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MMORPG in-depth reviews, design ideas and analysis from a gamer/writer with thirty years experience

Author: Skuldin

Guild Wars 2: A Fair and Balanced Review

Posted by Skuldin Thursday November 29 2012 at 3:00PM
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Fair and Balanced Review of Guild Wars 2

Hellow All; sorry for my absence, but I am back again with another game review. Let's start with my experience with the new Guild Wars 2(r).  

I have six hundred hours played since release and now, with three eightieth level characters (Guardian, Thief, and Ranger). The first two are in full exotics and the ranger is nearly decked out.  I have done fractals to level 4, 3, and 2 on the three 80s and spent at least half of my total hours in WvW with the rest in Orr or Frostgorge Sound.  I have done story mode on all but one dungeon and explorable mode on several.  I have done the live one-time events for Halloween and against the Karka and I am Rank 10 in SPvP. Finally, I am also maxed in leatherworking, weapon-smithing, armor-smithing and jewel crafting. So pretty much I’ve experienced everything the game has to offer ranging from moderate amounts to extreme doses.

I have done these reviews before and used a 1-10 scale with 10 being nearly unattainable levels of awesome and 1 being almost unimaginably horrible. I’m not sure if an arbitrary number system is helpful or if the write-up on each category is better but I’ll do both and let the readers decide. Let’s get to it.

Graphics: 8

Simply put this game is beautiful with lush landscapes, realistic character models, natural looking foliage and great vistas. There isn’t a better presented MMO graphically to date rivaled only distantly by Age of Conan on full settings.  If I had any reason not to give it a nine or ten it is the animals seem to walk a little stiff as they wander around the world. The ranger pets have no personality and there are almost no emotes in the game, but those are fluff pieces sure to be added later.  My biggest knock on graphics was the design decision to outline everything “friendly” in a green outline, “hostile” in a red outline and neutral in a yellow outline.  It is not a setting you could turn off and was very off-putting to myself and almost a deal-breaker for a friend of mine.  The best way to describe it is when you mouse over someone they get outlined in a “force ghost” like glow that really made the character models look 2D.  Bad design decision in my opinion. 

Immersion: 6

Between beta and live I have tried all the races at least into the teens, but I found myself identifying with Norn bravado and the human voices more than the others. The lands are beautiful and varied, but for some reason the towns and outlying villages lacked WoW’s ‘character’ to really suck me into believing they were real. Add to it the “force ghost” character outlines and the Korean-style lingerie outfits on women characters and it quickly lost immersion factor for me. To top it off the heart system was an immersion deal-breaker. I’m not sure if it was the goofy symbols all over the map leading you by the nose for this vista or that heart, but it felt out of sync with the rest of the game. I really had hope the Dynamic Events would truly be dynamic but I figured out very quickly they were timed as you wandered through zones and questions on MAP chat would pop up, “How long till the demon/dragon?” To reinforce this point, my fifteen year old son pre-ordered the game in May with promises of dynamic world events and by level ten he was bored and wanted his money back.  Now I obviously didn’t have the same opinion and gave the game far more time than he did, but he said he felt “lied to” by the developer promises of truly dynamic events.  Perhaps it was young teenage ignorance to believe the hype train, but I do understand his frustration especially as you got into higher levels and saw that Plinx is on a timer, the dragons are on timers and the Temple Gods are also timed.  It’s “better” than totally static but not nearly as good as advertised. 

Game-Play: 8

The game-play is fun, with active rolling and great-looking animations to a lot of the attacks and spells. You find as you unlock each weapon you get new attacks/defensive maneuvers and you have a nice variation of utility skills to choose from by teens-to-mid level. I still highly enjoy the combat and the thief in particular has some fantastic animations. If there is any knock in this area it’s that you unlock all your weapon skills very early and for most of your game-time you repeat the same attacks over and over again without getting to look forward to a shiny new attack at higher level.  In fact by level thirty you’ve already unlocked your elite skills and by the upper mid-levels you’ve unlocked almost everything there is to unlock. That fact combined with the cool downs on your attacks and a hard limit of one heal, three utility and one elite skill you sometimes feel “bored” on your attack combinations or rotations. To be fair you can switch between two weapon sets, but sometimes say on my guardian in WvW when I run hammer and scepter/shield, switching to a scepter isn’t really good for the position I’m in of a melee.

