Review: Guild Wars 2
Well the next train has arrived at the station, and Guild Wars 2 now has its time in the spotlight. It is easily one of the most hyped games to pass through here in a while in terms of player interest, but does it live up to the hype? As of writing this, I am on the verge of hitting level 80 on my Asura Ranger, so I feel I have enough time played at this point (80ish hours) to fairly look at the game and and talk about the various aspects of the game and how they are shaping up. I will mainly be focusing on the various types of content in the game and not so much the mechanics as they have already been hashed over extensively from beta. During my time I have experienced the various kinds of content the game offers in terms of PvE, Dungeons, and WvWvW, so those are what I am going to focus on for today.
Let's start with talking about the general overworld PvE experience. As many people have heard by now, GW2 approaches PvE a little differently than previous versions of this MMO model we have seen in recent years. There is no quest log and no quest hubs. I find this to be very refreshing because I don't feel like I am being herded down a series of corridors by my nose in traditional theme park style. Instead we have what they are calling the Dynamic Event system, so let's delve into this a bit.
The questing is mostly done by going in proximity to hearts marked on the map which have local area quests going on. This means in most cases that you don't need to talk to an NPC, you just start contributing by doing whatever the local tasks are, and once you have done enough, the heart is marked complete and you are given your small cash and experience rewards. There is no kill-stealing or loot fighting, and this makes the entire thing a lot better than other MMOs. A lot of these still boil down to standard kill quests, but a lot of them have you doing other tasks which in some cases offer an interesting variety. An annoyance for me however is when there are several hearts that all have you killing the same monsters. As an example, killing centaurs locally to finish a heart, then going a ways down the road and finding out you have to kill more centaurs, and having this happen several times in a row can be a bit dull. In some rare cases it can be downright annyoing because the monsters you need just don't spawn because of an over arching dynamic event has occurred in which the centaurs are defeated making you scavange for other objectives. It's not common, but when it happens it's annoying. The quest system is GW2 is an evolutionary step forward for this type of MMO, but doing it exclusively and excessively can feel tedious at times.
The good news is that you don't need to focus exclusively on doing hearts. Dynamic events pop up when you are roaming around that are worth a lot of exp and only take a few minutes, and on rare occasions massive world bosses (see "The Shatterer" pictured above). It's very easy to get side-tracked or sucked into these when you are on your way to somewhere else. Exploration is also a very real and viable activity that rewards you very well for uncovering new areas and seeking out all the various vistas and points of interest. If you manage to find them all in a given zone, the reward is substantial. Vistas in particular offer a great challenge for explorers as many of them offer serious platforming challenges and make you use your head a bit to figure out how exactly to reach some of them. As a die-hard platform junkie, I absolutely love these, but some less coordinated players may find themselves struggling with some of the more intense ones. Part of me wishes some of these things were not marked on the map forcing people to explore a bit more, but the game offers hidden chest achievements in each zone that are hidden very well and usually involve exploring deep into areas or doing some of the games most elaborate jumping puzzles.
One final note on exploration, I want to talk about the world itself. I may be wrong on this, but I feel that Guild Wars 2 probably has one of the largest theme park overworlds I have seen, at least for a game that just came out. On the verge of level 80, I am still finding new zones I didn't know existed and haven't even come close to exhausting the content in the ones I have found. The world simply offers a massive amount to see and do in a wide variety of environments, almost all of which have shaken off that feeling of being boxed in by walls everywhere. GW2 also does not fall into the pit trap of some other recent theme park MMOs in that it offers so many zones in each level range that you could easily play through the game with an alt and stay in completely different areas of the map for the first 50 levels easily, and possibly through 80. We were even joking in vent last night that one could probably level entirely in snow themed zones and never see a green tree from 1-80.
The final icing on the cake is the inclusion of a personal story quest line. Each player has his own personal story quest line that offers new content every 2-3 levels up until around 70 where you get one every level. These quests often times can be completed in less than 20 minutes and offer massive experience rewards and usually a decent item. The interesting things about this content is that the first 40 levels or more of it is probably going to be widly different depending on what race you are, what group of that race you belong to, and what decisions you make. Even later on as the paths start to converge, players still get to make choices frequently charting what their next story quest will be. The story is completely voice acted, and while its not amazing voice acting, it does get the job done. Frankly I'm glad they didn't spend their entire budget on his like another certain MMO. The story is decent and adding up all the time it would take to do all of the quests, you are looking at hours and hours of content here alone.
Dungeons have been quite a controversial topic of discussion, and it's something I wanted to touch on having done quite a few of them. Basically every 10 levels you get a letter in your mailbox that a new dungeon might be worth checking out for its story mode. Story mode offers you a nice little tale about what's going on in the place you are going through and how it fits into the lore of the game.
