What? You honestly thought only subscription-based MMOs could be good?
Last time we saw Guild Wars we were greeted by a shining example of how not all MMOs have to be the same. It had only 20 levels, homogenized gear, allowed you to creatively customize your build, and emphasized its varied PvP environment above all else. Guild Wars 2 follows its heritage by continuing what Guild Wars was great at and adding some modern twists to make it spicier. The gameplay probably isn't what you're used to and the leveling and dungeon experiences are unorthodox, but quite frankly it's all for the better.
From the beginning of play, Guild Wars 2 imposes itself as an artistically rich title. The character creation screen is flavored with elegant visual design, all presented clearly and diligently. As if choosing out of eight attractive professions wasn't enough, all five races are equally as enchanting.
[From the Character Creator Review Log]
The Sylvari, Charr, and Asura maintain human-enough qualities to be likable, all while boasting cartoonish features that speak volumes about their other-worldly nature. The humans and Norn look about as you'd expect them to, but all of these races share one common feature:
You really can't make them look ugly.
What's more, the entire UI is peppered with subtle touches and strokes. The overworld map remains masked by brushes of paint until the player explores into the uncharted regions. As you deal damage, critical hits are denoted by pops of color and a splash of blood. Even the game's launcher shows off the beautiful art design.
The game's animations are second to none in the MMO market. Players might not notice at first, but the way the hair and gear of a character sways when the character comes to a halt makes a big impression. Attacks are visceral and environmental effects litter the battlefield.
However, what Guild Wars 2 does best is deliver a diverse and cohesive gameplay experience that is far from derivative. Dodging is extremely important and mastering its intricacies pays off in a big way. Each profession utilizes a custom gameplay mechanic: while the Elementalist can toggle between four sets of magic types—fire, water, air, earth—the Mesmer summons illusions to confuse its foes.
Depending on the weapon(s) equipped, the first five skills on the hotbar are predetermined. However, utility, healing, and elite skills can be swapped to your liking while out of combat. Customizing your loadout to cater to your present challenge is as effective as it is gratifying. Similarly, traits offer an additional layer of customization that compensates you with effectiveness for making smart tactical decisions before engagement.
[From the Questing Review Log]
Questing in Guild Wars 2 says goodbye to the traditional school of thought with guest hubs, a quest log, and an almost unbearable amount of back-and-forth travel. Instead, it's all about being on the move and working together with people in the area to accomplish tasks. Designated quest areas, both dynamic and static, allow everyone to contribute together—Mr. Rodgers would be proud. If a fellow next to you starts attacking a penguin you need to defeat, you can go ahead and assist him and both of you get rewarded for it.
Even from the onset of the experience, you'll find yourself along with other players taking down large creatures. Although these skirmishes can feel like zerg-fests at times, assisting with properly timed utility skills, being ready for resupport abilities, and reviving fallen allies can mean the difference between success and failure. At the end of each event experience, renown and sometimes items are rewarded. Renown is valuable and can be used to purchase powerful items from NPCs who you've completed objectives for, so you best be helpful.
Dungeons are a particularly eyebrow-raising affair. The conventional design of the holy trinity—tank, healer, and DPS—is forsaken in an effort to deliver a new style of play. This new methodology makes everyone in the party their own tank, healer, and DPS. Furthermore, there will be times that without warning, you will become the focus of potentially fatal attacks.
Beginning with the first instance, the experience is very challenging, which may come as a surprise to many. It's not uncommon to see a group member in a downed state, and there's a feeling of intensity during each pull as you struggle to resurrect downed party members, kite aggravated mobs, and keep yourself alive. In terms of quantity, there are presently eight dungeons with two modes each: story mode and explorable mode. Story mode delivers a narrative that some might find attractive, while explorable mode turns up the difficulty and has three routes to discover.
Unfortunately, as it stands now, the end-game dungeons aren't plentiful and the five-player capacity means you might struggle to find the epic raiding environment you thirst for. The dungeons are varied and are certainly difficult, but the chaotic style is eccentric and unfocused. Also, loot at level 80 doesn't increase in stats; instead, your long-term interest will rely on you either enjoying the content or wanting to earn rarer gear which may or may not look better.
[From the sPvP Review Log]
Unlike World of Warcraft, Guild Wars 2’s PvP is considered a primary focus of its developer at launch. In order to make it hassle-free, structured PvP is separated from the PvE side where you can quest, run dungeons, and engage in other standard MMO fare. As a result, you can enter Heart of the Mists and queue for level 80 sPvP from the moment you make your character. More importantly, beholding powerful raiding gear doesn’t translate into being an unbeatable sPvP player, and instead skill and teamwork are at the forefront.
For those that end up falling in love with Guild Wars 2’s sPvP there is a lot of gear to unlock, over 80 ranks to obtain, and lots of tournaments. Best of all, sPvP progression is account-wide so if you end up getting sick of playing a particular class or finally realize that you made your Norn too fat, you can continue with another character and resume with your earned rank and rewards.
There’s an auto-balancing system which moves players from one team to another if someone leaves, which can frustratingly break apart private groups and move you to a losing team. Also, there is no pre-game and you’re literally thrown from one game to another until you decide to open the menu and exit. Thankfully, these are small issues that merely blemish one of the most exciting PvP experiences on the market.
The WvW zone is made to house upward of 1200 players at any given time from three separate servers, and its geography spans far beyond where the eye can see. However, the tutorial made me realize it’s far less overbearing than it appears, and highlighted points on the map helped direct me to where the action was taking place.
My experience began with a few small skirmishes between teammates from my server and the hellish foes of Isle of Janthir. I supported my comrades with thrown elixirs and heals from my trusty med-kit which seemed to work well since we were pushing them across the battlefield rapidly. I could swear we were unstoppable, but then that’s when we arrived at their fortification which was backed by cannons, boiling oil, and hearts full of remorse.
I died faster than I could say “Get the hell out of here!”, but it was at that exact moment that I realized what WvW is really about. It’s a massive playground of people having fun doing whatever they want. There are PvE sections that frustrated players can retreat to and earn supply for their team. You can construct siege weapons with supply points and lay siege to enemy forts. Or, if you’re Daniel Bischoff, you can run to every corpse you can find and shuffle on it like you’re in an LMFAO music video.
For a launch title Guild Wars 2 is already jam-packed full of fun content. There’s plenty to collect, including the game’s beautifully crafted armor, hundreds of collectible dyes, and achievements that earn you points and currency. Exploration is heavily rewarded so those who like to daringly venture out into nothingness or just like to see every nook and cranny of the map will be pleased. Also, since the game down-levels your character to adhere to an area’s level of difficulty, going back and enjoying some of the lower level content is actually encouraged. Now you'll have no reason to say no when a friend asks for help.
If you’ve been waiting for a MMO to come out that’s well worth its price of admission, you’re in luck. Guild Wars 2 presents a diverse repertoire of options ranging from an entertaining leveling experience that constantly rewards you, to a deep PvP component that may become the new face of the genre. Its dungeon design strays from the norm and future updates will determine whether or not it can carry the attention of the content-devouring PvE crowd. That said, Guild Wars 2 has something few games are able to muster: a personality. Its contemporary mixture of content and gameplay along with its lack of a monthly fee makes it recommendable to both MMO fans and online RPG skeptics alike.