Guild Wars 2 Review

11 Sep, 2012

When it comes to hype and MMO’s, it’s really nothing new.  However, there has been a special aura surrounding Guild Wars 2 leading up to launch that hasn’t been witnessed in quite some time.  It’s been over seven long years since Guild Wars first made it to our PC’s.  Has ArenaNet learned from both the success and failures of their previous game to take this latest iteration to the next level?  How about from the other MMO’s that have come and gone in this lengthy period of time?  Get ready to obtain these answers!

To get straight to the point, if you’re a fan of the original Guild Wars and are coming into this expecting a similar game with equally similar gameplay, that’s not going to happen.  The heavily instanced world of the original has been replaced by massive persistent zones.  Prime and Sub class combinations are completely gone.  No more Warrior/Monk or Necro/Mesmer.  You are one profession and one profession only.  You no longer learn abilities from bosses or unique mobs out in the world for your PvE focused characters.  Instead your moves are defined by the weapons you hold.  If you’re an elementalist and you wield a staff, you will have a completely different set of five moves than if you were to dual wield daggers.  This applies to weapon specific underwater combat abilities as well.  Yes, there’s submerged combat in the game and it’s actually quite well done.

Healing focused professions like the Monk have been removed from the game.  Everyone gets a healing ability (or abilities for some) and is essentially in charge of their own survivability.  Along with this you get three customizable tactics abilities to create diversity among classes.  To increase variety in play style there is a trait tree was well.  This is similar to a talent tree in other MMO’s. The whole arrow system for health/mana regeneration and reduction has been eliminated as well in favor of the traditional damage intake you see in other MMO’s; along with other forms of ability resources ranging from energy to simply having cooldowns.  As opposed to dying when your health reaches zero, you now enter a “downed” state in which you can still attack and use evasive abilities to prolong survival.   This will be talked about in more detail when PvP is discussed.  To cap this segment off, there is now also expansive character customization, detailed and various forms of crafting, multiple races…and oh yes, you can actually JUMP!  As you can probably tell by now, all in all, this is nothing like first game outside of lore as some of the visual aesthetics.

As someone who played the original at launch extensively, I can state that those of you who loved the gameplay of the original will need a period of adjustment to become acclimated and accepting to mechanics of this sequel.  Some of you will have zero issues while others might question why ArenaNet got rid of some of the things that made Guild Wars unique.  You’re going to find that some of the changes really were for the best, while perhaps a few others were not.  It’s a hit and miss of personal taste…but isn’t everything?

The PvE leveling experience is the standout portion of this game.  “Wait, I thought this was a heavily PvP focused game.  Shouldn’t that be the best part?” I’ll get to that soon, I promise!  Leveling in Guild Wars 2 was an exceptionally smooth and fun experience due to what I’ve dubbed the Three E’: events, exploration and environment.

Partaking in an escort event at an early point in the game.

If you’ve ever played Warhammer Online and partook in the group quests, you’ll have a slight idea of what events are like in this game.  Essentially, while you’re playing the game a circle will ping up on your map and you’ll have the freedom of either choosing to continue your questing or run to that circle to partake in the event.   Events tend to give an exceptional amount of experience as well as karma – a form of currency for purchasing gear from NPC vendors – and often appear pretty close to you.  These events will range from holding off a horde of undead, to escorts and even killing giant world bosses.  To make up for the fact that you won’t always have thirty plus people show up, the difficulty and mob count is adjusted by how many players are actually in the vicinity.  That means if there’s only three of you, then you should be able to complete it without any issues unless the event is marked as a “Group Event.” This break in the typical tedious and grind like nature of leveling really helps out.

Exploration! Within every map in the game there are going to be multiple viewpoints that you need to obtain in order to achieve map completion (which gives you a chest with gear and other goodies).  This is where the decision to add jumping into Guild Wars 2 really pays off.  A lot of these viewpoints require platforming skills.  In the grand scheme of things, they aren’t super difficult, but a few of them might make you yell at your screen for a moment.  To take it to the next level, there are hidden areas within the game where you must complete a gauntlet of perplexing platforming to receive a chest filled with nice gear at the end of the proverbial maze.  Some of you might be thinking, “Uhhh, isn’t this the same thing as the holocrons in Star Wars: The Old Republic?” To a degree you’d actually be completely correct.  However, the complex platforming areas later in the game are far more difficult, rewarding, and better designed than anything you might have experienced in SW:ToR.  It’s also nice that you’re not essentially forced to partake in platforming in Guild Wars 2 as opposed to the need in SW:ToR due to the permanent stat buffs you gained in that game.

