Review: Guild Wars 2

Blizzard’s MMO giant World of Warcraft is now 8 years old and it is finally starting to lose its players, yet it is still the most successful online game out there. A few contenders have come along, but whether they were not as well-made or well-written or just lacked whatever it is that makes WoW great, none of them have been able to take WoW’s crown.

But finally we may have a contender; a game that I firmly believe certainly should be able to replace WoW at the top; Guild Wars 2. This game has been out for a year now, so I thought I’d take a look at what makes this a potential WoW killer.

Guild Wars 2

This is the latest game from ArenaNet and is a sequel to (you guessed it) Guild Wars. You create a hero from one of five races and eight professions and set off to explore the fantasy world of Tyria, battling various monsters and taking on the powerful Elder Dragons. There is a lot of standard MMO stuff going on here, but there are a few features and great ideas that make GW2 stand out.

Character Customisation

‘Proper’ Combat

The combat in GW2 is a great improvement over WoW and other games. For example, you can use your abilities on the move, instead of having to stand in one place. You have the ability to manually dodge attacks and when you swing your sword, it hits all of the enemies in front of you, not just the one you are targeting. All of this makes for a much more satisfying combat experience.

The way you manage your powers is different as well. Instead of having loads of action bars full of different abilities, you have five weapon skills and five utility skills. Your weapon skills change based on the weapon you have equipped and the other skills are unlocked using skill points. This seems restrictive at first, but how many of those hundreds of abilities in WoW did you actually use? This is a much more focussed system, while still allowing for flexibility and customisation.

Additionally, every character can heal themselves, which means that people can look after their own health and there isn’t a need for the classic Tank, DPS and Healer combo for groups and dungeons (I cannot over-stress how great it is to be rid of this horrible system!).

Personal Story

Another great feature of the game is the Personal Story. When you create a character, you can choose from a number of backgrounds and other options that not only define who your character is, but affect how each character’s story will play out. You start by doing quests relevant to your character’s race, then move on to work with the three Orders of Tyria, before choosing one Order to join. You then work with all three of the orders in a combined attack against one of the Elder Dragons. Throughout the game you make choices that can branch the path of the story and have ramifications throughout the rest of the experience. Fully voiced and (mostly) well-animated cutscenes tell the story, which is much improved over the usual ‘wall of text’ approach. It also means there is more replayability and variety for different characters; you could create two Charr warriors, for example, but their stories could play out very differently based on the choices you make along the way.

The one thing I don’t like (spoiler alert) is that the final part of the story involves confronting the final boss of the game in his lair, which involves doing the hardest dungeon as part of a group. This makes perfect sense in many ways, but the rest of the story up to this point can be done solo and I found it frustrating that I had to join a group for this final part.

Also, it should be pointed out that you can still become aware that there are 3 million other ‘chosen ones’ doing the same quests as you, but it is much more obscured in this game than in any other I have played.

Guild Wars 2

Living World

Another interesting feature is the ‘Living World’. ArenaNet are currently bringing out new updates every two weeks, featuring new arenas, quests, achievements and content to enjoy. These have included attackers pouring through portals all across the world and a political campaign to elect a new leader for the city of Lions Arch. There is lots to do during these events, but if anything I think this is too much new content; I was away on holiday for two weeks and missed the entire conclusion to the ‘Fire and Frost’ storyline….

As well as all of this new content, there are regular events that occur throughout the world. You might arrive in a town that is having trouble with Centaurs, and while you are helping them out by killing enemies, recovering supplies and lighting torches, a group of centaurs might coming riding down from the nearby camp and you will have to stop them. Failing to do so might result in the town falling into centaur hands and you will then need to clear the baddies out to liberate the town and regain access to the waypoint, repairer and vendors. Of course, if you stay in one area for long enough (or revisit it) you might find yourself taking part in the same event again, but it really helps to make the world feel alive and breakup the normal cycle of killing, questing and gathering.

Encouraging Cooperation

Its also nice that you don’t have to group up with others. If you’re in the same area as someone else and you both kill a target, you both get the XP, rewards and renown for doing so. Any character class can also revive fallen players and all buffs, offensive and defensive spells are automatically applied to people nearby. There is still the ability to form an actual group, but for the most part this is unnecessary.

This means more fun and flexibility, but also encourages cooperation and niceness towards each other, which is something that was incredibly rare in WoW (where it seemed every other player was a selfish dick!). Instead of rushing in to steal your kill, fighting over mineral nodes or waiting by your corpse to to attack you when you resurrect, players frequently stop to revive fallen players or help them if they are outnumbered.

Visuals

I love the world the have created. The painterly art style is beautiful to look at and is wonderfully stylised, which should give it longevity. The animations are amazing too. The only exception is when minor characters (such as ogres, skritt or the hylek) appear in cutscenes and talk like Thunderbirds puppets.

One nice feature I should mention is the character customisation. Every item of armour has a number of dye slots and unlocked dyes can be applied at any time. This means you can customise your look and make your character  look consistent even if you are wearing armour from a mixture of different armour sets (a great improvement over the often clashing combinations you were presented with in WoW!).

The world is not as seamless as WoW, there are loading screens when you teleport or pass from one zone to another, but I don’t mind this. When the world looks this good, its worth waiting a few moments for!

The Good, The Bad…

I find that I tend to play the game a lot for a couple of weeks, then find myself putting it down for a while. Its hard to explain, I think I just get fatigued with playing it after a certain point. However, I always end up coming back to it in a few weeks and enjoying it again. This isn’t really a problem, since there is no subscription fee and you can drop in and out as you please.

There is an in-game store, but the items on it are too expensive. To the game’s credit, you do not HAVE to buy anything to enjoy the game, and you are able to convert gold into Gems (the store’s currency). However, there are a number of items that I have been sorely tempted to buy for convenience or to improve my experience, but the price point is just too high. I’ve had this rant before, but it would be better for the players (and would probably make ArenaNet more money) if they charged less for these digital goods. As it is, they would have to halve the price of most of the items I’m interested in before I would realistically be tempted to buy them.

Final Thoughts

If you are a fan of MMOs but have become disillusioned with WoW, or even if you’ve never played one before, I strongly recommend you give Guild Wars 2 a try. Its so nice to see a game come along and, instead of just copying all of WoW’s ideas, look at what works well and what can be improved. And, on top of all its brilliance, there is no subscription fee!

It might not be the game to take WoW’s crown, but it might well be the assassin that stabbed WoW in the back, finally allowing a better game to take its place!