I have a bit of a confession to make before we start; No matter how many times I tried, I could never get into the original Guild Wars. It didn’t matter which class I decided to go with, or how many levels I got through, or even how engaged with the story I was as I would ultimately end up uninstalling the game. While the game had a strong following in regards to its Player Vs Player system, I wasn’t alone in my opinion, and with that in mind ArenaNet knew that they needed to produce something special for a sequel.
For them to achieve this, a number of changes needed to be made.
Gone is the horrid process of learning skills, gone are the clumsy companion NPCs, and gone are empty expanses of instanced world. The goals that ArenaNet aimed for this time around were freedom and fun, allowing the player to do whatever they want as they play the game. There is a lot of ground to cover in terms of whether they have fully achieved this, but for now we are going to focus on the initial experience upon jumping in the game, and whether after a week of play it does enough to make players want to go back for more.
Upon starting the game, players will need to make a fairly important decision; which server to call their home. Although players can visit other worlds to play with their friends, this choice affects the World Vs World PvP aspect of the game which has players fighting other worlds for domination, glory, and some helpful buffs with which to progress with in the PvE side of things. Players will be able to transfer worlds afterwards but it comes at a monetary cost through the microtransaction store (which we will be looking at further down the line.) However, with a server choice made, it’s time to jump into the creation process proper and decide which race and profession to go for.
Humans return as a playable race from GW1, but this time they are joined by four other options; the former adversaries of the Charr, the Nordic-inspired giants of the Norn, the former-subterranean-geniuses of the Asura, and the newly created botanic-based Sylvari. Each race not only has its own individual cosmetic look, but they also provide their own storyline to choose from and discover. But before we get into that, we need to make one more important decision; which profession to play as. All are available no matter which race is picked, so players have the choice between eight different playstyles.
While at a base level each profession plays similarly controls wise, there are some differences in how each one works in battle. For instance, a Warrior has the ability to carry two sets of weapons to switch between (from level 10 onwards) whilst an Elementalist has the ability to switch between four sets of abilities on the fly which represent different elements (Fire, Water, Wind and Earth.) Engineers, which I will be mainly playing as for this review, having turrets that can be placed down and can switch out their guns for toolkits, which provide new ways to help players or tackle foes, and Rangers have a pet to utilize as well as their own abilities. Hopefully there should be something that takes your fancy from the options available.
Beyond that choice we jump into the cosmetic fun of tinkering with your character’s appearance. A plethora of options are available to choose from, from height and physique, skin tones and markings, to the finely tuned sliders of how your eyes will look, or how big your ears will be (in the case of the Asura, at least, whilst Charr characters get to choose the look of their horns.) Some people may find the choices a little too much (a friend of mine even commented during the beta that he always seems to get bored when he reaches the nose) however the level of customisation is welcome and commendable. This doesn’t just stop at the physical nature of the character, as players can also alter the colour of their starting armour to give themselves a more individual look. Fancy being bright pink all over? A mix of red and green? The choice is yours, and best of all you don’t have to regret it once you finalize your choice as you can change your colours on the fly when in-game.
It’s also worth noting that you get a starter set of colours to begin with, as you can earn new colours on your travels. Upon gaining a Ruby Red dye, I instantly turned my character, McGarnagle, into some sort of tribute to The Flash. I soon changed it back though.
Most MMOs would end the creation process here, but after this players must decide how their personal story will be crafted. Each choice ranges from subtly altering the experience, such as humans choosing which deity has blessed them, to picking their upbringing which affects who they know when in-game. Deciding whether they never knew their parents, recovered their sister’s body, or passed up joining the circus (no, really) alters in which direction their personal story goes further on down the line. Ultimately, it is down to the player to decide how they want to experience the game, but once those choices have been made and a name has been chosen, it is finally time to jump into the action in the world of Tyria.
It’s a statement that has been made time and time again, and most of you are probably going to sigh when you read this momentarily, but Guild Wars 2 is perhaps one of the most beautiful games in the MMO genre, if not the market in general. Taking inspiration from the conceptual art renders that most developers use while designing assets, the watercolour art style has been realised to a level that will have players reaching for the screenshot button numerous times during a playthrough. From the sunny fields of Shaemoor, to the dark and broody depths of Ascalon’s ruins, everything has a hand-crafted look that is to be commended as grass parts as you move you character through it, leaves and dandelion seeds float through the air. With the scene being backed up by yet-another epic Jeremy Soule’s soundtrack, it’s hard to say the game is anything but beautiful, especially when run on a top-end machine.
Right, enough of that artistic talk; Let’s get into the basic combat mechanics. When players start the game, they are given three abilities to unlock whilst they wield a one-handed weapon. To unlock the next skill in the list, players must kill enemies using whatever they have at their disposal. These unlocks don’t take very long, and get players used to their new abilities as they progress. This total can be increased to 5 abilities by either equipping a second 1-handed weapon, or by equipping a 2-handed weapon, and these 5 abilities make up the base of a player’s attacks, each with their own cooldown timer. On top of this, players may get extra moves assigned to the Function keys, such as the warrior’s jump-charge move assigned to F1, or in the case of the Elementalist they have their different elements assigned from F1-4.
