Author: Lydia Sung
Editor: Howard Ha
Publish Date: Friday, September 28th, 2012
Originally Published on Neoseeker (http://www.neoseeker.com)
Article Link: http://www.neoseeker.com/Articles/Games/Reviews/guild_wars2/
Copyright Neo Era Media, Inc. - please do not redistribute or use for commercial purposes.
Guild Wars 2 has been several long years in the making, to a point where many of ArenaNet’s fans wondered if the MMO would ever be released. Well, a month ago, it did, and while the end result isn’t exactly what Guild Wars loyalists quite imagined, ArenaNet is reminding us once more why they have so many followers.
The biggest change between Guild Wars and Guild Wars 2 is that the latter plays much more like a typical MMO – on the surface, anyway. Guild Wars was an entirely instance-based game, to a point where many online gamers didn’t consider it a “true” massively multiplayer online game. Now, five years after the last expansion, the series is given a fresh makeover, turning this long-awaited sequel into a formidable contender in the booming MMO industry. Certain staples like a persistent world, crafting, large-scale PVP, and world events have been introduced to the franchise, but if you’re thinking this turns Guild Wars 2 into another World of Warcraft clone, you’d be dead wrong.
Over two centuries after the events of Eye of the North, Tyria is in turmoil. Every race – asura, norn, human, charr, sylvari – is besieged by enemies on the homefront, as the Elder Dragons awaken and spread their corruption from the Ruins of Orr. Beyond this grand overarching tale, your character has his or her personal story, one that progresses every few levels and serves as a roadmap for less experienced or more casual MMO players. Depending on the stage (level) your personal story quest is at, it’ll lead you to a zone of the appropriate level, and award gear based on such.
A secondary plot revolves around the members of Destiny’s Edge, the band of multi-species heroes from the books. This is really just an excuse to introduce the game’s numerous dungeons, though if you enjoyed the Guild Wars books, seeing these characters return is probably a nice treat. All of this story-related content is entirely optional, however, completable at any point in time.
Guild Wars 2 is more of an MMO than its predecessor was, but ArenaNet kept innovation a top priority. Perhaps the most obvious trait that sets the game apart from other titles is the community atmosphere. Generally speaking, Guild Wars 2 boasts a much friendlier tone than any of its competitors, where players are encouraged to work together as much as possible. To achieve this, the game utilizes several unusual features.
Other games tend to bestow credit for mob kills on whoever hits the target first, turning crowded PVE zones into an unpleasant competition. Not so in Guild Wars 2, where the same principle of sharing holds true in nearly every aspect. Loot, as far as most can figure, is randomized, but so long as you “tag” an enemy by dealing damage to it, you’ll get XP and credit for the kill. Players are never in competition for, well, anything. Even resource nodes – metal, wood, cooking ingredients – are shared. The end result is actually very surprising. Competition gives way to cooperation, where practically every player you run into is willing to lend a hand, whether or not you ask for it.
Guild Wars 2 also makes an effort to shake up the MMO “holy trinity” by muddying the healer, tank, and damage roles. For the most part, players still gravitate toward the conventional team comp, tasking tankier characters like Guardians and Warriors to initiate, while bringing along Engineers or Elementalists to heal, and so forth. But the game does successfully create new possibilities because every class is so self-sufficient. There is no one healing or DPS class; everyone has the potential to do almost anything. Dungeons can be cleared with an entire team of casters, Guardians can spec to heal or tank. This is made possible, in part, by the absence of skill trees. The primary skills at your disposal are determined by weapons and class, not trees, as each weapon will grant a special set of abilities based on player class.
This same freedom is afforded to the leveling process. The absence of traditional questing makes leveling a rather unusual experience in Guild Wars 2, but it’s also surprisingly enjoyable as a result. The game offers a number of paths to level 80, only one of which entails zone events. Exploration, crafting, instances, and personal story progression are all equally viable options, so it comes down to how each player prefers to tackle the grind. Perhaps the most amazing part of this MMO is how it manages to smooth out the leveling process, to a point where your 1-80 experience feels more as a game ought to, without the fatigue that comes from level grinding. Where you go and what you do is left almost completely to the player’s discretion.
Guild Wars 2 has no actual quests either, at least not the sort we’re used to seeing. Rather than go from NPC to NPC, picking up random tasks, players can participate in various events in each zone. Special “Karma” NPCs offer one-time quests that reward money, Karma, and XP; random gathering and escort quests can be found across every map; bosses of varying difficulties spawn periodically. All events are designed in a way that promotes cooperation, so players are actually completing these world tasks together rather than competing for credit. It’s difficult to really understand just how revolutionary this system is. Gone is the frustration of sifting through a cluttered quest log, struggling with what quest to drop, what order to complete them in. Instead, your time is spent examining the world map and checking Chat to see where the current action is.
That’s not to say the pacing doesn’t falter here and there. At later levels – namely the 70-80 range – the grind begins to slow for players who go the traditional route of events and exploring. Ask anyone in the game why, and they’ll agree that late-game areas just aren’t very appealing. The mobs are more numerous, tougher (or more annoying), and have less variety. As such, you won’t find nearly as many players populating endgame zones, which means completing zone events or other activities in the area are tougher than they need to be, if not downright impossible at times.
