Guild Wars 2 Review
This game was reviewed on the PC.
Guild Wars was a game that took up a substantial amount of both my time, as well as my wife’s. We were both fascinated by the world that ArenaNet had created in the game, with its relatively simple ARPG style of gameplay. It’s hard to believe that it’s been seven years since the release of the first game, and five since its last expansion, Eye of the North. In that time, ArenaNet has worked hard to completely retool the game based on both user input, as well as to keep pace with the ever-growing capabilities of technology. For us, five years have passed; but in Tyria, a quarter of a millennia has slipped by. Much has happened to the world we once knew, and so we travel once more into the breach with Guild Wars 2.
Veterans of the Guild Wars franchise will find a massive number of changes to the gameplay overall with Guild Wars 2. Initially, these changes might be overwhelming, but you’ll find that the sequel is a far more refined experience than its predecessor. While we attempt to cover everything new in GW2, we’ll endeavor to be as concise as possible, as there is a lot to cover.
Guild Wars 2 is an MMORPG with single-player, co-operative, and multiplayer elements. Taking place 250 years after the events of the Guild Wars expansion, Eye of the North, the landscape has been drastically changed from the world that players knew previously. The humans have been pushed back out of Ascalon by the Charr, but not before King Adelbern unleashed the power of the Foefire upon them during the last battle of Ascalon City. Only the kingdom of Kryta remains, left struggling to fend off invading centaurs and bandits to the north, and the undead armies of Orr from the south. Along with the turmoil in Ascalon, the humans, as well as the Norn, Asura, Charr, and Sylvari have a new enemy to deal with as the Elder Dragons have awakened and brought devastation on the world. But before we can get to exploring this vast new world, we’ll need to first create a new character.
When you create a new character for your adventure in the revamped Tyria, you’ll find that the character creation tool has been upgraded to make your character a lot more unique than the previous game. Not only that, but some of the choices that you make at this point will have an effect on the pilgrimage in which you’ll embark.
Aside from gender and the color of clothing options that were available in its predecessors, character creation contains enhancements to the old model to include a more granular level of selection when it comes to the character’s facial appearances and build. Once you’ve selected among the five available races (Human, Asura, Norn, Charr, or Sylvari) and chosen a gender, you can begin customizing your character’s physical appearance down to the minute details. Facial features such as the eyes, nose, and mouth can all be adjusted for width and fullness, as well as placement on the face using slide bars, while height and build can be adjusted in a similar manner. These options leave the player with thousands of permutations available to make your character truly unique among the masses.
Players will also have eight possible classes (or professions) to choose from. Coming back from the previous games are the Warrior, Elementalist, Ranger, Mesmer, and Necromancer. The Monk profession has been replaced with the Guardian, and while they still specialize in defensive magics, they wear heavier armor and can use a broader range of weapons than the older class. The Engineer class makes its debut in Guild Wars 2, specializing in a mix of alchemy and technology in their arsenal. This steampunk-inspired class uses rifles and pistols in the place of wands, staffs, and swords; and has the ability to deploy turrets such as rockets, automatic weapons, and ones that can regenerate your health, as well as your allies. The Thief class is similar to the Assassin first introduced in Guild Wars: Factions. Employing many of the same skillsets as the former class, the Thief uses stealth and hit-and-run tactics to do damage to their enemies.
Each class is grouped up into one of three categories based on armor type: Soldier, Adventurer, or Scholar. The Soldier category has the heaviest armor and contains the Guardians and Warriors. Adventurer encompasses the Engineer, Ranger, and Thief classes which all have medium armor. And finally, the Scholar group contains the Elementalist, Mesmer, and Necromancer classes, all of which sport light armor.
Once you’ve completed these steps, you’ll be asked a few questions (such as which of the Tyria gods you heed the call of, or the one regret in your character’s life) that reflect your in-game persona’s personality, as well as mark what personal storyline you’ll be embarking on. If you opt to skip these questions, the game will randomly choose for you. After you’ve finished with all of the steps, you’re left to create your character’s name and be on your way to your adventures in Tyria!
