Guild Wars 2 Review
Game: Guild Wars 2
Available on: Windows PC, Mac
Reviewed on: Windows PC
The first Guild Wars (released in April 2005) will have been a lot of people’s first foray into the world of the Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games. It was released after the massive success of World of Warcraft but at a time when people were still seeing the paid subscription model of Blizzard’s game as a barrier to entry. When Guild Wars appeared on the scene and was free-to-play, people jumped at the chance to get involved in the relatively recent craze and see what all the fuss was about.
While neither Guild Wars or World of Warcraft were the first MMOs, they can both be seen as a catalyst for the massive amount of MMORPGs that we’d see between then and now. At the time of writing this, World of Warcraft is about to release its fourth expansion to the original World of Warcraft with Mists of Pandaria but ArenaNet and NCSoft have been hard at work on something entirely different, recreating the world of Tyria from the ground up, redesigning the way that the world works, as well as the ways in which the players will interact with it; all while maintaining the free-to-play model that arguably made them famous in the MMO world and never allowed the massive World of Warcraft to overshadow them.
Set 250 years after the events of Eye of the North, the only real expansion to the original Guild Wars, Guild Wars 2 allows the player to select from a series of races (instead of just Humans) and set forth to reunite an ancient guild known as Destiny’s Edge, a guild whose sole task is to protect the world of Tyria from the attacks it faces from the Elder Dragons who have seized control of the land in the years between the first game and this one. It’s up to you then, to create an adventurer, quest your way through the game and help free the world from the talons of the Elder Dragons. Are you prepared?
STORY: Despite being set 250 years after Guild Wars, there are areas of the game that this can be difficult to see, as a lot of the same problems are occurring all over the land that were occurring in that original game, but if you choose to start the game as a Charr character (and you probably should, they’re super cool!) then you’re going to get a stark reminder of just how long after the first Guild Wars this game is set, as the ruins of Ascalon City (the shining beacon of the world in Guild Wars) stand imposingly on the horizon. There’s even a quest towards the end of your time in the Charr starting area, where you’re tasked with walking through the ruins of the once great city and it’ll be difficult for you to complete the quest without thinking of the countless hours that you spent in that first game; in a good way of course.
The story that you’ll follow depends on which character you chose to start the game as. Whenever anyone creates their first character in a new MMO, that first character always has a special place in their hearts. Due to this, whichever story you chose to start with will undoubtedly be the story that the player prefers, but they’re all excellent in their own right. There are times when the story feels a little bit slow, there’s the stereotypical fetch quests littered throughout the story quests, but in general all of them do a good job of pushing the player through the game’s world, from zone to zone and towards all of the hazards that you’re going to have to overcome.
Which race the player decides to choose to play as (Human, Charr, Sylvari, Norn or Asura) will have an enormous impact on how each player experiences the story in Guild Wars 2, as will the decisions that the player makes when they first start the game. All of this means that even for people who don’t normally create alternative characters, preferring to stay with the same character all the way through their time with the game, it’s important to at least create a couple of different characters, or different race/class combinations, just to see how the story diverges from each other, and see which one they prefer. Give them all a go, you never know which one you’re going to prefer.
GRAPHICS: Guild Wars 2 easily stands up to most other MMOs of the current generation, with the possible exception of TERA, but it’s hard to make a game look as good as that unless that’s specifically what you’re aiming for. Guild Wars 2 is aiming squarely at the story and the immersion of the player in its world, so while the graphics haven’t totally taken a back seat, there have been some concessions made. One of the biggest is the fact that whenever you’re told another part of your own personal story, or given another quest to go on in order to further your own character, the cutscene that plays in order to give you all of the information that you’re going to need is done with the two characters that are talking facing each other on a painted background. These aren’t in-game cut-scenes, the likes of which we saw in Star Wars: The Old Republic. It’s a little bit disappointing, especially considering that the game does so much work in order to immerse the player in the world, then these cutscenes play and take you right out of it again, but they do their job well, even if they do look as if a little bit more work could have been put into them.
The world itself looks fantastic, there’ll almost always be something on the horizon that you’ll want to challenge yourself to go towards. It could be the crumbling remains of a once great city such as Ascalon City, or just the shimmer of a desert in the distance. Whatever it is that catches your eye you can be certain that it won’t be the last time that something does so. The game is literally filled with moments where you’ll think it has outdone itself again, then something else appears just around the corner. There’s an aspect of the game, the collection of Vista’s, small collectables that, when collected, show the player a small in-engine camera movement showing some of the interesting places that you’re currently making your way around. A lot of players, myself included, are drawn to these specific collectibles in Guild Wars 2 primarily because the small camera movements that they show us highlight some of the more beautiful aspects of the game; and there are a lot of them.
