When a gargantuan, lighting-imbued dragon swoops down and lands on one of Tyrias many grassy plains in Guild Wars 2 and dozens and dozens of players take up arms and rush into battle – it all takes shape like a shocking revelation when you realize that this seemingly shoe-horned event is in fact a dynamic, fully unscripted moment that only happened by sheer coincidence. And this is merely one of the reasons why Guild Wars 2 absolutely decimates its peers; here is an online role-playing that doesn’t bog you down with tedious fetch-quests and hours of headache-inducing grinding that has plagued so many other games of this genre.
With Guild Wars 2, developer ArenaNet crushes each and every single genre trope imaginable, offering a constant slew of beautiful, vast locales, intriguing quest-and-event systems that consistently keeps you on your toes, extensive PvP content and exciting extracurricular side-activities to boot. If anything, not a single other MMO has sparked such an empowering desire to explore, as doing so will lead to constant surprises. Whether you’re someone who likes to pour hours into games at a time, or prefer quick play-sessions will always find something exciting, rewarding and stimulating to do in the wonderfully polished game that is Guild Wars 2.
So what makes Guild Wars 2 such a joyous game to play? It starts with the impressive UI which makes every action in the game an absolute breeze. All of your skills and statistics are laid down right in front you in an elegant manner, as are all of the important information such as quest objectives and where you are in relation to nearby events and activities. This carries over into the map system which is absolutely perfect. The map always tells you where you are, where you’ve been, where you could, should or shouldn’t go and what levels are best suited for the current zone you’re in. Utilizing the map is a smooth and gratifying process and makes the playing the game that much simpler.
One of the core tenets of any MMO is the combat, which is one of the areas where Guild Wars 2 absolutely shines. Whereas most online role-playing games prompts the player to frenetically spam the 1-8 keys, wait for cooldowns, rinse, repeat – Guild Wars 2 instead forces a lot more player input. For one thing, you have button designated to pull off a dodge maneuver which, when utilized correctly, can and will save your life time and time again. The skills you have are also tied to an individual weapon type, and swapping between different weapon sets mid-combat to adopt new strategies is key. As the nimble Thief for example, it’s always best to pull enemies away from groups with a bow and arrow, switch weapon set quickly, and then bust out your daggers and pistols to start delivering fatal close-combat attacks and blows.
Guild Wars 2 also avoids the “Holy Trinity” approach to character classes, meaning no designated healers, tanks or damage-dealing DPS characters. Instead, all of the available classes, from the Engineer to the Guardian, to the Mesmer and beyond, can be a little bit of all three. Every class has a healing ability, at least one area-of-effect attack as well as a ranged ability, and leveling up allows you to unlock new skills and allocate them accordingly; letting you build the character you want. This flexible system is a refreshing change from the standard MMO approach to combat, and it makes the cooperative aspects of Guild Wars 2 that much more intriguing.
While the game features the usual supplement of profession systems (crafting, gathering etc.) five-man dungeons, small side activities and the like, the real standout here is the game’s approach to questing. Instead of funneling players from one zone to another with tedious fetch quests, Guild Wars 2 instead introduces area goals. Every time you stumble upon a new chunk of land, you may opt to help out that area by either killing enemies, rescuing captured townsfolk, disarming traps and the like, and doing so will cause a bar to fill up. Once filled, you’ll attain a good chunk of experience points and you’ll also be able to purchase rare items from the appointed leader of that area.
It’s a nice change of pace from the usual “walk up to an exclamation point and accept a mission” ordeal common in other games, as instead helping out an entire area makes you feel more empowered, as what you’re doing actually has an impact on the world around you.
Then there is also your personal story which is hands down the best part about Guild Wars 2. The game centers around a group of fighters called Destiny’s Edge – a multi-racial guild that is dealing with the impending threat of an undead dragon called Zhatian. Over the course of your personal story, you’ll get to make story-changing decisions, solve political conflicts and get wrapped up In the game’s impressive lore and cast of characters. While the dialogue occasionally hones in on high-fantasy cliché, the impressive mission variety over the course of your personal story more than makes up for it.
You’ll get to don disguises and infiltrate heavily guarded areas, defend strongholds from enemy assaults and even operate a few vehicles and turrets to name a few. You can even invite a few buddies that act as “guest-stars” in your adventure, which is a neat touch. In all, the personal quest chain is a highly memorable series of missions and story vignettes that are good enough to be in an entirely separate game, but in Guild Wars 2, it’s merely a distraction.
From the dynamic events that spring up at random around the world, to the incredible World versus World PvP that features some of the largest battles ever seen in an online role-playing game -- to the exploration, dungeons, questing, challenges and the like, it’s clear that you’re getting a ton of content in Guild Wars 2 at a great price. And the lack of a monthly fee means that you can pour as much time as you want into the game without feeling yipped.
One criticism though, is the lack of a proper tutorial to introduce you to some of the game’s elements, and one more than one occasion, several events and sequences broke seemingly at random – though the developers have stated that these issues are subject to patching.
Guild Wars 2 looks absolutely stunning; character models are meticulously well-crafted, the water effects look lively and believable and the scenery is diverse, open and ridden with intriguing secrets and beautiful vistas. Guild Wars 2 does a fantastic job of transporting you to another world, although as a trade-off, a rather high-end machine is required in order to run the game with many of the setting cranked up and even so, you’ll likely experience some frame-rate drops during heated moments.
The game is also susceptible to the occasional texture pop-in and visual glitch; although thankfully these graphical foibles do not occur frequent enough to pull you out of the game. The soundscape, which consists of intense battle ambiance and a beautiful orchestral score composed by long-time video-game composer Jeremy Soule, best known for his work with The Elder Scrolls series.
If you have been playing online role-playing games for several years, then Guild Wars 2 will feel like a refreshing trip to a different world. Gone are the tedious bits of grinding, cookie-cutter quests, lackluster world-building and generic high-fantasy concepts that have plagued so many other game’s in this genre. Guild Wars 2 instead eviscerates all opposition by offering up a massive chunk of content that will have you bewitched from the character-creation screen all the way up to level 80. The brilliant systems in place, constant surprises and endlessly joyous exploration, questing and PvP content will leave you breathless, and that is all framed by a beautiful world crying out to be explored.
If you value a ton of top-quality content for a not a lot of money, then Guild Wars 2 is the game to play. It’s approachable, addictive, and immersive and above all refines MMO’s in every conceivable way. While the gameplay and graphical glitches are disappointing, they aren’t big enough to negate the impact of this wholly amazing online role-playing game that will keep you occupied for months on end. If anything, World of Warcraft can safely retire and instead pass the torch over Guild Wars 2.
It’s just that good.