Every MMO has a honeymoon. The world is new, lauded by critics and fans alike. Then… cracks appear. The hype wears off. The game goes free to play, and EA announces that it tanked.
Guild Wars 2 launched two weeks ago, and yet in many ways is well past its honeymoon. With the length of its beta test rivalling Longcat himself, many have already been playing the game for months. And honestly, in all this time, the game’s barely changed.
So when I loaded Guild Wars 2 on release, my first impressions were laced with cynicism. Fortunately, I’m now enjoying the game, even if it’s not the promised, overhyped revolution. Let’s look at what Guild Wars 2 brings to the MMO table.
Polished to a fault
What first hits you is how incredibly smooth the game is. Everything works, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a single bug in the gameplay. Guild Wars 2 is a great example of how an MMO should be launched — held back until it’s ready to go, not released early from running out of funds.
But these problems have been fixed, so if you’re just getting into the game (after waiting to read this review, of course), you won’t have them. You’ll be able to focus on enjoying the game, not struggle against bugs. This is a refreshing change, and potentially the greatest advancement over other MMO releases.
A living, breathing, generic world
Guild Wars 2 lets you explore a huge living world. The world is enormous, and running around, there’s always something to discover without any artificial constraints placed on your choices. If you want to quest normally, you can do that. Explore like you’re playing Skyrim… that’s here too. PvP all day without even levelling up… you’re given top level gear to do this.
Complimenting this is the excellent art style. Guild Wars 2 pulls off the ‘living painting’ look quite well, with lots of strokes and colours. Just wandering around is really quite charming, all in all, and the game manages to look so much better in motion than it does in screenshots.
However, my enthusiasm for exploration is often dampened by the same old fantasy setting that we’ve seen in MMOS for the past two decades. This is a lost opportunity. Guild Wars 2 advances the timeline of Guild Wars, bringing in gunpowder weapons and other steampunk elements. However, rather than take advantage of this to provide a truly unique setting, the game stops short, and ends up with steampunk plastered into a generic fantasy world. Oh well.
Responsive combat from the start
One of the great improvements promised by Guild Wars 2 is that you should be having fun right from the start, not simply biding your time preparing for an ‘endgame’. ArenaNet’s design manifesto was critical of the traditional hamster wheel approach to MMO design. From talking to many before the game’s release, this was one of the game’s biggest selling points.
The good news is that Guild Wars 2 actually lives up to this promise. You unlock the majority of the skills you’ll be using during the game very quickly, and there is no waiting to get powerful. Rather than ping away at rats with magic missiles, you’ll be hurling firestorms at centaurs from day one.
Further boosting the combat is the lack of a global cooldown. A global cooldown is a common MMO system where every skill, no matter what, has to wait one second after the previous skill was activated. As such, combat will often move along at a dull, one second beat. Guild Wars 2 does away with this, and the result is combat that just feels more responsive than other MMOs.
But no real depth
Unfortunately, you can’t redesign MMO combat without breaking a few orcs. ‘Easy to learn, hard to master’ should carry a warning: ‘difficult to achieve’. Fans of Guild Wars enjoyed the extreme amounts of skill combinations that could be used to create a truly unique character. That, sadly, has been done away with in the sequel, making characters much less unique.
A major problem is that the skill system locks you into certain choices, as many skills, traits, and gear are only suitable for certain weapon types. For example, my thief has weapons, such as the sword, that do instant direct damage. Her shortbow, on the other hand, is almost pure condition damage over time.
Now, if I spend my gear and traits on buffing direct damage, I won’t be able to use the shortbow effectively. If I buff condition damage, my sword will hit like a wet noodle. And if I go half and half, I’ll be terribad at both.
Wearing any direct damage gear, therefore, locks me out of the shortbow and many other condition damage options. When you get down to it, if you really like the feel of a certain weapon, your build choices are actually rather limited.
Another issue comes from the sheer importance of the dodge roll. By making combat so dependent on mobility, high responsiveness is achieved, but it also makes auto attack spam the top tactic. My thief can blow through just about every combat situation, PvE or PvP, by maxing out her dodge endurance, rolling all over the place so nothing can hit her, and spamming ‘1’.
This is a double-edged sword. It’s a real joy to have the traditional arcade gaming skills be important in an MMO. But at the same time, it sucks that theorycrafting and skill knowledge is much less important. As long as you can dodge roll, you don’t need to learn anything.
Story is a bit… lacking
While we’re talking about problems, we need to have words about the story. Serious words. While it does work in a sort of ‘choose your own adventure’ style, with plenty of branching paths, the game’s telling of it is not particularly compelling.
The story is advanced by limited cutscenes of two people talking, and the quality of the dialogue is mixed — sometimes good, sometimes downright tragic. In the above scene we see Miss Chambers being told she looks good in tight pants, which means I must give the story credit for accuracy. But I do miss the detailed cutscenes that you’ll find in The Old Republic or The Secret World. Two motionless people talking just doesn’t have the same pull.
Guild Wars 2 also fails to solve that age-old problem in MMOs — making you feel like your actions matter, instead of just being a cog in a machine. What passes for quests in Guild Wars 2 are dynamic events where many players work together to achieve an outcome. These are supposed to influence the world by having different dynamic events spawn off each other in a chain, making your actions consequential.
However, because the outcome of events across the world is influenced by hundreds of other players, it’s more akin to watching the flow of a river that only all of you working together could change. This is especially so given that the quests are some of the most basic you’ll find in any MMO. For the most part you’ll simply be fighting off waves of enemies, over and over and over again. At the end of the day, it’s really just grinding.
Has Guild Wars 2 achieved its aims?
According to ArenaNet’s Manifesto, Guild Wars 2 wants to be the MMO for people who hate MMOs — and taking on WoW demands such a mainstream approach. It is a lot of fun, and breaks the MMO mould by having responsive combat with no global cooldowns. It’s sure to be a success, too, because the game’s launched in such a polished state. If you’re worried that the game will lose half its players after the first month, then worry not, for Guild Wars 2 is here to stay.
But in many ways, Guild Wars 2 feels safe, and doesn’t take the steps needed to advance the genre beyond the traditional MMO audience. The setting is generic fantasy, and the limited cutscenes are uninspired. Auto attack spam is alive and well. Questing is a random collection of generic events that fail to give a true feeling of meaningful consequence.
Guild Wars 2, then, is still an MMO. It succeeds at being a really fun one, granted — maybe even the best one yet — but the core of the game remains an MMO. If you want a great online game to have fun with, then Guild Wars 2 will fit the bill. But if you want to seduce Kelly Chambers as Femshep, or see how your actions matter as Geralt of Rivia, you’re still better off with single player RPGs.
- Released when it was actually ready
- Charming art style
- Combat is extremely fluid and action-oriented
- Vibrant, living world with so much to do and explore
- Entertaining from day one
- No level restrictions on what you can do
- You can make your character look exactly like Kelly Chambers
- World is the same old fantasy
- Skill choice is less flexible than initially appears
- Cutscenes are awful
- No real story consequences for your actions
- It’s still an MMO
- Kelly Chambers when she was sixteen years old, that is
Guild Wars 2 is available through the official site for $59.99 USD.