I was a big fan of the first Guild Wars when it came out back in April of 2005. Guild Wars came out in the middle of the big Massive Multiplayer Online RPG (MMORPG) boom, thanks in part of the early rivalry of World of Warcraft and EverQuest 2. NCSoft went out of their way to set Guild Wars apart from others in the MMO genre. The first thing NCSoft did was implement a “free to play” business model while all other MMO’s followed a subscription based model. The only thing NCSoft ever charged for was the expansion packs that followed after the initial release.
Some of the ways NCSoft went about setting Guild Wars apart from other MMO’s was through their unique gameplay. Guild Wars, from the ground up, was a game designed with Arena based Player vs Player (PVP) in mind. Outside of the PVP, players also had a huge world they could explore with a well assembled story. When exploring the world of Guild Wars, each player had their own instance in which no other player could jump in unless they were part of your party. This style of gameplay gave Guild Wars a sort of single player element which allowed you to enjoy the game’s beautiful landscapes, story and exploration without the hassle of waiting for enemies to spawn or being rushed by teammates.
Another big thing about Guild Wars was the multi-job system. Here, a player could create a human based character and master two professions. Here, you could mix and mash professions, like being a Warrior and Healer, a Mesmer and Ranger or a Nero and a Monk. This allowed for a more robust and open experience that allowed the player to approach the game how they wanted to. I enjoyed the hell out of Guild Wars for all these reasons, and with the announcement of Guild Wars 2 I eagerly anticipated the release of the sequel.
Now seven years later, NCSoft rewards us with the sequel, and many things about the game world and gameplay have changed. Many changes were for the best, though some are questionable. Starting off, we are now presented with a more robust and complex character creation system, with five races to pick from and an assortment of professions to choose.
Before I talk about the races further I want to talk about how well done the character creation system is. Now, I have been spoiled by Phantasy Star Online 2‘s creation system, as it pretty much lets you make what alterations you want to your character. Guild Wars 2 doesn’t have that kind of freedom, but it’s still amazing what options you have. You do have pre-rendered faces, hair, eye color and even tattoos, but you have the ability to make adjustments to allow your character to feel less like a clone once you unleash them into the game world. You have the ability to alter everything from the facial structure to the muscle mass/body makeup of your character. Each race has lots of options and allows you to make them feel unique in many ways.
Each race comes with their own storyline, and all come together for an endgame of sorts. This, however, is pretty standard, as almost all MMO’s now utilize some element of storytelling. However, Guild Wars 2 does excel well at storytelling through action between your character and hero NPC’s, and closed off single player instances that feel like a throwback to the first Guild Wars. NCSoft did an excellent job with story progression in the first Guild Wars and continues to do well here in the sequel. Truth be told though, storytelling isn’t why we play an MMO in the first place. It’s the gameplay, the ability to grow and enhance your character as you progress thru the game, the drive to explore your world and discover its secrets, the ability to play with multiple people you already know or have just met and complete your objectives together. On all those fronts, Guild Wars 2 delivers big time.
Among the familiar professions available, like the Ranger, Mesmer and Warrior classes, you have a couple of new ones, like Thieves and Engineers. In the first Guild Wars, you were limited to playing as humans only, but in GW2 you can now pick from the Charr, the Norn, Sylvari, Humans and Asura. Each race comes with their own perks and can excel in certain professions easier than other races.
The short in stature Asura can easily become prolific in magic professions like Elementalist, while the unique plant race, Sylvari, can excel in the arts of the Mesmer. Humans, of course, can adapt in any profession. Now, each profession has a very huge amount of traits and abilities that you can unlock to beef up your character. Once you hit level five, you will be able to unlock your first ability with points that you earn with each level up. Aside from leveling up, you can earn extra skill points by finding and completing challenges that are spread throughout the world.
Some of these professions are pretty much the same as any other you’ve played in most MMO’s before, but somehow seem more fun in execution here. I have a Ranger in Worlds of Warcraft, and as you can expect, the Ranger plays similarly here. You have the ability to have pet companions, you can strike from long distance with status effect crippling shots or send out a fury of arrows that can deal a bit of damage to a bunch of beasties at once. Yet for a few reasons, these generic professions are more fun to play with in Guild Wars 2. It mostly has to do with how you can choose to play your profession, with how you can spread out your trait and skill points, and how you can handle the weapons you want to use. Granted, you usually have the ability to choose how you want to play in other MMO’s thru things like skill trees, but in Guild Wars 2, it just feels more accessible. I feel confident with whatever decision I choose.
Outside of the character professions, there is a gigantic world out there to explore and interact with in Guild Wars 2. One of the greatest merits is being rewarded for exploring the game by going to “Points of Interests” or the more difficult to reach “Vistas.” Points of Interests are usually hot spots to find quests, jobs or live events. The Vistas are usually semi-difficult areas that, once reached, give you an amazing view of the area you are in. Discovering both of these points will reward the player with a decent amount of experience points. For every zone in the game, there are a set number of POI and Vistas to find.
