Guild Wars 2 is probably the first MMORPG that stands solidly outside the shadow of Blizzard’s World of Warcraft. I know, I know, it’s been said a lot about a bunch of MMOs, but this just may be fact.The game has made itself distinct in several ways including its fluid art style, the society it’s drawn, and too many game mechanic innovations to count accurately. It has one slight failing though, and that is the level design. In certain locations of the game, the buildings can be found clipping into one another rather blatantly. Other cases of level design laziness come into realization in the form of poorly placed art assets and collision walls. Other than that, the game has had a fairly solid launch. There have been no unintended server failures, severe server lags, absurd exploits, serious story failures, or any other kind of immersion breaking failures. In fact, the game has run very smoothly with only minor hiccups that have been taken care of as quickly as possible. If you’re looking for an MMO with a relatively troll free environment, innovative and streamlined game mechanics, plus tons of story content and replay-ability, get Guild Wars 2 and enjoy your subscription free game!
Guild Wars 2 is a PC based MMO that seems to have focused on stream lining the process of leveling and making the entire process from level one to eighty fun and enjoyable, rather than one that requires lengthy grinds between isolated pockets of interesting experiences. In short, the game is engaging from start to finish. Unlike most MMOs, I found that Guild Wars II actually has a substantial story that is in the forefront of the gameplay, which gives the entire game more continuity. Dodging all of the more customizable and subtle aspects of the game for a moment, let’s talk about what the actual gameplay is for those of you who don’t know. The player picks one of eight methods of fighting that vary between melee and spell casting bases. Once the player has decided his or her style of choice, they set off into an absolutely massive world where they will fight alone and with groups of people against varying enemies while progressing steadily through a story of your own devising.
In order to make this experience highly entertaining, there are a number of deeply customizable options that you can play with starting with the races. There are five races each of which is split into three sub-sections that allow players to have fifteen distinct beginning quest chains. I was generally happy with the new twist on the races because they aren’t your traditional dwarves, elves, and gnomes in at least appearance, but there are a lot of similarities culturally speaking. The Charr, giant Hyena/Cat creatures have split themselves into different legions which have individual ways of doing business. All of them, however, are prideful and filled with bloodlust.
The Humans are at odds with the Charr diplomatically, though they’ve been recently drawn together out of necessity to fight a looming evil which I will talk about shortly. The humans grow their roots in a culture that has been pushed to the brink of extinction by the Charr who want their ancestral homes back now that they’ve finally organized themselves somewhat. The human’s only bastion is a land called Kryta that they defend to the last man. Here I feel it necessary to share an example of just how zealous they can be. The land previously taken by the Charr was only won after the Human King realized all was lost. The King cursed all remaining humans in the land to never rest until every last Charr shared their fate. Personally, I like the Humans and the Charr the most out of all five races mostly because of the fact that the time was taken to interrelate the two. It seems real and very likely, much like how countries that hated one another had to team up in World War II to avoid a much greater threat.
While all this goes on other races look on scornfully, but have their own internal shortcomings. Enter the Norn who are essentially massive human beings. Striding chest, shoulders, and head above all other races from the frozen North, the Norn praise animals as their deities and, honestly, they’re the least interesting set of stories to me. Basically their people are endangered by the looming evil because their spirit realm is threatened and certain factions within the Norn are being empowered by the evil. Yes, they’re culturally different, but I feel slightly robbed because they’re the more Scandinavian version of the Human race. Every other race has a distinct model besides the Norn.
The Sylvari are on the top of my innovative list for the races in this game. Instead of the traditional elf type that is in nearly every MMO, we introduce the plant people. All of their culture revolves around plants that have grown their own individual consciousness. My one issue is that because the artists did so well at making them look plant-like, I occasionally get tricked into losing my character in their very exotic forest straight out of AVATAR. I really enjoy their architecture as well. Elevators are giant seed pods that spin to propel you to a landing site, their stairs are giant cupped leaves, and their homes vary from repurposed trees to mushrooms. The problem I have is that, again, the architecture looks so natural that I end up running in a circle around a home that houses a person I need to talk to simply because I don’t know it’s a house at all. Ultimately, they’re very clever and I think the artists and designers should be very proud of their work with this race. Their plight is that their “Dream” is infected by the impending evil much like the Norn. Predictably, they have a sect of Sylvari who believe the Dream was actually meant to be a Nightmare because they believe the world to be depressing and evil at heart.
Finally we have the Asura, which really seem, to me, like Stitch from Disney’s Lilo and Stitch, just hairless. These creatures are VERY egotistical inventors who are just as likely to cause their own destruction as their salvation. Again, with so much playing to get done I didn’t get very far with their story, but they have an internal struggle with a part of their race that just likes to blow stuff up. I didn’t get very far because, personally, I couldn’t take the “made up smart language” they all use. A sample dialogue would be along the lines of:
“Fizzburt, did you remember to hydrolize the quantum flatualtor-mechanofrump?”
