Review by Aerzel
Not a bad game, but not great either.
Guild Wars 2 (hereby referred to, for commodity, as GW2) is an MMORPG by ArenaNet, that has been in the makings for about 5 years. It has just released, so let's check out what makes this game special, the good, bad and ugly and why you should, or not, be interested.
In the graphical department, GW2 is noteworthy in some regards. The art style is absolutely gorgeous, and the whole game just feels like a living painting. Concept art has been "translated" into the game in a very "literal" way. The sense of scale/scope and depth is also really well done, and is easily experienced in places such as Divinity's Reach. Effects and animations are also, for the most part, very stylized and generally well done - such as fire and entering/exiting stealth. Colours and environments are vibrant and moody.
Unfortunately, there are some negative remarks to be made as well. The game is not truly optimized, as my mid-high end PC still drops framerate occasionally. Even when it doesn't, it is very hard to get more than 34 to 40 FPS in moderately high settings. Texture and models are good, but not great - some games out there, that actually released before GW2 have clearly better ones. Occasional graphical bugs are present, and bad texturing can seldom be found.
Sound-wise, GW2 has an incredible soundtrack. Well-crafted, beautiful, and very able to create ambience, the only problem I have is that it isn't constant; I was very excited for the main menu music, for instance, only to never hear it again while actually playing the game. Voice acting is hit-or-miss; some voice actors hit the mark, while other are either not emotional enough or way too emotional for the situation. Some voice lines can get very repetitive, but other than that, pretty average VA. Sound effects are OK as well.
Story in GW2 is somewhat lackluster, both in content and form. The overarching story is pretty cliché (not to spoil too much, dragons are trying to destroy the world, and it's your job to rally a band of heroes and save it) and only has very few "awesome!" moments to it. It is the kind of story some people might enjoy while others don't care; I never felt particularly engaged to it, because the game never reels you into the narrative.
Other than that, you experience the story in three other ways: quests, dynamic events and personal storyline missions. Quests are the good ol' MMO quests of "kill/collect X of Y", with two twists to it: one, you don't have to pick up the quests like in other MMO's - to initiate a quest, simply enter its area; and two, each quest has more than one objective, and contribution for one objective progresses the whole quest. In theory, it works great, but ends up leaving you very confused: "how did my character know he was supposed to help? How and why did the 'questgiver' mail me my rewards, since I never met him in the first place?" From an in-character perspective, it doesn't really work. Another problem I have with it is area to area repetitiveness. For example, in the first two human areas, most of the content will be about fighting centaurs. Recycling it over and over again, after a while you just feel tired of centaurs.
Dynamic events are also great in theory, but I after clearing quite a few, I gave up on them. They do have a number of flaws. For one, most of them are very long and repetitive - namely escort quests. Most of them are either "slay waves of mobs while staying in one area" or "slay waves of mobs while moving to a destination". Some also have a negative impact in your game experience - some leave you in a far away place from where you started and have to travel all the way back, while others "claim" an area for a friendly faction and leave it without enemies to fight to progress through your quests. Finally, others have a forced impact upon you - you may try traveling via teleport/waypoint (which you pay for) to a certain are and find it "contested", which will throw you to another waypoint that may be a long way from where you wanted to go in the first place.
Personal storyline missions are, for the most part, not well done. For one, when you create your character, you must define certain biography elements. This outright kills a lot of role-playing options. As an example, when creating a human you are presented with a choice. You either passed an opportunity to join the circus, or never met your parents, or you never found your killed in action sister's corpse. You can't choose the "none of the above" option. Why can't I be someone who never cared for circus, has lived with their parents his whole life and was a single child? Or am I to believe that all humans fall into one of those three categories? Not to mention the contradiction between certain choices - for example, I could be an orphan who grew up in an orphanage and a renowned noble from a wealthy family. Furthermore, the narrative is disconnected between missions and never takes itself serious enough.
So overall, GW2 fails to deliver a good story - in both content and form.
Gameplay is mostly standard to other MMO's, but with some twists. Character building is actually pretty good and very much above average for the genre. ArenaNet managed to create a system where, independently of your character's class, all stats actually matter and you are truly able (for the most part) to build a character to suit your liking rather than to fit in the game's meta. The stat system and the trait system is wonderful, although I think they should not be mixed like they are.
Gathering and crafting are pretty good as well; in GW2, when you collect resources from a node, it doesn't disappear for other players. This makes farming a lot easier and faster. Crafting is also very intuitive and accessible, although it's nothing out of the ordinary.
Character customization is great in this game: from armor dyes, to being able to select the look of your equipment independently of its stats, to the good and averagely varied character creation screen, you can pretty much create a very unique look with ease.
