Anyone who knows me will tell you that I rarely have a moment when I don’t have something to say. I always have an opinion no matter what the topic, and every once in a while, I might even be right. Battle Royals? They suck. Suicide Squad? It was good, doesn’t deserve all the hate it gets. Harry Potter? Rich kid that takes all the credit and would have died umpteen million times if his friends weren’t there to save his sorry ass. Guild Wars 2? Um…
So...Guild Wars 2? This is one of those rare times where I don’t know what to say. I want to like it. Really, I do. It’s got many good things going for it, but at every turn, there is something that just feels a little off. There’s an old saying - the whole is greater than the sum of its parts; with Guild Wars 2, that isn’t the case, at least not for me. With a third expansion, End of Dragons, coming out in February 2022, developer ArenaNet would surely disagree, making this one of those times where my opinion isn’t worth a darn. So let’s dive into this month’s MMO Reroll and see who’s right.
Free To Play?
So...Free to play? You did know that you can play GW2 for free, right? It initially launched with a buy-to-play model in 2012, but in 2015 ArenaNet made the base game free to play. But is it really free, or are there pay gates that will make you shell out cash? The answer is a little of both.
Along with the free account, there are multiple levels of paid accounts depending on what expansions you have purchased. Currently, there are only two three options for a new player - go free, pick up a Standard Edition, which unlocks all of the current expansions for $29.99, or go all in and pre-order the End of Dragons expansion to future proof your purchase.
It’s mostly free, but there are some limitations.
One of the main differences between a free account and a standard/EoD edition is access to the expansions and Living World content. It’s going to take a while before you could get to any of that content anyway, and since you can upgrade to a paid account at any time, this is a non-issue. There are also limited character spots, bag slots, and chat options (stop those spammers before they start) for free accounts. Again, not a major concern for a brand new player. The Revenant profession is only accessible to paid players, so that could be a deal-breaker for someone set on playing that single class.
It’s not until you want to do some group content or PvP that you really start to feel the limitations of a free account. You are limited to the starter zones only until level 10, so if your interest lies in doing open-world events, you won’t feel much pain, but raids are a no-go regardless of level. For the PvP focused player, you are severely limited until you reach PvP rank 20 for the small-scale stuff, and you have to reach level 60 with one of your characters before you unlock WvW content. That is a pretty long wait for a PvPer to get into the action, so it’s either pay up or walk away.
So, my free-to-play verdict? It’s free to play for a new or casual player, and that’s a great deal given the amount of content you get. If you like what you see, you’ll have to put out $29.99 to get all that Guild Wars 2 currently has to offer, which feels like an excellent price for the base game and two expansion packs. You will have to pay more to unlock all of the Living World content, but it’s all optional and not required to enjoy the end game PvE or PvP content.
So...good character creation? Character building starts like it usually does - picking a race. You’re not getting the vanilla high fantasy races here, but the choices are still close enough that they immediately feel familiar. The humans are, well, pretty darn human, but the Asura, Sylvari, Charr, and Norn are some nice alternates for the generic orcs, gnomes, and other races you find elsewhere. All races come with a male and female model.
The Sylvari is an interesting take on the typical high fantasy Elf.
Your choice of race is further enhanced by the customization options you have available to make your character a unique being. Each race has adjustable height and physique choices, and all but humans have a tertiary choice to change up fur or skin markings. There’s a wide selection of skin tones, hairstyles, and other facial detail adjustments available to help make your character’s appearance mold to whatever your imagination conjures up. Most of the time, your choices will be covered up with armor. Still, I’ve mentioned in the past that time spent in character creation is your first chance to bond with your in-game avatar, and Guild Wars 2 gives you the tools you need to make the character creation process a positive experience.
I can’t give the same thumbs up when it comes to the eight starting professions (nine if you count the Revenant available in the expansion pack). While the races of Guild Wars 2 bring their own style and flair, the professions are undeniably vanilla. The Ranger is the stereotypical pew-pew, complete with a pet companion, while the Elementalist tosses elemental spells around like every other caster you’ve ever played. Thieves go sneaky sneak, Warriors go smashy smash, and so on through the remaining classes.
One piece of character creation that initially appears to be a huge boon for RPG fans is choosing your character’s background. This is done through a series of multiple-choice questions that look to have some significant ramifications on your character’s story. Unfortunately, they don’t. The choices you make will pop up during the early part of your story quests as an additional dialogue choice here and there. Still, ultimately they don’t affect the outcome of your questline by creating a new branch to follow or anything exciting like that. Totally disappointing.
So...good character progression? I know that earlier I made profession selection seem rather dull, and during character creation, it is. That all changes, though, as you start to level up your character. Instead of working your way through a skill tree to create your character’s build, your base skills are tied to weapon selection.
