Guild Wars 2 ReviewSeptember 2, 2012
Massively multiplayer online – frequently referred to as MMO – titles are among the hardest games to review. Instead of your average first person shooters or action games, which have definite beginnings and endings along with some repetitive multiplayer, MMOs are endless love affairs, lasting for hundreds of hours across multiple characters. Their storylines are continuously evolving, as new content is added over the lifetime of the game, and most releases within the MMO genre are steeped in rewarding roleplaying elements. However, as complex and infinite as a massive multiplayer game may be, the basic formula of any MMO becomes apparent after just a few hours of gameplay. Sure, an MMO may have more to offer down the road, as your character progresses and you become more familiar with the ins and outs, but the basic experience, the fun that gets you in the door, is there from the start.
With this in mind, the following review of ArenNet’s Guild Wars 2 is less of an extensive verdict than it is a culmination of first thoughts, brought together over roughly the first week of the game’s release.
Guild Wars 2 takes a couple of missteps along its journey to MMO glory. Here and there, the game loses focus, and overextends itself, trying to break limitations of the genre, and games in general. But regardless of a few shortcomings, Guild Wars 2, for the most part, does just about everything right that long time fans hoped it would. I for one, am one of those patient fans, waiting in prolonged pain over the past couple lifetimes, since the folks over at ArenaNet announced development on the sequel to 2005’s critically and commercially successful Guild Wars. The wait was well worth it though, and the philosophy that ArenaNet shares in common with Blizzard – it’s done when it’s done – has definitely paid off.
Unfortunately, before we get to what makes Guild Wars 2 a stellar game, we must first delve into some of the MMO’s miscues. The most standout of these faults, at least during my thirty-ish hours of play, was lack of direction, or really, lack of guidance for the player. GW2 seems to pride itself on fluidity, and letting the player discover the many nuances of crafting, exploration, questing, and player interaction, among other things. But more than a few times, I felt a little overwhelmed by these game mechanics, as some are not explained too well. I’m sure a little time spent with the manual, or one of the countless pages on the GW2 wiki, would have cleared up a few questions of mine. But in all honesty, I wanted the game to be able to convey itself to me. I did not want to have to rely on outside sources to learn the more intricate tricks of the GW2 trade.
Also, while the narrative in Guild Wars 2 is told in an impressive watercolor cut-scene style (you would have to play for a bit to understand), I found myself confused as to what the overarching plot really was. This seems to be the norm with most MMO’s, as side quests and combat are the main draws for these types of games. Yet with recent forays into the genre, such as Star Wars: the Old Republic, doing such an excellent job of storytelling, I was a little let down. This problem is not helped any by the twitch quest structure that Guild Wars 2 employs. Main quests are given to the player, and remain in the top right corner of the screen, marked by green titles. Yet every few steps, it seems, another real-time communal quest pops up. In these events, players both in and out of your group are invited to band together and conquer whatever task is at hand. Sometimes these missions are gather and return a certain resource, and sometimes they are challenging boss fights. I certainly enjoyed them, and the sense of community they bring to the title, but for every random quest that popped up, I remembered slightly less about the main quest.
But enough with the negative, and on to the bread and butter of Guild Wars 2: excellence in execution. I can say with some certainty that fans of both MMO’s and Guild Wars in general will love this game. The combat is tight, the visuals are excellent, and the soundtrack is exquisite. Adventuring around the ruins of Ascalon, or bartering in the markets of Lion’s Arch were simple, fun tasks. Player versus environment (PvE) gameplay was a blast, as I led my Charr – a kind of wolf-human-bear hybrid – into endless battles against computer controller ghosts and other beasts. GW2 also incorporates dodge and jump features, as well as relatively real-time combat, which allows the game to feel a lot more intuitive and interactive than many of its boring brethren.
Visually, Guild Wars 2 is striking. The game scales incredibly well on the few machines I have seen it played on. The difference between low and high settings is noticeable, but those with dated computers will not feel left out by muddy visuals. Instead, both ends of the graphics spectrum present a beautiful game that all comers should appreciate.
Regardless of which graphics card you have installed though, all players are treated to the same phenomenal soundtrack, composed by none other than long time industry vet Jeremy Soule. The rich colors and vibrant landscape of GW2 are complimented by Soule’s music, which features strong choirs of brass when belting out noble themes of battle, and softer, less obtrusive instrumentals when the combat has died down, and the game’s narrative takes precedence.
All in all, it’s hard to argue against the polish and appeal of Guild Wars 2. The game does an excellent job of making players feel as if they really are connected to their peers, yet doesn’t deny those of us who want to play solo, either. Unfortunately, I can’t comment too well on the Player versus Player (PvP) aspect of the game. The few times I felt compelled to dip my feet into the waters of PvP, I was royally destroyed by more experienced players. The same is true of the world versus world gameplay mode, in which entire servers collide on massive battlefields, in objective based combat. That is not to say that these elements are not superb as well, I just found PvE much more inviting.
So to both veterans of the MMO landscape, and green gamers alike, I highly recommend Guild Wars 2. While it is not a perfect game, it is an exceptional addition to the MMO pantheon, and hey, there’s no monthly fee either!