How does one talk about an MMO, especially one as massive as Guild Wars 2? Do you talk about the state of the game? The gameplay itself? How it has changed in the last four years (3.5 if you count release and not beta)? How much fun it is and how great the community is? How about everything. Around this time three years ago we got our first glimpse at Guild Wars 2. Those that had pre-ordered the game a whole 4+ months before it released got access to a very much late alpha or early beta. I was one of those lucky few that have been playing since then (minus about 8 months where I took a break) and have been loving it ever since.
I decided that more recently I wanted to come back after that short break and I haven’t stopped playing since. Each night, my wife and I get on to either run a Tequatl run (Dragon fight) or other world boss or perhaps we decide to run through the newer map Silverwastes or perhaps a dungeon/fractal. Either way we have had so much content to play that there seems to be a content overwhelm at times. In fact I’ve been wanting to write this “review” for weeks however every time I get home I just want to play some more. It is difficult to have a desire to write when you just want to play the game you are going to write about.
I guess since this is a game and this article is a review I need to space it out how I normally do, starting with gameplay. Guild Wars 2 is an MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game) where you get to play with thousands of other players in various maps based off level to complete events, renown hearts and other items in order to level up your character and complete various tasks. Guild Wars, unlike most other MMO’s, is not based off filling your screen full of skills. It is more about skill and what kind of 10 skill builds you can make. The first 5 skills on your skill bar are based off your weapons you equip. Two handed weapons will fill all five where as one handed will fill three with the main hand and the last two with the off hand. The sixth slot is saved for various healing skills, seven through nine is for slot skills that you purchase with skill points (this will change with the expansion) and the final slot is for elite skills that cost more than basic slot skills but they are much more powerful. This allows for a combination of skills that can make your build very different from others and allow you to specialize in a type of offense, defense or support role. The huge benefit of these different skills for every class means that all the classes can play one of those three roles.
If you are an elementalist and you need to back off in a support role you can, if you need to go more offensive then you can do that as well. This allows for teams to vary their skills and succeed by simply changing a few strategies. It also is enough to make the game interesting. Say you get tired of doing nothing but offense, you can go to a support role and get a completely different game experience. Now that doesn’t go without saying that there are some problems with this design. ArenaNet decided to ditch the thousands of skills in order to have less but much more varied skills. In theory this would allow players to have a lot more options instead of running the same skill set as everyone else. With the advent of Heart of Thorns (1st expansion), this might change even more with the upcoming specializations and mastery system.
I mentioned Professions and there are currently eight of them, each that play very different from each other. Those classes include Elementalist (magic user), Mesmer (Illusions/Tricks/Conditions), Necromancer (Conditions/Minions/Traps), Engineer (Turrets/Grenades/Flamethrower/Support), Ranger (Traps, Pets, and Bows), Thief (Stealth, quick attacks, agile), Warrior (Heavy weapons/armor, biggest Tank) and Guardian (defensive, support with virtues/sigils). There is also a 9th class that is coming in the expansion called the Revenant that will be another heavy armor profession that uses summons to fight with him and give him boons. I may not have the experience with all of them (my main is an elementalist) I can say that I enjoyed playing just about every one of the classes. There were a few that bugged me more than others but I’m hoping the specializations will change that.
I figure at some point I need to talk a bit about the maps and leveling up your character. There are five races which each have a starting city and starting level 1-15 area. In most instances players spend their time in this zone however there are what’s called Asura Gates within each city that links each of them to a main city called Lion’s Arch. This allows the player to essentially go to any zone they want including other 1-15 zones if they don’t want to play their own. Within each map zone (with the exception of the area of Orr) there are Renown Hearts, Vista’s, Waypoints, Skill Points and Points of Interest. POI’s and waypoints are just approach the area and you get experience with POI being more lore based areas of interest and waypoints allow the player to warp around the map. Vista’s are meant as a way to explore the area and look at the map from a cinematic; I feel like the devs did this just to brag about their art which is very impressive. Skill points are there to allow the player to do different events from fighting an enemy to eating a piece of meat in order to gain a skill point towards buying skills and other items.
Finally Renown Hearts, these are essentially fetch quest replacements. For the longest time MMO’s have been plagued with fetch quests. Go to NPC with exclamation point above their head, complete objective and return for loot. Renown hearts are a bit different in that once the player enters a zone they can complete a various amount of tasks that gain points towards completion of the heart. Now these tasks may include killing enemies, stealing supplies, kill oozes and putting them in a converter, training with a rifle or even throwing snowballs at kids. They vary completely with some being silly and some being a load of fun. But the whole point of them all is to keep the player immersed in map and not feel like they are running around doing fetch quests. Here is a way they changed from the last 3 years as well. Originally the player still had to return to the NPC to get their money, then they got a mail that they had to open but now it just automatically happens. You get the money, experience points and a notification above your map.