 In addition the game has none of the cool “fluff” magic or abilities like feather fall, water-walking, tracking or other such abilities to really make the character stand out. I think that is a huge negative for long-term replay value when the classes lack the “cool” factor. In addition the spell affects can get a little out of hand, making zerg fights and group events a huge cluster of bloom on your screen. I have a very nice system so frame rates aren’t an issue, but with all the flashy spells going off it is sometimes hard to see a tiny red circle of death at your feet or even a clear animation of what the enemy boss is doing.  Overall still a very fun combat system and makes older titles feel dated.

Crafting: 7

The crafting falls somewhere between World of Warcraft and Skyrim, but not nearly as many unique combinations as the “discovery” phase would lead you to believe.  It’s fun and decently engaging, but overall if you’ve crafted in older titles you’ve crafted in this title, but with even more grind (gold) involved looking for rare materials that may or may not drop depending on your ability to handle boredom. It looked great initially, but by my third character I was using it purely to level, maxing out a skill until I was short on mats and going to another one.

PVP: 7

The SPVP (thinks battlegrounds) is fun, but to me it was a hold-over from Guild Wars One that lacks incentive to keep doing it. Some people like running them over and over for “looks” gear, but I found myself missing the chance to upgrade into a new tier of gear. I never thought I’d say that, but as I played it to level ten and found the vendor just had a few “looks” oriented pieces and I quickly lost interest. Furthermore, Guild Wars 1 had more depth, with interrupt builds and a deeper strategy. Now I’m sure the high ladder players will argue this point and for the most part the meta of this game may be too subtle for my tastes, but given this is a fair review, but still one based one guy’s perceptions, I found the meta to not be worth all the effort that I put into getting good in the WoW arena or even Dark Age of Camelot PvP. Don’t get me wrong a seven is a strong score and it IS fun, just not addicting.

Faction-Vs-Faction (World vs World): 7

Let me be up front about this; I am an old Dark Age of Camelot® junkie. I came to this game for the World vs. World so the score is slanted somewhat compared to an old title’s Realm vs. Realm. A seven is not a bad score, again it’s well above average and I’m a harsh grader (I think I get it from my wife who teaches high school), but it’s not what I expected. Let me start with the good.

The keeps are well designed and obviously harken to DAoC/Warhammer® in their philosophy with some really neat set-ups on several different keep/tower layouts. The veteran points and supply camps allow teams of two to three (ok fine, solo if you’re a guardian like me) make an impact in the battle. Additionally they provide non-walled structures to fight over for people that like the smaller pitched battles.  The combat is fast-paced and fun, but can be frustrating if you get focus-fired without any “dedicated healers” in the game. The keep takes range from extremely action-packed and fun to horrifically boring with people dubbing it PvDoor (Player vs Door) depending on if the defenders are fighting back or non-existent. I spend a lot of my time taking camps and killing dolyaks looking for small pitched battles, but I do help the zerg when it’s needed. Overall it’s a fun experience with jump puzzles and the PvE trappings of discovery, skill points and vistas. With that said, it’s not as good as Dark Age of Camelot®.

First, there is no “reason” to WvW currently. Realm pride is a reason and we are trying to recapture that feeling, but some part of me sees the exact same races/classes across the battlefield on a rotating sever basis and it feels contrived. There is a serious “give up” mentality of “wait for the reset” from a lot of the player-base if they get down early and there is no variety to the zones.  Every side has the same races, the same classes and at the end of the week, other than some meaningless “tier” system which affords no benefits other than bragging rights there is no reason to be there at all. I know you are reading this and saying “For fun! The point is fun!” Yeah I get that and as I said it IS fun, but there is nothing right now that makes me sit at work thinking up strategies to win or earn more realm points (sorry DAOC crept in again) or log in.  I have spent a lot of time out there and at the end of the day, a lot of the time was boring.

