Guild Wars 2
Now, more than any other time in the past, gamers have a staggering number of choices available when looking into diving into an MMORPG. Old dogs like World of Warcraft and EVE Online are keeping with the times by learning tricks (and refining old ones), while an army of newcomers (TERA, Rift, The Secret World, etc) are settling into their own relevant niches and coaxing players to check out their unique take on the genre. Not to be left out, publisher NCSoft and developer ArenaNet worked diligently over the past half decade to bring forth their vision of what a next generation MMO should be. Dubbed Guild Wars 2, this sequel plays almost nothing like its 2005 predecessor and manages to introduce some eye-opening features, though key issues keep the game from being the truly revolutionary MMO that ArenaNet would surely like it to be.
If there’s one thing about Guild Wars 2 that must be praised above all else, it is Tyria – the sprawling continent that ArenaNet has so meticulously created. Every inch of the gorgeous, rolling grasslands, crystal-scarred canyons and multi-hued forests seems to have been handcrafted with profound care and attention to detail. And the world isn’t just a static painting to be admired and forgotten – this is a fully-realized virtual world with scampering fauna, swaying flora, and an infusion of lore that adds a sense of wonder to the exploration process. What’s the story behind these ghost-filled ruins? How many secrets await within this network of underwater caves? Questions like these hover in the back of one’s consciousness, driving would-be adventurers ever onward in search of answers, treasure and the unveiling of yet another stunning vista.
Intrepid adventurers are also given reason to explore, in the form of experience gain for uncovering areas of interest, waypoints and vistas. Waypoints are important, because they serve as the primary means of travel – a convenient series of locations that one can instantly teleport to (for a surprisingly significant fee). Vistas are simply grand views of the world – chances for the player to see (via brief cutscene) intricate architecture and sweeping panoramas that, again, impress as to just how detailed and gorgeous this world of Tyria really is. Beyond these, players may also stumble across jumping puzzles – initially innocuous-looking paths that take you up, up, up, out of the “normal” areas and into uncharted (literally, unmarked on the in-game map) territories. Some jumping puzzles will lead to exquisite treasure, others to ferocious and unique adversaries, and even others to an unceremonious 200-foot drop of shame (be sure to watch your step). Regardless of the result, jumping puzzles are wonderful additions to the game world and a unique feature to this particular MMO.
Questing in Guild Wars 2 is supposed to perfectly complement the game’s focus on freedom of exploration, but the end result is hit and miss. Instead of the traditional MMO questing troupe of picking up and returning quests at static NPCs, ArenaNet developed an interesting new system referred to as dynamic questing. With this system, objectives simply pop up as you approach the relevant in-game area. Sometimes NPCs will be looking for help escorting cargo to a nearby outpost. Other times a massive creature will be terrorizing a town. If you happen to be in the right place at the right time, you can hop in with anyone else in the area (no need to form parties or even talk to other players) and tackle the dynamic quest together (the difficulty scales depending on the number of players present).
The strength of the dynamic questing system is that you can never be totally sure what will await you when traveling to a particular area. Will the centaurs be pillaging the town, or will the human seraph have driven them back? These events can go down different paths depending on if players have succeeded or failed at particular points in the event chain, and it’s nice to not know exactly what to expect when you go to a particular area, which is certainly different from what you’d find in most other MMOs (Rift being a notable exception).
“Every inch of the gorgeous, rolling grasslands, crystal-scarred canyons and multi-hued forests seems to have been handcrafted with profound care and attention to detail”On the flip side, dynamic questing has a tendency to make the game feel less like an MMO and more like a single-player game. As mentioned above, there’s no need to form groups or communicate when tackling these events – in busier areas it’s often just a mass of players and spell effects surrounding an enemy until it dies, then everyone disperses, often without having said a single word. Yes, this system is convenient for the solo player, but it doesn’t engender relationship building and communication among players – key aspects of most MMOs. Another issue with dynamic questing is that some events repeat a bit too often; it would have been nice to see greater variety (or perhaps, complexity) to lessen the repetition.
Traditional questing does exist in the game, to an extent, in the form of personal storyline missions. These quests are picked up in predetermined instances at various locations across Tyria, and serve to propel the game’s substantial story forward. Fleshed out with static cutscenes of NPCs chatting, these missions range in quality from bland to fairly good, but stilted voice acting and the static nature of the scenes often hurt the game’s ability to unfurl a rousing story. Still, a few characters (such as Trahearne and Tybalt Leftpaw) are truly memorable and the overall arc of the game’s story is engaging enough that you’ll probably want to see it through to the end.
Another area in which the game deviates from the traditional MMO formula is its lack of tank or healing roles. In Guild Wars 2, no matter what profession you choose, be it cloth-wearing necromancer or mace-wielding guardian, you are given the tools necessary to survive most encounters. That means all classes can use a combination of avoidance, crowd control, snares and a self heal to stay in the fight, despite whether they have aggro or not.
