Guild Wars 2

Guild Wars 2 is a remarkable game, the first highly visible launch in some time of a Western MMO that genuinely progresses the genre and consistently feels like it’s offering a new experience. From its quest system to the way it respects players’ time, it doesn’t so much break the mold as it condenses it down to its best parts. In many ways it presents you with something that fits the traditional expectations, but constantly manipulates them into something better than what you’ve seen before.

The easiest thing to say about Guild Wars 2 is that it succeeds because of the little things. There are no quest hubs that you run back and forth to; quests just happen in the world dynamically. The auction house is available everywhere; just bring it up and plug in the item(s) you want to sell. Your mailbox is accessible everywhere. Once you’ve been to a waypoint anywhere on the world map, you can fast-travel there instantaneously. You can deposit crafting materials into your personal bank at any time from anywhere. Your alt characters automatically can join guilds your other characters are in, so you don’t have to get invited every time you want to try a new class. If you are too high level for the environment you are in, you are levelled down but still gain experience and rewards, meaning that a level 79 character could go to a starting zone and still get some benefit.

The better thing to say about Guild Wars 2, however, is that it succeeds because of the big things. It succeeds because it encourages an environment where exploration and adventuring are rewarded. It succeeds because it is consistently grand and meaningful as much at level 8 as level 80. It succeeds because it has no subscription fee, and it acts like it. It succeeds because it is an MMO that asks how can we make you have fun right now, not how can we keep you on the hook for another month.

A Guild Wars 2 play session goes something like this for me. I identify a thing I want to go do, so I begin to head in its direction. Let’s say there is a quest I know I want to complete in a nearby village. On the way, the game alerts me that something is happening nearby, and I turn to see a dozen people fighting a giant troll. “Ah,” I think. “I want to kill that troll too!” So, I divert, if only briefly, to murder a giant troll, and, huzzah, we topple the mighty beast and a chunk of experience is doled out. But now there is a nearby passing caravan that is being attack by bandits and needs an escort to a different town. Well, I can’t pass up helping some hardworking farmers, and besides, there isn’t much better than killing a bunch of lousy bandits. We succeed over the next ten minutes or so — more experience, more gold, more loot. But here I am in this different town, and it is under siege by Centaurs … and so on.

At some point maybe I make it to my original destination. Maybe I don’t. It doesn’t really matter, because the game keeps throwing things at me for me to do. And should I get bored doing those things, then I can go do some World v. World, or I can visit points of interest and vistas (you get significant benefits for that as well), or I can track down dynamic events, or I can go to a lower-level area in some place I haven’t explored before and get benefits for that, or I can do PvP, or countless other things. Heck, even just exploring the world is worthwhile, where the game is constantly urging you to its coolest points.

Most interestingly, though, is how the game encourages and rewards good behavior. People have incentives to work together — they have incentives to heal and res one another. The game manages a living community and population in ways that seem simultaneously obvious and unique. It doesn’t pit players against one another unless they specifically want to be so pitted. For example, resource nodes are instanced, meaning that just because you’ve mined out some ore outcropping, other players will still have their versions of that node waiting for them. It’s not a competition. And, if you suddenly jump in and help someone take down a creature, it’s not a question of which one of you get experience and access to loot. You both do, so suddenly having someone running around with you in an area killing things isn’t griefing, it’s helping.

Again, the argument can be made that the reason they can make these choices is because they aren’t financially dependent on having to drag out your time. Sure, Guild Wars 2 developer ArenaNet wants you to still be playing their game next month, but they aren’t out a subscription fee if you don’t, so they have the flexibility to be more generous with rewards and to provide players more flexibility. Unlike those operating under subscription-based models, ArenaNet is not discouraged from making your time meaningful. And while there are microtransactions in the game, even those are not heavy handed.

That said, the launch has not been flawless. There is no authentication device, and so because everyone uses their email address to login, and that email address is pretty easily accessible, there have been a number of problems. Frankly, the security of the game and people’s accounts leaves something to be desired. Additionally, while you can access the auction house from anywhere, it has not been very dependably online, and most of the times I checked it was down. There have also been some challenges around grouping up between overflow servers and the main servers when populations have been high. Queues for getting technical support, should you have a problem, are more likely to be measured in days rather than hours right now.

While not to be diminished, problems like these are par for the course in MMO launches, and ArenaNet has been taking steps to correct them.

What has not been a problem has been the core engine running the game. Guild Wars 2 is, simply put, the most beautiful game I’ve ever played. I am constantly running across places and scenes that make me pause and appreciate the world. And then the game asks me to look even closer, to climb up to a high point and get a bird’s eye view, and I do it, because it will turn out to be a thing worth seeing. This game is a rare blend of both a very powerful graphics engine and an art style crafted with an eye for detail and elegance. It sometimes feels, quite intentionally I think, like you are moving within a world that’s been painted. Each race has its own aesthetic, each zone its defining characteristics. And over each rise, it seems, there is something new to see.

There are echoes everywhere in Guild Wars 2. The scope and feel of Dark Age of Camelot’s Realm v. Realm combat. The sense of wonder and epic scale of the original Evequest. World of WarCraft’s understanding of how valuable artistic style is to putting a player into an environment. The Old Republic’s individually complex storyline. Guild Wars 2 offers the best ideas that had come before and fills in the gaps with countless new ideas that manage to enhance and encourage. This should be the game that future MMOs look to.

Comments

Yeah, most of us are on Northern Shiverpeaks. Go to this thread, put your username in the spreadsheet and you'll get a guild invite.

TheWanderer wrote:
You guys are making me absolutely mad to play this game. Great perspective and thanks. Hopefully you'll see me around next week.

We're totally going to end up in another virtual forest, creeping around together, lost, under-equipped, and trying to find beans to eat, aren't we?

