My thoughts on Guild Wars 2:
Very much worth the hype. It’s a streamlined, easy-to-learn, beautifully rendered MMORPG that I strongly recommend for anyone who likes computer action role-playing games. The overall look of the game is stunning. I honestly think I’ve become addicted to taking screen captures of the landscape throughout this vast, beautiful, and dangerous world. The game itself feeds this addiction by providing vista points for players to discover, where by selecting the point, players are treated to a camera flyby of a nearby landmark or landscape.
One of the key points for me is that it’s one of the more sand-boxy MMOs I’ve seen. There is a decent amount of territory to get lost in if I just feel like exploring for a while. While this might otherwise suggest that it takes a long time to get from place to place, Arena Net thoughtfully added various waypoints players can teleport to for a nominal fee, simply by clicking on them on their maps. The only stipulation is that it must be a waypoint that their character has visited in the past. I also think Arena Net did a great job of taking into account that players want to explore. We enjoy climbing mountains and dancing on rooftops. Other game makers seem to forget this factor. Whereas Blizzard was long known for suspending World of Warcraft players for getting up onto the roofs of buildings or mountain climbing into closed-off areas, Guild Wars 2 has waypoints and scenic vistas that are only accessible through rigorous mountain climbing or jumping from building to building.
Character creation, game play, and customization are about as streamlined as I’ve ever seen in an action RPG. In contrast with my Champion from Lord of the Rings Online, who has at least thirty abilities—only six of which I use in a given battle—my Guild Wars 2 Guardian has around twelve abilities equipped at any given time. Technically she has more than that, but I’m free to equip, un-equip, and customize these depending on the situation. What this essentially allows players to do is specialize their character for a given role. My thief, for example, can be set up as a melee fighter with swords or knives, a ranged fighter with short bow or pistols, or even some of both with sword in one hand and pistol in the other. I can swap between any two combinations of weapons with a keystroke and make more extensive changes on the fly between battles. Perhaps a more effective comparison is the Dragon Age series, where many of the attacks and other abilities depend on what weapons the character has equipped at a given time.
I also appreciate Arena Net’s break from the standard elf, dwarf, orc series of cliches in the character build. Instead we get Humans, ordinary people like you and me; Norn, a race of viking-like giants; Charr, an apparent amalgam of the Beast from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast and various members of the genus panthera; Asura, a grey-skinned cross between the Brain from Animaniacs and Yoda; and Slivani, a race of plant-people with leaves for hair, petals for undergarments, and flowers growing out their butts.
But the factor I think makes Guild Wars 2 most revolutionary is the questing system. Say, for example, a player character arrives at a farm beset by marauding centaurs. In a standard MMO, there will be three or four NPC farmers standing about, offering quests to do things like repair fences, retrieve stolen crops, and bring back fifteen centaur brains. The centaurs, meanwhile, are milling about in a field and only attack if the player gets too close (approx. 15 feet). And apparently only 1 in 3 centaurs even has a brain, as it takes killing 40 to 50 centaurs to get fifteen centaur brains. In Guild Wars 2, the player might arrive at the farm to find the centaurs burning buildings, riding off with loot, or openly butchering NPC farm hands. Instead of having to talk to an NPC to get the appropriate quests, a message pops up in the top corner of the screen, letting the player know what needs to be done. Thus players are able to immediately enter the fracas and start rescuing NPC farmers and recovering stolen crops.
In addition, there are random events that occur throughout the questing areas that players can choose whether or not to participate in—assuming, of course they don’t get caught up in the middle of them when they hit. In the human lands, for example, there are areas being fought over by the humans and the centaurs, with outposts on both sides being contested. Players are invited to join in the attack when the humans make a push against a centaur encampment. If enough players don’t join the assault, the attack fails and the human troops retreat. If enough players do come help, the encampment is taken and the humans gain a new foothold. Similarly, if enough players don’t come to help defend a besieged human fortress, it will be taken by the centaurs and players lose access to all vendors, repairers, teleport waypoints, and other facilities until the fortress is retaken. I love this feature in that it creates a tug-of-war dynamic between factions in contested territory. I have, however, been caught outside a besieged fortress just as the defenders slammed the gates shut against the oncoming horde. Hilarity ensued.
There is also a story-based campaign of quests that players have the option of whether or not to pursue. The quests have been only mildly interesting so far, and some of the voice acting is of the mediocre persuasion. I try to keep up with them, though, because they tend to provide decent on-level gear as quest rewards.
A few things I feel could work differently (not that any of these factors ruin my gaming experience):
Mounts would be helpful. Sure, the waypoints eliminate any need for a flight-path system like in WoW or a stable-point system like in LOTRO, but at the same time there is enough open territory out there that I feel it would come in handy to have a horse to ride around on. I get tired of hearing that centaurs are attacking the southern encampment, but missing out on the battle because I had to run the whole way.
I also think a costuming system like in Lord of the Rings Online could seriously benefit the overall look of the game. Yes, there is a civilian clothing toggle, so you don’t have to run around town in your armor, but I felt like they could have done more with the outfit customization. While I like the selection of dyes and the amount of color customization available for individual pieces of clothing, I keep finding aesthetically pleasing armors that I know I’m likely to miss once I update them to a newer set. My other reason is that I have a profound dislike for some of the cheesecakey armor that shows off a lot of skin. Not that I’m particularly bothered by cleavage or bare midriffs, I just find it mildly offensive that Arena Net’s armor designers think a reasonably competent warrior woman would want massive gaps in her armor just above her heart or entrails. (Though Guild Wars 2 is hardly the worst culprit in this pet peeve of mine.) Thus I’d prefer the option to cosmetically substitute some of the more lingerie-ish armor I’ve seen for the more sensible scale and chain mail armor I’ve used so far.
Screen captures taken directly from game play. The images should be full resolution, so feel free to use them as desktop wallpaper. I often do.