Guild Wars 2

Guild Wars 2 is the latest offering from ArenaNet, published by NCSoft. After experiencing incredible success with the original Guild Wars, ArenaNet has the unenviable task of raising the bar for the second installment. The developers have created a game that not only accomplishes this, but surpasses it in several areas.

Guild Wars 2 takes teamwork and choice to a whole new level for PC games. Almost everything in the game can be done without actually grouping, and players can achieve max level participating in their choice of activities. For instance, you can craft all the way up to level 80, or just PVP to level 80, the choice is yours to make. There is no forced grouping to get the best loot out of a dungeon, because you can get the same loot other places as well. Guild Wars 2 has put the choices back within the player’s reach.

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There’s plenty to love for hard core players and casual players alike. The power gamers who want to push through content, i.e. “content locusts”, will find challenging events that can be completed different ways, often leading into a chain stretching across the zone. Playing through a zone in Guild Wars 2 doesn’t mean you have seen all it has to offer. Several times I thought I had “finished” a zone, only to return with another character. Then I find out that the event chain I had done before was never finished, but with a new cadre of players we finish it and brave on to the next section. Be warned, you may hear a lot of “I am level __ and I finished everything, there’s nothing left for me to do to hit next level!” This was often from gamers who aren’t used to the dynamic event systems in place. If you finish the quests, events, vista points, mini-games, PVP, crafting (which also gives experience), and your main storyline (up to your level, text boxes indicate what level your main story is at) odds are that you will be levelled nicely to match incoming content. In fact, I was able to leave a couple of those options out and always get my levels needed for the next area. The developers have really put choice into this title, play it the way you want to play it.

For casual gamers, Guild Wars 2 is probably one of the most casual-friendly MMO’s I have ever played. Whether a parent or workaholic who likes to game, in Guild Wars 2 you won’t be left out. For example, a caravan leaves for a city and because of frequent bandit attacks it needs armed escorts. Your character responds, even though you know it’s close to the kid’s dinner-time IRL. After several monster attacks, and possible rezzes to the cart driver and allies, the kids tell you IRL they want to eat, or the phone rings. Your character steps to the side of the road, while you tend to RL activities. The caravan proceeds on with your allies guarding it the rest of the way to its’ destination. They arrive, and even if you are otherwise occupied IRL , your event rewards are given to your avatar based on your participation level and will be waiting whenever you get back. They even stay on-screen in the upper-right corner until you return. If you think you can do better, you can try the event later when you have more time. The choice is yours.

Possibly the most rewarding aspect of Guild Wars 2 is the way it inspires teamwork in those who play it. The days of kill stealing and others grabbing the mining node you are running to are gone for Guild Wars 2 players. Everyone gets experience from whatever they choose to participate in, and mining nodes can be mined by everyone on the map. This breeds a kind of teamwork not seen in other MMOs, where resurrecting another player or even a non-player character (NPC) nets the character valuable experience. It is not uncommon to see more than one player running to my aid when I have fallen in combat. Don’t be shy either, even if 3 people are rezzing a fallen comrade and you arrive in time, all four of you will gain experience from the act.

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When a player does fall in combat, they are able to fight from the ground, 4 abilities pop up, and if the player can best even one enemy (use your tab key to cycle to the weakest enemy), they get a second chance and spring to their feet and the battle continues. Should that fail, nearby players get an icon on their map showing “downed ally” and will sometimes come running. It’s all about the experience points after all.

Characters can level to a maximum of 80th level at release, and can achieve mastery with all their weapons early on by using them. Each weapon set has different skills you can equip on your main bar, and as your character progresses through the levels new abilities, and eventually traits become available. At 7th level, weapon swap becomes available to certain classes, and then trait slots unlock as you attain 11th and higher levels. These traits keep scaling up in power until you unlock elite traits at 30th level. These traits will add further uniqueness to every character played. Many of the traits and skills can be swapped out on the fly to change up the player’s experience and keep the action from getting stale. Depending on the weapons/magic set you equip it is common to have 4 or 5 ability slots on the left side of your screen at any one time. On the right side, once unlocked, you have from 1-5 trait slots on your bar to fill. Players can swap these out as they see fit, (sometimes short countdown timers apply) to tailor the playing experience to how they choose to play.

