Review In Progress: Guild Wars 2
Disclaimer: So, an infamous MMO review. We’ve all seen them, those “written in parts” reviews that everyone seems to do and readers seem to hate. Yeah, we’re going with that format too… Why, you ask? Well, have you played an MMO? They’re massive, massive games, and Guild Wars 2 alone should have an additional “massive” added on for good measure. For that reason we’ve decided to review it in two parts, which hopefully should form one complete review with everything you need to know in it. So sit back, relax and enjoy. No wait, sorry, you need to actually read this review. What, you thought someone was going to narrate it for you?
Guild Wars 2 ladies and gentlemen, the MMO out to prove a point it seems. Developers NCsoft and ArenaNet have been extremely vocal about how Guild Wars 2 is “an MMO for people who hate MMO’s, and for people who love them.” Thing is, what in the hell does that actually mean? Does it mean that Guild Wars 2 is an MMO without grinding? An MMO where every quest isn’t a “kill ten of these” type chore? An MMO with a world that actually feels alive? An MMO with entertaining and dynamic combat? An MMO to beat them all? How about we just say “Hell yeah” to the above and start from there shall we.
I’m not a fan of MMO’s or, at least, I wasn’t until Guild Wars 2. I never played the first one, but judging from what I’ve heard that’s not entirely a bad thing. I’ve tried my hand at some World of Warcraft, only to find it slow, boring and ultimately one massive grind that required payment every 30 days. I gave The Secret World a shot, but ran into some of the same problems. Even The Old Republic, with all of its Star Wars glory, couldn’t sway me to invest hours of my life into it. In short, the MMO scene in general didn’t do it for me, and I felt that it was something wrong with me rather than the games themselves. That all changed within the first few minutes of Guild Wars 2. Not only is it extremely different to other MMO’s, it shows that an MMO doesn’t have to be a game where all combat is shallow, all quests are fetch and back track and where grinding is a requirement.
But like all MMO’s it has to start at the same place: Character Creation. For some reason I usually don’t spend a lot of time creating my character, instead focusing on whether or not he / she is going to fling fireballs from his hands or use stealth to dispatch foes. This time around though, things were different. I began by choosing which race I’d be representing in Tyria. There were the overly big and brutish Norn, the war crazed Charr, the miniature yet creepy looking Asura, the woodland Sylvari and of course, Humans. Needless to say I went for the more “vanilla” option out there, with a human thief already being my preferred character choice before I even booted the game up. Each of the five races has a different starting world and unique attributes, as well as highly different stories and history. Considering the first Guild Wars only allowed players to be humans, ArenaNet had a lot to do in order to integrate these new races into the world they had created, which they began doing in some of the first game’s final expansion packages (yes, they thought about this a long time ago). Once I had chosen my race it was time to choose my class, or profession as the game would like you to call it. These professions encompass eight very different play styles, from a tanky Guardian to an effective long range specialist such as the Ranger, all the way to my preferred pick, the Thief. One thing that is sure to surprise you is the omission of a dedicated healing class. Usually this is an oddity for MMO’s, but the omission has been a big part of Guild Wars 2′s foray into a new era of MMO’s, with ArenaNet stating that it restricted play.
So with my Human Thief now looking like a character I was ready to play with, after customizing features and clothing, it was time to select some backstory and goals for me to achieve during my adventures. This basically boiled down to one of three choices which I had to make twice, establishing my backstory and what my lifelong goal was. This basically sets the tone for the narrative part of Guild Wars 2, which is focused on heavily throughout. Usually MMO’s present you with a basic premise and the illusion of a story, which often gets pushed down the more you play. From my early experience with Guild Wars 2, this doesn’t seem to be the case at all. Narrative segments of the game are fully voiced (Nolan North voicing my Thief was extra special) and the stories unravel in an engrossing way. Not only do they edge you closer and closer to your overall goal, they encompass what is happening in the world around you, and introduce you to many characters that you’ll immediately bond with. There are also segments of the narrative where you’ll have to make choices, which is customary in an RPG such as this. However, rather than increasing stats for good or bad karma, these choices impact how your quest will unfold, with you as the player usually determining combat strategies, quest partners and sometimes the fates of entire armed forces. The line between good and bad choices starts to become a little blurred the deeper you go, which keeps the story captivating and entertaining.
Story quests are not the only things that are going to keep you busy while travelling Tyria. On the contrary, despite being heavily story-based, Guild Wars 2 actually encourages you to stay off the marked out path for hours on end. What would typically be called side-quests have been labeled as Renown Hearts, which are static quests that take place in a designated area, but with a twist. You see, there is no quest log in Guild Wars 2. You never have to talk to characters in order to initiate quests nearby, and you’ll never have to open up a journal and select active quests. Instead, quests are marked on your map and initiate as soon as you’re nearby, offering you multiple objectives that fill up a completion bar when done. These objectives fit perfectly in context with your surroundings and the person offering the quest, with some memorable ones allowing me to drink my way to success, forcing me to put out hay fires with random buckets of water and sometimes merely harvesting certain resources. Sure, every quest also has the “kill designated creature” objective, but it’s not quantified. Instead, every action is weighed equally, meaning you could finish a quest by hacking away at attacking centaurs or picking flowers while earning the exact same amount of experience. It’s a clever system that allows for freedom when completing objectives, and is certainly more thrilling than the stale “kill ten of these creatures” theme. These objectives get more and more interesting as you go, although sometimes they do boil down to hacking and slashing your way to success.
