Guild Wars 2 reviewed: A fast, fun and polished MMO, but an MMO nonetheless

Guild Wars 2

By on September 12, 2012 at 11:39 am

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

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

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.

Of course, there were some issues at launch. Many players complained of connection issues — almost over nine thousand, in fact. And it took a whole week before I could actually use the marketplace.

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.

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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.

When you get down to it, if you really like the feel of a certain weapon, your build choices are actually rather limited

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.

Good:

  • 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

Bad:

  • 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.

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75 comments (Leave your own)

If you’re going to play GW2 without WorldvWorldvWorld, you’re going to have a bad time.

 

Would be nice if there was local servers.

 

Good review. Although I wouldn’t really class still being an MMO as a bad. It would be silly for anybody to buy the game expecting something other.

 
Village idiot

Nice review Patrick. Good to see your views have changed a bit from your last piece. Maybe you were in just a bit of “the secret world is the best” mode back then.

I must say that I am enjoying the game a lot, and I definitely see myself getting my $50 worth. Yeah, it’s just another fantasy MMO looking for a piece of the pie – but I have not had this much fun since day one of WoW and I think I have dappled in almost every MMO since then without much longevity.

So far I see myself sticking around with GW2 at least for a year or two.

 
Patrick Vuleta

Matt ‘El_Funko’ Long:
If you’re going to play GW2 without WorldvWorldvWorld, you’re going to have a bad time.

Dodge rolling is still uber! My favourite tactic in WvW is to skirt around the outskirts, take someone apart with auto attacks, and roll backwards whenever anyone tries to hit me.

syncourt:
Good review. Although I wouldn’t really class still being an MMO as a bad. It would be silly for anybody to buy the game expecting something other.

Yeah, but GW2 is trying to take on WoW, they’ve said as much, and they’re chosen method for doing so is to appeal to the players who normally wouldn’t play an MMO. So I felt compelled to discuss that.

 

So does it have an end game? I’m guessing with no sub it doesn’t really have any responsibility to have an end game anyway?

 

You could probably count the various dungeons as endgame because they’re extreamly hard compared to normal PvE. Otherwise the only endgame (that I can see) is getting a legendary item/epic gear, which is really just a shitload of grind.

 

The “end-game” currently is 3 dungeons, and a few large world events, which never seem to finish because people are terrible and don’t understand if we don’t guard the guy instead of trying to kill everything in the vicinity we’ll fail the event and revert back to the previous “checkpoint”.

Also this isn’t helped by ArenaNet limiting the amount of characters on the screen via a draw distance that’s scaled with the amount of people in the area which you don’t seem to be able to change. So alot of times in these massive events you can’t even see the mobs/guy you’re supposed to be guarding because nothing is drawn unless you’re standing on top of the enemies/npc

 

so
*bad
-End game poor?

 

Also I have to say most of the “bad” things aren’t “bad” at all?

“World is the same old fantasy”

Funny, I don’t remember Asura, Sylvari and Charr in any other mmo/rpg. And putting down “Fantasy” as a bad thing is a bit weird, if you don’t like it, that’s fine, but putting it as a “bad” point? What?

But I agree the only real bad point for me is the end-game, to me it isn’t really end-game. The dungeons are pointless in doing as you get better/same gear from crafting the exotics, and you can’t really go around as a guild doing the world events because they are “dynamic” in that they aren’t always up. The only thing you can constantly do and is somewhat worth doing is WvW

 

No mention in your review of WvW? Also, the ‘same old fantasy’ may be true for the Human or Norn, but Asura and Charr have distinctly new and unique ‘fantasy’ characteristics. Did you play these?
Additionally, you mustn’t have played much tournament sPvP at all, a dodge-roll thief spamming the ’1′ against any competent opposition will have no success whatsoever. Not to mention the wide range of builds already in use after two weeks – which would run contrary to your ‘limited skill choices’ claim.

It really feels like you’ve only reviewed half of the game!

 

He means same old fantasy as in it is fantasy, which has been done to death regardless of the flavor. Maybe not necessarily a bad thing but not something that innately sparks interest. Like if a new WWII fps came out you have to roll your eyes a little even if the game is very good because we’ve all played that setting 500x before.

 

minkelz,

Don’t agree given I love WW2 games and think anyone who complains about them being overdone is crazy.

 

This is what I mean, you can’t have the setting of the game (this goes for any game) as a negative thing, as it’s a very personal thing, I would be happy to play nothing but Fantasy games, but obviously not everyone likes the same things, I don’t think it belongs in either category.

 

Sure if the game is good I could spend hours shooting nazis in the head with an M1 but it is nice to see some variety. How about some WWII MMORPGs? Or historically accurate medieval ones? Stone age hunter gatherer MMO? Why not some games based on animals – wth is my Animals of Farthing Wood MMO? Dibs on the owl class.

 

Good review Patrick, sums up my feelings on GW2 almost exactly.

It’s a great MMO but in the end it is just another MMO.

Also I am yet to really start enjoying WvWvW it seems to have a lot of zerging and then a lot of travel time to return to battle after death, think I am still missing something with this so will continue to give it a go.

 
James Pinnell

I still think, as in your 48hr piece, that you need to spend more time in WvW.

It’s easily one of the biggest highlights of the game for me, and something I find myself engrossed most in.

 

The second short bow skill (for thief) benefits greatly from power and crit. Gearing/specialising your thief for “direct damage” is not going to lock you out of using the short bow, especially considering that the SB makes the thief the most mobile class in the game.

 

throllax: Also, the ‘same old fantasy’ may be true for the Human or Norn, but Asura and Charr have distinctly new and unique ‘fantasy’ characteristics. Did you play these?

No they don’t, Asura are the stereotypical short, weak, smart magic users and Charr are the stereotypical animalistic Hierarchical combat types, all the races are essentially pulled straight from generic fantasy stereotypes… that’s what he meant.

Personally I’ve found that while some of the dungeons are interesting, they aren’t really conductive to quick play sessions or to full group pugging, if I log on and the world events aren’t up and none of my guildies are keen for a dungeon then there’s no so much to do.

There’s also the fact that the “responsive combat” system is boring as fuck… right from the start. There are only so many skills that you can actually USE in PvE due to the necessity of having condition removers up all the time and I tend to find myself just using the same ones over and over, I don’t think my play style has changed AT ALL since about level 20.

TBH It feels too much like I’m being spoonfed content, any world events are just a massive spam fest with zero skills required and half the time the dungeon bosses are totally out of order in terms of difficulty scaling, after a night in a dungeon/s i end up feeling like I’m playing whack-a-mole with the dodge keys and just spamming for hours, the combat just isn’t satisfying in any way and the skill cap is spectacularly low for an MMO.

 

wtb: edit button…

I should also note that if it wasn’t F2P then I probably would have canceled my sub within a week of hitting 80, with so many people raving about how subscription based MMO’s are dead post GW2 I find myself a little sad, I’d happily day a monthly sub for an MMO again if it actually had quality, reasonable length content.

I feel like the guys who designed the world did a FANTASTIC job of it and the game was let down by the dungeons and combat design, the outside world is easily the most spectacular I’ve experienced in an MMO and it almost feels like it was made by a different team to the rest of the game.

Being mostly bug free and having good server uptime isn’t my definition of an MMO, where’s the content?

 
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