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Once you get to the character creation screen, you have 5 choices of what race to play in the world of Tyria:

  • Asura- diminutive artisans who love technology.
  • Charr- large feline creatures, raised to battle from birth.
  • Humans- once dominant in Tyria, now threatened and seeking favor from the gods.
  • Norn- nine-foot tall Nordic-like warriors specializing in tracking, and nature spirit worship.
  • Sylvari-inquisitive race of botanical humanoids adept in plant and nature transformations.

Once you settle on your race, players can set up their bios through a series of questions tailored to your race. Without spoiling anything the choices you make help determine starting equipment, pets, etc. and start your character in the main storyline which follows you throughout your adventures in Tyria. Every race has their own unique racial skills as well.

Each race has starting male and female selections, and then you select your profession:

  • Guardian-Masters of protection.
  • Warrior-Masters of martial combat.
  • Engineer-Master of mechanical mayhem.
  • Ranger-Master of natural surroundings with their pets.
  • Thief-Master of stealth and stealing.
  • Elementalist-Master of elements, attuned to Fire, Water, Air, or Earth at players wish.
  • Mesmer-Master of illusions and clones.
  • Necromancer-Master of life force and bending it to their will.

With such a robust stable of professions available, it was common throughout my playsessions to hear players commenting about how they have no idea what profession to play when the game launches. Most of them try a profession, and enjoy it very much, try a new profession, and enjoy that as well.

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Creating a character offers lots of useful and advanced options, from picking your own hairstyle, or height, facial features, right down to racial markings and makeup for races that utilize them. Your starting armor color scheme can also be picked here. To see all the options, make sure to check the side tabs for your menu choices, it is easy to miss them and the interesting options they offer. Character creation in this game has a wide variety of choices, and helps to ensure that when you start playing, your avatar will be unique.

Once your character choices are complete your story helps to set the stage for your adventures in Tyria. Your story should not be done all at once, and pay close attention to the level required for each episode. The episodes range from cinematics to two dimensional side viewing affairs, usually limited to your character and one other person of importance. Sometimes a new character might show up but stories seem to only have two people onscreen at once. While the dialogue for the most part is good, there were instances when it, or the acting presented in voice-over just didn’t feel right. Your story is told through these outtakes, with nice paintings accompanying the storyline that give way to private instances (unless you choose to bring friends) where you might need to fight, or make additional decisions to advance your story. Because of these options, it is possible to play another avatar and pick different story decisions, just to see what happens.

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Each race has their own starting areas with unique quests and events to partake in, none of which you must group for. New events will constantly pop up on your minimap and as long as you are there for a part of it, you will get a bronze, silver, or gold medal depending on your participation level. This includes your experience rewards, karma rewards(spent at different vendors throughout the game), and monetary rewards.

These events will change so the areas don’t become stale as in other games. At launch there are over 1,500 events planned. This is a tremendous number for a non-subscription MMO and should keep the content locusts satisfied for a long time to come. In addition, the events, based on a pass/fail system may lead to other events happening close by. This keeps players engaged, and contributing. An example might be a group of centaurs attacking a peaceful village. If the players succeed in defeating them, they might be given a new task to go after the centaur camp itself. Should the players fail, the towns vendors, waypoints, and services might vanish and become unavailable, shown on the minimap as contested. I have seen entire towers, and other structures built up right before my eyes due to our ungrouped player base succeeding in conquering the trials presented.