The last of these Three E’s is environment.  Guild Wars 2 is an absolutely stunning game from a visual standpoint.  There are very few places where you’re going to stop and say to yourself, “wasn’t I just in an area that looked like this earlier?” The amount of unique level design and overall detail that was put into the surroundings is beyond commendable.  It’s easy to lose immersion when you’re in Cave1B for the X’th time.  You’re not going to find that here.  Combined with an engaging but generic hero’s journey for your main storyline, this is a lived in world that you can easily lose yourself in.  No corners were cut.  If you’re making an MMO, ArenaNet just set the standard for environmental design.

You might find yourself staring off into the distance a few times.

Another element to the PvE portion of the game is gathering and crafting.  Everyone has the ability to collect every node they see, as each one is unique to the player.  That means you don’t have to worry about rushing over to trees, ore veins and so forth to get there before someone else does.  Gathering also gives you measurable experience to make the detours while leveling worth it.  On the flip side, gathering and salvaging materials you loot from mobs will allow you to craft in one of the eight different skills.  Leveling each crafting skill to the max (400) grants you 10 levels worth of experience.  If you happen to be one of those people who can’t get enough crafting you could theoretically level an entire character from 1-80 by doing nothing but maxing out each of the eight crafting skills.

When you’re finally level 80 you have a couple options waiting for you in the realm of PvE.  Start hitting the heroic dungeons, begin obtaining your top tier armor for the current stage of the game and begin the path towards crafting a legendary weapon…or hit all the other zones you missed while leveling and try to finish them all to obtain a 100% completion rating on your character.  That may sound simple, but it’s actually close to leveling up a character to 80 three times.  It’s not simple either because your character’s level is adjusted to that of the zone.  No level 80′s plowing super low level creeps in this game.

I couldn’t help but think of The Lion King when I took this screenshot.

Now for the big kahuna that made the original Guild Wars so popular.  PvP!  If the above paths of leveling don’t sound appetizing to you, there is yet another way for you to level to 80.  Enter World vs World vs World (WvWvW).  This is a two week long persistent war where your server will face off against two others on four giant maps for pride, gear, and unique bonuses that affect the PvE world on your server.  You don’t necessarily have to be level 80 for this, but it’s highly recommended to be effective in combat.  If you chose to go in without being max level your stats will be adjusted to level 80 and you will be able to level up through defending keeps, killing players and so forth.

PvP in this game has been divided into three different helpings.  The just discussed WvWvW can be entered pretty much out of the gate.  The two others – Structured PvP and Tournament PvP – can likewise be achieved by simply completing a very short starting story segment for each character and porting to the PvP zone.  Your toons within this realm with be automatically leveled to 80 and given all the talents and gear available.  What this means is that NO ONE in these forms of PvP has a gear advantage over anyone else.  ArenaNet’s goal by doing this is to ensure than “skill” is the determining factor in these forms of PvP as opposed to both skill and gear.  As I heard someone put so elegantly, “if StarCraft II gave better units to one player over another because one of them played more, it would tarnish the value of skill in the game.”  This said, there are some aspects that will absolutely kill PvP for some people.

Let’s start with WvWvW.  It’s a facet of the game definitely worth experiencing.   Attacking player castles and taking over objectives can be a blast.  This is however something I’d highly suggest doing with a group of friends to gain the most joy out of.  WvWvW often falls prey to being one giant zerg fest after another.  It’s basically, a giant lump of 50+ players running around and steamrolling everything that gets in their way.  It’s not exactly the most fun to be on the other end of that.  Also, being on the side of the plowing can get boring pretty quick once the novelty wears off.  Luckily this is just the start, so there’s plenty of time for WvWvW to grow and become something better than it currently is.

Completely dominating another team in kills/score means nothing in respawn heavy control point based gameplay.