In previous installments, players began the game in a ‘starter area’ where they would level up their characters until they hit the cap of 20, and then be cut loose into the rest of the world. While in Guild Wars 2, they still have a starter region, but it is fully integrated with the rest of the world, and you can even visit other portions of Tyria early on if you so choose. Each class of character starts off in their own separate part of the map with a unique storyline based on their race and what answers they chose when creating their character. While you’ll generally be guided to stay in this starter area until you reach about level 20, the maximum level cap in Guild Wars 2 has been extended to 80. This means not only do you have a far longer road to travel before you max out your character, but that you’ll be doing a lot of grinding along the way as well – especially if you have the intention of attempting the quest lines solo.
Veterans of the original Guild Wars will remember that all environments outside of the walls of a village or town were instanced; meaning that you and anyone that was in your group were alone in your own private pocket of the Guild Wars universe. Guild Wars 2 is quite the opposite, where only certain dungeons or designated storyline areas are instanced, while the rest of the world is shared with the other inhabitants. This brings a dynamic to Guild Wars 2 that, while it may not be new to many MMOs, is in sharp contrast with what veteran GW players are familiar with, and with it, real world events are brought to the table. These events occur every few minutes and require that the players in the area work together cooperatively in order to accomplish a common goal in exchange for experience points and potentially other goodies. For example, one popular event that you’ll get to know quite well as you’re starting out takes place at the water tower just south of you. The water tower becomes the frequent victim of attacks where bandits are attempting to either poison the water hole, or blow it up (it depends on what mood the bandits are in, I guess). In these events, players will band together to fight off the bandits and prevent them from accomplishing their goal. Boss events occur in the shared environment as well. These events feature creatures of massive size and strength, requiring most (if not all) of the local players to converge on the event in order to successfully complete it; After victory come great amounts of spoils in the form of a chest that drops with rare items to be equipped or sold.
In the previous game, the world of Tyria was divided into separate instances, segmenting the different areas as you went from one point to another. While the areas in Guild Wars 2 are still segmented, the zones are vastly larger than in GW. Where you could run from the beginning of one zone to the other side in about five minutes or less in Guild Wars, GW2′s zones can take up to 20 minutes or more to clear to the next area. Because of this, ArenaNet has kindly added waypoints across the map so that you can map travel to a point in a zone quickly, and not have to run for half an hour to get to where you needed to go; however, there is a small fee attached to using these waypoints. As an added bonus, the developers have created titles for players to achieve for finding all of the given waypoints in a zone, as well as certain points of interest, and vista locations that overlook a given area to further entice people to explore as much as Tyria as possible.
The waypoint system works exceptionally well when you’re going solo, but we did find that when you wanted to travel with a group, each person must travel to an agreed upon waypoint individually instead of the leader mapping the entire group at once as was available in Guild Wars. The only time that the entire group travels together is when someone is choosing to enter an instanced location. This can become problematic if not everyone is entirely sure as to where to meet, and even more so when dealing with a group larger than two or three people. It would be nice if the group leader were able to map to a waypoint and have the entire group transported to that location all at once, so long as the players have that waypoint on their map.
Something else that’s new with Guild Wars 2 is the exploration of underwater environments. Before, in Guild Wars, you’d be limited to going out about knee-deep in the oceans, only being able to look into the depths below. Now, you can dive in and get an up-close look at those mysterious shadows that you used to see before – however, most of them will be trying to eat you. Waypoints and vista locations are available in these areas as well. One location of note is in Lion’s Arch; the old LA has been long since destroyed and sunken due to the rising of Orr, but the area is still explorable off of the shores of the new city that has been built in its place. The pillar that once marked the central plaza in the city and the great lion statues that once stood by the town’s entrance still stand, overgrown by years of coral growth, leaving players of the original game that had invested hundreds of hours of time with a solemn feeling when seeing these once great marvels standing as silent guardians of the deep.
The combat dynamic underwater changes as well. Weapons behave differently underwater (as one would expect), with your skills changing accordingly to the environment. For example, an elementalist might hurl molten rocks at inhabitants of the deep, while an engineer might don a spear gun instead of their flintlock pistols. Enemies in the underwater space can come at you literally from any direction, so you need to be cautious in these areas.
