Review by Kimari

"'Guild Wars 2' is a massive MMO that provides plenty of bang for your buck"

I've been waiting five years for the release of Guild Wars 2. I was a big fan of the original, though its “expansions” left much to be desired. When ArenaNet announced they were working on a sequel I was overjoyed, based on what I was hearing regarding their plans, as they were thinking the same thing I was – Guild Wars 1, as they had it set up, could only do so much.

Anyone expecting Guild Wars 2 to be similar to the original can throw that thought out the window. The sequel is quite different from its predecessor in countless ways to the point where I wouldn't have been offended if it wasn't part of the Guild Wars series and was, instead, a brand new IP.

There are almost too many things to see and do in the gorgeous world of Tyria where you'll do your adventuring. Between dynamic events, persona storylines, dungeons, epic World vs. World combat, structured PvP, jumping puzzles, among others, you'll be busy for a long time to come. When I see people complaining about not having enough things to do, I really question whether or not they know exactly what Guild Wars 2 truly has to offer.

A Dynamic World

One of the things that really got me excited about Guild Wars 2 several years ago was the dynamic event system. In case you don't know what that is by now, dynamic events are things that happen out in the world, whether it be a town under attack, an NPC that needs certain items to be collected, or a caravan that needs an escort. There's a fairly nice variety in the type of events, so don't be alarmed – I didn't even come close to listing all the types.

Usually, there aren't any particular triggers that begin these events. Rather, they just happen, and if not, a player can start them by talking to an NPC or grabbing an item in a cave, for example. The way these events differ from your standard MMO quest, however, is participation – any player in the area can jump in and help during an event. These are public, not private, undertakings. Events usually lead from one to another, meaning that town you just defended could ask you to escort a supply caravan down a dangerous road.

ArenaNet claims dynamic events as one of the best and most innovative parts of this game, and I agree that they're very fun and usually challenging. Sometimes, though, they do happen a bit too often, making them seem less dynamic than they appear. If you stick around an area long enough, especially a populated one, you'll sure see the same dynamic event at least twice.

Some of the best and most popular events revolve around epic boss battles, which I have mixed feelings on. I don't want to give away any serious spoilers, but let's just say you'll fight some pretty massive beasts out in the open world along with dozens of other players. A few of these fights are underwhelming, especially in their difficulty, though some are very fun, especially in the later zones of the game.

Speaking of fighting, the combat system is another big selling point of Guild Wars 2, and something ArenaNet is proud of. Gone are the days of spamming a rotation while barely glancing at the actual game world. The combat is based heavily around movement. If you don't learn to dodge and move out of enemy attacks, you'll have a tough journey through Tyria. The combat certainly keeps things interesting, and being action-based was the right road for Guild Wars 2 to take. The system is also surprisingly responsive, and I've probably seen fewer glitches and bugs from the combat than any other aspect of the game.

The Story of Tyria

ArenaNet definitely wanted to focus on putting the “role-playing” back in the MMORPG genre. Their main way of doing so is the personal story, a mode where you play out your own character's story in instanced (private) areas.

I'll admit that the personal story was the one aspect of the game I was looking forward to the least. I would have rather been doing events and dungeons than being on my own in my own instance. Ultimately, the personal story was pretty much what I expected – it wasn't too thrilling, though it was challenging at times.

Many times throughout your story you'll get a choice as to how you tackle the next objective, among other things. This means your story could be very different from your friend's, even if you both select the same starting race. Your story, especially in the beginning, plays out depending how you answer certain questions during character creation, a nice and welcome touch that adds a ton to the game.
The main problem I had with the personal story was how cumbersome it got during the second half. Eventually, the story focuses less on your character's own problems and more on Zhaitan, the undead elder dragon and main foe in the game. While this sounds great, and at times it is, you'll find yourself fending off waves of undead in far too many subsequent story missions.

Finally, you'll reach Orr, a land consisting of some of the upper-level zones in the game, which is populated by a few too many undead foes. Once you reach this point, the story really drags, and you'll go through a few too many undead-slaying missions before you can actually take on Zhaitan. As someone who reached 80 around the time I landed on Orr, I wanted to get to the main event, so having to go through mostly meaningless story missions leading up to the grand finale was tiring and unwelcome.

Another way the story is presented is through dungeon story modes. In Guild Wars 2, each dungeon has two very different modes (not simply difficulty levels): story mode and explorable mode. The story mode isn't too unlike the explorable mode, actually, though I do believe you need to complete story mode before trying explorable. Also, explorable mode is known as the more difficult mode, though I've seen plenty of tough fights in the story dungeons.

As a fair warning, dungeons are tough. Think you know your profession well? Just wait until you head into your first dungeon, which you can do at level 30. You WILL die plenty of times in these dungeons, so be prepared. They're a lot of fun, and most boss fights are great. My only gripe here is that there are too many “tank and spank” fights and not enough based on unique mechanics, though I found that it got more diverse later on in the game.

