Guild Wars 2 is arguably the most hyped MMO since World of Warcraft. People treat it like the Second Coming of Jesus, and even I started to drink the Kool Aid, so when the Curse Network started handing out keys for the final beta weekend, I was on them like stink on a monkey.
Where it delivered:
Firstly, Guild Wars 2 is the first MMO I’ve played that is not a clone of World of Warcraft. While there are still some similarities to the juggernaut of the genre, GW2 is clearly its own beast.
The first thing you’ll notice is the pace. Whereas a standard MMO will make you wade through dozens of fairly dull quests before you ever encounter anything exciting, GW2 throws you into massive battles involving dozens of players and NPCs immediately, and there’s never any real down time.
Discounting PvP — which I’ve largely avoided — there are three main ways to play GW2, and they’re cleverly designed to appeal to many different kinds of players.
The first is dynamic events (DEs), which will feel familiar to anyone who’s played Rift. However, Rift’s attempt to shoehorn dynamic events into the WoW formula felt awkward. In GW2, DEs are intended to be the meat of the game, and they are always welcome and always exciting.
I’ve yet to see a lot of creativity or challenge in the design of DEs — though that could come later — but they’re all pretty epic and exciting. They may be mindless clusterfracks, but they’re fun clusterfracks.
The second option is the “hearts.” These are NPCs (marked by heart symbols on your map) who will reward you for completing simple tasks. These are somewhat analogous to the quests of standard MMOs, but with several refinements to make the process quicker and less tedious.
The hearts aren’t terribly exciting, but they’re quick to complete and provide a good excuse to explore the countryside and hopefully find some DEs along the way. DEs often count toward the completion of a nearby heart, so you can kill two birds with one stone.
The final progression path is your personal story, a sort of hybridization of the usual MMO quest design and a single player RPG. This is what soloists and lore fans will gravitate towards.
I can’t overstate what a quantum leap forward this is. People actually help each other — without being asked. Having other people around while adventuring is welcome, not a hindrance. It creates a wonderful sense of camaraderie between players.
DEs/hearts are also the best example of sandbox game design I’ve ever seen. They deliver a wonderful feeling of being a true itinerant adventurer. There’s no hand-holding; just pick a direction and walk until you find something to do. And there’s always something to do.
Conversely, the personal story barely feels like playing an MMO at all, and is obviously designed to appeal to those who are not necessarily social or a fan of sandboxes — like me.
They really thought this through.
Outside of the core gameplay, there are other things to praise. The graphics are beautiful and vibrant even on modest settings. The character models are amazing, and while the customization options aren’t quite on par with Aion, they’re nonetheless very impressive.
I particularly enjoyed the ability to customize your gear colours right out of the gate and change them at any time. I’m embarrassed to think of how much time I spent just playing with the dyes.
Where it didn’t:
But as impressive as Guild Wars 2 is, it is not perfect. Its flaws are few, but they are major.
My biggest complaint so far is the class design.
You only have five offensive abilities at any given time. One of these is always an auto-attack, and two or three are usually more along the lines of situational utility, so you often find yourself spamming only one or two buttons. To make matters worse, all abilities are on lengthy cooldowns, so you tend to just stand there and auto-attack, especially early on.
For such a progressive game, I’m very surprised it kept auto-attack at all. I’m even more surprised they made it central to every single class — even casters. With so few abilities to begin with, GW2 could have really benefited from an auto-attack free combat system like that of Star Wars: The Old Republic.
Environmental weapons and the synergies between different class abilities do break the monotony somewhat, but the fact remains that the simplest World of Warcraft rotation is still far more involved than the most complex GW2 “rotation,” and the classes ultimately feel dull and unfinished.
The other major annoyance was the load screens. As you may recall, I despise load screens in MMOs. They ruin the feeling of being in a complete virtual world.
The maps are
pretty big enormous, so it’s not as bad as it could be, but frequent load screens are a cardinal sin of MMOs in my mind.
Other complaints include the super-sized interface, the bland music, and the lack of tutorials or explanation. While I’m managing, an inexperienced gamer would likely feel very overwhelmed by Guild Wars 2.
Not the Second Coming, but close:
There are lots of other things I could talk about, but this post has grown to massive size already. In the end, GW2 is not the perfect masterpiece people make it out to be. The class design, in particular, is very hard to swallow.
But that said, I still feel confident in saying that this is probably the best and most original massively multiplayer game since World of Warcraft. It’s a totally unique and very fun experience, brimming with life and energy, and I highly recommend it.
Where the hell am I going to find the time to play Guild Wars and Mists of Pandaria?