As players level up, they unlock a further 5 five abilities known as utility skills. The first one is a healing ability, and the following 3 are extra offensive abilities. The final one is an elite skill, which provides powerful abilities that come with of a huge cooldown time. What is important is that each of these utility skills slots starts off empty, and this is because the player must choose which skills they wish to use from a list of purchasable abilities which can be bought with using Skill Points. These are acquired once every level, but the best way to gain them is by completing Skill Challenges dotted around the world. These challenges will either be picking up or using an item, or defeating an NPC in combat, and while players can in theory get through the game without collecting them, it almost seems a complete waste to ignore them as they allow players to unlock some of the most powerful (and downright cool) abilities in the game.
For example, my Engineer, the bearded-wonder McGarnagle, has a battering ram which explodes from his chest which sends his foes flying. It’s bloody marvellous.
We’ll be taking a look at the Traits system (which increases character’s effectiveness) later down the line, but for now let’s look at the Events system. Outside of the personal story, players will find area events dotted around the world. Indicated as empty hearts on the map, these events act as replacement to the traditional quests found in MMOs. With a progress bar in the top right corner, players will be tasked with doing a number of tasks in the area. For example, one of the first area events for Humans takes place on a farm, and it is up to them to either kill worms, flatten out the fields, water crops or feed the cows. You can, if you wish, just kill worms if feeding livestock doesn’t seem heroic enough, but it’s nice that you can mix things up a little. Ultimately though, all that has happened is that the usual “Kill X amount of X” and “Gather X amount of X” quests has been replaced with a “Do X amount of tasks until the bar fills up.” The upside over standard quests is that you don’t have to go speak to an NPC to begin; just turn up and get involved.
The other part of the events system is the Dynamic Events. These are random events that can happen at any time and are usually indicated on the mini-map, or stated on the UI as you go near one in progress. With players able to just run up and join in, it means that grouping up isn’t a concern, and that players can just jump in and get involved and get experience and loot (this also applies to taking on regular enemies in the world.) These Dynamic Events can range from escorting a caravan safely to a town, to fighting a powerful monster that has spawned in the area. One example I had was when I was doing the area event on the previously-mentioned farm. A giant worm suddenly appeared in the middle of the field and had players stop what they were doing to deal with it, and it even attracted players from other areas to run over to help. It adds an unpredictable element to proceedings, although you can eventually learn where events are going to pop up and be ready for them. One such event, which takes place in a swamp, saw a huge raid-boss-esque monster spawn, and seemingly had half of the players on the sever trying to take it down.
We did manage, but it was a rather messy affair with corpses everywhere for the first few minutes. Thankfully, everyone who took part got loot, and this highlights the way the “freedom to play together” mentality in action.
The final topic I want to talk about in this instalment how the overall launch has gone. Now admittedly I have not run into any issues playing the game for the most part, but the heavy traffic has thrown plenty of players into the Overflow servers. These are essentially internationally overspill areas where players are automatically queued up to go onto their home server. It doesn’t affect what content you are able to do, but it has meant that groups of players have been separated from one another when transitioning from one area to another. On top of this, lag has been an issue for some players due to their international nature, although it hasn’t been overly bad for me.
Additionally, the Auction House has been down since Day 1, and with the mail system also currently out of action to combat account hacking I (like many players) are currently sitting on a large amount of gear and materials we are unable to trade. This is my biggest concern at the moment, and I hope that along with the other issues that have appeared (such as account validation and security) these things are resolved in a timely manner [EDIT: In fact ArenaNet have addressed these concerns directly]. That said, as far as MMO launches go, and considering how many players have been playing the game at the same time, it has been a rather pleasant success from my perspective (and this is coming from a decade of experiencing MMO launches.) I’ve found myself wanting to keep playing, to keep exploring the world, and while only time will tell if this opinion will stay as I continue to play, this is certainly a good sign for now.
Summary So Far:
While the launch hasn’t been a completely smooth one, it has been smoother than most MMO launches in recent years and provided Guild Wars 2 an excellent start to its online life. Addictive gameplay, along with its oh-so beautiful art design, make for an enjoyable experience when in-game. Although it’s early days yet, and our review still has a lot of ground to cover, right now the outlook is very good for ArenaNet’s latest.
That’s your lots for the time being. We’ll be back with the second part of our Guild Wars 2 review soon, but do be on the lookout for more episodes of Dealspwn Playthrough in the meantime where we will be following my escapades as Dealspwn’s digital representative McGarnagle. As well as showing highlights from his personal story, we will be looking at various aspects of the game in action.
Got any questions about the game or the review? Want me to look at something specific? Or perhaps you wish to complement McGarnagle’s beard? Sound off in the comments!