I really want a native Mac client for GW2.

And before you say "boot camp," I've been Windows-free for several years and plan to stay that way :smile:.

TheHipGamer wrote:
TheWanderer wrote:
You guys are making me absolutely mad to play this game. Great perspective and thanks. Hopefully you'll see me around next week.

We're totally going to end up in another virtual forest, creeping around together, lost, under-equipped, and trying to find beans to eat, aren't we?

You say that like it's a bad thing.

I'm glad to hear this came out well. I got to play the version they packed up for PAX Prime 2011 and it nearly broke my self imposed MMO lockout. I shudder to think what the released code would do. I'm still trying to dig my way out from under Minecraft.

Aristophan wrote:
I really want a native Mac client for GW2.

And before you say "boot camp," I've been Windows-free for several years and plan to stay that way :smile:.


I believe it's in the works.

So, I braved Gamestop and its uncomfortably gregarious counter staff (no, sir, I am not interested in hearing about your level 54 character. No, sir, I do not play WoW, and no, that doesn't mean that I am more likely to enjoy Guild Wars 2 because it is "nice and simple, not too many buttons". Please stop talking to me.) and picked up a copy last night.

So far, I've found the game to be interestingly fun. I tend to dislike MMOs -- they are either too easy (e.g., SWTOR was never a challenge, so all actions became boring) or too slow to maintain my interest given limited gaming time. Neither seemed to be true here. Maintaining a connection between avatar and player is where most MMOs fall over in my experience; the mechanics are often abstracted away for the sake of balance and lag, but the result is something like a marionette simulator. In GW2, that problem seems to be side-stepped by to a large degree; combat, the principal means by which one interacts with most CRPG worlds, is still not quite as visceral as what you'll find in a Dark Messiah or Skyrim, but primary attacks are keyed to actually pushing a button, rather than entering a "combat mode" wherein they become automated. Special moves cool down quickly, and every weapon type has a tree of its own moves that you unlock through use. As a result, swinging around a two-handed great sword feels different from using an quicker single blade, or firing a rifle from distance.

I'm not certain that I agree with Sean's assessment of the game as being jaw-droppingly gorgeous. The game is pretty enough, but where I literally stopped to look at the terrain and textures in Skyrim upon release, I can't imagine doing so here (at least not in the cat-race's starting area, where I still have plenty to do). The art style is impressive, however.

We'll see if I'm still playing in a month. Aside from UO at release, no MMO has held my interest for longer than that; not having to pay a monthly fee might be enough to maintain my presence in GW2, and the quicker pace and deliberate avoidance of the typical grind seems like it could be well-suited to progress in the few hours that I can dedicated to gaming in a typical week.

I think that is one of the keys to the brilliance of this game:

That it directly combats aimless wandering or endless running. How many mmo's have you spent 30-50 minutes waiting or wandering only to find out you just missed out on what you planned to do? Or you finally completed what you sought out to do and were rewarded with some scraps and a pittance of coin...

That does not happen in this game. (unless you are hopelessly lost trying to explore the Charr, Human or Asura starting cities... at least you get exploration xp)

It's up for direct purchase again.

TheHipGamer wrote:
TheWanderer wrote:
You guys are making me absolutely mad to play this game. Great perspective and thanks. Hopefully you'll see me around next week.

We're totally going to end up in another virtual forest, creeping around together, lost, under-equipped, and trying to find beans to eat, aren't we?

You mean like Lumpy Space Princess?

This is the first game since the original Guild Wars to make me forget all other games.

They need to fix some of the ongoing technical glitches however.

OK so I'm in (nord thief, around lvl 16 I think) and I am totally awful at this.

I know there are distinct advantages to downleveling you to the quest/area (so that people can have fun grouping with much lower level folks), but my single-player-style story quests are kicking my butt and I really wish I could overlevel them.

I died like 10 times in a row on one (didn't help that my armour got busted early on and doesn't get fixed on a respawn-from-checkpoint). That said, I did get through it so I dunno.

I like the shortbow AOE and the initiative-based rather than cooldown abilities, though.

I've been playing Guild Wars 2 pretty consistently since it came out and have been having a fantastic time. I tend to find myself just wandering around the lower level areas trying to find everything rather than pushing through zones as quickly as possible to reach the level cap like I did when I first played WoW a year ago. The personal story has been fairly interesting so far and I find myself actually paying attention rather than just clicking through the blocks of text that WoW questgivers provided. I also went through the game's first dungeon with some of the GWJ guildies this weekend and had a great time. It was a difficult one but we pushed through.

I would highly recommend this game to anyone who wants a good mmo that doesn't force you to spend countless hours grinding. The fact that there is no monthly subscription fee is amazing since it does not make you feel like you have to play to get your money's worth. I already feel that I have gotten $60 worth out of this game and yet I will still be playing it for months to come at no additional cost.

I have been trying to give ncsoft money for two days. There is something screwy with their payment system. They triggered the fraud alerts (as high risk transactions) on two separate credit cards, while throwing an error back to me that said my card was invalid.

I would love to play, but not so much the "lets destroy my ability to do anything with my credit cards for hours while I talk to fraud departments at banks" game. As a rule, if a game has successfully stopped me from giving them money more than three times, then I give up trying to give them money. I haven't decided if I'll make the effort to actually go somewhere to physically get the game.

You can get a digital copy from Amazon. They'll just send you the code and NCsoft won't need to see your credit card at all.

Stengah wrote:
You can get a digital copy from Amazon. They'll just send you the code and NCsoft won't need to see your credit card at all.

Da! I went through amazon, and am about to unleash Peecaboo upon the GW2 world.

I love how there are so many little funny jokes / dialogue going on with the NPC's. Sometimes you just need to stick around a little while longer in some spots.