Thankfully these moments are far and few between, and are overshadowed by additional dynamic events that happen all across the realm. Dynamic Events occur throughout every area you explore in Tyria, with the exception of starting world’s and Lion’s Arch, the game’s “Portal Hub”. You could be happily running along to your next objective without a care in the world, when all of a sudden you see a massive wave of enemies approaching an area, followed by a swift ping and notification that a nearby event has begun. These events are open to everyone on the server and occur sporadically in time, allowing you to revisit some of them if you feel like it. However, it’s the rush of that first time encounter that makes them special. The urge to help a town besieged by waves and waves of bandits, or the sudden appearance of a Champion Troll in a cave that seemed safe for the past half an hour. It’s the surprise that makes these events fun, as well as completing them with other players around you. Since everyone is notified, everyone jumps in for the ride most of the time, so what was once a quiet field can be transformed into a massive battleground in mere seconds. At the end of each event you are scored according to your contribution, but don’t worry about not getting those last hits on creatures. Yes, finally, an MMO has got it right. Instead of the kill and most of the experience only going to the player who scores the killing blow, Guild Wars 2 rewards each player involved in the kill the same amount of XP, as well as splitting the loot automatically. The same goes for resources, meaning that if a player has mined an ore right in front of you it won’t disappear, allowing you to mine straight after, It helps the notion of competitive play, and fits in with the “no dedicated classes” mechanic ArenaNet have going, since now the emphasis is on the team playing as a single unit in order to reap the same rewards. It’s a step in the right direction as far as I’m concerned.
Then there are Skill Point objectives, which appear as small blue triangles on the map. These bite size challenges reward you with much needed skill points that will go towards unlocking new class specific abilities that you’ll be able to equip as you level up. Earning these skill points can vary in challenge from task to task. Some simply require you to commune with a place of power, which has your character interacting with an object for a few seconds in order to earn the point. Others are a lot more interesting, sometimes tying in with dynamic events that occur around them. A strong creature might have the same blue triangle over his head, signaling that you need to kill him in order to earn the skill point. Like above, these small quests can be undertaken with complete strangers, even if you aren’t paired in a party. But if killing and looting isn’t your thing all the time there is plenty to do in Tyria that will reward you and keep you entertained at the same time. I found myself losing hours of my life in pursuit of locating Lookout Vista’s, which are high points on the map that trigger panoramic views, and points of interest that all go towards gaining 100% completion for an area. Locating these points of interest and Vista’s rewards you with generous amounts of XP as well, so you won’t feel as though you’re falling behind while exploring Tyria. ArenaNet have also implemented some daily and monthly challenges in order to keep you coming back again and again, which shouldn’t be a problem once you’ve spent a few minutes with Guild Wars 2′s combat system.
Why? Well, plainly put, it’s fucking awesome. In MMO standards combat usually stumbles, resulting in slow pace battles that turn into slogs as you slowly chip away at a creature’s health. Not the same here folks. Firstly, let’s talk about the importance of weapons, and how equipping weapons in certain hands makes a massive difference. Guild Wars 2′s combat is built around weapons, with offensive skills matching the weapons you equip. For example, my human thief was capable of equipping daggers, pistols, swords and a few other weapons. Having a dagger in my main and offhand presented me with five dagger offensive skills, with one of them incorporating both weapons in the attack. Switch to a pistol in the off hand and the skill set changes. My first two attacks remain the same, since I did not change the dagger in my main hand, but the last three had changed. Instead I now had two attacks that incorporate range and stun elements, as well as an attack that allowed me to shoot my target, shadow step forward and then stab them. Changing weapons completely changes how you fight in encounters, and adds a whole new layer of depth when it comes to team fights. What’s more, you have to unlock these abilities by using a new weapon for a small period of time, so rather experiment with them first before heading into all-out war. The game also allows you to have two weapon sets ready in case you decide you need a bit more range in a particular fight and don’t have the time to open up your inventory. Each class also has class specific abilities, with stealing from an enemy during combat being my only one. Aside from these abilities each class comes with a slot designated to healing abilities, mapped to the number 6 on the keyboard, while the remaining 7-10 are filled with abilities unlocked via skill points. Some of these slots are locked until later in the game, but even a 10 button skill bar sounds a bit short for an MMO, especially when you consider World of Warcraft. There is a reason for this too though.