Speaking of which, “tank and spank”, referring to typical MMO dungeons that require a tank to consume damage while his allies attack the boss, really doesn't apply to Guild Wars 2. There isn't a dedicated healer class here, as all professions are capable of healing themselves, and most are capable of healing others in some capacity. Some professions, such as the guardian or elementalist, are better at group support than others, but you can complete a dungeon with any combination of professions. No need to wait around for a tank or healer to finalize your group.

A PvP Game?

A comment I've seen floating around is “Guild Wars 2 is a PvP game, not a PvE game,” something that really isn't true. I'm mainly a PvE player, and the PvE is the reason I looked forward to the game so much, and I can assure you that there is nearly too much to do on the PvE side of things.

That said, I LOVE what they've done with PvP here. It boils down to two main modes: structured PvP and World vs. World vs. World, or WvW.

Structured PvP is what ArenaNet sees as a future e-Sport, a result that remains to be seen. In this mode, you jump into a team vs. team match where your goal is to score 500 points before the other team does. The main way of consistently scoring points is by holding capture points. Now, in this mode you'll have unique PvP armor and weapons. As another plus, levels don't exist here – everyone is on the exact same playing field, which means a level one player can take on a level 80 player without fear.

I wasn't really looking forward to the sPvP, to be honest, but I've found it to be a blast. Instead of levels, you gain ranks, a nice way to gauge how much sPvP experience a player has. There are achievements here as well, of course, and as you earn glory, the sPvP currency, you unlock more weapons and armor, making you even more powerful. There are also tournaments, and as of very recently, paid tournaments, further pushing this mode towards a true e-Sport.

WvW is a completely different beast. This mode pits three servers against each other in a battle of armies, towers, keeps, and castles. Each server has a home zone, as well as a central map called Eternal Battlegrounds. In case you're wondering, each of these four maps is about the size of a regular zone in the game, which are massive.

For each camp, tower, keep and castle your server has under its control, you'll gain a certain amount of points; obviously, the more you own, the more points you'll acquire. Matches are set to be two weeks long, through right now, two months after release, matches are currently week-long affairs.

Like sPvP, I didn't pay a whole lot of attention to WvW before the game was released. However, especially since I hit 80, I've been a big fan of this mode and I can't wait to see where they go with it. Battles can be epic, and I encourage everyone to find themselves a good WvW guild to join, as I've found this really helps in your enjoyment of it. Doing well in WvW nets your server passive bonuses in PvE, like experience gain increases, so there's incentive for pretty much everyone to hop in and support their server.

So Much More to Cover

I've covered the main aspects of the game, most of which I really enjoyed, but I honestly barely scratched the surface of Guild Wars 2.

There's the crafting, which is accessible and pretty addicting, especially for someone usually uninterested in MMO crafting. There are the mini-dungeons and jumping puzzles which require unique skill not often utilized by players in this genre. I also didn't even bring up the fact that, unlike the original, there are five unique races to choose from for your character, as well as eight professions that provide different ways of playing the game.

At the time of this writing, just three days ago, Guild Wars 2 got its first major content patch called “Shadow of the Mad King”, a Halloween-inspired addition which changed Lion's Arch, one of the major cities, into a festive and decorated madhouse. It also added permanent changes to the game, such as new events and paid sPvP tournaments, and all of these combine to create excitement in what ArenaNet has planned for the future.

Finally, I must say that one of the main reasons I love this game is because of the exploration. ArenaNet knew exactly what they were doing when they crafted this gigantic and dynamic world called Tyria. You won't be following the breadcrumb trail from static quest hub to static quest hub. Sure, there are things called renown hearts which point you in the right direction, but you'll get the most out of Guild Wars 2 by going off the beaten path. That's where you'll find hidden events, mini-dungeons, jumping puzzles, vistas, skill points, etc. The fact that you can play along with any players you find along the way without forming a group, and without the fear of people stealing your kills, is wonderful. ArenaNet put players into the same game world without forcing them to play separately, a concept I never quite understood.

The best part of all? This is only the beginning. Rumor has it there are big content patches coming soon, before the end of 2012. I can't wait to see what's in store, along with the inevitable expansions which will add even more to the world of Tyria. The complete lack of a subscription fee doesn't hurt either.

Guild Wars 2 is an outstanding game, and some minor gripes keep it from getting a perfect score. There's so much room for the game to grow and evolve, something that prevented the original Guild Wars from truly expanding. I still have yet to uncover most of the game world, and for a player like me who plays games for fun, I couldn't be more excited to continue.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 10/25/12

Game Release: Guild Wars 2 (US, 08/28/12)

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