Guild Wars 2 Review
A title that breaks conventions and streamlines your experience to maximize the fun. But it is still an MMO.
The anticipation levels of Guild Wars 2 have been peaking for a while now. The original instance-based MMO was a hit for ArenaNet that saw the release of multiple expansions and continued development over the years, but the sequel is a new era. An era that, throughout its very lengthy development time and high-velocity marketing campaign as of late, promised to appeal to both those who love and hate MMOs. Guild Wars 2 aimed to achieve this by defying the traditional genre boundaries and gameplay expectations, and instead attempting to create something new. In the end, the game succeeds in doing so, but its appeal is still not as broad as the developers would have you believe.
So for those who don’t know, Guild Wars was an MMO hybrid of sorts, as it was called an RPG with multiplayer lobbies by some players. That is because all of the explorable areas of the game were instanced, to be entered only by you and your player party. This is of course unlike the MMO standard, where everyone participates in the persistent online world. None the less, the game found much success with that design, and was able to tell great stories while still offering that online multiplayer feeling.
Guild Wars 2, meanwhile, is a full-on MMO with a large, persistent world to explore. Unlike the original that only offered Humans, players in the sequel can select from up to five races: Asura, Charr, Human, Norn, or Sylvari. Each race has a distinct visual design, with a variety of facial and body features to adjust – but the character creator does leave a bit to be desired. The professions offered include: Guardian, Warrior, Engineer, Ranger, Thief, Elementalist, Necromancer, and Mesmer. The best part, however, is that the game allows you total freedom of selection, not limiting players to a particular profession based on their race or vice versa.
Each race features their own starting area and what the game calls a personal storyline. These instanced quests work similar to original Guild Wars, allowing you and party members to enter the area and complete story-based scenarios. These stories do their best to personalize the experience, offering you a number of choices and missions to tackle based on personal preference. Oddly, these missions vary wildly in difficulty from one to the next, as well as between professions. You can go from single-handedly handling things to really needing a group. We also ran into quest-ending AI bugs a few times, which shouldn’t be happening for an instanced scenario.
One of the core draws of Guild Wars 2’s design is that there was a goal to eliminate the classic MMO character utilization, which breaks down into tank, healer, and DPS roles. And to the developers’ credit, they have succeeded. The so-called damage, control, and support skill breakdowns are instead the keys to success. Each class feels fully self-sufficient, having their own attack, support, and healing skills. It makes everyone more independent, but it’s not without some drawbacks.
Due to this design philosophy, the skill bar in GW2 is established in a unique way – entirely dependent on what weapon you are wielding. Hold a staff, and your first five attack slots will focus on AoE and support. Swap to a dagger and maybe scepter/focus combo, and the skills switch entirely, presenting new gameplay opportunities. All classes rely on weapon swapping to succeed depending on the situation at hand. The rest of the skills are called utility, and feature a more classic unlock system and ability to be interchanged. While this presents an enormous amount of potential gameplay variety, in reality the system isn’t very flexible.
Because half of your skills are deadlocked depending on the weapon, it won’t be long before you find the best weapon and skill utilization that work for your class. From there on, especially in PvE, there’s little reason to change things. Which means you’ll potentially be using the same few skills for your whole trip through the game and beyond. While yes, that’s what essentially happens in most games anyway as users find the meta builds that work best, having the flexibility to swap or at least re-arrange your weapon skills would have been welcome. It’s certainly a drastic change from the original game’s hundreds of abilities.
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