One of the best changes that they’ve made in Guild Wars 2 is the Dynamic Level Adjustment system that downgrades players’ effective levels for a given area. For example, a level 80 player may be downgraded to level 15 when they head into the starter areas. This isn’t to punish the player for being a high level, but rather to ensure that they still encounter some challenge instead of just hacking an effortless swath of destruction wherever they go.
Combat on land for the most part feels very familiar, although changes have been made to enhance the experience. You now have the ability to make your character jump and dodge, which changes the flow of a combat scenario significantly. Where before, Guild Wars essentially used combat methods similar to dungeon crawlers à la Diablo, the new movements add a bit more of a third-dimensional flair to combat. Jumping doesn’t cost anything, but using your dodge command does sap a bit of stamina from a gauge displayed above your health orb in the center of the command bar. The ability to dodge by rolling around enhances battle by giving you the ability to get out of the way of an attack before the assailant can follow through, or leave an area being bombarded by an AoE attack relatively unscathed. Of course the limitation put on you by the stamina gauge prevents you from overusing the ability, so be aware as you won’t be able to spam it. Also, as Obi Wan Kenobi might tell you: be mindful of your surroundings. Working in a true three-dimensional battlefield means that there are cliffs and drop-offs, and rolling off of the edge of a ravine in the middle of battle, while amusing to others, can be fatal to you.
When your health orb becomes depleted in Guild Wars 2, instead of dying immediately, your character is now downed, or wounded. This means that while you’re lying on the ground, you’re given a basic set of offensive and defensive skills to try to stay in the fight, while a health bar depletes with every attack or when you take damage. If it is completely exhausted, you die; however, if you manage to fight off whatever it was that felled you, you rally, gaining some bonus experience and getting back on your feet to hobble away and heal up before proceeding. If you die, you can return to a waypoint of your choosing, or, if you’re close to a group of fellow travelers, they’ll hopefully be kind enough to stop and revive you. Dying damages your armor severely, so you’ll want to stop in a town and get it repaired as soon as possible, because if it completely breaks, it will offer you no protection whatsoever until it can be repaired in-town.
Skills have had some interesting renovations done to them as well. Instead of eight skill slots to configure, you now have ten; however, unlike the previous game where you could mount any skill you wanted into the skill bar in whatever order you preferred, you are instead confined to certain slots only being available to certain skills. Slots 1-5 are your weapon skills, which change dynamically depending on the weapon you have equipped at that moment. A two-handed weapon will slot all five skills, while using a single-handed weapon will only slot the first three, with your offhand item determining the other two skills. It sounds confusing at first, but once you play around with using different weapons and unlocking the skills associated with that weapon class, you’ll start to understand how it works, and build a preference for what works best for you. Slot six is your healing skill, while slots seven through nine are what are called your utility skills. The skills that can be slotted into these are based on your race, or class. For example, elementalists will have access to familiar skills such as Arcane Wave or Armor of Earth, while a warrior would have skills like Endure Pain or the “Fear Me!” shout. Examples of racial skills would be Pain Inverter to an Asura (which causes Confusion to enemies), or Call Wurm to a Norn (which is…self-explanatory). The final slot is used for the Elite skills, which was a skill type that was available in the first game.
Those who were accustomed to creating their own skill sets using any variety of skills that they had unlocked during the game may find this new approach to the skill palette frustrating as it really limits not only the number of potential combinations, but the creativity that goes behind finding “just the right build” for a player – especially those who enjoyed tweaking skill builds for solo farming runs. While limiting in this manner, this method also greatly broadens your range of equipped skills in an instance, as now you can swap out skills simply by changing to a different weapon. In this writer’s opinion, it’s very likely that this method of applying skills will also reduce how frequently certain skills are nerfed as the likelihood of creating ‘invincible skill sets’ is pretty low.
Skills are unlocked using Skill Points either obtained by leveling up or by completing skill challenges around the world map. These skill points can then be applied to unlock utility, healing, or elite skills in your Hero menu, while weapon skills are unlocked by killing monsters. The more frequently you use the skills for a given weapon, the faster you’ll unlock the others. For an elementalist, this method can be more tedious, as you’ll need to unlock a set of skills not only for each weapon, but each elemental attribute (fire, earth, water, and air) as well.
