on August 25, 2012
It seems like the past few years have been dreary for the MMO market. Even games that I was excited about due to the premise and my history with the series (SWTOR, I'm looking at you) have failed to deliver a fun, polished, innovative experience. I have seen truly interesting games pushed out far before they were ready, I've seen almost direct ripoffs of Warcraft, and I've also seen a lot of games that simply have no heart. Because of this, and perhaps because I was only a mild fan of the original Guild Wars, I followed the Guild Wars 2 hype with a fair amount of skepticism. The energy and the passion of the developers began to intrigue me, though, so I pre-purchased the game in order to have access to the beta weekends -- and there was no turning back. The most important thing I should say is that you should throw out any pre-conceptions you have about the game based on the original Guild Wars. While there are certainly some familiar aspects this is a complete redesign of the Guild Wars experience.
The first thing that struck me about the game was the sheer size, level of detail, and outright beauty of the world. This is the first game where I have walked into a main city and could actually imagine thousands of people living there. It is a great deal of fun to explore, and this becomes a key part of the game. Rather than simply being pointed to a town where you talk to a handful of NPCs, pick up a handful of quests, trot off twenty feet to handle the quests, return, rinse and repeat, this game encourages you to get out and take a look around. When you need direction you can look at your map and there will be hearts indicating someone in need of help -- but the true purpose of these hearts is to get out you into that area to be exposed to the events that happen there. These events can be as small as bandits raiding a farmer's field, or a massive Shadow Behemoth on the scale of a raid boss, but there is almost always something to be seen. Forget the blinders that most MMOs have you put on while you quest: Guild Wars 2 wants you to rip them off, pay attention, and wander off whenever something strikes your fancy.
The Guild Wars team has put a lot of thought into some of the social dynamics of MMOs, and I have to sheepishly agree that I was much like everyone else. I glared virtual daggers at any player that would show up and start killing 'my' boars, mining 'my' material nodes, and otherwise doing what any normal player should be doing. Prior MMOs fed this anti-social, territorial urge by limiting the ways you could cooperate and share resources. I had to group up with that total stranger in order to share kill credit, and I had to dash around madly to collect crafting resources because if the other player got there first it was gone. Though the purpose of an MMO was to play with others, it was often less beneficial to do so and enforced an every man for himself mentality. Guild Wars does away with all this nonsense and makes it exciting to see other players again. Anyone who participates gets credit, a player mining a resource node doesn't make it disappear for you, and some of the events are difficult enough that it is a relief when a large pack of players shows up to assist. As an interesting touch, the final area of player conflict (PvP/WvW) even opts to show you a generic name for the opposing team's members instead of giving you a player name so no grudge can be carried over from the match.
I could talk endlessly about the combat system and the crafting system, but these are certainly a matter of taste and best experienced on your own. Suffice to say, combat is smooth and the animations satisfying, and the crafting system is simple yet elegant. There is a level of polish here that has been sorely lacking in other games of late, and though I've only made it to level 20 so far it is obvious that there is enough to keep me occupied for months on end. Each class is distinct and rewarding in its own right, and if you find you don't care for the play style be sure to swap your weapons and try the other skill mixes before giving up on the class completely. Warrior felt distinctly 'meh' to me with the first set of weapons I started with, and then suddenly became ripping fun when I was able to switch to something with skills more fast-pasted. Even classes I didn't much care for in the original game, such as the Necromancer, shine in their new incarnation. Your character feels solidly connected to the world, without the sense of floating or gliding that ruins the immersion. This has been a huge pet peeve for me, and it's nice to finally see another game get this right. And to those who think ten skills is too little, I will pose this question: How many of those fifty+ buttons did you use in your rotation in World of Warcraft? In most cases, only a small handful that varied depending on your build, and then a few utility skills. This is no different, except for the lack of UI clutter and the fact that 'switching spec' is simply switching your weapon.
This is a gorgeous, fun, and well thought-out game. If you are on the fence I encourage you to go to their web site and read the developer blogs and other material, watch some videos, and if your curiosity is piqued dive in. Without a monthly fee you have ample time to explore every avenue the game has, and even if you find it is not to your taste I suspect you would find you've spent much more time with the game than many FPS titles of the same price. This is well worth the cost, if only to experience what I feel is a solid step forward in the gaming world, and that is encouraging people to play *together* instead of against each other.