In many respects, Guild Wars 2 is not your typical MMORPG. At first glance, it plays much like the games of its genre: pick a class, go on quests, and loot high level dungeons. Due to the genre’s emphasis on progression to keep the player invested in the long run, MMORPGs tend to be designed in such a way that players will have to jump through many hoops and “work” to experience all the content the game has to offer. The result is the concept of “grinding” in MMOs: doing something not so fun to progress and access high level rewards and privileges. Although Guild Wars 2 still retains the aspect of progression that makes MMOs so satisfying, working to unlock more and more things never feels like a chore. Playing the game is an end to itself: rewards come through naturally exploring its beautiful world, slaying monsters in its excellent combat system, and just doing whatever you feel like.
The game begins at the familiar character creation screen. The player can choose from eight classes and five races, along with a slew of variations in alignment, origins, and worship. Many vastly different characters can be created, even disregarding the smaller variations. Any race can be any class: the hulking Norns can be a fragile Mesmer just as the tiny, gnome-like Asura can be a hardy Warrior. Class and race aren’t the only important decisions you will make however. Although it might seem trivial at first, variations in areas such as origins and alignment will determine the course of each character’s “personal story”, a long series of quests influenced in no small part by the decisions you make at character creation. The lack of restrictions at character creation as well as the small touches the player can make which matter later in the game allow for a more personal touch to each character.
The range of classes caters to both the traditionalist and the adventurous. The player could probably guess what the Warrior, Elementalist, and Ranger can do, but not so much of the Mesmer and the Engineer. No matter what class the player chooses, each one should prove to be fun and challenging due to the excellent combat system. The skill-based, fluid system is expressed in the access of multiple skill bars with the touch of a key, the chance to get back into the fight when fallen, and the introduction of a dodging mechanic. No matter what class they choose, the player has access to 10 skills at a time, 5 of which are combat skills derived from the weapon(s) or stance wielded by the character. With a button press, the player can switch weapons or stances (depending on the class), thus transitioning to a different set of combat skills. Not only does this reduce the complication of managing a great number of skills at the same time, it allows for dynamic and strategic fights as players can switch skill sets on the fly according to the situation. Moreover, each skill feels unique due to the variety in animations as well as its capabilities to inflict “conditions”, which are crowd control effects such as vulnerability, bleeding, and blindness. “Boons”, or buffs, can also be applied to support allies. Classes are designed to be versatile so that any one has the ability to inflict conditions, support allies, heal themselves, and take punishment. Unlike MMORPGs such as World of Warcraft, there is no “Holy Trinity”, or set roles that determine a team composition or specialization. The classes are different enough to be clearly distinct yet flexible enough to be able to fend for themselves or contribute to a group effort.
The ability for players to make “combos” in battle demonstrates the synergy that can come from between players of any class. A combo begins with the laying of a “combo field”, such as a ring of fire from an elementalist or a smoke screen from a thief. Another player can use that field through the use of a “finisher”. For example, if a ranger shoots arrows through an elementalist’s ring of fire, the arrows will catch on fire and do extra burning damage on hit. Not only do combos add an extra tactical element to combat, it trains players to welcome other players into their fights, no matter what class they are.
Other aspects of the combat system of Guild Wars 2 are the dodging mechanic and the downed state. The dodging mechanic exemplifies the tactical skill ceiling that the combat system has. Most attacks from foes can be avoided by rolling away only at the correct moment. However, dodging is limited by a stamina bar, forcing players to be careful of their positioning and choose wisely when they dodge. The player goes into a “downed state” when all their health is lost, in which they can use a different, weaker set of abilities to finish off their foes. If they succeed, they “rally” to get back up into the fight, which reduces much of the frustration involved with being defeated. If they fail, the player is simply allowed to respawn at the nearest waypoint, at the cost of some gold.
Exploration is as rewarding, if not more rewarding, than combat, both in a practical sense and in an emotional sense. A notable aspect of exploration is that reaching each of the many points of the map grants a chunk of experience. Spending time completing an area often nets the player more experience than staying in one place to kill mobs, which is unheard of in this game. Almost every area will look new as well as beautiful, and the game makes an effort through the points on the map to lead the player to visit each location. The most impressive points on the map are vistas, which are vantage points that showcase a sweeping view of the surrounding area. Realizing that you can walk to almost any area you can see below you emphasizes the joy exploration is in Guild Wars 2.
