Guild Wars 2 offers a welcome take on the fantasy MMO genre. Featuring jaw-dropping visuals, real-time combat and incredible PVP, this title will be sure to keep fans happy for years to come.
- Deep and varied stories demand multiple playthroughs
- Daily achievements make the game hard to turn off
- PVP and WVW is not to be missed
- Weapons upgrade comically fast, making the whole system useless
- Bugged quests can cause serious frustration
- Level adjustments take some getting used to
Once on the cusp of over saturation, the fantasy genre in video games has reached a nice equilibrium with a steady drip of great titles. Unlike zombie games, no one is quite sick of fantasy games, and Guild Wars 2 gives us yet another reason to love the unreal. With a mix of real-time combat, gorgeous visuals and a fresh take on leveling, the game may be just what MMO fans have been waiting for; WoW-weary or not.
We're not in Azeroth anymore
The first thing I noticed about GW2 is just how damn good it looks. The interface is clean and easy; free of unnecessary junk. Beyond that, the visuals are amazing, and with the UI turned off, any given scene looks like something ArenaNet might send out in a press release. And let me tell you about the map. For me, maps in MMOs are like website designs; you only notice them when they're bad. But I actually noticed this map for good reasons, as it is is the easiest to use, best marked map I have ever seen. Similarly, travel is quick, easy, and cheaper than in other MMOs. It even draws out a line where you have been à la Family Circus. You don't need special items to travel one waypoint over. If I could write a full review about the map I would.
Before falling in love with the map, I of course created my character. As with any RPG, I found the coolest looking race and of course chose a female. For me, the easy choice was the Sylvari; an eco-friendly race that is not born, but awaken under a life-giving tree. Other races include Humans, the tech-heavy Asura, gigantic Norn hunters and the war-driven Charr. Customization is much more diverse than most MMOs. For example, I was allowed to not only change my ears into flowers, but decide just how open the blossoms would be. Mine are closed because I'm a bad listener. Other races offer infinite possibilities as far as appearance, and later, story.
During this time I was given a choice of class - referred to as professions - and I chose the Warrior. This came in close second to a Ranger which can adopt wild animals as reliable pets for combat. All told, there are eight professions with varying abilities such as laying down buffs for allies or absorbing the life energy of defeated enemies. To be honest, the choices left me at a bit of a loss.
From there I took the opportunity to influence my own story; something that would hold significant bearing on my story until the end of the game. I could choose the way my character would behave due to things in her past that haunted her. This element of choice carried on throughout the game, and during many of my missions I was given the opportunity to go one way or the other, and before long my story had split into a version very distinct from that of anyone else.
The first action hero
As someone with a dreadfully short attention span, real-time combat gives me endless joy. I could dodge to avoid attacks, block in real time and do some really awesome things like throw bolas to tie someone up. Another element that adds further speed to the gameplay is an ability to swap weapons immediately during battle. This allowed me to switch from a rifle to an axe immediately when my enemies had closed in, opening up boundless combination of strategies. A significant focus was put on underwater combat, and although it was initially hard for me to grasp, I'm now rather proficient with a harpoon. Further the transition from land to water movement and combat is so seamless it's barely noticeable.
One gripe I do have is with the weapons upgrades. The game allowed me to level up my weapons abilities as I used them more instead of buying them. Unfortunately, I could unlock all of the weapon upgrades on a certain weapon after using it for only 15 minutes. With such a short time to unlock abilities it made me wonder why I wasn't just given the abilities to begin with. The concept is really cool, it's just disappointing to learn all the abilities of a weapon class at level four and have the same abilities until the end of the game. I wouldn't have minded waiting.
On the other side of your health gauge are your character abilities which you can purchase to unlock. These abilities are a bit more support-oriented and feature a slew of different offerings including the aforementioned bolas which are vital to my rifle strategy. These are interchangeable (outside of battle) and allowed me to quickly change my style on the fly depending on the situation.
