Guild Wars 2 – Impressions
At various times over the past year or more, Guild Wars 2 has been proclaimed as the savior of the MMO, the death of the subscription-MMO, and Game of the Year ipso facto. It would offer unprecedented flexibility in class construction, and in doing away with the “holy trinity” it would put Blizzard’s behemoth to shame. In fact, even if you hated MMO’s, you’d love it! Hell, why didn’t everyone buy a copy? Why are you even reading about it?
Despite playing the game for more than twenty hours, I can’t evaluate any of those claims.
You see, I’ve never played an MMO. Not for a single second. I can’t be tired of WoW and I can’t be burned out on the genre as a whole. While I clearly didn’t care about the genre, I could never claim to hate it.
What I can tell you is this: Guild Wars 2 is a phenomenal game.
One of the reasons people play RPGs is the power fantasy of a character which continuously gets stronger. It’s really hard to convey that sense of power without making your character so overpowered the game becomes boring or unchallenging. My main character is a human Elementalist with a giant chip on his shoulder. Faced with a choice between punching someone or walking away, he drops a flaming meteor which obliterates the entire area. He’s also a glass cannon. Other professions may make it (slightly) possible to complete the game solo, but the Elementalist is built to fill a specific role, only a role which happens to be incredibly fun.
It’s a shame when the character so clearly built to play one role amongst others is weighed down with the tired trope of being “the Hero of Such and Such”. To its credit, Guild Wars 2 puts every personalized story beat within an instance, lest the illusion of finding out your parents really are dead be broken while fifty other players complete the quest around you. The cutscenes are competently produced, adequately voice acted, but fail to resonate with me.
Instead, it’s the public game world which draws me in. Tyria is gorgeous, in a high-fantasy meets steampunk way. While the recommended level of the quests lays a path for you to follow, the questing areas seamlessly border one another, and the game world feels surprisingly open despite the level-gated content. The game’s UI automatically shows what can be done where – and how far along you are in the quest. I’ve never once looked in a quest journal. I don’t even think there is one.
Help Norn parents relax by keeping their kids busy with a snowball fight? Bring “special” grapes trampled and burned by Centaurs to a vintner? Crush toxic mushrooms which alternately make you tiny and double your normal size? For a genre derided for “bring me 10 wolf pelts”, the tasks rarely feel tiresome to complete.
What makes Guild Wars 2 so special is the emergent gameplay. From time to time, special Events will appear on the map. The least ambitious designs typically involve escorting a trade caravan, one which suspiciously reappears on the road as you run back towards where it began. More ambitious Events have a second stage which kicks in if the collected players fail the first goal. One particularly involved Event is a three-stage assault on a heretical Norn faction’s base involving, at its end, easily 100 players in a massive scrum. No “looking to group”, no voice chat, barely even a text chat, just players organically teaming up against the environment.
My favorite experience with the game to date involves an Event gone horribly wrong. On my second attempt to get through a challenging cave, my Elementalist examined a seemingly random item. Little did he know this was a trigger to summon a Champion (think boss-level) Troll. Turning around, the cave was empty. Not another player to be seen. Run! Daylight, the cave opening, almost there, and…pummeled.
On respawning nearby, I saw the inertia of chasing my previous incarnation had been enough to get the Troll outside. The problem? This leads right into another large Event area prone to bandit attacks – the largest possible stage of which was currently in progress. Between the massive boss creature and the waves of bandits, it took an epic grouping to restore order, all because I brought a new challenge where it didn’t exactly belong.
After experiences like this, the “problem” with Guild Wars 2 is apparent. For all of its successes, it doesn’t push nearly far enough. Humans war with Centaurs. The area can apparently “quiet down” or “heat up” but if there’s a difference between these states, it’s hard to discern. The game is at its best when the challenge is high. Increase the intensity of attacks, temporarily wipe a human settlement off the map, change stats of monsters akin to a “pure black” world tendency in Demon’s Souls. Alternately, let victory mean something more than mere peace because, well, peace is boring.
For the PvP-minded, this type of semi-persistent conflict is present in the game’s multi-week server vs. server battles. Admittedly, I’ve barely dipped my toe in that section of the game, but the flashes of persistence in the main game are more titillating than satisfying. As impressed as I am, I want more. Thankfully, if early sales figures are to be believed, ArenaNet certainly has the resources to keep pushing the genre.