GVN Review: Guild Wars 2 (PC)

I was a big fan of the first Guild Wars when it came out back in April of 2005.  Guild Wars came out in the middle of the big Massive Multiplayer Online RPG’s (MMORPG) boom thanks in part of the early rivalry of World of Warcraft and EverQuest 2.  NCSoft went out of their way to set Guild Wars apart from others in the MMO genre.  The first thing NCSoft did was to do a “free to play” business model while all other MMO’s followed a subscription based model.  The only thing NCSoft ever charged for was just the expansion packs that followed after the initial release. 

Some of the ways NCSoft went about setting Guild Wars apart from other MMO’s was thru their unique gameplay.  Guild Wars from the ground up was a game designed with Arena Based Player vs Player (PVP) in mind.  Outside of the PVP, players also had a huge world they could explore with a well put together story.  When exploring the world of Guild Wars, each player had their own instance in which no other player and jump in unless they are part of your party.  This style of gameplay gave Guild Wars a sort of single player element which allowed you to enjoy the game’s beautiful landscapes, story and exploration without the hassle of waiting for enemies to spawn or being rushed by teammates.

Another big thing about Guild Wars was the multi-job system.  Here a player could create a human based character and mastering two professions.  Here you can mix and mash professions like being a Warrior and Healer, a Mesmer and Ranger or a Nero and a Monk.  This allowed for a more robust and open game that allowed the player to approach the game how they wanted to.  I enjoyed the hell out of Guild Wars for all these reasons and with the announcement of Guild Wars 2 I eagerly anticipated the release of the sequel.

Now seven years later NCSoft rewards us with the sequel and many things about the game world and gameplay have changed.  Many changes were for the best and some I feel are questionable.  Starting off we are now presented with a more robust and complex character creation with five races to pick from and an assortment of professions to choose from. 

Before I talk about the races further I want to talk about how well done the character creation system is.  Now I have been spoiled by Phantasy Star Online 2’s creation system as it pretty much lets you make what alterations you want to your character.  Now Guild Wars 2 doesn’t have that kind of freedom but it’s still amazing what you have.  You do have pre-rendered faces, hair and eye color and even tattoos, but you have the ability to do adjustments to make them feel less like a clone once you unleash them into the game world.  You have the ability to alter everything from the facial structure to the muscle mass/body makeup of your character.  Each race has lots of options and allow you to make them feel unique in many ways.

Each race comes with their own storyline and all come together for an endgame of sorts.  This however is pretty standard as almost all MMO’s now utilize some element of storytelling.  However, Guild Wars 2 does excel well at story telling thru inaction between your character and hero NPC’s and closed off single player instances that feel like a throwback to the first Guild Wars.  NCSoft did an excellent job with story progression in the first Guild Wars and continue to do well here in the sequel.  Truth be told though, storytelling isn’t why we play an MMO in the first place.  It’s the gameplay.  Its ability to grow and enhance your character as you progress thru the game.  It’s the drive to explore your world and discover its secrets. It’s the ability to play with multiple people you already know or have just met and complete your objectives together.  And on all those fronts Guild Wars 2 delivers big time.

Among the familiar professions available like the ranger, mesmer and warrior classes you have a couple of new ones like thieves and engineer.  In the first Guild Wars you were limited to playing as humans only, but in GW2 you can now pick from the Charr, the Norn, Sylvari, Humans and Asura.  Each race comes with their own perks and can excel in certain professions easier than other races.

The short statured Asura can easily become prolific in magic professions like the Elementalists, and the unique plant race, Sylvari, can excel in the arts of the Mesmer.  Humans of course can adapt in any profession.  Now each profession has a very huge amount of traits and ability that you can unlock to beef up your character.  Once you hit level 5 you will be able to unlock your first ability with points that you earn with each level up.  Now aside from leveling up you can earn extra skill points by finding and completing challenges that are spread throughout the world.

Some of these job professions are pretty much the same as any other you’ve played in most MMO’s before but with somehow seem more fun.  I have a ranger in Warcraft and as you can expect the ranger plays similarly here.  You have the ability to have pet companions; you can strike from long distance with status effect crippling shots, or send out a fury of arrows that can deal a bit of damage to a bunch of beasties at once.  Yet for a few reasons these generic professions are more fun to play with in Guild Wars 2.  It mostly has to do with how you can choose to play your profession with how you can spread out your trait and skill points, or the weapons you want to use.  Granted you usually have the ability to choose how you want to play in other MMO’s thru things like skill trees, but in Guild Wars 2, it just feels more accessible.  I feel confident with whatever decision I choose. 

Outside of the character professions, there is a gigantic world out there to explore and interact with in Guild Wars 2.  One of the greatest merits for GW2 is being rewarded for exploring the game by going to “Points of interests” or the more difficult to reach “Vistas.”  Points of Interests are usually hot spots to find quests, jobs or live events.  The Vistas are usually semi difficult areas that once reach give you an amazing view of the area you are in.  Discovering both of these points will reward the player with a decent amount of experience points.  For every zone in the game, there are a set number of POI and Vistas to find.