I have a love-hate relationship with the dungeons. In itself, the story mode content is decent, but the difficulty seems to be a point of contention. On one hand, some of the boss battles can be incredibly punishing even in story mode. You absolutely HAVE to know how and when to use the dodge mechanic in boss fights, which is not a bad thing. The problem is that some of the boss encounters have outright too much life, or have gimmicks that can be extremely rough on PUG groups. While this can be frustrating at times because you will find yourself chain dieing, the dungeons also have waypoints which in most cases has my group bind rushing bosses down. As long as someone is still alive bosses often don't reset so you just have this bindrush mechanic that diminishes the encounters in a lot of cases. I think I'd rather have boss encounters that were slightly easier, but without the bind rushing. The first 2 dungeons are not terribly rough, but there were certain battles in the level 50 and 60 dungeons that would have been downright impossible without the ability to bind rush them. I think perhaps some of these were not really tested properly and might need to be reexamined.
My other beef is that I feel some of them might not really be worth the time in terms of how long they take and what is rewarded. I feel like if you don't do the story mode for the level 40 dungeon as an example right at 40, doing it later would be a waste of time due to the reward. There is a nice exp payoff at the end, but the exp killing the mobs is lackluster. So unless you make it to the end, your time would have been easily better spent outside doing something else, and the reward usually being a rare helmet is worthless if you are coming back after leveling up too far. The explorable mode is a bit different in terms of reward structure where you earn tokens to get items of your chosing, but I feel as if it takes a few too many to get something useful. It feeds into the mindset that my time might have been better spent farming money to buy something a lot faster elsewhere. All in all though, they are very challenging and I guess it throws a bone to the more hardcore dungeon and gimmick encounter type players who may have enjoyed this sort of thing from WoW and other raid-based MMOs.
This mode offers that DAOC-style frontier fighting a lot of us older school MMO players rememebr from back in the day. While it can be a zerg, it is also fun. Considering that each team is capped at only 100 people per zone, and they are usually full, outnumbering the other team is not really a factor in who wins and loses as much who is better organized. A variety of objectives really do make it so that a smaller group can spin off from a main force and contribute. We tested this and managed to capture some supply points and other areas of interest while picking off some stragglers heading to join the enemy main force.
While having capped population in these areas means organization usually prevails, it also means actually getting into these zones can take a long wait in the queue to get in. Specifically getting into the central Eternal Battleground area can take hours on my server. This can make playing with your friends or guildmates a difficult or frustrating proposition. My fear is that this problem is going to be getting a lot worse before it gets better. I suspect that a lot of players are focusing on leveling up in PvE before focusing heavily on this part of the game, and as the population collectively approaches 80, it's going to put crushing pressure on these queues to get in. I guess it is a testimate to the fact people enjoy this part of the game, but I foresee this as a major problem approaching quickly in the next few weeks.
Ideally I'd like to see if they can increase the cap per zone, or somehow add new areas besides the 4 we have currently. If there are thousands on a sever at a given time and only 400 can get in, there is going to be a lot of rage over the wait times. Additionally, they have a WvW dungeon which is only accessed from the Eternal Battleground, which is the most crowded. This is problematic in that you have people doing this place that aren't helping in the main battle but taking up spots. While marketed as a WvW dungeon, it really does not stack up to Darkness Falls from DAOC. The layout is far too linear having all 3 teams enter in the same room, where DF was more expansive having the teams enter far apart meeting in the many rooms down in the depths. Darkness Falls also had a much better inscentive in terms of item rewards to draw people into it, where GW2 only has a single chest at the end giving people little reason to linger and roam when combined with its linearity.
A good solution would be to create another WvW zone that is completely underground like DF and more expansive like the overworld outdoor areas they have now. There also is a real lack of a major underwater area in any of the current WvW areas that would help add a lot of flavor to what is already out there. My only other beef is that I have not found a way to look at the WvWvW maps outside of WvWvW. This would be very useful so I could better decide which of the area I want to queue up for. Without seeing who controls what, I feel like I am picking an area a bit too blindly. One of my favorite differences between GW2 and DAOC that I don't see mentioned often enough however is the lack of crushing crowd control abilities. There is CC, but unlike DAOC and WAR, I find myself in control of my character more often than not.
Is Guild Wars 2 worth the $60 price tag? I'd say it is because in a sense you are getting several games in one package here. If you bought this game and simply played it for the PvE side and never touched the PvP at all, you would get more than enough hours of entertainment to justify the purchase. But in a sense, that's just one of several games that is the GW2 experience. For some people the WvWvW experience as a successor to DAOC would be worth the price, and in a sense you can do that right out of the gate without ever really focusing on the PvE side of the game, minus your time waiting in queue. Even more than these, there is the instanced structure PvP experience which I deliberately haven't spoken about because I haven't spent enough time on it. I'll let someone more informed on it pontificate on that, but with structured tournaments and such, that is another side of the game as well.
I like to compare the purchase of this game to something like Diablo 3. Both are online RPGs with no monthly fee and similar pricing. If you could justify the purchase of Diablo 3 and enjoyed it at all, there is no way you can't justify buying GW2. At the same price point it offers infinitely more content in every possible way than Diablo 3, and has more depth. Is GW2 the end all be all MMO? I don't think so, but it is probably the best non-sandbox MMO I've seen in years. Obviously I can't speak to the longevity at this time, but at 80 hours in, I think if I quit today my purchase would have entertained me enough. Not enough for a monthly fee, but for a one time buy in price, absolutely.
Co-Leader of Inquisition - Jade Quarry