And then you have the money issue. Armors and other supplies are rewarded freely up until you hit endgame, often through drops, Karma vendors, or by completing personal story quests. Money is fairly scarce in Guild Wars 2, and most loot doesn’t sell for a whole lot either at vendors or the Trading Post (a.k.a. Auction House). Problem is, some endgame gear and certain essentials like skill books do cost a lot. In the case of armor, I can understand if the developers wanted to make level 80 gear more difficult to obtain, but the transition feels pretty jarring when you’ve gone through 70 levels without this issue. Even crafting becomes ridiculously expensive at the highest tier. Interestingly, the in-game store lets players buy gold directly from ArenaNet – not that including this option has deterred gold farmers. Bottom line is the pricing of most things at level 80 feels off at the moment, though in a recent patch, ArenaNet did raise the drop rate of dungeon tokens (also a means of acquiring gear at 80) while making them less farmable.
If promotional artworks have been any indication, Guild Wars 2 is without a doubt the most gorgeous MMO on the market right now. The in-game visuals take on a painterly quality similar to that seen in concept art, and the world is vibrant and beautiful no matter what zone you’re in. Everything from water to spell effects is indescribably breathtaking, to a point where I sometimes found myself standing still in shallow ponds to admire the way it reflected my character, the sky and surrounding hills.
Every region is remarkably different as well, whether we’re talking about cities or open world. Most zones will be dominated by a specific race (sans endgame), and they seem to capture the spirit of their residents perfectly. The Shiverpeaks, home to the giant norn, are characterized by mountainous terrain and snow as far as the eye can see, lodges big enough to house their gargantuan owners. The sylvari forests are whimsical and indicative of high fantasy, with plenty of waterfalls and giant plants. The world is scaled well too, neither too small nor too vast, making exploration more manageable, and it doesn’t take long to realize that you’re actually running around not so much for the incentives as for fun.
For all the things it tries to do differently, Guild Wars 2 has its share of unfortunate and persistent bugs. At launch, the game’s Overflow system – ArenaNet’s alternative to queuing – made grouping up with players a major pain, though they’ve since fixed most of the problems on that front. Even now, however, various zone events and quests will periodically stop working, usually due to bugged NPCs or broken spawns. While running through an area, seeing escort NPCs idling in the middle of the road isn’t all that unusual, and certain actions may be periodically disabled while a quick fix is being deployed.
Basically, any little thing could break at any given time, then working again several hours later. Surprisingly, these random occurrences don’t really ruin the experience, and the community has learned to overlook them for the most part. It isn’t as though you’ll ever get stuck, and Anet’s response times to bigger issues have been fairly impressive since launch. Still, being unable to get into the same instance as the rest of your group can be damn frustrating, especially when the only known fix (according to the community) is to repeatedly kick and reinvite until everyone eventually ports in properly. Will these bugs eventually get patched out? Difficult to say, at this point.
The PVP has changed dramatically since Guild Wars. As of now, there are no guild battles, no Hall of Heroes. The closest thing we’ve got now would be “Structured PVP,” split between Tournament and Hot Join Play. Team sizes differ between the two, but the point is everything is much more controlled, and it mirrors some of the intimacy Guild Wars PVP was known for. Familiar animal-based ranks are granted to participants as they gain more glory. Lowbies can participate as well, since players are automatically bumped to level 80 and given the appropriate skills and gear for an even playing field.
The much-talked about World versus World is where you’ll find most of the action, simply because of how accessible it is, even to PVE players. In this mode, three servers (worlds) are matched up in an open world style team-based free-for-all. Each match hosts up to several hundred players, all vying for map control. Rewards include access to valuable resources and bonuses to your home server. Despite this being a PVP environment, WvW is very much reminiscent of the PVE world, with a mini dungeon of its own and a number of jumping puzzles. Factions scattered around the map can be won over and called upon to aid your team in battle, and siege weapons add yet another level of complexity to this ambitious mode.
At the end of day, however, PVP in Guild Wars 2 is not the same kind we knew and loved in Guild Wars. That’s not to say you can’t enjoy the new PVP, but the transformation has had an interesting effect in how we perceive the series. Guild Wars was distinctly PVP oriented, with its developers tirelessly maintaining balance so that the player-on-player action stayed fun for everyone. Hell, the game even let players create PVP-only characters, so they wouldn’t need to level and acquire gear through PVE just to smash other players in the face. Guild Wars 2 shifts this focus, becoming more of a PVE driven experience than its predecessor ever was.
ArenaNet kept Guild Wars waiting a long time, but as the saying goes, anything worth having is worth waiting for. Guild Wars 2 lives up to this sentiment in every way, and while it’s a far cry from the game that started it all back in 2005, this game is nothing short of revolutionary – a much needed breath of fresh air to a stagnating genre characterized by a distinct lack of innovation.
As with any game that dares to be different, Guild Wars 2 does have its technical flaws, and hiccups are a recurring problem. Yet none of these issues detract from the quality of the game. Will everyone like everything about it? Certainly not, but with Guild Wars 2, gamers can shed their MMO fatigue for a chance at something new, something that is remarkably unique from anything we’ve seen in some time.
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