World of Warcraft has been the undisputed massive online roleplaying champion since its launch back in 2004 and stands strong with its 10+ million subscribers. Other MMOs came and went; Warhammer Online, Lord of the Rings Online, hell, even Star Wars the Old Republic wasn’t able to keep players engaged for more than a few months.
Now, a new challenger decides to enter the dangerous market of the MMO, ArenaNet is confident that Guild Wars 2 can not only survive, but triumph. Without any subscription fees and with a promise to deliver a completely different experience than any other MMO, Guild Wars 2 seems to have potential, at least on paper.
As the game begins, you are prompted to pick one out of five races, one out of eight classes, and answer a series of questions about your past, your personality and your ambitions. The choices you make here are what are going to determine your character’s story. That’s right, I said story, depending on what race, class and questions you choose, you get a different story; the possibilities are endless.
I went for a Charr Engineer and whilst two other friends of mine both went for Charr, our stories were completely different, and rarely overlapped.
Guild Wars 2 wastes no time screwing around with a lengthy tutorial that asks you to kill 10 of these and gather 8 of that. Instead, right off the bat, your help is needed urgently. As NPCs send you to different areas of the map to get your orders, you will start to realise why GW2 is so different from any other MMO: as you walk to your next objective, you may realize a player is in trouble – sure, you can leave him to sort it out, but if you finish off his enemies and revive him, you get XP, he gets XP and you have done a good deed! You may say “OK, that can happen in any other MMO”, which is true but GW2 emphasises cooperation much more. Sometimes, bigger and larger things can happen: a dynamic, world event can happen, meaning that one area of the map is going to be infested with enemies or maybe by a particularly strong and powerful group of enemies, a force which you can’t possibly hope to beat alone. That area will be marked on the map of every neaby player and, if they want to, they can join in and help out. To join you don’t need to queue up, there is no maximum or minimum amount of players, you just walk in and walk out when you are done.
These events are some of my favourite parts of GW2; it’s great to see players stop what they are doing and run towards that area of the map, helping out the way they saw best. Since there is no “Holy Trinity” of character classes (there is no specific “Tank”, “DPS” and “Healer” class) every class will help out the way they see fit, and all classes have the flexibility of switching from a more offensive focus to a more defensive or supportive focus. For example, with my engineer, I could stay back and dish damage with my pistols or rifle (each weapon comes with its own skills, so a pistol would grant you different abilities than a rifle) or, if things were getting bad, I could throw potions on the floor so players could heal or stun and slow down opponents.
Once you had enough of that and continue to your story, you will enter you first instance. Here, the player numbers are limited, but its because these areas were specifically designed and scripted. In this instance, you will fight through some enemies until you reach the boss. This will be your first, massive, boss fight and will put your abilities to the test early on. Once that’s over and you helped to temporarily restore order, you are free to leave and enter the world of Tyria. And, keep in mind, all of this – the quest, the beginning of your story, the events and the boss fight – all takes place within the first hour of gameplay!
Once you are in the world, the game really opens up, and you may realize you don’t really have much to do. Your next story quest requires you to be a higher level and no one is telling you where to go. This is the real beauty of GW2: it’s all up to you. Do you want to explore the land and discover all the areas? You can, and you will be generously rewarded with XP for doing so! Maybe you just want to help out NPCs in need and just do dynamic world events? You can do this too! Or maybe you want to learn a skill – such as cooking or weaponsmithing – and gather materials, make items and sell them on the trading post? You guessed it, you will earn XP too!
At first, I recommend exploring your home city, as it’s a place you’ll spend quite a bit of time in and will grant you some XP and money if you explore it completely. Secondly, pick your two skills and start gathering materials and crafting as early as possible – it pays off in the long run!
After that, you are free to do and go wherever you want!
In most MMOs, player vs. player combat requires you to be the max level and is usually reserved for endgame content – or at least works best when you are the highest level. Guild Wars 2 doesn’t follow these rules at all. If the first thing you want to do is PVP, you can enter since level 1. What GW2 does in order to balance it out is that it boosts your character all the way to the max level, level 80, and gives everyone generic PvP equipment and unlocks all your skills and abilities so you can perfect your PvP loadout and so no one has any advantage over anyone.
