Okay, I have a confession to make. I never played Guild Wars all that much. Sure, it was a decent enough game and had a huge following, and what I did play I really enjoyed, it’s just that both times I tried it were at points in my life where I couldn’t really allow myself to get heavily into an online game. That, and it’s the sort of game that needs to be played with others to be truly enjoyed (hence the title), and I didn’t know anyone else who played.
Guild Wars 2, on the other hand, comes along at a time where two things should really be going in its favor: life is stable, and I know people who are playing it. It also has one thing going /against/ it: I’m already playing The Secret World. However, I am not entirely daunted by this. Guild Wars 2, like its predecessor, has no monthly fee associated with it after you purchase the game. This means I can play it when I want to instead of feeling like I have to play it because I’m paying for it. This also means that I can play both Guild Wars 2 and The Secret World concurrently. Both games claim to be ‘different’, and this gives me a chance to compare how different they are from each other and how well they execute on their selling points.
First, however, as I’ve put about three or four hours into Guild Wars 2, I’m going to give it a proper Opening Turn review and judge it purely on its own merits without comparison. I will also put forth the caveat that since I’ve only put a few hours into it, I obviously have only seen the introductory content, and I haven’t experienced world PvP at all.
So what is it?: Guild Wars is a series that existed and thrived on two basic themes: massive world PvP, and no subscription fees. This was an oddity back when the first game came out and games like Everquest, World of Warcraft, and Final Fantasy XI were all subscription based games that were market-dominating. In the years since, the combination of market saturation and the free-to-play business model has made Guild Wars not stand out so much.
Obviously that means it needs to stand out in other ways, right?: Yep, and there are several ways it tries to do this. The one that has been thrown around the most is the discarding of traditional party dynamics. Yep, there is no more “Tank, Healer, 3DPS” structure to a party. Every character has strong self-heals and weak party-heals, so for the most part everyone is responsible for their own god damn healing. There is no traditional threat mechanic either, so ‘tanking’ is no longer viable. Again, this is both a blessing and a curse, especially to those used to party roles. I have yet to play enough into the game to see how this plays out in dungeons, but I can confirm that it makes solo content a lot different, and not in a bad way.
Oh, that’s….definitely different. What else does it do?: Exploration. I have put more time into exploration thus far than I have into quests, and have gotten more experience for it. Exploring is a completely viable and encouraged path to building up your character, as you can also obtain skill points though exploration and map events (more on that later). It also plays more like a third-person action game, in the sense that there are a lot of things you will have to jump, balance, and otherwise exercise coordination in order to get to. Oh, and there are puzzles that incorporate this, too. So expect a bit more ‘adventure game’ and a bit less ‘straight-up RPG’. There are also ‘vistas’, which are something like Assassin’s Creed’s viewpoints, which when activated give you a panoramic view of the surrounding area. Yes, this is an MMO incorporating an idea from Assassin’s Creed.
How about the combat?: Well, other than the absence of party roles, combat is really fairly standard. There is an auto attack which is performed with your main-hand weapon, which I still tend to spam anyway because I’ve gotten used to games like TOR and TSW, which have abandoned the use of an auto attack. Your main weapon will get a set of skills, and you will have a secondary weapon which also brings with it a set of skill that changes based on which secondary weapon you have equipped. Switching your equipment is the only way that you can change what’s in your weapon skill bar; other than that, it’s static. However, you have a set of ‘utility skills’ which can be changed out, a healing skill, profession skills, and elite skills (which come at higher levels than I’ve reached right now). Your healing skill also replaces consumable healing items, which is another interesting little difference. If you die, you can either hang around to be revived by another player (any player can revive), or choose to be revived at a waypoint, which are scattered around the map quite liberally. All in all, it plays like a hybrid between WoW, Fable, and, oddly enough, Team Fortress 2.
You mentioned map events. What are those?: Another difference. Simply put, group quests will be triggered at intervals all around the map. Anyone who is nearby can join in and get credit for them. They just start happening, and anyone in range gets a notification on their quest tracker, and they can jump in and leave whenever. It’s pretty awesome and gives a real sense of community, even if you never talk to the players you’re helping out.
What about the graphics and sound?: The music is composed by Jeremy Soule, a composer who I have no shortage of good things to say about, so even if you don’t like the game, do yourself a favor and pick up the soundtrack. I am also a fan of the art style, and it is quite beautifully implemented in the in-game graphics. The game also runs like a dream, and is beautiful even on middle to low settings (which is what I run it on when I play on my laptop). NC Soft recommends updating to the latest nVidia beta driver for the optimal experience, though I didn’t have any problems before doing this either, so I’m not sure what issues this fixed, other than making sure a person had the latest and greatest driver on their system.
Any downsides to the game?: Well, I’d say that in keeping with the spirit of this being a more fast-paced, casual, and accessible game, the amount of lore I’ve run into so far is quite minimal. I’m a lore nut, so I notice this more than probably most other people would, and there are a lot of people that really hate for cutscenes and walls of text to get in the way of their game, so I would say it’s not a downside for /everyone/, just for /me/. Also, if you’re a solo gamer, be aware that this is more of a ‘social’ game. Not social in the sense that it’s a goddamn Facebook game, but social in that you will want to at least interact with other people. It’s called ‘Guild Wars’ for a reason.
Okay, let’s say I’m a Guild Wars veteran. Anything I should know going into the sequel?: Well, as I said, I never played the first game too heavily, but I am aware of a few differences. First of all, the ‘outside of town’ areas aren’t instanced anymore, so you will be running into other players a lot. Second, there are separate servers now, though guilds and friends lists are cross-server. Third, the world PvP is actually handled by having servers fight each other. So when you enter the large-scale PvP events, you will be fighting for the glory of your server. And, lastly, because both games are on the same account, you will actually receive bonus items and such in Guild Wars 2 based on your progress in the original. In fact, you can even go back and play GW1 to unlock progress rewards in GW2. I have no idea what sort of rewards these are, but I’m actually considering playing through the first game a bit to find out.
So, would you recommend this game?: Yes, to people who want a different, and possibly more casual MMO experience. Also, yes, to people who like to explore, and who like beautiful game environments to do their exploring in. Yes, to people who want a game with high production values who also do not like games with monthly fees. And yes, to people who like PvP, a lot. However, no, to people who do like things a bit more traditional (but hey, you already know there’s a game out there for you, right? It has pandas now.)
[This review is reposted with my permission at Attack Initiative.]