Instead of adding further improvements to the original Guild Wars, ArenaNet decided to build and reshape everything from the ground up. If you were a fan of the first Guild Wars and its stand-alone expansions, you might just be surprised how much was changed and improved to create the whole new fresh online gaming experience.
So why exactly does Guild Wars 2 stand out so much in the vast sea of other MMORPGs? Well for starters, despite Guild Wars 2 being a AAA MMO, it has no monthly subscription. You still have to buy it though, but once you have it you can play indefinitely. There are still some microtransactions available, but Guild Wars 2 is far from a pay to win game, instead it’s a carefully crafted, balanced experience that is fun and fair for every type of player.
Guild Wars 2 introduces new ideas on how MMORPGs can be played, the concept of questing has been drastically changed; you no longer need to talk to idle NPCs to get direct commands for slaying a certain number of enemies. Instead, Dynamic Events are activated on their own throughout the zones that you’ll be exploring. These can be all sorts of stuff, from defending outposts to escorting key characters and helping them with whatever that needs to be done. In theory, what you do in this MMO is basically still the same as what you do in any other MMO. It’s a combat based MMO as any other after all, meaning you will mostly be fighting the baddies and looking for shiny new upgrades along the way, but Guild Wars 2 goes a step further and introduces changes and mechanics that makes everything so much more simpler and practical.
Everything is shared, there is no need for “tagging” enemies and party invites are not necessary for completing tasks or dynamic events. When you see something is going on in an area, you can simply go there, help out, and be rewarded appropriately. Instead of avoiding other players which are already engaged in combat, Guild Wars 2 encourages players to come together and play as a team, without any kind of hassle that comes with singing paperwork like accepting party invites whenever you stumble upon someone who is doing the same task. Combine this with the challenging difficulty, and you will always appreciate others helping you out.
However this might be where the first issue arises. Everything is so much automated and practical that players hardly communicate in these cases. Most of the time, it boils down to rushing in and taking everyone out, with an occasional „pls rez me“ and „ty“ thrown in here and there. These might certainly be your initial impressions and it’s certainly a big issue for an MMO which is all about social interactions. Fortunately once you go through the trouble of making friends, or simply start playing with friends or guilds, these issues will completely fall into obscurity, as Guild Wars 2 is a game you will want to talk about with others.
Unlike other MMORPGs, in Guild Wars 2 you can be a part of multiple guilds at the same time. You can then choose which of your guilds you want to represent at any one time and your actions with that character will then earn influence for that guild to advance further. So far, the Guild Halls are still not yet present but are planned for future updates. It’s also worth noting that players from other servers can be a part of a guild on another server as all of the servers are actually connected in many ways, making it easier to play with the people that you want to be playing with.
Tyria, the world Guild Wars 2 takes place in, is pretty vast. It’s still separated into level specific zones by gates. You might say it is all still instanced (like it was in the original Guild Wars) as there is always a loading screen for every zone transition, but fortunately these instances are no longer reserved only for you and your party. Instead there are hundreds of players roaming about, participating in the many dynamic events that make Tyria seem alive. Apart from the usual tasks you’ll be undertaking, exploration was given a bit more thought in Guild Wars 2.
Scattered throughout the zone are many point of interest that you might want to check out if you like to explore and complete everything. Vistas however, are an interesting new concept to MMOs. They are usually in hard to reach, high above ground places like mountains or rooftops, and getting to these usually takes a decent amount of platforming, carefully looking for ways to climb up or use other environmental objects nearby. Once you reach one, you are rewarded with a little cinematic which reveals the environment that surrounds you from angles you wouldn’t otherwise be able to see (Assassin’s Creed style).
There are no mounts to ride, but there are plenty of Rally points scattered around for you to reach and unlock. Once unlocked, you can use them to „fast travel“ to that specific point for a small fee by simply opening the map and choosing your desired destination. This again makes playing with friends very practical as you can always quickly jump between places you have already discovered.
Character creation (as usual) has you choosing a race and a class to play, but also asks some other „personal“ character question which define who your character actually is. Races you can choose from are the obvious Human, giant Norn, tiny Asura, ferocious Charr and the botanical Sylvari. Each of those start at separate locations, have a few unique racial skills and their own personal stories. The classes you can play as are Warrior, Guardian, Engineer, Ranger, Thief, Elementalist, Mesmer and Necromancer.