“Of course, Gretch. What kind of amateur would I be if I forgot to hydrolize the quantum flatulator-mechanofrump? I’ll tell you what kind I’d be. I’d be the kind that fails her first simple Servobot examination.”
“How dare you!?”
Anyway, a lot of my friends find it hilarious. So, no negativity intended if that’s your thing. The environment of the Asurans is very impressive as well. It is very geometric, but artistically colored and rich in detail.
Now, this great evil(s) they’ve devised for this, so far rather innovative, game are dragons in combination with the undead, which, honestly, felt like a bit of a cop-out. Dragons basically turn corpses or the living into zombies which are intelligent to the extent that they can call for help and can use advanced battle tactics. These are not to be confused with ghosts of course which also exist in the game. One small caveat I can mention is the one dragon I’ve seen so far was cleverly modeled. It appeared as an obsidian skeleton with purple flames emanating from the inside so as to fill up the remainder of the model’s body. I can’t really say the fight itself was particularly clever or difficult though. The engagement went as follows: The NPC guards in the area bring down the dragon with siege engines. The dragon stands in one place while a group of players run in and attack its feet. Occasionally the dragon would take off momentarily and land again in the exact same place. Anyone under the foot when landing got squished. As far as I could tell, that was the extent to the game mechanics involved with that fight. It was rather dull to be honest.
Dungeons were put together in a way I haven’t really experienced before in my years of playing MMOs. Instead of being a random den of bad guys that needs clearing out like most other MMOs, these dungeons are critical points in the game and are actually scripted events that continue your leveling story. However, there’s one more surprise, there is a second mode that you can play called exploratory mode which is unlocked after a few more levels. This allows you to go back and experience an entirely new set of events that pop up because of what you did in the story version of the dungeon.
The story web for this game is extremely intricate and would take months to experience every caveat the Guild Wars 2 team has to offer. This, of course, means tons of replayability for the future when you just feel like experiencing something new. This picture displays the most major storyline events which might give you an idea of how complex the whole story is. Keep in mind that the lines linking events in this chart have dozens of subplot points and choices allowing even further story customization.
Taking a break from all of the complex story though, I thought it might be good to mention that the voice acting was done very well, and the character emotion animations were also excellent just in case that it affects your choice to buy the game. I also really enjoyed the background music for each section, and I especially think that the musical queues were well crafted. I know very little if anything about music and its creation, but sections of story that felt particularly epic were accompanied by appropriate music, and moments of achievement were just as satisfying as opening a crucial chest in nearly every Zelda game. Impact sounds of weapons slashing, clashing, bashing, or mashing are very satisfying and really gives you the feeling of eviscerating an opponent. Some of the magical sound effects were slightly more repetitive and I’m not sure why, though they still sounded authentic.
As far as innovations go, the game was absolutely stuffed with them. Firstly, everything was very much streamlined and user-friendly. The new local area quest hubs made it so that massive groups of people didn’t crowding around a single person making it impossible to pick up or turn in the mission. In fact, I found Guild Wars 2 to have a relatively troll free environment and I might’ve figured out why. Because there is no subscription payment every month, the Guild Wars 2 team is less worried about retaining the monthly payments and far more likely to kick or ban people from the game. It’s just a theory though.
The game wasn’t flawless of course even though being relatively troll free is a big plus. While progressing through the game, I often felt like I was under level by the time I finished off an area. There are several workarounds for this though. Pretty much everything in the game gives you experience, even partially completing achievements, crafting skills, exploring, or doing one of the dozens of events in available in every zone. If that bores you, just going to another zone and level there because there are multiple areas for each level bracket allowing the player to experience even more content. Also, as long as you’re leveling in the appropriate areas, the difficulty of leveling from seventy nine to eighty is the same difficulty as leveling from one to two. The pace of leveling is very reasonable and you’re never stuck in one location for long. I will give special props to the environmental concepts and designs. They were well executed and I was never bored traveling from one location to another especially when you never knew if you were going to be fighting on a lush green field, swimming under water with giant sharks, or climbing mountains in the frozen north. The lack of creature diversity in those areas was a little bit of a downer though. I felt especially cheated when they used the same models for undead and “marked” beings as the player base models. Yes, they did use some modified models for abominations and champions, but overall it was a bit of a letdown. The biggest eyesore in this game, for me anyway, was the absurd level of art asset clipping that occurred when the designers made some portions of the city levels. Buildings blatantly overlap one another and certain pieces were placed where they were not intended to go. I’ve seen similar mistakes in beginning level design classes where students get lazy with trying to find the correct art asset in the UDK or Unity static mesh library and just slap any old mesh there instead. Some examples are sets of stairs leading into walls, wall corners disappearing into other static meshes, etc. These flaws haven’t been obstructive or anything to the pacing of the game, but the mistakes seem very amateur and they stand out simply because the team did such an excellent job with the rest of the game.