Guild Wars 2 Review
Standing on the Shoulders of Giants
Guild Wars 2 has been open for adventure for a few weeks now, so we thought we’d have a closer look at the game for those of you who haven’t picked up your sword yet.
The original Guild Wars game was hugely successful. Since its release, over 1,000,000,000 hours have been played. Yes, a billion! That’s ten minutes for every human alive on Earth. Between April 2005 and February 2012, Guild Wars sold 7,000,000 units. Guild Wars 2 has some similarly impressive stats to boast: It contains 90 feature films worth of dialogue – I reckon that’s between 120-150 hours’ worth. It’s been developed by a team of 270 people, some of whom created 3,000 pieces of concept art. Talking of which…
Work of Art
The first thing you notice before playing is that all the promotional material and the website are stunningly beautiful. The graphic artists used for Guild Wars 2 are exceptionally good. The style of the drawings look like acrylic paint on top of watercolour washes. On the website, the figures have fantastic roll-over effects. Then I wondered if the developers had put all their artistic effort into the concept art, and not the game. They hadn’t – the in-game experience is just as captivating. One example which struck me while playing was the way they’ve drawn the area boundary of an area of effect spell/effect as a chalk-like circle on the floor. It’s clear, it’s beautiful, but it’s not distracting. One other thing that’s struck me from the concept art is the steampunk-esque mixture of fantasy and futuristic.
It has the Wow-factor, but it’s not WoW (in a good way)
Throughout the promo material and video interviews available on their website, ArenaNet seem to be making a comparison to a certain other MMORPG, but carefully avoid calling it by name. You know the one. Yes, that one. In the same spirit, I’ll call it “The MMORPG Which Shall Not Be Named” (TMWSNBN). Their desire to let people know that GW2 is different from TMWSNBN is understandable – they want to attract those who have grown tired of the other game’s structure and who are looking for something new. TMWSNBN is a fantastic game, but GW2 has been built subtly differently from the ground up. I get the impression that the ArenaNet team sat down and shared their feelings about TMWSNBN and set about trying not to repeat any of its negative aspects.
If it ain’t broke…
…don’t fix it. It’s a paradigm of design that if something works and is expected by users, you shouldn’t change it. Don’t suddenly make hot taps with blue inlays, people will get burnt – that kind of thing. To my delight, ArenaNet have kept all of the things which fantasy roleplay fans expect. Races, classes, skills, currency systems – these things are sacred and should not be changed. However, those expecting the standard human, elf, dwarf, gnome, panda (?) setup will find a refreshing selection of new races. There are five to choose from in the land of Tyria: Human, Asura, Sylvari, Norn and Charr. Interestingly, the humans are cast as a downtrodden minority race on the road to recovery. The classes are a little more standard, with one – the Mesmer – standing out. Mesmers are essentially psychological magicians who can influence their opponents’ thoughts, actions and emotions.
If it *is* broke…
As I hinted at above, I think ArenaNet have tried to exclude the aspects of TMWSNBN which are commonly regarded as unfair or boring. ArenaNet have tried to make the game a lot less prone to specialisation, with each race-class combination able to hold its own and fulfil many different roles within a party, or survive on their own. All characters are self-sufficient in terms of healing, for example. This leaves players with the feeling that they can play whichever character they feel like playing, and still play the game however they want to. If you’re a thief, it doesn’t mean you have to skulk around at the back trying not to get hit. These developers explain some of the concepts of the combat system that make GW2 stand out from the crowd:
The key message there is that the game is designed to make cooperation between players natural rather than competitive. Playing the game, you very quickly see the difference between GW2 and TMWSNBN. In GW2, you’re given your character’s back story (based on answers you gave to questions during character creation) and are then thrown straight into a situation to deal with. The game helps you along with ‘Hints’ that pop up to tell you about the interface and give you a running tutorial. After a while, I found myself on a bridge defending a castle from some waves of baddies and a ‘big boss’ NPC. In TMWSNBN, you’d generally have to wait for someone else to kill the ‘boss’ then wait for it to respawn, then get annoyed when someone else jumps in and kills it before you, and so on. ArenaNet have made sure this kind of thing cannot happen in GW2. All players cooperating to complete an objective share fairly in the spoils. Standing on that bridge with half a dozen other players, I got the impression that we were in it together, and largely forgot about the game engine behind it all – something which often comes to mind when playing TMWSNBN.
You may have picked up from that video that the weapon system is very flexible. For instance, if you’re using a dagger in your main hand and another in your off-hand, you’ll get a different set of skills to those who are using a pistol in their off-hand. The more you use a weapon or combination of weapons, the more skills you gain in them. My character is a thief, and one of the basic skills is the ability to steal abilities from enemies and use them against them – it puts a new spin on the concept of a thief. I imagine the other classes have similarly delightful features.
