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Guild Wars 2 Column: Review in Progress Part 1

By William Murphy on August 30, 2012

So here we are. Guild Wars 2 is a live, changing, tangible thing. For five years, we’ve waited with bated breath on every detail ArenaNet wanted to offer up.  Now, the fun part comes: we get to see it grow, mature, watch its community develop, and we get to find out of a massive AA MMORPG can do the no-sub model from the start.  Over the course of the next 4-5 weeks, I’m going to keep a running journal on my experiences with ArenaNet’s Guild Wars 2. Like recent big releases, we’re calling these “a review in progress”. They will not be scored, but should do a decent job of explaining to our audience how we’re feeling about the game as we play it and work towards the official review.  These games take time to play, and we’re not about to rush out in the first few days with some score based on beta weekend events. That’s not our style.

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WHAT DO I THINK SO FAR?

I think it’s been a long time since I thought about a game this much when I wasn’t playing it. Does that make any sense? It’s been a bit… um, crowded so far, but incredibly addictive in every regard. When I first got into MMOs, the first time one truly captivated me was Asheron’s Call 2. I didn’t play the first. I’d dabbled in Ultima Online and Everquest during my Junior and Senior year with my friends, but was AC2 that made me go: “Okay, I get it.”  I lived and breathed that game and dreamed about it when I was asleep… and you’d think I’d have learned my lesson when Microsoft pulled the rug out from under me. But then a little later in 2004, I got into the beta for vanilla old World of Warcraft.  And it happened to me all over again, in a world I’d grown to love since Orcs & Humans first grabbed hold of me on my Compaq Presario.

Where am I going with all this nostalgia? Well, I guess I’m trying to say that for the first time in eight years or more, I feel myself falling for an MMO despite any faults it might have. That “new world smell” is ripe and filling my nostrils with a sense of exploration. I find myself spending hours not “leveling” but dawdling off in some far corner of the game world.  In a few words: my early days in the new Tyria have been mystifying, but not without complaint.

THE ROUGH SPOTS (WEEK ONE)

I’m going to try to harp on a few things that might detract from my experience each week; so that you all can understand that while I may be thoroughly enjoying myself, the game’s not 100% perfect. So few are, after all. I’m going to keep them about the game itself though, and not the fact that I wish the forums were open and that we were getting patch notes. That’s a topic for another day.  This week, these are my chief complaints: WvW Queue Times and Trading Post Down.

The first I should have expected and it will change from server to server (though I wonder how much considering the fantastic sales numbers). There are only a few hundred people allowed in WvW at any given time, and with 400K concurrent users being a number ANet is bandying about, you can do the math. The queues for World vs. World are longer than I’d like, and in a game where one of the big draws is this feature, I’d love to be able to test it out. Right now, I’ve only been in Jade Quarry’s Borderlands once and that didn’t last long because I was on my lunch hour. I don’t know the specifics technical restrictions of doing so, but I’d love to see WvW have “Layers” of the Instances that populate based on how full WvW is getting. But the problem this raises is that players might cry shenanigans if they see their server tanking in WvW because other “Layers” of the battle are doing poorly while they themselves are doing great.  So I suppose for now, I just have to hope that the loads will even out and I’ll be able to get in there soon.

The other main complaint I have so far is that the Trading Post has been down almost as long as the game’s been live. The only real update we’ve received is that the team’s working on it, and the cute picture of the sleeping Quaggan that tells us it’s down for maintenance has also had a “Black Lion Trading Company” logo applied to it. I’m actually digging crafting for once, but I can’t really share my wares, or buy goods I need because the TP is down for the count. Thank God for kindly guild members, who sent me the weak blood I needed to make a pair of pistols.

THE SHINY PARTS (WEEK ONE)

Everything else.

Okay, I’ll be more specific. The two things I’ll focus on this week are the art and world design in general, and the Dynamic Events.

My main love affair in GW2 so far has been the exploration of Tyria itself. I’ve known for some time just how lovingly ArenaNet has been crafting this new version of their flagship mythos, but finally truly digging into it as a live product has been something else entirely.  Everything seems to have a purpose, even if that purpose is fluff.  And fluff is a term I use lovingly, because it shows how the art and lore team care about the world they’ve built. I love hearing the conversations of townspeople, I love watching them go about their daily routines, and I love (nay, adore) the animations on every single thing I’ve run into. No more so than my own wily little Asuran Engineer, Goob Murphy (of the clan Murphy, of course). When you strafe and stop, his weight carries him in the direction he was going, as if he actually has weight. And if he’s got a heavier item equipped, say his flamethrower, the inertia makes more of a difference. It’s attention to detail at its absolute peak, and it’s all over the game in every corner of the thing.

I also find the Dynamic Event system to be something of an evolution, and a fantastic one at that. Rift’s titular feature and of course WAR’s PQs preceded what ArenaNet’s built, but the content team for GW2 has taken things one step further and refined them in the natural order of things.  WAR did it first. Rift did it next. GW2 perfected the art.  They tell each zone’s story, they give players a reason to play together, and most importantly: they get rid of eight years of quest hub hell. Maybe some folks like that design. In fact, I guess I don’t really hate it. I liken it to watching reruns of Friends.  It was good when it was new, and now it’s just passable and something to do when I’ve got nothing better to entertain me.

I also really enjoy how almost everything scales to meet the needs of the amount of players in an area. It’s not perfect. If there are a lot of AFK folks near a town and a DE spawns there, you can bet that you’ll be swarmed and unable to compete until those AFK folks come back. I also think there are definitely some events that are designed for larger groups, possibly even groups that are full of players much higher than the zone the level’s designed for (Fire Elemental in Metrica).  Someone on our forums called the Fire Elemental akin to an open world raid boss, and I think he might be right. That explains why so far people just swarm him and die ten seconds later. But by and large the way these events make up the PVE content is a refreshing change of pace.  Once you realize you don’t have to collect a bunch of missions, do them all, and run back to cycle through text… a burden is lifted akin to finding out you don’t have herpes after all.

Seriously, it’s that much of a difference.

NEXT TIME ON OUR REVIEW IN PROGRESS

This time next week, I’ll be in Montego Bay, Jamaica with my lovely wife.  But first I’ve got PAX Prime and a few more days of playing Guild Wars 2.  So next week, we’ll dive into the game’s Personal Story, its combat, and other bits and pieces. Overall in its first few days, despite some complaints, I still find myself completely absorbed in Guild Wars 2 launch hysteria. As Adam Tingle says in his “Newbie” article today, it’s not that GW2 is a “revolution”. It’s an evolution.

Like when man suddenly woke up with thumbs and found out he could eat nachos (that’s how evolution happens, duh), Guild Wars 2 is showing me that not all MMORPGs need to be alike, and that different can be really damn fun.  The fact that I’m waking up at 4am just to get some time in before I go off to work speaks volumes for the world ArenaNet has crafted. Now pardon me. I just got my Engineer’s Bomb Kit, and blowing up the Inquest is way too much fun.

William Murphy / Bill is the Managing Editor of MMORPG.com, RTSGuru.com, and lover of all things gaming. He''s been playing and writing about MMOs and geekery since 2002, and you can harass him and his views on Twitter @thebillmurphy.

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