The same goes for RvR (realm vs. realm) combat, which is a fully dynamic 3-way war between three realms. Realms get shuffled often, usually every one or two days, in order to keep the game fresh and so the one team that is getting destroyed will have a chance to start anew soon enough. Every player gets boosted to level 80 except, here, you keep your items, skills and gear, so there is a difference if you are level 80 or not, even if its usually pretty minor. The whole point of this game mode is to attack or defend keeps, castles and resource camps. You can also escort or ambush caravans or just harass the enemy. RvR is just as flexible as the rest of the game. Resources are very important as they are required to upgrade and maintain a castle or keep, and are used to build siege weapons to tear through enemy defenses faster. It’s a blast to play, especially when you can see your entire realm working together and coordinating in order to take over a very well defended enemy keep. I lost track of the hours I spent in RvR, but all I can say is that every match feels different and it’s probably my favourite feature of GW2.
Levelling in GW2 is done in a way that there is very little, if any, difference between two levels. For example, going from level 1 to 2 may take you about 45 mins to an hour, that is because enemies slain only give 1 or 2 XP and quests may only give 800 XP, however, going from level 50 to 51 will also take about the same time because monsters slain give 40 or 50 XP and quests give 7000 XP. I found this particularly great because I hated spending a whole day to get my character from level 41 to 42, and by doing this you always feel at the end of each day like you’ve achieved something.
The way the levelling works also favours GW2‘s “scaling system”: if you want to quest with your level 5 friend and help him out whilst you are level 50, it’s possible to do so. When you enter your friend’s questing area, you will be scaled down to match the max possible level of that area. This means that any battle in this area will still be a challenge for you as you won’t be doing much more damage than your level 5 friend and enemies hit just as hard.
For players looking for a challenge, you won’t be disappointed with the dungeons of GW2. Dungeons are hard, especially the first one you unlock at level 30, as they are filled with much tougher opponents which require the cooperation of all the 5 party members. Enemies are unforgiving, which makes communication crucial – don’t let one of your teammates wonder off too far, there is a chance he might pull 3 or 4 enemies towards you and doom your entire team! It doesn’t help that everyone is scaled down to the dungeon level, so it rarely gets easier if you come back at a higher level. Despite that, the dungeons are extremely fun, and are a true test of your PvE skills. Once the dungeon has been defeated, you can chose to replay the dungeon in “explore” mode, which is an even harder variant of the original dungeon with three different paths to chose from. Tackle these with a very good group because they will seriously test your skills like never before!
Combat in GW2 is similar enough to other MMOs and RPGs that anyone who’s played one won’t have any trouble getting used to it. The main differences involve the movement of your character during combat. First of all, your character can cast and use all of his abilities while moving. This is important because, unlike most RPGs and MMOs, if an enemy’s attack doesn’t connect with you, it won’t hit you. In WoW, for example, a fireball will follow you if you turn left or right trying do doge it, because it’s already been decided that that fireball is going to hit you. In GW2, combat is also completely dynamic; if you have the reflexes to see a warrior charging, you can avoid it.
The second difference, is that dodging is also dynamic. When you double-tap a direction, your character will perform a roll which evades all incoming attacks. This, however, takes away some of your stamina, which recharges over time. This means that the move can only be used twice in a rapid succession before you need to let your stamina regenerate. The active dodging adds a new layer of depth to combat, and mastering it is key to succeed in dungeons and excel in PvP.
The downside to all the freedom GW2 gives you is that, at times, the game can feel empty or lacking a true purpose. I had a few moments myself where I was spending my time wandering through an area just waiting for something to happen which could give me the opportunity to earn some XP. These moments don’t usually last more than 15 minutes or so, but can slow down the pace of the player’s game.
There isn’t much more I can say about Guild Wars 2, because the game is what the players make of it. You may never touch on PvP or RvR or that may be the only way you level up and the only thing you do. All I can say is that, while it isn’t a revolution of the MMO genre, the amount of flexibility, customization and player choice this game offers is second to none. And the best part, there will never be monthly fees. You can play the game and leave it for a few months without the worry of having to pay. You bought the game, you are a now a member for life.