My favorite part of these maps however are the dynamic events that occur. I have played this game for more than 1100 hours and I still find dynamic events I’ve never encountered before. These events are random (or timed in some cases) events that have a group of players to complete a certain task in order to complete the event. These maybe small gathering quests, take back a fort or even fight a dragon or other world boss. These events get large parts of the community together in order to complete them and they are a ton of fun especially the chain events that are in the higher level areas. Those chain events require a large portion of players to be all over a map at times completing quests so that they can come together to fight one giant fight. It is fascinating to see so many players get together and work together in order to take down a massive force or a dragon.
With the Launch of Heart of Thorns there is even more content within the game and for those that were afraid of not having any endgame content there is quite a bit of new content including what is called Masteries. These allow the players that are level 80 to further progress in different specialties that add a whole new dynamic to the game. There are three tiers of masteries in central Tyria and five in Maguuma Jungle (new Heart of Thorns maps). These masteries span from legendary precursor crafting, to fractal upgrades and even gliding that is used in Heart of Thorns (Coming to Tyria on Jan 26th along with a Shatterer upgrade). So far even after hundreds of hours spilled into the new expansion I haven’t even been able to finish the masteries. The new maps also add whole new events that maps have to be organized in order to succeed which adds a whole dynamic of team play in the expansion. Along with the new maps now also comes raids including the first one the Spirit Vale. These are new “dungeons” in which players in squads of 10 (normal dungeons are 5) must conquer a new challenge and must work together in order to get the legendary armor that comes with the new raids.
Because of the new expansion, Arenanet was able to present a feature where you didn’t have to buy the game in order to play the base game. That is right, Guild Wars 2 went free to play with some restrictions as we have illustrated in a previous post. Those restrictions including no map chat, can’t enter lion’s arch or fractals until a certain level, can only have 2 characters, cannot buy from the gem store and a few other restrictions. This allows anyone that wants to dabble into Guild Wars 2 to be able to do so but not at the cost of being so limited that you just can’t have fun, so feel free to jump in =].
I could talk about all the different story paths that are in this game but I think I would end up spoiling it more than anything so I’ll just say this. This game is set about 300 years after the events of Guild Wars 1. The elder dragons have been awakening all over the world and are bent on destroying or controlling all races in Tyria. Your character is just a lowly character that works their way up through hardships in order to become a leader and commander of the pact that is set out to destroy the varying Dragons. The main story follows the path to destorying Zhaitan, the elder dragon of the Risen. The expansion and the Living World Seasons follow the story of trying to destroy Mordremoth, the dragon of the jungle. Originally the main story of Zhaitan and your personal racial and pact stories were the only thing in Guild Wars 2 until Arenanet started to release the living world which were new content patches every 2-4 weeks with new events. It was a great way to start seeing map run and organized events that would lead to the eventual full map organized events in Heart of Thorns. Along with the main story, Anet has also created small holiday events including the Mad King for Halloween, Wintersday for Christmas, Super Adventure Box for April Fools and Dragon Bash (which hasn’t come back in some time) for the game’s anniversary.
Now you can’t talk about Guild Wars, without talking about the level of detail and art that went into this game. This game is beautiful, not just by a graphics standpoint but by an art standpoint too. Every location in this came feels like a color explosion for your eyes. The set pieces are beautifully designed and look amazing and distinct in every location. From Divinity’s Reach to Orr and to the Black Citadel, everything is well crafted. Even the loading screens that show concept art look amazing. Arenanet spent a lot of time on the visuals of this game and it shows as I feel like no other MMO or for that matter any game looks as good aesthetically as Guild Wars 2 does.
The sound and music is one of my favorite things about this game especially since the expansion dropped in October. Guild Wars had a pretty stellar soundtrack itself but it seems like they really stepped up their game with the second as this one has one of the best soundtracks I’ve heard. There is music for just about every situation that you play in and it even gets more unique as you play in the new maps. On top of that the music is just so enjoyable to listen to even if it ends up getting repeated occasionally. Jeremy and Julian Soule and Lena Chappelle really did a spectacular job creating such thematic music that sounds so good. Arenanet also did a pretty stand up job with the voice acting and all the sound effects as well. The amount of detail to the ambient noise in all of the varying maps is astounding.
Overall this game has been and still is one of my favorite games in recent history and could possibly be in my top 5-10 games of all time. The amount of fun I’ve had with this game both solo, in groups, with friends and even playing with my wife is off the charts. Everything from gameplay, aesthetics, sound, music, ui, replayability is up there. I will say that this game may not be for everyone as some of my friends found out. In the early game the “lack of endgame” was more endgame that was for different people. Having a discussion with friends I realized the early part of this game was for 3 different kinds of people. People that like competitive play which GW2 does a great job with their structured PVP. Massive Guild/Server battles which is what World vs World is for. Or if you are a goal achieving player whether that be going for those hard to get legendaries or completing achivements. Early end game was somewhat lacking and felt like there wasn’t anything to do for some except for the story and maybe even making a new character but with the new expansion there is so much more even now. 1500 hours in and I still haven’t come close to doing everything I want in this game, I would say that was a $100 well spent.