Combat is far more mobile than in TMWSNBN. You need to move around to dodge attacks, doing so by double tapping the movement keys. The thief gets a nice shadow-cloud graphic effect while doing so. I like the fact that it’s not all about just a sequence of abilities – there is some skill in timing and movement involved that makes it a little more realistic somehow.
Another key aspect of the GW2 world is Dynamic Events. Watch ArenaNet explain more in this video:
I absolutely love this concept that your actions have consequences which reach beyond the specific encounter you’re having. I come from a tabletop RPG background, and the essence of those games, which digital MMO games tend to lack, is that you don’t know which way the story is going to go, or what consequences your actions will have in the long run. Don’t care if the little girl gets eaten by Ogres? Don’t save her! Then you’re free to kill the ogres anyway if you want to. Or not.
It’s Your Story
As well as environment-based events that everyone sees, the game includes a story arc that is for your own character personally. You can dip in and out of your personal storyline during the game. Here’s a video to explain it a little more:
Three Games in One
Player vs. Player:
Like other MMORPGs (which shall not be named), GW2 has a PvP aspect. This is accessible as soon as you’ve created a character. You go to the PvP lobby, where your character is made to be level 80, so that everyone is on a roughly level footing – you just have to bring your own mad skillz to give you an edge. There are 5v5 and 10v10 matches. If you’re familiar with the Call of Duty franchise, the gameplay is similar to Domination, in that you have to control three key points on the map. The victors get some goodies, while the losers get shame and humiliation – nice. There is a huge range of environments to play in – watch the video below to learn more.
World vs. World:
Unlike other MMORPGs, GW2 brings a new aspect – WvW. In my opinion, this is something which has been largely missing from mainstream MMO games…until now. It’s the one thing that for me makes GW2 stand out as a sea change in fantasy MMOs. The closest I can think of to a game which offers an equivalent to WvW is Battlestar Galactica Online, but nothing comes to mind in the fantasy genre. The concept is that three entire worlds (servers) battle over four conjoined maps (one for each server, plus a massive central one) over a period of weeks. Many hundreds of players will be involved in a full-on war. It’s PvP on steroids, and it’s very exciting. It’s not just a straight-up everyone-in-a-field fight – there are tactics to be considered. The area covered by the maps is so huge that it’s possible to sneak behind enemy lines to disrupt supply chains and really make life difficult for the enemy to hold their front lines. If front-line is more your fancy, then there will certainly be massive battles with dozens of characters on each side. Storm a castle, defend a castle, or rally your allies and meet your opponents in a 3-way open-field battle. You’re really going to love this! Watch this to find out more about WvW:
As sales of Mac machines increases among young folk, OSX is becoming more and more of a viable gaming platform. Many games are now cross-platform, with Guild Wars 2 being no exception. The Mac Beta is out, and was what I have been using to play. With your licence, you get access to both the Windows and OSX installation executables, so you can try it out on both platforms without buying two licences.
At first glance, GW2 is not cheap to buy. With a little thought though, you’ll realise that it’s actually cheaper than other games overall. Many MMO games are subscription based, and players tend to play them for long periods of time, unlike other genres of game which may be played for a only a few weeks. Over the course of play, subscribers pay many hundreds of pounds/dollars/euros/yuan/gold pieces. The following costs are one-offs for GW2:
Guild Wars 2 Digital Edition – £49.99
Guild Wars 2 Digital Deluxe Edition – £64.99
Guild Wars 2 Collector’s Edition – £129.99
The Deluxe Edition comes with a number of bonus in-game items. The Collector’s Edition has those items, plus some real-world goodies. See this page for more details.
One of my friends, who is a big player of TMWSNBN, pointed out that subscription payments give the developers incentive to continually develop their games to keep the players interested, and asked rhetorically how NCSoft and ArenaNet will keep developing the game once the majority of players have bought it, and it’s a few years down the line. I don’t know the answer to that, but I refer back to the stats in the intro section above for the original Guild Wars – the unit sales just kept on rising, which must have brought in a steady income for the developers. Only time will tell, but the game seems to have been built from the ground up to be more dynamic than other MMORPGs, so I suspect stagnation won’t be an issue – especially with the existence of the World vs. World mode, which is a game in its own right. If ArenaNet can keep the game evolving and keep existing players’ interest, I’m sure this game will become the leader of its genre.
CDW hereby anoints Guild Wars 2 with our coveted Gold Award.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, Tyria awaits…