One of highlights for me is how Guild Wars 2 drops the traditional “fetch” quests for something more streamlined and fun. After playing numerous MMO’s full of kill this, collect that missions, Guild Wars 2 gave me a breath of fresh air. There are now three types of quests, and each of them are designated by three different symbols on your map. The first are the storyline quests, which are the green stars, the second are tasks that are represented by empty hearts, and the final ones are the live event quests.
The storyline quests are exactly what I mentioned earlier. You go to these points on the map and complete the objective in a closed off instance. The second series of quests, the Tasks, are where the game changes from ordinary MMO’s. Here you have one or more tasks to complete, and they range from, of course, the usual collecting items, defending against raids, brewing potions, to more exotic options like feeding bear cubs. Each task usually has a bar for you to fill up before it’s completed. One of the great things that Guild Wars 2 does is allowing multiple people to complete the objective of each task together without having to party up. This can make completing a task less of a chore and more fun because it can be completed more quickly with the help of a complete stranger. The final type of quests are the Live Events, and these are very similar to the live events in Warhammer Online. They are usually spread out everywhere in each zone and they occur at random, multiple times a day. These quests, just like the Tasks, don’t need people to party up for everyone to enjoy the rewards. The Live Events can range anywhere from an escort mission to taking on a powerful elite foe or monster. There are three kinds of rewards that are given out for how well you participate in the Live Events, ranging between bronze, silver and gold. Each reward level gives out certain amount of experience points for how hard you worked towards completing the goal.
The final major gameplay element for Guild Wars 2 are the top-notch Player vs Player environments. There are actually two different types of PvP, and each have their own unique elements of play. The first is Hero PvP, which can be accessed through your hero’s menu system. By entering the Hero PvP, you are leveled up to eighty (max level) and given a set of different skills from what you currently have. The skills you gain are profession specific and allow you to compete by giving you the best tools possible. Of course, you can alter the skills and items you have but they will remain in the PvP area only. Here you go at it with other people and complete challenges similarly to what you find in the overworld.
The other PvP mode is the World vs World competition. Here, people from different servers compete for advantages and bonuses that you gain in the PvP arena. You have multiple arenas to compete in, and this is more geared towards capturing land and retaining it. Just like in Hero PvP, you are leveled up to eighty, but the big difference is that you keep the skills that you have gained. So if you enter the arena with a level twenty character, then the skills you acquired will be all you have when you enter.
The competition, for the most part, seems very balanced, and every race and profession has their perks and aren’t overpowered in these areas. What I would have liked would be more areas to compete in, but that may be possible with future updates or expansions. Overall, the gameplay experience has something for everyone and doesn’t get boring anytime soon. The storyline quests are a great way to progress through the game solo and don’t force you to party up to enjoy the Guild Wars 2 experience.
One of the things that caught my eye about the first Guild Wars was the amazing graphics. Even when I participated in the E3 alpha build back in 2005, I found the game to be amazing. Everything stood out, from the draw distance, the attention to detail on characters and the environment, and how the landscape just seemed to be alive. Years later I still see the first game as breathtakingly gorgeous. Guild Wars 2 surpasses it on every level. Character detail has gone up several notches, animation included. The world is even more beautiful and just screams “explore me”.
What I really like the most is how each starting environment for each race is very representative of them. The Charr are in a world filled with chaos and war. You see heavy war torn damage to ancient structures, but you also see the technical advancements of the race and their machinery everywhere. The Norn live in a more wilderness heavy area and it’s filled with dangerous creatures in snow barren lands. Everything graphically is immensely impressive.
Unfortunately, the musical score leaves something to be desired. Aside from the main menu track when you start up the game, none of the musical tracks stand out. The generic battle music, the quiet ambient environmental sounds, and the overall score in general just don’t do anything special. Although it’s not a game breaker, it is rather disappointing. However it doesn’t really detract from the gameplay experience at all.
Overall, Guild Wars 2 is the complete package MMO I have been waiting around for. The game that came closest to what I wanted in an MMO was Warhammer Online, but even that game had some issues that kept me from completely enjoying the experience. What I experience in my short time with Guild Wars 2 is nothing short of amazing, and I can see myself continuing to play this game for a very long time. I’m not hindered from advancing further in the game by being forced to party up or anything. In fact, because of the abundance of fellow players being almost everywhere, you will always have someone to help you out in case you tackle something that is too much for you.
Sound: ABOVE AVERAGE
Control and Gameplay: CLASSIC
Appeal Factor: CLASSIC
FINAL SCORE: INCREDIBLE GAME
Short Attention Span Summary:
I love how I can enjoy Guild Wars 2 at my own pace. I can enjoy exploring and discovering the unique Points of interests and Vistas. If I wanted to compete in PvP, I wouldn’t have to worry about being behind other players in order to compete, as the game puts everyone on equal footing. The gameplay allows me to develop the character the way I want to and doesn’t punish me for trying to do something different. As of this writing the Worlds of Warcraft expansion Mists of Pandaria is nearly upon us, and I can truly and honestly say without a doubt to pick up Guild Wars 2 over another Warcraft expansion.