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Quests given can range from helping the local fishermen, hunters, or farmers to full scale monster attacks where the entire populace of player characters may be necessary to quell the invasion. A nice change in this game from the standard is that quests given are not just kill x amount of monsters, but quest-givers usually give 3 or 4 different options. If you don’t feel like feeding the cows, you can go check traps, or go kill the local predators, etc. Any option you pick will succeed in getting you the quest complete. These are repeatable as well, and the player can choose a different option to get quest complete, adding to the replayability.. After completion, check your mail, (accessible from anywhere) as you might receive a thank you note and a little cash to thank you for your efforts.

Travel is by foot, or using waypoints to traverse the terrain. Once a player has gotten close enough to a waypoint they are able to travel there from then on, for a small fee of course. The further you are from the waypoint the greater the fee to use it. Also in a main city like Lion’s Arch there are asuran gates to all the starting areas to help players get around quickly. As always, the problem with this type of travel is you might die and not have gotten a waypoint close by, or died where there is no close waypoint. In a world this size, more waypoints would certainly be welcome. More than once, I decided to log off rather than travel 15 minutes back to a quest area for the third or fourth time and losing the loot from monsters killed.

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It’s a huge world with so much to see and do that players might have a bunch of activities they would like to participate in but get sidetracked and start a whole new adventure from an event popping up. Icons on the minimap and the main map describe points of interest that deserve exploration. By visiting scouts in an area, depicted as telescopes on your map, an overview of the surrounding area will be given, and that area will forever be uncovered on that character’s map.

An intrepid explorer must accomplish a host of activities to get 100% map completion. Quests, explorable vistas, skill point challenges, points of interest, and events will cover the known map and a handy chart on the main map shows how much the player has done so far. By completing the skill point challenges, players gain useful points to be put into unlocking additional traits as soon as they become available through levelling.

The levelling curve is much lower than other MMO’s with the traditional “grind” in other MMO’s a thing of the past. Even at the highest levels, a level should only take around 90 minutes to complete. There are even mini-games sprinkled through the game like keg brawl and snowball fighting to participate and gain rewards in. Players get experience from mining and gathering as well (no special skill or required level needed), the nodes are all clearly noted on your minimap, just make sure you pick up the required tools at a vendor.

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Guilds in Guild Wars 2 are quite elaborate as you might expect. They go much further than other offerings in the genre that have a one panelled guild window. In fact, there are numerous tabs to each guild, even at initial generation. These include your roster, ranks, emblems, and building tabs. Simply put, your guild gains influence for every action your members take in-game. If they are doing PVE/PVP, logging in an alternate character, harvesting/gathering, etc. some influence will be gained and added to the guild coffers. Even killing different types of enemies on a daily basis accumulates influence for your guild.

Once gained, the guild can use the influence in one of four ways:

  • Architecture-Purchase shared storage, add to how many upgrades the guild can work on at once.
  • Art of War-Buffs used in WvW PVP play.
  • Economy-Buffs to increase members ability to earn bonuses:harvest, karma, xp etc.
  • Politics-Emblems, influence buffs, guild armor, and party items.

Guilds have the luxury of being able to recruit across worlds, so even if your friends have made avatars on another world, you can still recruit them to your guild. However, to all play together in PVP, members must be recruited on the same homeworld. Unlike Guild Wars 1, players can be in multiple guilds, but can only be representing one at a time. This is accomplished through the handy “represent, stand-down” button in your guild interface.
Guild halls will not be available at release but ArenaNet has plans to add them later.

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Quite a few issues common to other MMO’s have been reduced with the way this game has been created. For instance, common to some players experience in other titles is when a player in your group out levels you or you outpace them due to RL job or family issues.

The dynamic levelling system in Guild Wars 2 allows your higher level friends to join you on your adventures and their level will scale to the area around them. If you are level 8 and your friend is level 70, they can join you in your area and their level is scaled down to the highest level for that area. The two of you both get decent experience, and loot appropriate for both your levels. Every class I played can heal themselves, and every player is free to visit the other starting areas for adventure and mayhem.

