Guild Wars 2: The View From the Top

In between playing The Secret World and raving about The Secret World, I’m still finding a little time here or there to keep up with Guild Wars 2. I’m now ready to follow up on my initial thoughts and give my more seasoned review of the game.

My legend grows:

The city of Rata Sum in Guild Wars 2I’ve recently hit the level cap on my thief. True to ArenaNet’s promises, being level 80 doesn’t radically change the game. There’s some better gear and a few more dungeons to run, and that’s about it. This does make dinging 80 a bit of an anticlimax, but I consider this a fair trade-off.

Achieving gear with optimal stats isn’t as effortless as we were led to believe prior to the game’s release, but it’s still much easier to gear up in GW2 than in most MMOs.

Pro tip: buy level 78/79 exotics. They’re only marginally less powerful than the 80 exotics, but they’re much cheaper.

So what do you do when you’re 80 in Guild Wars 2? The simple answer is, “Whatever you want,” but there are some specific things tailored to high level players. Most notable among these is Orr.

It’s Orr-ible!

My thief in Malchor's Leap in Guild Wars 2Orr is basically what GW2 has instead of raids. Once a thriving human kingdom, it was blasted beneath the sea by a magical cataclysm, and later, it was dredged up and turned into a nightmarish land of the undead by Deathwing — er, I mean, Zhaitan.

I have mixed feelings on Orr.

In its favour, Orr is very true to its concept. Often in MMOs, we travel to a new zone having been told what a dangerous and terrifying place it is, but then we find it’s a zone like any other, with average difficulty and the standard quest hubs.

Orr isn’t like that.  Orr is Hell.

Every inch of Orr is crawling in undead, and dynamic events and world bosses are everywhere. Even getting from one end of a zone to another can be a challenging struggle. Very few places are truly safe, and nearly all NPC camps can and often will be sacked by Zhaitan’s forces.

My thief battling in the Straits of Devastatio in Guild Wars 2Orr gives you the feeling of being in hostile territory, fighting for every inch of soil gained, and in theory, I really love the idea of world exploration as challenging endgame content.

But at the same time, I feel Orr may be a little too true to its concept. The place is brutal. Not brutal as in difficult, but just brutal as in hard to navigate or get anything done. Get used to long corpse runs and “event failed” notifications.

The issue is that only the last zone, Cursed Shore, gives the best rewards, so the first two zones are largely ignored by most players. Good luck to those poor bastards trying to drag their way through the first two.

The biggest problem is that, with all the events uncompleted, 90% of the waypoints are contested. This means that if you die, you’re basically sent back to the entrance of a zone. There aren’t words for how frustrating that is.

I’m not exaggerating when I say contested waypoints are the worst thing in this game.

The Gates of Arah in Cursed Shore in Guild Wars 2But the nice thing is you don’t really need to go to Orr if you don’t want to. My thief has only 36% map completion right now. There’s a whole world to explore.

So then analyzing the endgame in GW2 becomes more about analyzing the game in general. Some aspects of it have lost their shine since the initial review, but I’ve developed a new appreciation for others.

The plot — or lack thereof:

Story is probably my biggest complaint about Guild Wars 2. Simply put, the game’s plot is terrible, one of the worst I’ve ever seen. It’s derivative and cliche, the voice acting is atrocious, the dialogue writing is worse, the characters are paper thin…

The one redeeming feature of the personal storyline — that it’s personal — ceases to be a factor very early on. By level twenty or so, the bio choices you make at creation have stopped having an impact. Even race choice doesn’t matter once you choose an order.

My Guild Wars 2 mesmer stylin' in Metrica ProvinceAlso, it’s dumb you need to run a group dungeon to complete your personal story.

This, more than anything, is what made me jump ship to The Secret World. Tyria just isn’t a world I care about. I am not invested in the conflicts. There are no characters I want to avenge. There is nothing that makes me hate Zhaitan.

This is the biggest reason why I say GW2 is “not a meal.” To some people, it won’t matter, but I need to care about the world and the characters to stay motivated in a game.

Gameplay:

The gameplay is also something that I’ve grown a little disillusioned with. I’m still enjoying myself — don’t get me wrong. But the “new game smell” has worn off.

The main issue is that the game gets rather repetitive after a while. There’s very little variation in the design of dynamic events, hearts, and skill challenges. After a while, it starts to feel like the only differences between the zones are cosmetic.

An underwater personal story quest in Guild Wars 2I expect this is something that will improve as the game matures. After all, nearly all of the bosses in vanilla Warcraft were tank-and-spanks.

Another minor issue is that the game tends to get more annoying in the higher zones. I don’t mean more difficult — although that’s also true. Just annoying.

Did they just sit down one day and say, “Hey, how much crowd control can we cram into the upper level zones?” Knock downs, stuns, knock backs, blinds, snares, more knock downs… It’s like trying to PvP in WoW, for crying out loud.

Stay classy:

On a more positive note, I’ve come to the conclusion I’ve underestimated GW2’s classes. Initially, I was very critical of ArenaNet’s class design, finding that the classes feel too similar and disliking the game’s heavy emphasis on cooldowns and ground target AoEs.

My thief in Malchor's Leap in Guild Wars 2I’m still not going to hold Guild Wars 2 up as the paragon of class design, but I’ve learned to appreciate their classes.

Mainly, weapon-swapping makes a much bigger difference than I’d realized. If you have good timing, you can come up with some really interesting combinations by utilizing skills from different weapons. I’ve developed a rotation on my warrior that combines axe and longbow skills to deliver absurd AoE damage, a brutal single target strike, and powerful AoE buffs and debuffs all in one smooth progression.

I also appreciate that each class archetype can be interpreted very broadly. If you want to play a purely ranged warrior, you can. Melee ranger? Go ahead. With the click of one button, my thief transitions from a dancing whirlwind of steel to the rootinest, tootinest, shootinest gunslinger in all the Shiverpeaks.

The classes play more differently from each other than I initially gave them credit for, too. My thief is an agile class cannon, constantly dodging and fading in and out of sight because a fair fight is not something she can win.

My mesmer and her illusions in Guild Wars 2By contrast, my warrior is a one-man army, standing on the front lines and facing everything the world can throw at him.

And, of course, mesmers are just completely unlike anything I’ve ever played before — in any game. Points for originality there, even if trying to play that class gives me a headache sometimes.

In summary:

It’s difficult to review MMOs, because they’re always changing, but I put a number on my last review, so I might as well do so again.

New overall rating for Guild Wars 2: 8.1/10 Still a pretty good game, but is lacking in some key areas. I’d say it’s best enjoyed as a side diversion while you focus on other games — and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s a great “side dish.”

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