 In addition I have thousands of kills in WvW and just barely over 1200 badges to show for it. So between three eightieth level characters, one of which spent the majority of the time leveling in WvW (thief), I could acquire exactly three pieces of exotic gear. Hour for hour it is not close to on par with the PvE game for acquiring exotics. In fact the badge system needs reworked. In my humble opinion, one kill should be one badge automatically put in your inventory and let the bag drops contain all the other loot. I digress, but for those not playing it, right now the badges show up in bags at your feet when someone dies and ranges from zero to two badges. If you kill three people but the fourth one kills you and you didn’t happen to auto-loot mid-combat, you lose all the bags unless you can get resurrected or run back to the spot before the bags disappear.

A much smaller issue are repairs in PvP, particularly if you come out pre-80th level when funds are tight and you are dying a lot fighting people with upwards of a 70% statistical disparity in questing blues/green gear and they are in exotic gear. That’s a gold sink they built in because the developers said the game didn’t have many. I disagree, but then again I spend a lot of time in WvW and if you hit a good run you can make money in WvW too killing dolyaks, taking camps and joining the zerg on a good night for capturing keeps. If you are stuck in a prolonged pitched battle and die a few times the silvers start to add up. This isn’t a big deal to people that make a lot of gold or play one established eighty, but to the casual player or someone on an ‘alt’ it can be irritating.

Overall it’s fun, but not addicting, missing a ranking system of some sort, decent acquisition of gear for victory achieved, personal achievements and overall fun. There was something to be said about acquiring new “powers” in Dark Age of Camelot via realm ranks and of seeing different invaders with different classes , but I digress again as Guild Wars 2 will never angle that way at this stage in design.

Community: 9

My highest score by far for this game is its community. I have been on four servers and almost universally the players are friendly and helpful people. The chat channels also have a noticeable dearth of trolls. The game lends itself to being helpful and friendly as you do not compete for resources with your fellow realm-mates and that probably has a large hand in it. I have nothing but positives to say about this aspect of the game and I think that should continue.

Character Customization: 7

Lots to choose from at the actual character creation, but by end-game it suffers a very “sameness” of gear that other titles suffer. There is variety but some of it is downright ugly probably to promote the buy to play model of their online store.  Overall a good score but it could be improved.

Fun/Stickiness Factor: 7

I’m still playing, but I’ve already purchased War of the Roses and found myself logging into Battlefield 3 a bit lately.  To be honest, I’ve even looked into Mists of Pandaria peripherally. The game has a very low replay factor with all the storylines merging into one by about mid-levels and “your story” is just like everyone else’s story. Overall SWTOR did a LOT of things wrong, but beat this title hands down in that area. By the time I leveled my third character I was crafting like mad and spent most of my time actively avoiding anything that resembled a heart on the map.  It was painfully boring even on my first character to level in PvE aside from some of the larger events and even those all have a sameness of “wave 1 of mobs, wave 2 of mobs with a bit of variation, kill boss”.  Between that and a ten key limit in-combat on skills leads to a lot of people being bored with the game quicker than you would think upon first glance. The new fractal dungeons are fun, but I have no desire to keep “grinding” them over and over. In fact this game has a lot of grind that it was promised not to have in regards to rare materials. And let me tell you, your eyes will bleed by the 1000th snow troll in Frostgorge Sound looking for ‘Powerful Blood’. Edit: There is a lot to explore in the game with hidden jumping puzzles and hidden chests and creatures to find.  That has been some added adventure time for me, someone who is usually a killer, to explore. 

Overall: 7.5 Guild Wars 2® is a title that delivered on some of its manifesto, but in my humble opinion, not  enough to warrant the praise it initially received. I bought the title mainly because I wanted to support someone trying something outside the “trinity” and the “gear-based” system, and again they succeeded to an extent, but without healers and proper crowd control the game feels watered down to the average player that isn’t in love with the combo fields meta-game. Most of my guild of friends (in our thirties) are bored and slowly drifting away from the title, while some die-hards of other games quit MMOs altogether instead of playing with us. They had followed us to Rift, SWTOR and Warhammer, but they did not make this journey and a few months later I am starting to see what they saw.  It is a fun, but shallow title that leaves you unsatisfied when you look down at your plate and realize there isn’t anything more to eat.