Structured PvP and Tournament PvP is not like what you remember from the first Guild Wars.  ArenaNet has decided to ditch the arena based combat of the original for objective point holding maps; similar to what you’d get out of Eye of the Storm in World of Warcraft.  This eliminates much of the tense action that you’d get in arena style no-respawn combat for a more strategic focus based largely on map control.  There are pluses and minuses to both.  Both options being readily available in the game to provide diversity would have been a big plus.

The real crux of this game relative to PvP is going to be the addition of the “downed” state.  When your health bar reaches zero in the game, you fall to the ground and gain four abilities.  When that downed health bar reaches zero or another player casts a “kill” on you, you will actually die.  The thing is, casting your finisher isn’t quick and the player you’re trying to kill for essentially a second time has the ability to prolong their death by porting out of the way, knocking you back and so forth.  It’s quite often to be in a 1v1 where you clearly beat the opposing player and the following will happen.  They will stall long enough for a teammate or two to arrive and kill you in your already battle weakened state.  With the assistance of the damage being poured out by the downed player you had earlier “defeated” it makes it kind of a slap in the face.  If you’re thinking about 2v1′s, winning those is a rarity indeed compared to the non-downed counterpart.   While I understand ArenaNet’s desire to add a unique element to their PvP, this reviewer found it to be a gimmicky addition that actually diminished the value of skill they seemed so interested in protecting with their other decisions.  There are however plenty of people who seem to love this addition, so to each their own.  It’s something you will need to experience and make your own personal judgment call on.

Get used to something like this happening to you after you beat someone 1v1.

The issues with the downed state also enter the realm of balance.  Some professions have abilities that are simply unfair compared to others at this point in time.  In fact, it is possible to beat a player into a downed state, have the downed stated player push out enough damage to down you as well and then for that player to kill you and be revived.

Continuing with balance, in a game based on map control and holding points, if you’re facing a team with guardians and you have none, odds are high you’re going to lose if they perform their role.  At the present state of the game, the guardian profession has exceptional survivability, quality damage and the ability to resurrect downed players in the heat of battle in a way no other profession can. Mesmers are also able to perform similarly due to the use of illusions which will confuse most teammates unless you use the CTRL + T command to put a bullseye above the real one.  Unfortunately only one target can have that bullseye at any one time…so when a team has 4-5 mesmers it’s rather annoying to constantly have to find the real one when they pop in and out of stealth.  I wouldn’t make too big a deal about this right now, as something being overpowered or underpowered is typical at this stage of the game; and generally is always an issue in the PvP portion of MMO’s.  Still, you deserve to know the current state of the game.

Another frustrating balance issue is teams in structured PvP.  I can’t even count the amount of games where one team had an extra player over another.  People quit games with regularity and sometimes you’re forced onto the losing team mid-match to help restore balance.  If you want a solid PvP experience, I’d suggest forming a team and sticking to tournament play.  Structured PvP as it is currently, has too many debilitating issues to provide anything more than practice for trying out specs and grinding glory for exotic looking gear.  I’ll repeat.  Do not go into structured PvP, or for that matter WvWvW, expecting a balanced and favorable experience.  It’s a shot in the dark.

Guild Wars 2 has had a rough launch in some areas and shined well in others.  There was a crisis over bans handed out to exploiters and the Trading Post (Auction House) was down for upwards of a week after launch.  I can’t think of any absolutely flawless MMO launch.  There’s a reason for this.  A dev team simply can’t simulate or anticipate every issue that will crop up in the first week.  All things considered, ArenaNet has had a stellar start to their game.  There is no denying that on the whole, this game is a superb product that one can hope, with time, will only get better.  With absolutely no subscription fees after purchase, the average player will realistically never have to spend a penny more via their Gem Store F2P service to obtain the best experience possible.  If you’re on the fence about a purchase, feel free to jump off and give this game a purchase.  It’s EASILY worth $60 relative to the hours of entertainment you’ll get in return.

 

  • Name: Guild Wars 2
  • Available on: PC
  • Developed by: ArenaNet
  • Published by: NCsoft
  • Price: $60.00
  • Release date: August 28th, 2012
  • Playthrough: This reviewer leveled to max and played all available aspects of the game before writing this review.
  • Elder-Geek Score: 5 out of 5 / Worth Buying

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