The characters in the game look fantastic too, the animations that propel them through the game’s world have clearly been created with a lot of care and attention. Whether you’re a Charr breaking into a sprint on all four of your limbs, or a Human casting yet another spell at whatever enemy happens to be coming your way, you can be sure that you’re going to look amazing doing it. All of that is thanks to the amazing work that has been put into the game, and we all get to look at it as much as we want.
SOUND: A lot of recent MMOs have forgone the usual practice of forcing the player to read all of the quest text that they’ll come across, usually going more towards to fully voiced quest-givers that give the player a greater sense of immersion within the game world that they’ve chosen to get themselves involved in. Guild Wars 2 goes about halfway towards this modern trend with the more important story quests, the type of quests that move you through the game’s world, being fully voice-acted in their own little cinematic, but with the majority of the rest of the quests that you’ll come across asking the player to read them again. This isn’t something that most MMO players will see as a problem, as we’ve been forced to read them for quite a while now, but if you’re an MMO player that’s come over from the likes of Star Wars: The Old Republic and The Secret World, then you may find yourself a little bit disappointed.
The rest of the audio in the game, the music that you’ll hear while you’re questing your way across the massive world of Tyria, makes your journey sound adequately epic. Each of the musical set pieces, composed by the legendary “John Williams of Video Game Music” Jeremy Soule, accompany the area that they’re playing in perfectly. If you’re the type of person who enjoys the instrumental backings of epic video game settings then you’re in for a treat with Guild Wars 2, you’ll be memorising the music, waiting for it to start playing and even going back to certain areas over and over again just to hear it play one more time; what else would you expect from the composer that brought us the famous Dragonborn song from The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim that we’re all probably still singing in the shower. Or is that just me? It’s probably a good job that the soundtrack is available for buying on its own then, if you’re that type of person you’d never get any levelling done!
GAMEPLAY: There are two ways you can talk about the gameplay within Guild Wars 2. On one hand it’s exactly the same as we’ve come to expect from an MMO experience in the current gaming climate (although that climate is starting to change), you walk around a massive game world completing tasks for people, earning experience, gathering weapons and armour, then when you’re of a high enough level, you gather a group of friends, enter a few of the dungeons and grab even better gear until some sort of expansion or major patch comes out. Then rinse and repeat. On the other hand however (and this other hand is the hand that is most evident in Guild Wars 2), everything is totally different and unlike anything you’ve ever played before. For a start there’s a massive amount of emphasis placed on exploring the world that you’ve found yourself in, you don’t have to explore it as you’re going through the story, only going to certain places on the map once you’re told to. If you’re feeling up to it you can pick a location on the map, walk towards it and you’ll be adequately rewarded for doing something as simple as being an adventurer, something which all MMOs have claimed to allow you to be, yet Guild Wars 2 is among the first to actually make you feel like you’re adventuring instead of doing a mindless number of fetch/escort/kill x amount of y quests. From the moment you start you’ll notice that you’re playing something truly different, and it doesn’t stop there either.
The way that weapons and skills work in Guild Wars 2 is totally different to what most people would have expected too. Normally, in a MMO title, what class you’re playing as will determine which weapons you’re going to spend the rest of your game time using, as well as what skills you’ll be able to learn. Here, things are slightly different. Yes, what class you decided to play as does determine which abilities you’re going to be able to unlock further down the line, but so does which weapon you happen to pick up. When you pick up a weapon for the first time you’ll unlock a single ability; use this ability enough times and you’ll unlock a second one, then a third (and fourth and fifth if you’re using a two-handed weapon). If for some reason you get fed up with the abilities that you’ve attained by using a specific weapon set, all you have to do is pick up a new one, kill a couple of enemies to unlock the abilities specific to that weapon and you’ll be able to enjoy an entirely different set of skills. All of this offers a wide range of character diversity and above all else, ensures that players don’t have to go back to Class Trainers whenever they level up, as all of their skills will be unlocked by using weapons instead of learning them in the more conventional manner.