Your weapon choice determines your first five skills, and changing them is as easy as swapping to a new weapon. A two-handed weapon fills out all five skills, while a single-handed weapon only fills the first three slots. For single-handers, you can choose between multiple off-hand choices, each one determining the remaining two skills for your base build.
Swapping builds is as easy as swapping weapons.
The way the whole swapping weapons changes your basic skills thing, it really takes the multiple skill trees that other MMOs use to create a basic build and boils it down to a couple of clicks. You can have two weapon sets readied at any given time, with switching sets as easy as a single button press. There are also two weapon slots available for aquatic weapons that are automatically equipped when entering any underwater areas on a map.
Weapon sets are only part of the equation, though. You still get to flesh out your build with four more skill slots. These slots are filled through profession-specific skills, giving your character some of the archetypical flavors you would expect. The final piece of your build is specializations. Each of these skill paths adds some passive traits or buffs.
For me, this style of skill assignment is much more intuitive than a regular skill tree. Synergies are easier to spot, and breaking each component of the build into its own piece keeps me from overloading one aspect of my build to my detriment. And with multiple save slots, switching from one build to another is super easy.
The Open World
So...open world questing? The map of Tyria is enormous, and right from the get-go, it’s filled with an abundance of tasks to complete. Other than the main storyline, it’s all optional, but skipping it all seems like a waste and isn’t how I handled it. There’s no need to rush to level cap in a game that has been out for nine years, so grab those vistas, fill up those hearts, and collect all of those Hero Points. Since you scale down to the area you are in, you never have to worry about over-leveling a zone.
Here's the problem, though. All of the fun stuff - jump puzzles to reach vistas and hero points, interesting side quests like being turned into creatures to fight mini-bosses, and open-world events, to name a few - are all more enjoyable than the main story.
I spent more time checking out the scenery than I did checking out the story.
I played as a Sylvari for this Reroll, and even though I finished the first part of my personal story about a week ago, I can barely recall anything interesting. Let's see...I was born from a tree and had to help investigate an evil faction called the Nightmare Court. If I remember correctly, at one point, I was put in jail with some Nightmare Court dude we had just captured and helped him escape so he would lead us to their secret base.
We killed him, of course. Then another Sylvari I had been working with (or was he a long-time friend, I can't remember) is seduced by the Nightmare Court, and we have to fight him too. And then we win and I move on to other stuff.
It was all very uninspiring. Nothing about the story quests made them stand out from the other random events I kept coming across. It’s all a bunch of running around and talking to this person or that (I will say that the stylized cutscenes and voice acting stood out as the one bright point among the rest of the mediocrity), followed by defending so and so from a series of attacks, followed by running here and there. I was so busy doing other side missions that I completely lost track of the main story over and over.
This might not be such a huge deal if Guild Wars 2 didn't hype its living world so much. The Living Story Season One was underway when I first played GW2 once upon a time, though I quit playing before it came to its conclusion. This new try at playing through the main story quests hasn’t convinced me that I’m missing out.
So...group content? Given my take on the story of Guild Wars 2, the only thing that could possibly keep me playing is the group content. On the PvE front, you can join in with a whole gaggle of people as they cycle through the world events. There’s always something happening somewhere in Tyria, so all you need to do is check the event timer to see where everyone is, then head to that area to join the pack. Your first couple of times at an event can be a little confusing, but after a few cycles, you’ll know where to go and what to do to help out.
You have a better chance of finding Waldo than you do finding me at this world event.
When it comes to PvP, there are arenas to test your small group combat skills, but the big attraction (at least for me) is the World vs. World conflict in the Mist Wars. If your idea of a fun time is big groups clashing in a chaotic mess of swords and spells, then you’ll feel right at home here.
I didn’t drop into the WvW with my low-level character, but I did pull up my old account to take a peek at how the fighting was going. My first and only victory was finally making it through the queue. With years since I last stepped into the battlegrounds, I was outclassed by everyone around me. I still stayed long enough to get a couple of kills (and more than a couple of deaths), and during that time, I could at least tell that WvW was still a hotbed of action.
So...Guild Wars 2? I really don’t know what to say. I want to like it. Really, I do. There are so many things to like about it. So why can’t I get excited about logging in and playing? Just like the first time around, I just don’t care about the world or lore. I’m more concerned with doing jump puzzles, collecting waypoints, and doing a few silly side quests than I am progressing my character through the boredom of the main story. And honestly, all the things I like about Guild Wars 2 are done better in single-player games. Hell, I’d rather play some Genshin Impact than load back into GW2.
Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, something just doesn’t click. That’s where I stand with Guild Wars 2. This is one of those rare times where I’m out of things to say. Hopefully, if Guild Wars 2 clicks for you, please tell us why in the comments below.