Combat has its ups and downs. The lack of a resource to manage (like mana) for your abilities paves the way for an oversimplified combat - which is a bad thing. The lack of depth for combat in GW2 is not made up for by the many systems implemented that try to spice it up. Switching weapons adds a bit of variety to your moveset, but in a lot of situations is not desirable, and won't benefit you. The dodge mechanic does add to the combat experience - but it's effectiveness is limited. The limited number of skills plus the lack of a resource to manage creates a combat system which is repetitive and lacking, and ends up having almost no strategy or thinking required. Managing cooldowns is not a fun mechanic per se, much less with such a limited arsenal. In team battles, most people simply either auto-attack or spam AoE. Other than that, it is pretty much standard MMORPG combat.
PvE is fairly OK and leveling is a moderately pleasant experience. You are encouraged to explore and complete each area map to 100%. To do so, you must visit and complete every quest, point of interest, skill challenge, waypoint and vista. Vistas and points of interest should be merged - having the difficulty/fun to complete puzzles of vistas but not forcing you to view a short movie showing off the area design. You will level up at a reasonable pace; you will only rarely feel frustrated for the speed at which you're levelling, but you will need to grind sometimes.
Realm vs Realm PvP is not fun, for the most part. It is very exciting in theory, but ends up not being so. You can access it at any level, as your stats will be scaled to level 80. Everything else won't, though. If you still have not unlocked the Elite skill, for example, you will not have it available after you're scaled to 80 for RvR PvP - leaving you at an advantage. For the most part, though, that doesn't matter much, since all battles in RvR boil down to massive AoE clusters and huge masses of players running around. Melee characters get nuked instantly, while everyone else just spams ranged AoE in one place until either they die or the enemy dies.
Structured PvP - essentially a game of Domination or point capture and control - can be a lot of fun. It is very balanced, since when accessing it, you are essentially playing a "different" character - it will not have anything from your PvE character other than name, physical appearance, unlocked dyes and that kind of things. All equipment is of the same quality - the only changes are cosmetic. Other than that, you can freely customize your gear from a number of different (equally powerful) options. Every player is always at the same level of everyone else - essentially, your only advantage or disadvantage is to play well or play badly. However, not everything about it is good: there is a clear lack of progression and sense of meaning to what you do. This, combined with the nonexistent variety in Structured PvP, means you will end up having a very repetitive experience, and grow tired of it from time to time.
Dungeons are not well designed at all. The removal of strategy from a team perspective is not outweighted by the addition of player interaction in the form of combos. A lot of deaths and "corpse runs", as well as rivers of money, are required to complete even the easiest of dungeons.
All in all, GW2 does some things very well, other very average, and some very wrong. So when experiencing the content that this game has to offer, you will often feel "wow, cool" followed by "hey, what on earth?" and sometimes "oh gosh, I'm sick of this".
->A side note: this covers the systems in play within the game, that ArenaNet created. However, I believe that, in MMORPGs, there is something else that affects your gameplay experience: a layer of external factors. In here, I include community, staff support and business model. Feel free to ignore, as most things are based on personal experience.
Community is very varied. I have found helpful and merry people just as I found immature, offensive players. Don't be eluded, you will as well. Plus, this game suffers from a huge deal of "fanboyism", and for the most part is impossible to promote healthy discussion about the game without having people derailing it. Most players are incredibly closed and will either not talk when in a group or be obnoxious jerks. Based on my personal experience, of course.
Support is very lacking. Many players have reported huge delays in having their issues answered and addressed. Rules are also very much more strict than in other games, and the support team is quick to temporarily ban or permanently ban players.
Business model is good. You buy the game to play and don't have to pay a subscription; however, GW2 does have a cash shop, although it is mostly cosmetic. In terms of staff interest in helping the player, this game does feel free to play - which is bad.
PLAY TIME/REPLAYABILITY There is not much to do at endgame. After reaching max level (80), you will pretty much be repeating content over and over if you want to continue playing it. There is little to no progression, so most people will experience repetitiveness of even be a little bored after a week or two after reaching level 80. Creating a different character with another class to experience, or repeating dungeons, or repeating PvP matches, or playing RvR are the only things I can see people doing after max level.
All in all, there is a lack of the elements that make players continue playing an MMORPG after reaching max level - elements such as progression, competition and variety.
FINAL RECOMMENDATION If you are craving for an ordinary MMORPG that doesn't require a subscription fee, like I was and am, then you should definitely try GW2; however, be sure to know that the experience does reflect the fact that it is free to play. Also, be mindful that there is no demo or free trial, so once you commit to it, there is no turning back.
At the end of the day, GW2 is a fairly decent MMORPG that will keep you entertained for a while and with no subscription; however, it is likely that you will get tired of it at some point. It has many ups and downs, but you will have fun with it.
Rating: 3.0 - Fair
Product Release: Guild Wars 2 (EU, 08/28/12)
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