The other part of the ability bar, the section that isn’t made up of skills learnt through the use of weapons, is made up of skills that the player can purchase from a skill tree by spending skill points. These skill points can be attained through a variety of different methods, the most common of which is by performing challenges that can be found dotted around the map. All the player has to do is open their map, find an area that’s indicated by an empty blue chevron, go there and perform the task that’s assigned to them. It’s probably a good idea to bring a few friends if you’re wanting to collect a skill point though, they’re not always easy to collect on your own as they usually involve taking down a particularly difficult enemy, a group of enemies or something else that would just be a lot harder if you attempt to tackle them on your own. Once you’ve collected a few skill points in this method you’ll be able to navigate to your character’s skill tree and spend these skill points in abilities which you can assign to the slots in the second half of the ability bar. It’s an ingenious method of character progression and one which allows players to constantly change up how they’re going to play the character they’ve chosen. If the player wants a change, all they have to do is either select a different weapon to use, or select a couple of different skills from the skill tree and their character’s method of battling the enemies will be fundamentally changed.
There are a lot of aspects of Guild Wars 2 that will feel similar to the discerning MMO player too. You’re still going to find yourself getting involved in quests for example, but instead of having to go to a specific NPC in order to collect the quest (which you do have to do in some cases but not most of them) you’ll find a quest instantly appears in your quest log as soon as you enter specific areas. Then, when the quest has been completed, it will automatically be turned-in to the correct person and the reward will be mailed to you. Even collecting this reward via the mail doesn’t require the player to go and visit a mailbox as you would expect. Instead, all the player has to do is click a little mail icon in the top left-hand corner of their screen and they will have instant access to their mailbox and any rewards that may have come their way. Every single thing in Guild Wars 2 is built so that you don’t have to stop questing, or whatever you’re doing, for any reason; not when you level up, not when you receive a mail and certainly not when you’re performing quests. You can keep playing, enjoying the game, collecting all of the collectibles and generally enjoying your experience until you’re ready to go back to a town, not because something is telling you that you should in order to progress your character.
There’s so much more to talk about in Guild Wars 2, such as the Waypoint system (a system of teleportation nodes that replace the need for a mount by allowing instantaneous travel between previously visited points), the achievement system (which is exactly what people would expect), the Black Lion Trading system (an in-game microtransaction system), the tradeskill system and much, much more. You’ll just have to go and try it out for yourself, there truly is something for everyone in Guild Wars 2, you just have to find what makes it special for you personally.
LONGEVITY: As with the longevity of any MMO, how much you’re going to play varies from player to player. However, due to the fact that Guild Wars 2 is free-to-play once you’ve purchased the original game, you don’t have to worry about feeling guilty for paying a subscription fee. There are so many MMO’s that I’ve stopped playing despite loving them, just because I can’t justify the need to pay for a full month of subscription when I’m only going to have the time to play for a day or two within that month, but that’s not something I have to worry about with Guild Wars 2. If you’re in the same boat as me, and you’ve only got time to play for a couple of days a month, then I can honestly see Guild Wars 2 being your go-to MMO for the foreseeable future; it certainly will be mine.
There are so many things to be getting on with in Guild Wars 2 that there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be putting hours and hours of pure joy into the title. In each zone of the game there are various things that you’re going to want to search out, Skill Points, Vistas, Points of Interest and more, all of which serve to extend your time in each zone but without it ever starting to drag on. You’ll soon find yourself playing the game totally differently to a normal MMO, instead of moving from place to place completing quests, not really reading the quest text and waiting for the next Ding!, you’ll be exploring the area, finding hidden gems and pieces of the game’s history, taking part in random events and generally just extending your experience, all while enjoying yourself immensely.
VERDICT: Even people that don’t normally play MMOs will find something that they love when it comes to Guild Wars 2. Combining that with the fact that once you’ve purchased the game, you’re not going to have to pay a single penny more unless you choose to do so means that there’s no barrier to entry. You don’t have to worry about a subscription model or any of the usual problems that usually stop people from even trying the latest MMOs. The emphasis on exploration and discovery more than the quests makes a nice change too and while players will have to read all of the quest text, similar to most MMOs that they’re used to but unlike games such as Star War: The Old Republic or The Secret World, the quests that the player comes across tend not to require a lot of running back on forth between areas of the world.
When all is said and done, everyone will find something to occupy themselves with in Guild Wars 2. It could be getting up to the level cap and spending time in the PvE or PvP options, or something as simple as running around all areas of the map and discovering all of the Vistas and Points of Interest. If you’ve got five minutes to log in and do something quick, or if you’ve got the time to spend the entire day in the world of Tyria, there’s something here for everyone. If you’re a PC gamer then you’re doing yourself a disservice by skipping this one.