You can now only choose one of these classes to play as, instead of two like in the first Guild Wars. Apparently this was decided because it would be easier to balance. You might have heard already that Guild Wars was always a game in which you had to choose a couple of skills to bring with you into battle, unlike other MMORPGs where you can have tons and tons of skills available to you at any given time. This unique aspect of Guild Wars has also been changed, instead of 8 skills you can now have about 10 (some classes can have a bit more) at any one time, but half of those 10 are decided by the weapons you are wielding. Each of the weapons have separate skills for each of the hands you decide to hold them in (main and off-hand), so you can basically dual wield anything to produce different skill combinations. The other 5 skills consist of your own dedicated healing skill, 3 utility skills (most usually buffs) and 1 elite skill.
This is also where another issue might seem to come into play. By having only 5 specific attacks, it might make for slightly repetitive combat if you only ever stick to one weapon type. Fortunately though, these 5 attacks are quite well designed; all of them are useful and behave differently, so it’s up to you to use them effectively wherever you might see a good situation to use them. You can still spam them though, and I’m certain some player’s will claim this is a spammers game, but there are more effective ways to use the skills you have chosen than just spamming the attack buttons. The number of different weapon types also alleviate these issues, and the feature to equip two different weapon sets ensures you can combine up to 4 different weapons in one load-out and quickly switch between these during combat. When you examine this more closely, you might notice that this not only means you can have more than 10 skills, but also quite a few different combinations to choose from. Every now and then you will also stumble across some other interactive items, like boulders which you can pick up and throw to knock down and interrupt enemies, or even steel pipes which have their own unique moves but break after few swings.
Guild Wars 2 also goes a step further to make combat more interesting by scrapping the so called „holy trinity“ (tank, healer and damage roles). You see, in Guild Wars 2 all classes can heal themselves, dish out good amount of damage and also buff themselves and other players. This system ensures everyone can play the way they want regardless of their dedicated „class role“. Since there are no dedicated healing classes, this also means you will have to take care of yourself in battle, because there won’t be anyone behind you playing the „bar filling“ mini-game“ to ensure success. Instead of resorting to constant healing, you will have to take advantage of the new dodge/evade mechanic as much as you can. This becomes especially evident when you try playing through a dungeon as these are particularly challenging. You can no longer simply go up to your target and start dishing out attacks, instead you always have to be on your toes, keep dodging, healing and also look for cover every once in a while to ensure you live through the battle.
Once you run out of health, you fall down and start bleeding. It’s not over yet though, you can still fight for your life (Borderlands style) by throwing rocks or bandaging yourself. If you manage to kill an enemy while downed, you return to both feet and get a second chance at combat, but if you keep falling frequently you will suffer health penalty. It’s also worth noting that every other player, regardless of their class, can „revive“ fallen party members. Combat becomes especially interesting when you realize that cross class skill combos are possible to pull off. For example, one player can shoot a rain of flaming arrows that sets the ground surface on fire a short time – and other players can then shoot or throw their projectiles (and many other types of attacks) through that area to create a new effect; in this case an attack that inflicts burning condition.
It’s also important to say that Guild Wars 2 isn’t just another one of those „click-target“ kind of game. Yes you can still target someone to take a closer look at their health and buffs, but you can independently swing your weapon anywhere and it will hit as many targets as it actually comes into contact with, regardless of who or what you are targeting. The game also does a fine job of auto-targeting anything in front of you, so you barely have to even click on anyone. Projectiles and spells don’t home in on your targets if they move and you don’t evade attacks simply because your statistics value say you do, instead you do it by actually moving from it’s trajectory.
Lengthy personal stories with a ton of choices to make are a nice addition to MMOs. Over time you get to know both your own character through your own actions and of those that surround him. Frequent decisions with whom to side or which approach to take for a certain scenario will make you question just how different things might have turned out if you decided a different path earlier.
One of the biggest issues present in many MMOs is usually balance (especially in PvP), but ArenaNet has an interesting approach how to solve this issue. To balance out combat and always retain challenge, high level players will be temporarily „deleveled“ to the specific region level if they revisit a lower level region. This ensures that nobody can out-level or out-gear content, and that you always have to stay on your toes because there will never be a way to destroy half of the map with one spell. This mechanic is especially great when you decide to play together with a friend who has either a too high or a too low level character, ensuring one won’t be able to boost the other and that both will have to play together to succeed. This obviously only works in one way (from high to low), you cannot enter a high level area and gain free level ups, you still have to play and reach those first. Thankfully though, you still earn experience for your current level by doing anything anywhere regardless of its level, ensuring you never feel like you’re wasting your time.
