, the Durmand Priory, the Vigil, and the veteran Order of Whispers. Alas, all 3 of these factions funnel into the same latter fourth of the game, which has the player playing second-in-command to another. Perhaps it’s a bit steep to ask for 3 separate endings and respective areas, but not being the hero in a game about being a hero will put many off, myself included.
Voice acting ranges from great to laughable, though the prior does seem to win out in most cases. Aside from a few sour notes, the story is a solid package in its own right, further enhanced by the inclusion of (mostly) branching paths and routes. At the very least, it assures the player that when they choose to make another character, they won’t have to grind through the same story just to get to the good parts. One clever caveat of the story-line: the quests scale up faster than you level up from the experience. Perhaps a little underhanded, doing this makes the player continuously explore the various events, areas, dungeons, and PvP instead of focusing on the story with a one-track mind. My reaction to it was mostly positive, though there will certainly be some who dislike such a design choice.
Speaking of grind, this game doesn’t have it. More specifically, it’s not obligatory and instead is strongly discouraged. If you just play the game normally, you won’t ever have to kill the same mobs or repeat the same quests. Doing anything rewards you with experience, and the leveling “curve” is a straight line, so it feels natural throughout the entire game. It’s fast enough so that if you don’t feel like clearing every area, you don’t have to and can still move along at a nice pace, yet rewarding enough so that the completion will find himself at level 80 (max level) before even getting to the level 60 zones. On that note, the game doesn’t have traditional quests either. Aside from the main quest, all events are dynamic and happen in real-time. When I heard of the idea, I was cautiously optimistic. My suspicions did give way to a glad acceptance after some time enveloped in the idea and its execution. The majority of the events are unique in structure, but there are some fetch quests snuck in in the form of “hearts”–meters that fill in as you do a set of tasks. Granted, quite a few of these, too, are fun and unique. For example, one has you participating in reviving the patrons of a bar after a celebration with cold water, and also catching kegs thrown from across the lake to take back to the bar. But for every one of those, there’s 5 “kill local enemies” events.
Beyond that, a great deal of the upper-level events are flat-out broken. It’s pardonable, because most of the beginner events that work well were able to be ironed out during the beta events. But it does take away from the experience, especially when the beauty of Guild Wars 2 lies in getting lost, and you’ll be doing a lot of it. On several occasions, I found myself plotting my course around an area to finish it as quickly as I could, only to be detracted by a line of dynamic events that took me into the heart of a local cave, a shoreline, an ogre’s wooden fortress, even into the lair of a dragon (or three). Before you know it, you’ve spent 3 hours in an area more than you were planning, making a few ad-hoc friends that venture with you as you complete the events. And that’s one of the best successes of Guild Wars 2—the seamless nature of cooperation with other players, all the more impressive when contrasted with the careful strategy and planning involved with grouping in the original. Don’t think you can just level up and then steamroll everything, either; the game scales your level with the area, assuring that you’ll never be unchallenged.
That’s not to say strategy and planning are gone, quite the contrary. Dungeons and PvP speak to the opposite. In fact, the absence of gimmick builds or team structures that rely upon exploitation makes positioning and tactics all the more important, often more important than what skills or traits you’re using. The combat is another factor that may pique those on the fence: it’s in real-time and very much active. You can roll out of the way, use positioning to inflict additional damage, and even place down wards that add flames to teammates’ attacks, which goes back to the mutual reliance and adaptability of players: no matter what you do, you can find a way to establish symbiosis with others in a unique way. There are no passive attacks, everything is intentional and a factor in potentially awesome combos with others. It does still bear the remnants of MMO combat, ever so slightly, but it’s perhaps the most hands-on system thus far.
Dungeons provide the bulk of the PvE team-based challenge, pitting you and four others against some hard-hitting, durable enemies and bosses. 8 in total, each dungeon has a story mode following the exploits of the main group of heroes—Destiny’s Edge. For the masochists, there’s explorable mode, which pits the group against extra-hard enemies any of which can kill you in a few seconds if you aren’t a carefully-coordinated and communicating squad. They aren’t for the light of heart, but dungeons serve some middle-ground of a fun team challenge and total bull-crap if you don’t know what you’re in for. Getting the high-end rewards out of them will mean doing several runs in explorable mode, however, so beware.
PvP is for those in the game of the long-haul, as it’s dynamic and fast-paced, almost too much so. World vs world vs World (WvWvW) is definitely a boasting point for Guild Wars 2. It pits huge teams of people on different teams against each other in a constantly-ongoing battle against two other servers. You’re also set to level 80 and given max gear which you can upgrade with glory from matches, so there’s no need to trudge through PvE. Fighting is encouraged, as that’s the only way to win, but there’s a need for crafters, guards to defend taken fortresses and keeps, and escorts for caravans from place to place. The scale is almost overwhelming, and the variety of roles assures you’ll always be occupied and never endure a match that is exactly the same. One issue is that the uncoordinated team will often be trumped in all aspects by the coordinated one, though more often than not, the main tactic for both teams consists of getting into a giant group and killing everything in your path. With any luck, this strategy is a temporary issue due to the new players and will give out to more refined and definite roles as time goes on and teams are able to plan courses of action. But at the moment, it remains a semi-tactical rendition of a mosh pit for most of the time. Winning also gives boosts in experience, crafting, and stats to the PvE world, which is an incentive for all people to participate.