Once you’ve learned the basic tenants of combat, you’ll eventually come across something new in Guild Wars 2: Crafting. In the previous game, items that were of little value (either monetarily, or whose stats made the item essentially unusable) were essentially fodder for becoming discarded or salvaged for components that could be equally worthless. In Guild Wars 2, even the most worthless of items can now have some value to them with the ability to craft items from basic components. A good crafter can even find a good use for those Piles of Glittering Dust that used to accumulate in your inventory by the thousands!
There are eight crafting disciplines that one can take on in Guild Wars 2: Armorsmith, Weaponsmith, Leatherworker, Tailor, Artificer, Chef, Huntsman, and Jeweler. Armorsmiths, Leatherworkers, and Tailors can craft heavy, medium, and light armors, respectively. Weaponsmiths can create metal weapons (swords, axes, etc.), while Artificers create magical weapons (staffs and wands), and Huntsman can create wooden ones (bows, pistols, and rifles). So depending on what class of character you have, you might decide to align yourself to your respective disciplines. However, the more entrepreneurial gamer may choose to expand out of the bounds of their class and create items that can be sold at the Black Lion Trading Company, the online auction house for Guild Wars 2. Chefs and Jewelers are two disciplines that you would easily overlook initially, until you saw the contributions that they can make to the game, and the economy. Chefs can create Snacks, Soups, Meals, and Desserts that can be consumed in-game to temporarily buff your avatar in different ways depending on the food they’ve eaten. Jewelers, on the other hand, are capable of creating jewelry that can be equipped to boost a characters attributes for as long as they wear that item.
Of course, in order to craft such goodies, you need to go out and find them. Items such as armor and weapons can be salvaged to get materials such as metals and cloth. Monsters can yield other boons such as tufts of fur, animal hides and other various materials. You can also mine metals (and gems, if you’re lucky) at randomly dropped points, as well as chop down trees, and harvest crops to gather your goods to make those weapons, armor, and tasty treats.
If you fancy yourself a business person and feel you can make some earnings, there’s always the Black Lion Trading Company, ; where goods can be bought and sold. You can purchase just about everything and anything there, as well as sell it. Those determined to put the time in on their crafting proficiency can earn quite a few coins crafting high quality armor and weapons and selling them. Unlike the auction house in Diablo III, however, real world money only flows one way. Real money can be used to purchase gems, which in turn can be traded for in game gold or items available through the Trading Company. Outside of the weapons and armor that you can purchase, you can also get ahold of in-game goodies such as minipets, experience boosters, stylish skins for your armor and more.
As far as the PvE campaign (or personal story as it’s generally referred to) is concerned, Guild Wars 2 is exceptionally well-written, albeit a little slow to start. Continuing the story two and a half centuries after the original Guild Wars, your character will embark on a journey that is partially determined by some of the choices that you made when creating your character, while also expanding on the lore that was already put in place with the end of the original game dealing with the elder dragons, the remains of Ascalon, and the continuing turmoil in Kryta among other things. Depending on what race you’ve created your character as also changes the story, focusing on the perspective of that character’s chosen race. The only problem as far as the storyline is concerned is with the earlier levels where the game really focuses on getting a new player acclimated to the new world. You’ll spend the majority of the first ten levels or so helping out farmers or nobles to grind your way up to the level necessary to engage many of the quests, and not as much time developing your character’s story. In the previous Guild Wars game, ArenaNet managed to maintain a good balance by giving the player an idea of the bigger picture and engaging them in the story while running them through the paces of the tutorials. It isn’t until about level 15 actually, that the feeling of “Why am I here again?” really starts to go away.
However, as soon as the story starts to roll, it is a very engaging one that shows once again the prowess of the wordsmiths of ArenaNet in their lore-weaving. Complementing the narrative is an exceptionally long list of well-knowns contributing their voices to the game including Felicia Day (The Guild), Nolan North (Uncharted), April Stewart (South Park), Troy Baker (Naruto), Steve Blum (X-Men), and Matthew Mercer (Thundercats). With such a stellar cast, it’s terribly difficult to find any sub-par quality in the voice acting, which adds to the immersiveness of the story.