Something that also should be mentioned is the concept of level scaling, which keep low level areas from becoming obsolete, and allow friends with a large disparity in levels to play together easily. When going into an area meant for players lower leveled than you, the game will scale down your character to the area’s level. For example, a level 60 venturing into a level 10 zone will be scaled down so that they will be comparable to a level 10 character. This keeps monsters in any area a constant challenge, as even a level 4 monster can kill a level 60 venturing into a low level zone. A higher level player will still obtain loot relevant to their level. Players will thus not be inclined a skip a low level zone just because they are too far progressed, keeping the entire world of Tyria relevant. Level scaling also allows a high level player to play with a lower level friend without feeling as though they are wasting their time. Although this may be displeasurable to those who feel they should be able to steamroll lower level areas just because they have progressed so far, the pros far outweigh the cons.
The player will encounter “dynamic events” as they travel the world, which are spontaneous events in which any player in the surrounding area can join. They are not instanced and are integrated into the world, allowing each player to have a unique experience when exploring. A player can encounter a giant ice wurm or a local in need of protection, providing a sense of context and autonomy to slaying monsters that make it so much more immersive and enjoyable. Even though most events consist of packs of monsters or a boss to kill, it feels much better participating in a random event to kill mobs of monsters than camping a spot and doing the same, or following a to do list of quests devised by the game. In addition, the player will often encounter other players in events, making events so much more fun. Running into a huge boss that is being wailed on by many other players brought in by its presence is nothing short of epic. Events can also prove to be a natural way of meeting others, as it is a method of getting players together. It should also be mentioned that loot and experience is granted to everyone who participates in a fight, even if it is a single monster. The lack of competition between players in PvE creates a very cooperative environment where you will welcome other players in encounters, which is a plus.
The personal story questline and miscellaneous “Heart” quests are present in the game in addition to events. Heart quests are marked on various areas on the map, and involve filling a progress bar by slaying monsters, collecting items, and destroying totems. Although it is nice to have miscellaneous quests to complete when you can’t seem to come across an event or just like playing solo, most of them seem identical to the other. A bit more work on providing a deeper context or story to the hearts would set Guild Wars 2 even further apart from the traditional MMORPG quest formula, which is something the game is obviously trying to do. Most of the NPCs standing around in the world reflect this shallowness, as most don’t have much to say and are not interesting. In a world that tries to be so vivid and broad, it should follow that the game should be deeper as well in its writing. The personal story is the only quest series in the game, and the one of the few features that tries to get the player interested in its lore. Even though it is interesting how the personal story features a branching story line influenced by decisions at character creation and during the quests themselves, the lackluster dialogue and generic instances failed to keep me invested in the story.
Complementing quests and events, daily achievements provide players with incentive to play the game each day, rewarding players for kill variety, event completion, resource gathering, and other stats of their choosing. Dailies allow the player to play how they want and be rewarded for it, proving to be a great supplement to running around competing maps.
Dungeons are great fun to complete for higher leveled players, and offer the greatest challenge and variety in any combat scenario in Guild Wars 2. Dungeons are instances that become unlocked as players level. Nine dungeons are available, eight of them having three paths through which groups of five players can pick. A special dungeon called Fractals of the Mists offer a combination of instances in one dungeon, adding to the already high level of variety. As one might expect, they contain a series of bosses, waves of monsters, and a few puzzles to complete. Not only is it a blast to run through these with a group of friends, dungeons serve as a vehicle for end-game progression that the game might otherwise lack. They serve as a nice change of pace from constant map completion, in addition to providing high-level rewards such as unique gear.
There is another way to fill the ever-present experience bar besides exploration and combat, and that is crafting. Guild Wars 2 sports an excellent crafting system which emphasizes self-discovery and minimizes the time required to actually make things. The materials that players gather from resource nodes scattered in the world, such as ore deposits and saplings, can be used to craft gear and consumables from a variety of professions, such as Jeweler, Leatherworker, and Chef. The crafting system is unique in the way that players discover most recipes for items by themselves. Players experiment by putting together combinations of materials to see if they match to create an item, which is much more satisfying than simply following one given to you. Once discovered, the player can easily make more of the product item in seconds by selecting it from a list, and clicking “craft all”. The ability to automatically deposit crafting materials to a stash at any time adds to the convenience, as players don’t need to have materials in their inventory to be able to craft. A good variation of weapons and armor are present in the game, leaving lots of combinations for players to discover, as well as a lot of ways to gear up your character.