The graphics are gorgeous at maxed settings, and some of the vista points which give you a panoramic view of the landscape are screenshot worthy. The variance in character’s heights and appearances, monsters, and the variety of landscapes presented are a great mix of eye candy that will keep players searching the surroundings as you never know what you will see next with the dynamic event system. It’s not uncommon to find a pack of wolves stalking their prey, and local wildlife in fight or flight mode, on your travels. The sounds work to enhance the atmosphere and surround sound keeps a player on their toes wondering what might come out of the brush, or the water, next. The music is beautiful and fitting to the areas, and varied enough to not get repetitive.

In many MMO’s the water is an unused feature. Guild Wars 2 has added to the adventuring space on Tyria by incorporating it into a player’s adventures. There are missions underwater, and all characters can swim, and breathe underwater with a breathing apparatus.

Every character gets separate underwater weapons, and you will want to level these abilities by using them as well, as you get new skills to compliment your arsenal. The detail underwater is staggering, whether it’s the local fish populace, the coral formations, or caves that you can dive down into. Many times I found myself sidetracked just by swimming underwater to see what was behind that rock or coral foundation. Much of it is colorful and very pleasing to the eye. Ranger characters will find new sets of juvenile pets to be tamed in the underwater kingdoms as well. (Shark pet with Feeding Frenzy special skill, anyone?)

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Of course no MMO would be complete without a robust economy, and Guild Wars 2 has that covered. There are eight crafting skills-Armorsmith, Artificer, Chef, Huntsman, Jeweler, Leatherworker, Tailor, and Weaponsmith. Crafting skills once learned are never forgotten (you can have 2 active skills at any one time) and even if you unlearn them, when you pick them up again everything you learned previously is still available. You can salvage items, break items down, and then combine them to learn new recipes or discover new recipes, and then once created you can use them or throw them up on the trading post.

The trading post incorporates new elements to the MMO genre as well. Not many adventurers can remember a time when they haven’t had an issue with inventory space. In fact, that’s one of the largest complaints I hear in any MMO I play. Being out in the wilderness, far from a town or vendor, and your bags are full. Much to my delight in Guild Wars 2, I found that by right clicking on the items in my stuffed backpack, there was an option for “Sell on trading post”, not to mention, “Buy on trading post”. This incredibly handy and brilliant feature allows you to sell things on the trading post no matter where you are in-game.

You can also buy, but you must go to a trading post vendor to pick up your new items, and the coin you make from your sold items. So, if you want that special sword, but are worried it might be gone by the time you get back to town, buy it now, and it will be ready and waiting for you later. If ever there was a feature in an MMO where I would like to meet the developer that came up with it and shake their hand, this has to be it. There’s even a deposit collectible area so your stackable items don’t take up valuable inventory space.

The trading post also takes orders, and allows you to see at a glance the most commonly traded items, and will auto list even your maximum amount of goods at the selling price currently, or you can fulfill an order already placed. Orders filled of course are usually at the lower end of pricing for your goods, but it’s a nice feature nonetheless for crafters and gatherers to buy and sell their wares with no hassle. Vendors also include a “Sell Junk” option which is very handy and gets rid of everything that has no use in your inventory with a single click.

There is also a gem store, and real cash can be used to buy gems, or you can use in-game gold in a market that shifts pricing due to supply and demand. Gems can be used for world transfers, more character slots, (the game gives you 5 initially) in-game pets and customization options, and potions and scrolls with different abilities or powerups.

As mentioned previously with the ability to fight your way back from a downed state, combat is another element where the game plays differently than most other MMO’s as well. Players have an active dodge (double-tap your directional key) they can use to get clear of enemy strikes, and players fighting together can combo off each other. For example, as a ranger I fired off a series of non-magical arrow shots, and the elementalist nearby (not grouped with me) put up a firewall.