Combat in Guild Wars 2 is extremely dynamic. By that I mean the combat is more like an action title than traditional RPG and MMO combat systems. In early levels you’ll do fine hacking away at enemies and soaking up all the damage, but you’ll soon realize that tougher enemies require a completely different approach. Soon you’ll be able to pick out patterns in enemy attacks, hitting the dodge keys in order to perform timely dives to avoid massive stuns or highly damaging attacks, and for the most part the camera seems to know what it’s doing. You’ll also have to learn how to chain certain attacks together in order to reap greater damage bonuses. Rather than spamming attacks constantly, more timely presses are needed in order to initiate high tiered attacks that can only be achieved when pulling off combos. In terms of my thief this could mean turning my simple swipe attack into a deadlier stab when used repeatedly after other attacks. In some cases all your abilities compliment each other in graceful ways, allowing my thief to dart in, pull off a few stabs in between stuns and then shadow step out of harm’s way in time. Mastering this combat system is no small feat, especially when you consider all the ability combinations on offer, but it sure as hell is rewarding. Oh, did I mention underwater combat as well? With unique underwater acrobatics and weaponry? Additionally, Guild Wars 2 is a bit soft on those of you who chose to run into a pack of enemies alone and expect to come out alive. Much like Borderlands, Guild Wars 2 offers a “Fight for your Life” system, which allows you to try and kill enemies while downed. While you’re in this state you have four abilities open to you in order to try and kill your attacker and stand back up, or at least wait for the rest of your party to catch up and heal you. It’s a neat system that works in context with the game, but that doesn’t make it easier. Enemies are ruthless to downed players, and every time you go down and rally back up you’ll start with less health the next time you go down. If you die your equipment takes some condition hits and you’re forced to teleport to a nearby waypoint, which costs gold as well. The combat alone is one of the sole reasons Guild Wars 2 is a different kind of MMO and it has to be sampled in order to fully understand.
Another aspect that sets Guild Wars 2 apart from most other MMO’s is the sheer beauty of the world you are in. Tyria is absolutely stunning, and the artists responsible deserve a lengthy round of applause. The range of different areas is truly astounding, and it’s only when you zoom completely out of your map that you realize just how monumentally large this world really is. The visual diversity is also a marvel to behold, with massive scaling stone cities such as Divinity’s Reach contrasting nicely with the steampunk styled home world of the Charr. There’s snowy mountains, lava pits, grassy fields and just about anything you could think of in a fantasy RPG world, with the hub world of Lion’s Arch acting as an amalgamation of everything awesome in this world put into one area. Tyria is a world begging to be explored and, aside from all the quests, there are several interesting things to be found. I stumbled upon a deep cavern that seemingly had no exit at one point and just as I was about to fast travel to a nearby waypoint (you can fast travel from anywhere) I noticed something peculiar. A fellow player ran straight through what I thought was a solid wall. Following in his step I discovered that I had trapped myself in a stone maze, with certain walls allowing me to pass through. This then led to a jumping puzzle in complete darkness, ultimately ending at the exit of the massive cavern. It was a really interesting puzzle, and is only one of many scattered throughout Tyria, just waiting to be stumbled upon. Tyria feels like a living, breathing world, and it’s easy to get lost in it.
As for problems, no MMO is without them at launch. Login issues on the first few days followed by the player trading system being down for most of the first week annoyed a lot of players, and these feelings weren’t helped by a buggy party system that wouldn’t display party members on the map. My visuals would sometimes disappear, leaving my character hovering over nothing, and I often experienced some strange frames per second losses, which was fixed by turning Vertical Sync on and off. This could be due to the fact that ArenaNet advised Nvidia users to upgrade to beta drivers, but thankfully they are small and rare occurrences. What is surprising is the amount of support ArenaNet has been giving players during these difficult times. I think it should be commended when a developer updates players frequently about the current status of servers, updates and more, and pushes out fixes every single day for known problems. I distinctly remember seeing many posts on the official Facebook page by ArenaNet, advising players on what to do if they were experiencing difficulties and updating them on their progress every few minutes. It’s a refreshing sight, and the fan base certainly appreciated it.
Other than that, what can I say? I’m just over level 20 with my Thief (yes, I haven’t had as much time to play as I’d have hoped) so I haven’t yet taken on my first dungeon or entered the realm of PvP or World vs. World encounters. I’m not ready to give my final verdict just yet, as soon as I feel I have played enough to judge Guild Wars 2 fully I will finish off my review of this so far fantastic MMO, describing crafting, trading, PvP and more. So far I have not found a reason why someone shouldn’t give this MMO a go. There’s no subscription fee, it’s utterly stunning, the combat is engaging and the story will keep you hooked. Plus, there’s just a wealth of content to keep you going and going for months, without the need to grind at all. Guild Wars 2 has really changed my perspective on the MMO scene, and it sure as hell is on track to changing the way the world perceives MMO’s. It truly is an MMO for people who hate MMO’s, but it retains enough to keep MMO veterans more than happy. Stay tuned for more on Guild Wars 2 soon.