sPvP is slightly more structured, although it’s still difficult to call it a feasible test of who the better team is. The action is much too rapid and scatterbrained to be called competitive. This and perhaps strategy are the two fronts where the sequel is out-shined by the original: Guild Wars had 8 skills all built upon team structure and roles, with very precise casting times, counters, and abilities. Everything was done intentionally, and elite skills were more of a staple to a build and less of a trump card ability that you can only use every 3 minutes. Guild Wars 2 PvP, while fun, lacks the sense of accomplishment and reward from a successful strategy, as the winner is often determined by who could spike the other team faster. All classes are well-balanced, but the combat itself lacks the holds of competitive play that the first installment had.
The game looks gorgeous. Moving on…
Crafting is derivative of a few earlier MMOs, but satisfactory. The problem, which also manifests itself with world drops, is that any thing you make or find is being sold on the auction house for 1 cent above the vendor value, save the extremely rare items and crafting materials (which is STUPID, by the way, because the listing fee of 4-5% means they’re actually making less money by selling on the auction house than if they’d just pawned it). On occasion, you’ll craft something that is of use, but otherwise your best best is to sell your stuff to an NPC merchant as soon as you craft it until you can make the level 400 legendary weapons. You can learn 2 trades and swap as often as you want, but you’ll find a distinct advantage in sticking with 2 until max level or else your materials will be spread too thin.
The market itself is defunct, to be honest. It offers a great advantage to buyers, as you can get top-tier gear for very little money up until level 80. It seems to have gone down the path of Guild Wars 1, which is that nothing except the very best and rarest items are worth much of anything. A bit of a missed opportunity, especially when the experience from the original should have indicated it would happen again. Another slight qualm is that person-to-person trading was removed. The logic is good, so that prices are controlled and scamming is less of an issue, but it makes a problem out of trying to exchange items for convenience instead of selling them for paltry amounts.
There’s also another type of market: that of micro-transactions. Instead of resorting to monthly fees, the game instead chose a flat-fee route with additional optional goodies for those who’d like them. This same tactic was used in the original, and seems to be implemented just as well. None of the aspects offer any advantage beyond personal ones, and even cash-shop items can be bought with in-game gold. This is an example of a cash-shop done right, and I would be glad to accept similar models in the future from other games in place of monthly fees that guilt you if you can’t play for a week or month.
My personal favorite aspect, and one that sums up Guild Wars 2 well, is the music. It’s driven, and reminiscent of the original sound-track with borrowed tracks from Guild Wars, yet they are taken and expanded upon alongside entirely new tracks that accompany certain areas. It never fails to leave me in awe and simultaneously get my blood pumping when the main theme plays as a massive dragon lands on the shore. No matter what event, battle, or newly-discovered area, an appropriate catchy melody, solo, or full-orchestral performance will start, fade in and out, or blare as you triumph over a huge enemy. In ways, it’s the glue that holds the game together and perhaps aids in how seamless Guild Wars 2 is from place to place, and encounter to encounter.
There are plenty of other nice treats and inclusions, like the numerous jumping puzzles that are plenty of fun in their own right, references to the original, lore, cultural shout-outs, lovely vistas to view the landscape from, guilds, karma, upgrades, etc. They aren’t too important, but they do give a lovely sense to the player that this is a game that the developers cared about, that they wanted to make, serving to further the already-impressive immersion and self-integration of the game.
Reviewing an MMO is like trying to rate the quality of a feast after swallowing a bite of each dish all at once. More often than not, you’ll get a confused flavor that’s just too thin-spread to focus on any one thing. With Guild Wars 2, however, the flavors blend together so adeptly that you wonder whether or not you’re supposed to categorize everything separately. Yet each task, from world exploration to crafting, from dungeoneering to World vs World (vs World), is distinguishable in its own right. Unlike some games that leave an empty taste once you complete all of the content you know the developers focused on, Guild Wars 2 encourages and even rewards you to be pragmatic in your play-style, as all of the features are given equal weight; if you asked for one reason to play it, my answer would be the whole thing. If you asked me to be more specific, I would say it’s not possible; the best part is the interweaving foundation that comprises the entire game.
Though it has its fair share of problems and is outdone on aspects like world PvP and crafting by other games, the fact that you don’t have to commit to it and can play as often or as little as suits you just by paying for a copy gives plenty of reason to pick it up. If you just play it just as an RPG, you’re missing out. If you just play it just to explore, you’re missing out. If you just grind to level 80 to do the end-game content, you’re definitely missing out. The one prime accomplishment of Guild Wars 2 is the ability to take so many good things and blend them together to make a great experience. And that’s really what Guild Wars 2 is: an experience–one well-worth the $60.