Guild Wars 2 – Review

Platform | Release Date
PC | August 28, 2012
Developed by ArenaNet
Published by NCSoft

The Pitch:

For generations, strife and chaos raged across Tyria as the great races competed and warred against each other. Then the dragons awoke. The all-powerful Elder Dragons rose from beneath earth and sea, wreaking havoc on a global scale. Great cities crumbled before their might. Coastlines flooded. Lush forests burned. Tyria was forever altered. Now, the undead legions of the deathless dragon Zhaitan surge across the land, hungry for the destruction of the free races of Tyria: the Charr, a ferocious race of feline warriors; the Asura, magical inventors of small size and great intellect; the Norn, towering shapeshifters from the frigid north; the Sylvari, a mysterious race of mystical plant folk; and the Humans, an embattled but resilient people. The time has come for the free races to stand together against the rising tide of evil. Magic, cold steel, and the deeds of heroes will determine the fate of Tyria.

Every relationship comes to a point where you know the other’s flaws and accept them. People commonly speak in terms of “loving in spite of x”, but this is deeper than that. If you reach this point, you don’t go to parties and bitch about “x” to your friends. You’re aware of “x” every day but it doesn’t affect you at all.

I’ve reached that point with Guild Wars 2. The game isn’t perfect, but it’s the game for me. Skyrim was the last game to really hook me this way. In both, I eclipsed 100 hours in a month, but with one key difference: I’m totally burnt out with Bethesda’s game yet can’t wait to keep plunging deeper into ArenaNet’s world. I’ve started three characters and found one which clicks so well I just know he’ll be the one I take to the level cap – and beyond. 100% completion seems like a perfectly sane goal.

Guild Wars 2, moreso than a traditional MMO, is like an action-RPG played with an over-the-shoulder camera. Each time you create a character, there’s a long treadmill of content awaiting you. Some of it is your “personal” story, unfolding in branching questlines and decorated with poorly voice-acted cutscenes. Some of it is baked into the world. Some of the best parts are dynamic events which appear at selected intervals: a merchant who needs to be escorted, a town under attack, a multi-phased assault on an enemy faction’s base. Nearly all of it boils down to breaking things, looting things, and getting stronger from it.

Most of my friends are, understandably, well behind my level progression. If I’d stuck with one character, I’d probably be nudging up to level 80 as we speak, sick bastard that I am. Some of these quests I’ve done ten or more times, to the point where I remember what they are despite the instanced quest items not even appearing in “my” game. I’d thought it would be a bore, a chore, to help friends out, but it’s not. Diablo 3, and Torchlight 2 even moreso, are games where repetitious encounters remain enjoyable owing to the core mechanics and loot progression. Guild Wars 2 nails this, and it’s huge. Events in the world attract tens – even hundreds – of players and passers-by will often stop to help even if they’ve already earned the reward.

It’s difficult to overstate how much impact Guild Wars 2’s “down-leveling” system has. It’s, quite simply, brilliant. A Level 80 character can still have fun questing with a friend in a level 2 area because the game cuts them down to size. After experiencing this, future co-op RPGs have to answer. I feel for developers working on yet-to-be released titles scrambling to develop a similarly elegant solution for their games. Simply telling players “well, you have to stay in sync” isn’t an answer anymore.

Tyria, for all of its Elder Dragon issues, is a genuinely nice place. Players are constantly saying “ty” and “thnx”, stopping to revive downed players, and helping beat difficult content. More importantly, it’s possible for players to not help you, but it’s impossible for players to grief. Toss in Jeremy Soule’s always-excellent composition, and I spend as much time as possible being whisked away to ArenaNet’s world.

I love Tyria, including the parts which could be better. I’m told by MMO veterans that the instanced resource gathering system is a godsend. I dedicate entirely enjoyable play sessions to harvesting resources. Call me sick, if you want, but if you ask I’ll give you the best route for copper in Plains of Ashford. That said, levelling a crafting profession isn’t quite fast enough, and I sometimes tire of being kept in low-level areas just to harvest the entry-tier materials. When that happens, I simply warp myself to a different area and do something more exciting.

For MMO veterans, “exciting” typically means running a dungeon, extra-challenging instances limited to five players at or above a given level. The first of these in Guild Wars 2 is freakishly difficult. The first night we tried it was not fun. Not even fun in a Dark Souls “this is hard” kind of way. Repairing constantly broken armor can bankrupt a character – no joke – but it sent me researching ways to beat it. I emerged scared, yet eager, to try it again. The next time we tried was hard, but bringing a different character, and smarter strategy to bear allowed us to emerge victorious. Experienced players can beat the same content we struggled to conquer in half the time but that doesn’t steal the elation we felt. The “/dance” command may or may not have been typed a few times.

The longer you run on the content treadmill, the more scripting errors and bugs crop up. A few quite literally break progression if you’re someone (like me) who needs to 100% areas. ArenaNet is consistently responsive about squashing bugs, but it’s clear they (smartly) devoted the bulk of pre-launch polishing to the early content areas. The Charr starting areas are particularly well-designed but I’ve enjoyed time in all of the racial starting zones.

I love Tyria, of course, including the parts I don’t. Arena-style PvP forms an interesting diversion, to be sure, and it seems remarkably well-balanced. The maps are tight, scoring is based on control points, and demand a level of precision and tactics not necessary in the co-op world outside of dungeoneering.

The massive World versus World maps for three-way server battles have conflicts ranging from three-person raids on a supply line to hundred-player assaults on a keep. I’ll give it this much: the sheer scale is incredible. Skyrim’s paltry 30 on 30 AI battles can’t hold a candle to scenes I’ve scene – right before I died. Life is fragile without dedicated groups to run with and the painfully long distance from respawn points to major chokepoints reminds me all too much of why I got sick of Battlefield 3.

Neither PvP mode does much for me right now, and I’m okay with that. As the game and my group within it grows, maybe I’ll get sucked him. The maniacally joyful laughter of a Guild Wars veteran over voice chat experimenting with the sequel’s take on the Necromancer in the Arena is a sound I can still hear. Everyone tries to tell me how awesome World versus World really is, and I can see myself getting swayed – or at least being willing to tag along on guild nights.

Even if you’re like me and never get into the PvP side of the game, Guild Wars 2 delivers a fantastic co-op RPG experience and an incredible value proposition. Pay $60 once and you get an absolutely massive game world to go wild in.

About David Hughes

David Hughes is an Editor for Splitkick. PC gamer, mod lover, screenarcher, and Elder Scrolls fanboy.
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