Since Guild Wars 2 was first announced back in 2007, ArenaNet has worked to create an MMO that would do away with the monotonous grinding and player animosity that had plagued the genre since the days of Everquest. At the time, such bold claims were thought of as ludicrous and unfathomable. A genre entrenched in boss queues, the Holy Trinity (Healer, Tank, and DPS for the uninitiated), and a first-come, first-serve kill and gather system couldn’t possibly be revolutionized. While that still holds true in a sense, Guild Wars 2 has at least tweaked enough of these unsavory norms to create the pinnacle of what an MMORPG can be.
If there’s one thing that several MMORPGs have done in the past that have completely killed my motivation, it’s the incredibly steep and soul-crushing level grind. Finding my level too low to move to the next section of the map, I was forced to sidequest or slaughter monsters to painfully build up my character. In my 100-plus hours playing Guild Wars 2 I never had these feelings once.
Players earn experience for doing just about everything in Guild Wars 2. It rewards them for doing what they like, instead of forcing them into something that can get old fast. Like exploring and uncovering the map? There’s experience for doing that. Want to beat on others in PvP? There’s experience for that. Looking to become a master craftsman? There’s experience for that, both in gathering materials and making items. It’s so easy to level up that 80 arrived much sooner than I expected.
In order to allow for players to consistently advance higher and gain access to more content (while at the same time preventing lower areas from becoming dull one-hit-kill fests) the game implements a scaling system to keep every portion of Tyria challenging. If the player’s a level 60, going back to a zone designed for those under level 17 will still feature enemies and events that pack a punch. The trick is that players have their stats adjusted to fit the area while still maintaining their unique blend of upgrades. Not only did this keep the lower level zones from becoming vacant, empty spaces, but it made helping friends who haven’t caught up with me feel less like a chore and more fun.
It’s this concept that is at the core of Guild Wars 2: make content that’s fun and enjoyable for all players. This is why all kills, crafting nodes, and events can be shared by anyone. Since this system gave me credit for everything, I always felt encouraged to help a fellow player in need and always looked at others around me with welcoming eyes. Most other players in the community will more often than not band together instead of stand idly by. It’s given me a real sense of solidarity with my server mates that I’ve never experienced in any game prior.
The Guild Wars 2 credo shines through in its questing model as well. No longer do players need to find NPCs with arrows over their heads, perform the quest, and then travel all the way back for a reward. In its place are new methods of questing: heart quests and dynamic events. The former is similar to traditional questing, as these are given out by NPCs with hearts over their head. However, players merely need to enter the general area that this character is in and the quest will begin automatically. Upon completion, a message will arrive in the mailbox with a thank you message and reward. It’s a simplification that eliminates the errand boy problem and allowed me to just play the game without interruption.
Dynamic events, on the other hand, are much more visually stimulating. These are quests that over time will pop up across the map and simply happen, regardless of player presence. Some of these events are one-time affairs, but many of them occur in chains and can alter how the map is inhabited. This really made me feel that my actions in the world had meaning and consequence. If fellow players and I were to ignore pleas from a soldier of an incoming centaur assault, the fort under attack would be taken over and all resources it provided (fast-travel point, merchant, etc.) would disappear. But that’s mere child’s play compared to the gigantic bosses featured in later dynamic events that require massive player participation and were just plain epic. Even after facing off against some of these baddies several times, my adrenaline still pumps and I’m regularly struck by how great they look.
Despite the grandeur of dynamic events, they don’t allow the unique combat system used in Guild Wars 2 to shine. Instead, the game’s eight dungeons and two PvP modes are where a player’s true skill is tested. Old MMO tactics don’t work here because positioning and dodging is crucial to staying alive. Stand in front of an enemy in these modes spamming skills will earn a quick death and deservedly so. This more action-oriented approach is far more intense and had me looking less at the health bars and more at the animating character action.
Skills are also kept to a short and simple list while at the same time remaining versatile. Depending on what weapon or weapons players have in their two hands, their skills and role within a party can vary drastically. Take into account that each player can have two weapon sets and swap them freely, and this allows more than one role to be fulfilled by any given player at once. This, combined with a dedicated healing slot for every player, destroys the Holy Trinity and the need for any one specific player to fulfill one of those roles the entire way through any group activity.
In my time with the more combat-intense portions of the game, I was able to set my guardian’s abilities so I could tank and provide AoE damage via greatsword, but at any given moment drop back and switch to a staff for healing and buffing. This is crucial in World vs. World, where the tides of battle can turn quickly and knowing when to shift from offense to defense proved key to keeping the other servers’ pushes from decimating those who battled alongside me. I felt like I contributed in more ways than one to victory and success, and it was much better than being rejected because I “didn’t have the right build.”
Though the structured PvP (or sPvP) and its three-point capture gameplay is a blast, World vs. World is where Guild Wars 2 shines brightest. In this massive PvP mode, three servers compete on four different maps for control of supply outposts, towers, keeps, and a castle in order to earn rewards for all who call their server home. Hundreds of players fill these locales and duke it out in major conflicts for these points of interest. Gaining and holding supply will also allow the purchasing of siege weapons for an even higher level of strategy.
While rushing areas will seem like the common thing to do, it’s organization and intelligent assaults that ultimately win battles in World vs. World. It’s something to be commended, as it encourages even more co-operation and socialization with one’s server mates. The excitement I’d feel while ushering or taking orders, working as part of a team for something bigger than myself, was and still is exhilarating.
Unfortunately, the game’s free server transfers, which will soon go from once per day to once per week, has allowed for bandwagon players to jump onto the popular servers. This causes major queue times and, in my server’s case, an eventual exodus of all the players who actually made the server successful in the first place. This all goes back to issues ArenaNet is having with its guesting feature, which I hope for the studio’s sake it fixes soon.
Dungeons will be what seasoned MMO players will think of with regards to traditional endgame. This is true to a certain extent, as each dungeon has one story mode set for a certain level, followed by three explorable paths designed for the truly skilled to take on. Dungeons host loot in the form of chests and badges that make up exotic armor and weapon skins. However, thanks to the fast leveling, large world, scaling, and World vs. World, there are more than just these eight dungeons and their 21 collective paths to do once at level 80.
If there’s one area Guild Wars 2 is lacking, it’s the narrative. While MMOs aren’t known for their stories, Guild Wars 2 gave it a legitimate shot. It’s not necessarily the score or voice acting that hurts the game here, it’s the writing and cutscenes. My human guardian’s supporting cast was likeable, but none of them were truly memorable. Meanwhile, the game’s unique cinematics, though beautiful and great in low-tension scenes, really rob moments intended to be emotional or provide a sense of grandeur. A couple of exceptions aside, but they were few and far between, making me feel less significant than I did during dynamic events and World vs. World.
As with the game’s cutscenes, every graphical aspect is stunning. The painterly design creates a look unique to Guild Wars and provides the best visuals ever in an MMO. This is especially true in the various major cities, which aren’t just massive, but have characteristics specific to each race that make them a pleasure to explore.
Guild Wars 2 wanted to change the way people play MMOs. With its transformation from traditional genre norms that cause strong animosity among strangers to those that foster a true sense of cooperation and community, I can say with conviction that the game does just that. The narrative may fall a bit flat and the server transfers while awaiting guesting features has gotten annoying, but they’re really minor flaws on what is an incredible accomplishment. When it’s all put together, one thing is clear to me: Guild Wars 2 is the new king of the MMORPG.
Review based on PCrelease.