One of highlights for me is how Guild Wars 2 drops the traditional “fetch” quests for something more streamlined and fun.  After playing numerous MMO’s of kill this, collect that, Guild Wars 2 gave me a breath of fresh air.  There are now 3 types of quests and each of them are designated by 3 different symbols on your map.  The first are the storyline quests which are the green stars, the second are tasks that are represented by empty hearts, and the final ones are the live event quests.

The storyline quests are exactly what I mentioned earlier.  You go to these points on the map and complete the objective in a closed off instance.  The second series of quests, the Tasks, is where the game changes from ordinary MMO’s.  Here you have either a single or multiple tasks to complete and they range from of course the usual collecting items, defending against raids, brewing potions, and even feeding bear cubs.  Each task usually has a bar for you to fill up before it’s completed.  One of the great things that guild wars 2 does is allowing multiple people to complete the objective of each task together without having to party up. 

This can make completing a task less of a chore and more fun because it can be completed more quickly with the help of a complete stranger.  Now the final types of quests are the live events and these are very similar to the live events in Warhammer Online.   They are usually spread out everywhere in each zone and they occur at random, multiple times a day.  These quests, just like the tasks, don’t need people to party up for everyone to enjoy the rewards.  The live events can range anywhere from an escort mission to taking on a powerful elite foe or monster.  There are 3 kinds of rewards that are giving out for how well you participate in the live events ranging from bronze, silver and gold.  Each reward level gives out certain amount of experience points for how hard you worked towards completing the goal.

The final major gameplay element for Guild Wars 2 is the top notch Player vs Player environments.  There are actually 2 different types of PvP and each have their own unique ways of being played.  The first is Hero PvP and that can be accessed thru your hero’s menu system.  By entering the Hero PvP you are leveled up to 80(max level) and given a set of different skills than what you currently have.  The skills you gain are profession specific and allow you to compete by giving you the best tools possible.  Of course you can alter the skills you have and items but they will remain in the PvP area only.  Here you go at it with other people and complete challenges similarly to what you find in the overworld.

The other PvP mode is the World vs World competition.  Here, people from different servers compete for advantages and bonuses that you gain in the PvP arena.  You have multiple arenas to compete in and this is more geared towards capturing land and retaining it.  Just like in Hero PvP, you are leveled up to 80 but the big difference is that you keep the skills that you have gained.  So if you enter the arena with a level 20 character, then the skills you acquired will be all you have when you enter.

The competition for the most part seems very balanced and every race and profession has their perks and aren’t overpowering in these areas.  What I would have liked would be more areas to compete in but that may be possible with future updates or expansions.  Overall the gameplay experience has something for everyone and doesn’t get boring anytime soon.  The storyline quests are a great way to progress thru the game solo and don’t force you to party up to enjoy the Guild Wars 2 experience.

One of the things that caught my eye about the first Guild War was the amazing graphics.  Even when I participated in the e3 alpha build back in 2005, I found the game to be amazing.  Everything stood out from the draw distance, the attention to detail on characters and the environment, and how the landscape just seemed to be alive.  Years later I still see the first game as breathtakingly gorgeous.  Guild Wars 2 surpasses it on every level.  Character detail has gone up several notches, animation included. The world is even more beautiful and just screams explore me.

What I really like the most is how each starting environment for each race is very representative of them.  The Charr are in a world filled with chaos and full or war.  You see heavy war torn damage to ancient structures but you also see the technical advancements of the race and their machinery everywhere.  The Norn live in a more wilderness heavy area and it’s filled with dangerous creatures in the snow barren lands.  Everything graphically is immensely impressive.

Unfortunately, the musical score is something to be desired.   Aside from the main menu track when you start up the game, none of the musical tracks stand out in my mind.  The generic battle music, the quiet ambient environmental sounds, and the overall score in general just don’t do anything for me.  Although it’s not a game breaker for me I do find it rather disappointing.  However it doesn't really detract from my gameplay experience at all.

Overall, I feel that Guild Wars 2 is the complete package MMO I have been waiting around for.  The game that came closest to what I wanted in an MMO was Warhammer Online but even that game had some issues that kept me from completely enjoying the experience.  What I experience in my short time with Guild Wars 2 is nothing short of amazing and I can see myself continuing to play this game for a very long time.  I’m not hindered from advancing further in the game by being forced to party up or anything.  In fact because of the abundance of fellow players being almost everywhere you will always have someone to help you out in case you tackle something too much for you.

I love how I can enjoy the game at my own pace.  I can enjoy exploring and discovering the unique Points of interests and Vistas.  If I wanted to compete in PvP, I wouldn’t have to worry about being behind other players in order to compete as the game puts everyone on equal footing.  The gameplay allows me to develop the character the way I want to and doesn’t punish me for trying to do something different.  As of this writing Mists of Pandoria has been released and I can truly and honestly say without a doubt to pick up Guild Wars 2 over another Warcraft expansion.

+ Unique races and professions
+ Highly customizable, play how you want
+ Huge rewarding world fill with tons of exploration
+ Quests aren't mundane and boring
+ PvP is just as addiciting as it was in the first Guild Wars

- Music isn't really memorable

Final Grade: A

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