With all of my weapons fully upgraded I ventured into new areas, discovering just how vast the quests are. Though most quests feature the same formula-a combination of fetch quests, killing mobs and finding items-they never felt tired or repetitive. Further, the NPC who offers you a quest will sell you items upon completion for an alternative currency in the game-karma points. These are rewarded for completing quests and events, but also for doing nice things for your fellow man like reviving a downed player. Reviving players-that is, instead of returning to a graveyard or simply respawning-adds a human element to the game as you watch other players risk their asses during battles to get you back up and in the fight.
Another way to share the love in GW2 is during random world events. The events generally draw excited gamers from every corner of the map, making for some epic unplanned battles. Unfortunately, due to their size and nature, more than a few of these events were bugged. Like all of the worst glitches, these weren't clear until after I had logged serious time trying to figure out what I was doing wrong.
I mentioned that Guild Wars 2 looks absolutely stunning, but what I didn't mention is that it sounds equally amazing. The music alone adds to the spectacular vistas, but ArenaNet did one better and actually incorporated great voice actors (Felicia Day, Nolan North and Jennifer Hale to name a few) to make sure players actually wanted to pay attention to cut scenes. However, my favorite sound by far was the achievement sparkle.
Yes, I love my achievements; and luckily GW2 feeds my addiction. Of course I received achievements for completing quests and exploring areas, but what was really cool was the daily achievements. I was regularly rewarded for killing a set amount of mobs or a certain variety of enemies. The result was me being unable to turn off the game as there was always One More daily to complete. The game also rewarded me for completing events, which really encouraged everyone in any world I was in to work together.
Working together was not always fun though. The game features a number of channels with a main channel in each map. Whenever you travel to a new map, you enter a queue to join the main channel. When it is your turn in queue to move to the main channel, a persistent pop up will appear, notifying you. More than a few times I was close to completing an event went the pop up would appear and I would accidentally click it; losing all of my progress in the process.
One other feature that began as an annoyance became much more tolerable as I gave the game more time. A main part of the game touted an equal leveling system; that is to say it took as much experience to get from level two to three as it did to get from level 50 to 51. This meant that returning to old areas would lower your level (and health and damage), making you feel considerably less badass.
After a while though, it grew on me, as mobs are never really ignorable because they're always at your level. Further, you retain all your abilities and level skills even if you do drop a level. So enemies do get easier to kill in a way, just not stepping-on-a-grasshopper easy. The best part about this feature is the ability to play with your friends regardless of level. Gone are the days of stomping around like Godzilla in your friend's low level areas; the game remains challenging no matter where you are.
Eventually, as always, my desire to kill other players took over and I hit up Player vs. Player. The best part about the PVP for a less skilled player such as myself is the fact that everyone in structured PVP gets the same gear and level. This means the loot whore and the noob (me) are put on the same plane...that is until the game starts. PVP rewards players with points, or Glory, which contribute to an overall rank. Both of these grant players reward chests filled with seriously cool loot.
The transition to PVP is quick and easy, taking you to a nearby world where you can train, buy weapons and ultimately enter PVP servers. These feature different game types that allow players to quickly find a game/map with an opening and jump right in without needing to queue up. Indeed, I was able to find two PVP matches early morning before class just to get my fix. If you want to play a more customized map or play with friends however, there may be a wait. The PVP at times often feels like popular shooter multiplayers, with quick matchmaking and a relatively level playing field for all players.
Equally astounding is the World vs. World vs. World part of the game, which features a massive map with constant on-going war. There are countless objectives to capture, caravans to defend and players to kill. Opening your map quickly informs you where players are having impromptu battles so you can develop a strategy and tactics on your way to the fight. If I though the single player was addictive, it has nothing on the relentless action in WVWVW.
A place to rest your cursor
Truth be told, it was hard to turn off the game to write this review because I just kept finding new features to fall in love with. The crafting-which could use a tutorial or two-turned out to be one of my favorite features in the game. I found myself stopping in the middle of battle to chop down a tree, telling myself "this would make a great axe handle!" More than anything, however, I have to say that Guild Wars 2 is just fresh. It's new, it's innovative and more than anything, it's a welcome change for fans that may want something different. I know I did.