Adding to the adventure that is Guild Wars 2 are of course the environment and character models, which are a significant improvement over the previous game. With all graphical settings maxed, the world of Tyria comes absolutely alive. That isn’t to say that the average modern PC won’t be able to enjoy a beautiful world, but at its full potential, Guild Wars 2 is simply stunning. The vast areas contain lush forest, lakes and swamps, with villages and outposts dotting the country side to take a quick breather from your adventuring. Every area has beautiful vistas where you can really take in all of the hard work that ArenaNet has put into creating a world that’s larger and fuller than the previous iteration. Even the cities are livelier than earlier installments of the franchise. At its best, Guild Wars really only featured a couple of cities that actually felt like they were a real metropolis, and those were only found in the Factions expansion. In Guild Wars 2, every major population center features tons of citizens, markets, and other points of interest to give the game a feeling of a real, tangible world.
My Sony VAIO laptop with a Core i7 and Nvidia GT540M graphics processor, while capable of running the game at its maximum settings, takes a bit of a beating, running only at about 29 frames per second, and, with most of the settings set to the mid-range, I’m grabbing around 47fps. Even at the middle of the graphical scale, GW2 is still a lovely world to behold, looking far greater than its predecessor. The water effects especially grabbed my attention, both above and below the surface. Babbling brooks and waterfalls have a gorgeous shimmer to them, reflecting the surround environments dynamically, while below the surface, the lighting from the world above casts and eerie glow onto the surfaces below. Enabling 3D (if you’re machine and monitors are capable) brings everything out even more so, at a cost to your performance.
Expanding on the idea of faction from Guild Wars: Factions, Guild Wars 2 contains a new multiplayer system entitled World vs. World (WvW). This new mode pits players of their respective worlds against each other in combat in maps capable of housing hundreds of players all at once in a single instance. WvW is an objective-based zone where the different worlds compete for points and rewards for their home worlds. In WvW, you’ll be dropped into a team tasked with taking care of various objectives such as capturing locations, killing enemy invaders from other home worlds, and lay siege to keeps – just to name a few. Those points apply to your world’s war score, which unlocks certain bonuses for both WvW and PvE players in your world to enjoy.
WvW worlds are exceptionally large, with not only different points on the map that must be captured, but with locations, vistas, and skill point locations to be explored as well. WvW is absolutely massive in scale, and there are no waypoints, so you’re in for a bit of a jog to get to the various locations. However, for those who aren’t that big into PvP such as yours truly, it’s an excellent way to gain some additional experience, and make a contribution to your home lands.
For those into less walking and more killing, there are of course the structured PvP arenas. To get to them, all you need to do is open the Hero panel, click on “Be in the Mists” and you’ll be transported to the Hall of Memories in the Heart of the Mists (which replaces the previous game’s Battle Isles after being destroyed by the rising of the Orrian continent.) From here you can access a PvP match or create one of your own by speaking to the PvP Browser.
Guild Wars 2 does right by fans of the franchise, as well as MMOs in general. It still retains the familiarity of the previous game while bringing in a lot of new features and aspects to keep it fresh. Excellent gameplay, tons of replay value, and some outstanding feature additions such as the crafting, and a more in-depth combat system from Guild Wars make the game full of depth without becoming overly complicated. The best addition by far is the limiting of instanced areas, allowing players to help each other out in the environments while still being able to play solo without feeling pressured to. In the original release, players had an exceptionally difficult time soloing an area by having monsters so powerful as to require you to grab a group. Instead, GW2 matches player and monster skill levels nicely as to be able to play on your own without being overwhelmed.
There are some blemishes in an otherwise fantastic game, however, such as the occasional buggy quest that you’ll have to restart to get it to work correctly, and the diminished creativity available to players when building their own custom skillsets. An easier system for getting your friends in one location would be a welcome addition as well, but overall, if you have a couple thousand hours to kill, then Guild Wars 2 is a game that’s right up your alley.
Guild Wars 2 receives a 4.25/5.0.
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