Guild Wars 2 Review

So rarely does a game like Guild Wars 2 come along that I feel the need to sing its praise. Not just to admire a product that feels polished, but to extol a vision: a vision of turning conventions on their heads; of rattling the game design cages and revolutionising systems and mechanics that have long become stagnant … and the icing on the cake? It does all this without utilising a subscription model, making this particular release even more noteworthy. Guild Wars 2 isn’t a perfect game: far from it. But damn, it’s ahead of the curve. So, let’s get down to the basics. The Elder Dragons: unstoppable titans of destruction and chaos older than the gods themselves are awakening, causing great strife and danger to settle upon the world of Tyria. You play as one of five races all clamouring to prepare to face the Dragon threat. The savage and industrial Charr are perpetually war-bound feline-humanoids. The giant warriors, the Norn, are literally chillin’ in the Shiverpeak Mountains. The half-plant humanoids the Sylvari hail from the Grove, and venerate all life. The Asura are aloof and pious geniuses. They’re also really tiny. Finally, what MMO would exist without the consummate and hardy Humans?

Half horse, half man, still 100% hung.

Mounts are absent: movement around the game world is provided by waypoints. Waypoints are essentially a fast-travel system, ferrying the player to any other point in the world they have discovered for a nominal fee. The game world is ENORMOUS. Only 20-30% of the total map area is actually used by zones (dungeons notwithstanding), so you know ArenaNet is planning for future game expansions. The presence of a very strong and inspired art team permeates the entire game world. No piece of terrain ever feels copy pasted or reused: everything is lovingly hand crafted from the delicate peaks of snow-capped mountains to the verdant rolling meadows bellow. The interface and maps are given a truly beautiful, painterly look, every element engorged with colour. Guild Wars 2 pleases the ears, as well as the eyes. Sounds are crisp, distinct and ingeniously varied; for instance, sounds effects in combat will change depending on what weapons are being struck on different materials. Paired with a wistful soundtrack every bit as expressive as the visuals, it brings the world of Tyria to life. The simplicity and sleekness of the quest system is unprecedented. Gone are the days of managing quest logs and laboriously tracking particular missions. It’s all managed for you. Zones contain ‘hearts’, essentially quests, which must be filled to be completed. Let’s say my friend is questing in particular zone, for instance, a nearby farm. Joining in with him is as easy as entering the area. The quest is automatically granted to me upon entry and my progress towards completing that heart begins to be tracked. You are given a bar to display your progress, and short list of tasks to complete to fill that bar. We’re on a farm, so the tasks might be combat tasks such as ‘defeat bandit raids’, or non-combat activities like watering crops or feeding animals. Any of these tasks can be completed to fill the progress bar, without diminishing returns. If you want to water crops all day, so be it. If all you want to do is whet your blades on the bones of bandits, feel free. Loot and kill rights are shared between whoever does damage to as mob before it dies; a concept which made me want to weep in joy. There’s no need to form parties: as far as quest and event participation goes, everyone is considered one big party. It’s extremely organic, uncomplicated and it just works.

It’s getting hot in here.

The same applies for gathering raw minerals in the game world. No longer does one have to compete for them: every resource node is instanced, and every player can collect everything as long as they have the correct gathering tools. Even better, any collected in the environment can be sent directly from your bags into a special page of your bank, complete with a slot for every individual trade good in the game. It’s brilliant. The true beauty however lies in the event system. Events are ad-hoc quests that occur systematically while you’re exploring the game world. Completion of events inside a heart zone will fill your progress bar for that heart, often by a very significant amount. Regularly you’ll encounter huge groups of players in the world working together to fight a giant troll or a dragon, or a giant void monster erupting from a swamp. It’s simply quite thrilling. Combat is fluid and fast-paced. I guarantee you’ll never be standing still. The inclusion of a dodge mechanic, allows players to quickly move out of Area of Effect abilities laid upon the ground, and even evade basic attacks. NPC monsters use AoE effects extremely liberally, especially in dungeons, so situational awareness is a must. Each player has five main skill slots, one healing slot, three utility slots and one “elite” skill slot. What’s interesting about the first five is that these skills are based on the type of weapon equipped, so switching weapon(s) grants a completely different set of abilities. So some weapons might grant you abilities intended to be used to weaken and kill a single target, while others grant skills more suited to Area of Effect damage, while others still unlock support, buff and debuffing abilities.
Skill combos occur when the abilities of two different classes interact. For example, if my Thief lays down a smoke bomb, a Warrior can Stomp right in the middle of the field, spreading smoke everywhere and cloaking all nearby party members from enemies. Or if a Ranger places a Healing Spring on the ground to assist the party, my Thief could stand inside it and fire outwards with my pistols at nearby enemies. The results being that my bullets now explode upon my enemy and douse all allies attacking my target with an AoE heal effect. Both systems prompt players to experiment and be inventive with varieties of weapons to see what works and what doesn’t with their playstyle. It rewards players who can adapt and be flexible to particular situations, lending more depth to the combat mechanic as a whole. It’s this kind of depth that really never gets seen in conventional MMOs. Classes, or “professions”, are your traditional RPG fare, with a couple of oddities thrown in the mix for good measure: the Warrior, master of the martial arts who excels at dealing physical damage with a wide variety of weapons; the Paladin-inspired Guardian who aids and defends allies; the slinky Thief who features stealing, stealth and plenty of stabbing; the Ranger, champion of the bow and gun; the tricky Mesmer, who uses deception and illusion to control the battlefield; the Elementalist, a spell-casting adept of Earth Fire, Water and Air; the Engineer, who brings a variety of mechanical weapons and turrets to play with; and the Necromancer, who deals with taking life, granting death and an army of personal undead minions.

A face only a mother could love.

Each class plays with a very individual and unique style, both in form and in function. However, the abolition of distinct class roles in Guild Wars 2 (tank, dealer, damage) has left the dungeon environment without structure, which is frustrating to say the least. I appreciate the direction they’re trying to take the game in terms of class-orientated design, but it never quite succeeds. Everyone has their own damage-avoidance and self-healing spells, and everyone can revive any other player, but traditional roles still slip through the cracks and all that work eliminating role dependence is lost. The total absence of any sort of threat mechanic doesn’t help matters. Currently Guardians are almost essential to dungeon progression for their ability to tank damage and keep the party alive, while Elementalists are resigned to switching to their Water Attunement and healing their dungeon-mates, rather than making full use of their destructive abilities. I’m hoping a system will eventually crystallise in time. Regrettably, the dungeons I’ve had the opportunity to play, namely Ascalonian Catacombs and Caudecus’s Manor, feel over-tuned in some areas and over-designed in others. Boss fights regularly devolve from semi-controlled combat into corpse-run zerging, involving the party rezzing one by one as they die and running back into the fight, only to die again after launching a chain of abilities. As a 7-year World of Warcraft veteran, I can safely say that Guild Wars 2 is a breath of fresh air, marred only by a few design failings. There’s so much I didn’t get to go into detail about: underwater combat, the complexity of the Trait system, origin stories, World verses World… It’s a big, big game. Like anything good it certainly has room for improvement, but it truly is the healthy kind that I believe will see the game flourish and grow, helped by a supportive community and a capable developer. This is an MMO to watch.
  • PC

The Verdict

Essential for any MMO player to check out. If you’re new to the genre, this is the place to start.
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