The trading post should also be mentioned as an important tool in Guild Wars 2. Much like the auction houses of World of Warcraft or Diablo 3, the trading post is an exchange for all transferable items in the game. Buying and selling stuff is a snap, since the trading menu can be accessed anytime, anywhere. This means that players do not have to return to a NPC or a hub to sell the stuff they looted from a dungeon; they can sell it immediately after having acquired them. This is yet another example of how Guild Wars 2 eliminates much of the busywork that can plague MMOs. One improvement that should be integrated into the trading post however, is graphs of price changes.
The guild system has features which give a sense of solidarity to a group besides mere affiliation. As people in the guild play the game and complete various tasks, the guild gains Influence Points. These points can be used to access guild-wide buffs and privileges, such as increased magic find and a Guild Vault. The progression system of guilds allows each player to feel as though they can contribute in a tangible way to their guild. Other features such an official hierarchy and guild-wide messaging adds to this potential for solidarity which makes guilds successful.
One major endeavor which a guild could embark on is World vs. World. WvW is an ongoing battle between three whole servers on a separate map. Players participate in open-world battles against other players and NPCs to capture important points such as castles and resource camps. They are also able to use siege weapons such as cannons and trebuchets to pummel down walls or eliminate groups of enemies. As more points are acquired, the server rises up in ranking, which leads to server wide bonuses and rewards. The way WvW is structured is another example of the sense of cooperation the game engenders through naturally participating in events.
The visuals of Guild Wars 2, as well as the music are beautiful. As mentioned before, standing on vistas grants some amazing scenic views, from barren wastelands marred by volcanos and rivers and lava, to pastoral green plains with misty mountains in the distance. Walking in the many different environments in a huge world of Tyria is more than half the enjoyment of wandering the world. Weapons and armor have a huge range of designs, allowing players to look unique from others of the same level. Dyes can be reapplied at any time to armor, furthering the capacity for customization. The simple UI displays a lot of information without cluttering the screen. Separate windows can be moved around at will, giving the player the amount of freedom they expect when navigating a browser. The musical score contains great ambient pieces which complement your adventures in Tyria perfectly, whether exploring a snowy landscape or fighting a boss in a dungeon.
One overall flaw in Guild Wars 2 that should be noted is the lack of a tutorial at the time of writing. Everything from the event system, the crafting system, and even the combat system deserves some explaining since they are quite different from what MMORPG players would be used to. Unfortunately, players are left to figure out important things such as combos, dynamic events, and daily achievements by themselves. The lack of tutorials can make transitioning into Guild Wars 2 uncomfortable since there aren’t many games that contain such elements at the moment, especially other MMOs.
If I had to pick an overall word to describe why Guild Wars 2 is so great, it would be fluidity. The player never feels as though the game dictates them into striving for a specific goal, or having a specific adventure. This is due to the how the game strives to maintain playing the game as a reward in itself, not as grinding to reach a high level set of gear. Just by walking around a map, a player can create their own adventure through completing map points, participating in group events, and sightseeing the world. Nothing you do feels like a waste of time because busywork is minimized, and that pretty much everything contributes towards your exp bar. High-level rewards naturally come by through experiencing as much as you can, not by forcing yourself through repetitive tasks. The combat system reflects the constant variation and freedom as well as the emphasis on cooperation with random strangers through the flexibility of builds and combo fields. It doesn’t have to be mentioned that Guild Wars 2 provides immense replay value, due to the uniqueness of each class, the spontaneity of adventures, and the enormous world. Although the world may be a bit shallow in its quests and have a considerable learning curve for new players, the amount of player agency and cooperation inspired by its design sets apart Guild Wars 2 as one of the most, if not the most, unique MMO available right now.
[+Unique classes and skills] [+Flexibility in combat and builds] [+Exploring is a thing] [+Natural cooperation in gameplay] [+Gameplay spontaneous, not structured] [+Eliminates busywork] [+No content becomes obsolete] [+Play with friends despite level disparity] [+Beautiful and varied environments] [+Rewards for everything] [-Shallow characters and quests] [-Lack of tutorial]