Every industry has its titans – the teams, individuals or corporations who eventually become synonymous with that particular pastime. Golf has Tiger Woods, Basketball has the Harlem Globe Trotters and MMORPG’s have Blizzard’s World Of Warcraft.
I can only imagine then what video game developers must go through to try and topple the veritable King of the Mountain when they start planning their MMO concept. I envision it’s something like trying to move an actual mountain with nothing more than a soup spoon. Time and again the developers will hack and dig at the base of the mountain with little or no overall effect – oh sure, some loose soil comes away with each strike but the mountain remains in exactly the same state and in the end you either end up breaking your spoon or burying yourself in the soil you’ve been shifting.
ArenaNet have discovered that, by taking a step back and looking long and hard at their trusty spoon that – and I realise how easy an ‘there is no spoon’ reference would be at this point but I promise that’s not where I’m going with this intro – with some careful changes they can turn their humble little spoon into a JCB Digger
Yes, as terrible as that analogy was it’s actually a pretty accurate one. I make it sound like Guild Wars 2 is deliberately going after the MMO crown from Blizzard which might be over-embellishing the situation slightly but with an established dominant machine like WoW you have to do things differently even to be noticed by the MMO community these days – fortunately, Guild Wars 2 does enough things differently to make it truly great.
Guild Wars 2 is set 250 years after GW: Nightfall and the land of Tyria has gone through more than its fair share of changes thanks in part to the rise of the Elder Dragons. Tidal waves, levelled mountains, the Dragonbrand (fields of magical crystal formed by a dragon passing overhead) – lots of changes! The humans of Tyria have found themselves in an unfortunate position as they now appear to be a minority race after losing their lands to Charr warbands and being besieged by Centaur raiders. Couple this with the Northern Norn race and the usually subterranean dwelling Asura being driven from their homelands by Elder Dragons along with the mysterious tree-born Sylvari awakening in the past 30 years or so and Tyria is a very different place than we saw in Guild Wars 1
The first thing you notice about Guild Wars 2 is its sheer beauty! It is a wonderfully beautiful game with some excellent contrasts between the different racial starting homelands, from the dingy and weathered Charr home of the Black Citadel to the luscious and verdant landscapes of the Sylvari Grove – every map is an absolute pleasure to walk through and ArenaNet know this, giving you Vista Markers to discover in each area which, when reached, offer a gorgeous fly-by of the immediate area.
After choosing one of the radically different races to play you then have the choice of eight classes; Elementalist, Warrior, Ranger, Necromancer, Guardian, Thief, Engineer and Mesmer. Each of these classes coming with their distinct bonuses and flaws. Warriors are straight up brawlers and damage sponges but don’t usually do anything too fancy whilst Elementalists employ powerful spells (with some very impressive visual effects) but never last that long in a face to face fight whilst Thieves are your general all-rounder with an excellent skill, perfectly balanced ability roster and are quite simply the best class in the game (and obviously the class I chose)
Actually playing Guild Wars 2 (especially this soon after launch) had been a bit hit and miss at times – when the game does behave itself it’s a perfect example of how MMO’s should treat its players. Offering you ambient quests to join, not forcing you to join a party in town areas prior to leaving for the ‘big wide world’ ala Guild Wars 1 (though these types of quests are still existent in the game) Everything feels connected in the current area you are exploring, events can even end up overlapping, meaning that whilst you (and any other players who happen to be joining in) are escorting a trade caravan through a bandit infested valley – a second quest my open up from the local garrison to rescue someone from said bandits. This gives Tyria a wonderful flow and sense of synchronicity that you normally don’t find in MMO’s or other video games in general.
Levelling up your character happens exactly as you would expect with an MMO. Quests give you set amounts of experience points and then these levels are transferred into Skill Points which can be spent on actions and skills to use in battle. Weapons however, are a completely different story, with each weapon that your character is allowed to use (Thieves can’t use Hammers for example – completely unfair) levelling up separately – an increased use of Skill Number 1 (usually the ‘hit with weapon’ skill) unlocking Skill Number 2 and so on. Even the use of duel weapons – and dual wielding pistols can be very satisfying, trust me – has its own set of moves to unlock.
Unfortunately some of the more technical issues that have blemished Guild Wars 2’s otherwise flawless release have included server overflow management which essentially means that players will usually find themselves on the same map as their friends but on completely different servers, meaning that you would have to sit and wait for the game to pop you onto the correct server. This has only marred the gameplay slightly and has been nothing like other release fiascos such as Diablo 3 – even with Guild Wars 2’s initial login issues.
ArenaNet have also taken extreme measures to ensure that they do not simply ‘chase the money’ in regards to Guild Wars 2 and at time of writing this review they have suspended all digital sales of the game from their website to ensure that their already suffering servers do not suffer more and hamper the game experience for other players. This is a very bold move for any video game developer and one that I both applaud and criticise as this kind of manoeuvre can only keep fans at bay for so long before completely losing interest in playing the game altogether.
The “in’s and out’s” of Guild Wars 2 do indeed read like a ‘How To’ guide for MMO building – you have your NPC-triggered quests (as well as your newly realised ambient quests), you have you level grinding, you have your level 80 equipment which you want to level up and buy, your crafting abilities which make you search the landscape for ‘one more piece’ of Legendary Unicorn Hair (not a real in-game item) you also have your Structured Player Vs Player areas and interestingly World Vs World games where characters from different Homeworlds (your home server which is chosen just before creating your first character – changing this incurs a cost) can battle their campaign characters against those of other Worlds (characters in Structured PvP all start at level 80). Victory in WvW will confer benefits to your home world. This may include improved item drop rates, better energy regeneration or other bonuses.
One of the most wonderful aspects about Guild Wars 2 is that there are a large number of occasions where you forget that you’re playing an MMORPG. Not that you wouldn’t want to actually play an MMO, they’re fantastically fun and rewarding games with great social interaction with other (usually like-minded) players but there is a horrible association between the term “MMO” and being sat at your desk for six hours collecting Rat Skulls for a copper piece each. ArenaNet wanted to point the MMO genre away from that sometimes damaging stereotype and I honestly have to say – they have done a damn fine job of accomplishing that. Guild Wars 2 not only looks beautiful enough to encourage random exploration throughout the game world but also rewards your time played with different quests and random encounters.
One example from my playthrough was when I fast travelled (yes, I use fast travel over long distances sometimes, don’t hold that against me) to an outpost to sell a few items but the outpost was overrun with shapeshifting biological experiments – and no, I”m not making this up – that all surrounding players had to hunt down and capture before any of the merchants felt save enough to barter again. Encounters such as this and other World Events akin with “Large Monster X has appeared in X place” draw you in as you feel compelled to aid other players complete the quest, not only for the experience points but also simply for the sheer enjoyment of it, it’s a wonderful feeling to see such a quest appear and notice nearly every player in the surrounding area running towards a common goal. ArenaNet wanted to change the way we look at MMORPG’s and they’ve done it!
It is worth noting however that whilst this is a ‘complete’ review of Guild Wars 2 – Slimgamer may feel the need to revisit Tyria for any significant changes to the game and also any expansions to it. Also, feel free to add me to your Guild Wars 2 friends list – skith.6742
NCSoft provided Slimgamer with a review code for Guild Wars 2
This review was possible due to Slimgamers flagship gaming PC – the BeastRig Z77.
It should be noted that since writing this review, ArenaNet have continued the digital sale of Guild Wars 2