Regarding PvP, level scaling also comes into play. Players can jump in and out of PvP as they wish, and they will always have their stats boosted to be an effective maximum level character, ensuring fair and balanced play regardless of how much time you or your enemy may have invested to power up his character. Everyone is equal in Structured PvP, you get all skills unlocked and players wanting to play PvP can do so right at the start without the need to play PvE in order to reach the appropriate stage to participate. You can also choose any weapons and upgrades for free to create your own load-out before heading into a match.
Structured team based 8v8 PvP also had a fair deal of great improvements added. You no longer need to wait in qeue to enter, but instead can browse over hundreds of available servers and pinpoint exactly which map you may want to play. At this time there are only about 4 different maps all of which are 3 point domination based games (which are still great on their own), however World vs World is where PvP in Guild Wars 2 really shines.
World vs World is a combination of PvP and PvE content where 3 different servers battle over 4 separate battlegrounds, each with their own events, outposts, and points of interest. These are massive in scale and take 2 weeks time, so everyone can get a chance to participate and it’s never obvious who is gonna win since the situation can change multiple times throughout the week. This form of PvP is of course less balanced and more chaotic, but this is exactly why it’s so much fun and interesting. One day there could be hundreds of players representing a server, while other times there could only be a couple, making the tide of battle turn every day. Each of the captured objectives can be upgraded in a number of ways by safely escorting caravans and gathering supplies, and most of the walls actually have their own durability so they can be destroyed and repaired. Fighting in World vs World is not only fun, but also gives rewards like more health, faster item crafting and many more to anyone playing on that server.
Item Crafting is, in a way, similar to other MMORPGs like World of Warcraft. However instead of simply gathering the right materials and creating a whole item, you create different parts of items or weapons like a sword handle and blade separately. You can then discover new types of recipes by combining different item parts in a separate window. Another great mechanic in item crafting is the acceleration of time needed for crafting multiple items; the more items you craft in a single session (for example 80 iron ingots) the faster the progress slider starts to move, so crafting 20 and 80 items can roughly take the same amount of time, and these are just a few of many little superbly designed details in Guild Wars 2.
There’s a couple of different crafting professions you can take: Weaponsmith, Armorsmith, Huntsman, Leatherworker, Tailor, Chef, Artificer and Jeweler. Guild Wars 2 has a nifty little system that always saves your crafting progress, that means you never lose your progress even though you might have dropped one of them for another. You can only have 2 of these activated at any one time, but you can level all of them on a single character.
It’s easy to see why Guild Wars 2 is so popular, add to the already great list of things they nailed a beautiful paintbrush style visual aesthetic, smooth animation, sweet classical orchestral melodies, great voice acting, beautiful landscapes and you got yourself a truly unique and worthwhile experience. There’s quite a few nice touches when it comes to the look and feel; for example when you swim out of water the screen will be splattered with water, making you feel like you really did swim for a bit and came back up soaked. ArenaNet also made sure to design Guild Wars 2 to be as mush as practical as possible, you can open the Auction House anywhere at anytime and you can also send all of your collectibles and crafting materials directly to the bank from wherever you are located with a press of a single button. In dungeons you progressively unlock checkpoints after each boss, and there is also a repair tool present so you can quickly repair without the need to exit.
Unfortunately there are also still some hiccups present; the Auction House is prone to going down for maintenance almost every day, Hall of Monuments teleportation stone doesn’t appear on new characters, guild invites have a hard time reaching players, many people have reported getting banned for simply buying items from vendors that they shouldn’t have been able to buy, and the overflow server notification can become rather annoying because it frequently pops up. Because of popular hacking attempts, ArenaNet implemented an authenticating system so that you have to manually allow each login from individual locations via email notifications every time you attempt to play. This can certainly become annoying in the long run because it doesn’t seem to remember me at all since my router automatically changes IP every day.
Despite all of the issues, Guild Wars 2 succeeds in letting the player play the way he wants to play and go where he wants to go without feeling like he’s strictly following one specific path. Daily hotfixes give hope that they are working and solving issues constantly, and looking back at other titles reveals that hiccups are always common at the start of every MMO. ArenaNet did a great job of creating a fun and rich world to play in, but its overall success now depends on how much they will maintain it and support it with new content patches or expansions. If there was ever a time to play MMORPGs, it’s now, and Guild Wars 2 should be your choice.