As my arrows passed through the firewall they ignited and struck our enemies as flaming arrows. This makes the possibilities in combat nearly limitless with the hundreds of skills in the game, and timing your combos with the players around you can make the difference in a tough fight. Experience plays a much greater role here as well, popups during combat show the player what starter or finisher skill to use to add to the combo. This also adds to the visual enjoyment of kills. Each class also has abilities to use above the skill bar, i.e. thief steal ability.

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Missing from combat is the ability to remap your skills if you use the mouse. This would be very helpful for when you have a bugged skill, (like leap skills teleporting you back to waypoints) or when you want to take a skill out of rotation or use it last, etc. As it is now, there is only rebind to a keypress, nothing for mouse users.

There will be eight dungeons planned for release, accessible at level 30 and about one every ten levels until level 80 when there are 3 dungeons. Each dungeon has a story mode, and once finished this paves the way to a tougher “explorable” mode for the same dungeon. Dungeon delvers are made up of 5 person teams, and the story mode runs parallel to a character’s main storyline but only the last mission in the dungeon has any effect on the story itself.

The 5 person structure is there for a reason, and the difficulty does not scale according to the size of your group, only to the levels represented. Monsters do not respawn in dungeons, and characters may join or rejoin a party in progress within a dungeon. The tougher explorable mode will take longer than the story mode to go through, and the party’s choices, (voted on by majority) affect which dungeon you see as you progress, making the dungeons replayable and different. Once you have completed a dungeon, the group gets tokens that can be turned into a vendor outside the dungeon or in Lion’s Arch. The tokens offer weapon and armor sets, none of which are more powerful than those obtained through other in-game activities. This allows players their own choice on whether to partake in dungeon exploration and doesn’t force grouping. In addition, there are mini-dungeons throughout the game, usually involving some sort of puzzle solving and a much shorter format than the larger dungeons.

The two types of PVP are World PVP where players play with current skills and level, and structured PVP where everyone starts with a level 80 template for their character and chooses the abilities for their class at max level. There are also activities, such as mini-games, not all of which were available in beta where players can PVP.
There are different types of structured PVP maps to play on which may contain different objectives, the one type available at release will be called conquest.

Guild Wars 2’s World versus World versus World (WvWvW) PVP, (this has been shortened to WvW for obvious reasons) is where 3 servers compete over 2 weeks to capture and hold keeps across 4 zones. Played out on 4 large maps over two weeks, opponents change, as winning servers from the first couple of weeks are matched against other winning servers. Since world transfers are available in Guild Wars 2, ArenaNet has wisely included restrictions on changing worlds so players cannot keep switching to the world that has the best winning totals in PVP. A one week restriction at a cost of 1800 gems are currently in place.

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There is no communication between opposing servers as you try to stop the opposing team (invaders). Teamwork is important as each group follows the swords on the mini-map denoting current battles.

In Keep Defense, Teams are denoted by red, blue, and green, each of which has supply camps (5 pts), towers (10 pts), keeps (25pts), and a main keep (50pts) that must be defended. While the large buildings take a while to bring down with a lot of players from your team, the smaller camps can be taken with a group as small as 5 players.  As your world gets points those translate into useful bonuses for your whole server, from crafting crit bonuses , to endurance, healing, gold, and experience bonuses. Players can join WvW combat as soon as they finish the tutorial, and get loot drops according to level as well as experience for helping in the events. Guilds can capture keeps in WvW and build structures within those which stack with the bonuses from their guild on the main server.

It’s hard to adventure for long and not get immersed in Guild Wars 2. Some of the ideas are different though and might take some getting used to for veteran MMO gamers. Keeping an open mind and trying everything will lead to plenty of fresh surprises.  With Guild Wars 2,  ArenaNet has raised the bar for all types of PC games  in more ways than one.

Game Details:

Developer: ArenaNet
Publisher: NCsoft
Reviewed Platform: PC
Singleplayer 9
Multiplayer 9
Replayability 9
Graphics 8
Audio 8
Overall 9