Unfortunately, like dynamic questing, this system has a few flaws that keeps it from being ideal. On the plus side, getting groups together for the game’s handful of dungeons (which are quite fun and impeccably designed) is fairly easy, which is important, because the game lacks a dungeon finder tool. The downside is that dungeon runs tend to be chaotic and extremely unfriendly to melee-centric professions. Yes, melee weapon-wielding players can strafe around bosses and tougher enemies to try and minimize damage, but enemy attacks are often very poorly telegraphed (or not telegraphed at all), so the damage done is instantaneous and unavoidable. When creatures are hitting for 50% or more of a player’s life in one blow, it oftentimes seems too risky to stay within melee range, and the result is that many feel forced to eschew melee weapons in favor or ranged ones, even if they chose the profession with the intention of focusing on melee combat.
“…dynamic questing has a tendency to make the game feel less like an MMO and more like a single-player game”Thankfully, the game’s robust trait and skill systems allow for plenty of play style choices, and players of all professions may choose to build their characters in numerous different ways. It’s not uncommon to see dagger-wielding elementalists (i.e. the game’s mage/wizard class) attacking from close range (though, not so much in dungeons, for the previously-mentioned reasons) or warriors launching arrow attacks from distance. In Guild Wars 2, basic skills are tied to the actual weapon you have equipped, and when combined with the ability to swap between two weapons on the fly, you have an interesting system that keeps the combat engaging (though not up to the standard set by TERA) . A variety of utility skill choices also allows for further customization, and, though traditional tank or healing builds are impossible to create, support builds are certainly viable and quite useful in both PvE and PvP.
PvP in Guild Wars 2 comes in two flavors: world versus world and structured. In world versus world, your entire world (i.e. server) is thrown in together to take on two other worlds in several massive battlegrounds full of castles, outposts, supply points and other important areas (even jumping puzzles) which may be assaulted, defended, or ignored completely as players see fit. World versus world maps are huge and require a lot of running to get from place to place, but the thrill of taking part in large-scale sieges (complete with huge implements of destruction, such as catapults, trebuchets and the like) or pushing back superior numbers with good tactics and skilled play is highly gratifying. There are still issues with world versus world that need to be ironed out, such as the fact that world population is much more important than it should be (some worlds gain huge leads overnight while nobody from opposing world are there to defend) and queues can be outrageously long on higher population worlds (five plus hours in some cases).
Compared to world versus world, structured PvP is entirely different in both function and scale – teams are smaller, objectives more immediately clear, and instead of using gear and skills acquired in PvE, you build your max level combatant from the ground up just for this mode. Veterans of the original Guild Wars should feel right at home here, but the lack of character progression (you have access to the best gear right from the start) may turn off fans of more gear-centric MMO PvP. All in all, there’s a lot to offer in terms of PvP, and most should find something to like with either (or both) of the game’s offerings.
It is worth noting that ArenaNet has chosen to go the buy-to-play route (buy the game once and play as much as you’d like) as opposed to offering a subscription or going true free-to-play. The buy-to-play model seemed to work well enough for them with the original Guild Wars, and the amount of content they are able to offer without requiring a subscription is impressive. It must be noted that there is an in-game cash shop – a place where you can use real money to buy in-game currency, boosts, skins and other vanity or quality of life-enhancing items, but the entirety of the game can be played without spending a penny; in fact, frugal players can even trade in-game currency for gems (the cash shop currency) and purchase store items that way (though, the gold to gem conversion rate has been increasingly prohibitive as of late).
The dark side of all this is the fact that earning gold in Guild Wars 2 is incredibly difficult. Unlike most MMOs, by the time your are maximum level, you won’t be earning all that much more from quest rewards and selling unneeded items than you were at lower levels. Presumably, the reason for this is so that people will look to the cash shop to trade real money for gems, and then convert that to gold. This is great for ArenaNet and NCSoft, but not so great for players who have to set aside excessively long periods of time farming to acquire the kind of wealth required to buy cultural armor, rare exotic weapons and the like.
Players who choose to eschew the cash shop and spend the time farming are further burdened by the game’s absolutely outrageous botting problem. All across zones of all level ranges, rampaging hordes of juvenile brown bears and their ranger masters are weaving predetermined paths through the game world, annihilating creatures in a matter of seconds due to sheer numbers. These bots are especially prevalent in key high level zones, which are often the only place you can obtain certain rare in-game items. Despite reasonably fast respawn times (and the fact that as long as you ‘tag’ the mob, you can take part in the loot), there are often just so many bots running about that it’s impossible to get even that one hit in required to loot. On top of all this, ArenaNet has done a poor job so far at responding to reports submitted by players (this reviewer reported the same group of botters everyday for two weeks, and they are still farming away this very moment).
When all is said and done, Guild Wars 2 certainly does march to the beat of its own drummer, for better and for worse. Certain flaws, such as a lack of in-game trading option (auction house or mail system must be used), frequent glitches with dynamic quests (NPCs standing idle when they should be progressing the event) and an infestation of bots are mostly overshadowed by the entertainment to be had ferreting out hard-to-find jumping puzzles, clashing with hundreds of opponents in world versus world PvP and creating nifty equipment and items using the game’s remarkably sleek crafting system (amongst other positives). Is Guild Wars 2 a revolutionary MMORPG? Not quite. It is, however, a good game and some of the best value per dollar spent currently available.