Guild Wars 2 Trailer
Guild Wars 2: Official races trailer.
Guild Wars 2: Official races trailer.
What does Guild Wars 2 do that other MMOs don't?
An overview of Guild Wars 2’s mechanics and goals.
After a five-year development period, ArenaNet’s Guild Wars 2 is finally on store shelves. Guild Wars 2’s potential for success depends on its ability to differentiate itself from a slew of other established MMOs on the market, particularly dominant titles like World of Warcraft, a game with which several of Guild Wars 2’s own developers are associated. While Guild Wars 2 doesn’t totally reinvent the MMO wheel, it’s innovative enough to establish what will hopefully be a new benchmark for games in a rapidly stagnating genre.
Guild Wars 2 picks up roughly 250 years after the original Guild Wars’ final expansion pack, Eye of the North. The new races introduced in this expansion, the Norn, the Asura, the Sylvari, and the Charr, are all playable, as are the ever-present humans which, for some strange reason, always end up being the most popular race despite their comparative unoriginality. Happily, every race can be every class, so you can play exactly how you want. Your hero, whatever it might be, will travel through the massive world of Tyria in pursuit of five Elder Dragons who have awoken from a long slumber to wreak havoc on the world. While this is the game’s overarching goal, the game is large and diverse, providing you with plenty of distractions from the main quest line.
For all its innovations, Guild Wars 2’s classes are pretty standard MMO thoroughfare. Your character selection screen includes archetypes like the ranger, the elementalist, a tanky guardian class, as well as thief and warrior classes. Two slightly more interesting choices are the mesmer, a magic-wielder who fights using decoys, illusions and general trickery, and the engineer who can support allies with a variety of machine-gun turrets and mechanical gadgetry.
This said, I’m perhaps being overly harsh about Guild Wars 2’s apparently bland class system: the game mechanics ArenaNet has implemented substantially change the ways classes interact with one another in terms of group composition. Seasoned MMO players should be familiar with the “Holy Trinity” of group composition, in which teams of players are basically required to have a healer and tank class archetype in addition to a number of DPS classes. Guild Wars 2 removes the need for this kind of group composition by giving every class the ability to fill these roles to varying degrees. Everyone is capable of healing themselves and their allies, as well as clearing debuffs and soaking up damage when necessary. This has huge gameplay implications, as you never have to wait around for the perfect composition to line up so you can finally tackle game content too tough to handle alone.
Guild Wars 2 encourages group play not only by changing the requirements to take on the game’s PvE content, but also by removing many of the penalties MMO games inflict on players who choose to adventure together. There are no experience penalties for grouping, and you don’t even need to be in the same team as someone to share experience or rewards: as long as you’ve both attacked the monster in question, you’ll get your own pool of experience and loot, making Guild Wars 2 a much more social experience than games like Rift or World of Warcraft. It’s a mystery as to why more MMOs haven’t taken this approach, but hopefully developers will take a leaf out of ArenaNet’s book in the future.
Guild Wars 2’s combat system also departs from the MMO genre’s standard approach to battle, and is perhaps only surpassed by Bluehole Studios’ TERA. At 10 abilities, the number of skills players can assign to their hotbars is pretty slim, but their interchangeability makes up for it. Player abilities are dependent on the weapons they wield: for example, an elementalist carrying around a big staff will focus on using attacks that affect large areas, whereas a dagger-wielding elementalist is more likely to concentrate on close-quarters combat. Weapons can be switched on the fly, allowing for a pretty diverse selection of ability combinations. Some players might feel forced into specific weapon choices, but the opportunity to change weapons somewhat negates this. Additionally, there’s a timer on weapon swaps to ensure that doing so is always a strategic decision. Dodging, too, adds an element of skill to the gameplay. Enemy projectiles can be avoided using dodge mechanics that really give combat a sense of tactile mobility lacking in many other MMO games. As with weapon swapping, there’s a mechanic tied to dodging that drains a specific resource so players can’t abuse it.
For all its skill-based elements, Guild Wars 2 is a very casual game, and that’s not a bad thing at all. Players are rewarded for their ability to play the game well rather than their ability to play the game for extended periods of time, which is something more MMO developers need to realize is important to the majority of gamers who, more often than not, are dividing their time between a number of different games—and uh, those real life responsibilities too, of course. Content in Guild Wars 2 scales to player levels, so higher level players can always play with their friends who are lower level, and vice versa. Player versus player equitability is especially well done in Guild Wars 2: everyone joins instanced battlegrounds at maximum level, and everyone has preset gear so the only advantages competitors have over one another boil down to individual skill levels, which is how truly competitive PvP should always be. It’s a fantastic system, and one I can see other MMO games being quick to implement if they’re smart.
As far as graphics and sound go, Guild Wars 2 performs admirably. The world environments are detailed, unique, and most importantly, inviting, encouraging players to explore their diverse vistas and nooks and crannies for quests and rewards. Guild Wars 2’s quest system is intimately tied up with its map, with players being given new quests for moving through the world, as well as a reward called “Karma,” a currency doled out for doing, well, just about everything, including exploring; Karma can be used to purchase weapons and armor and other rewards. The animations are fluid and realistic, showcasing some of the best physical movement seen in MMOs today, and the architecture of each racial city is individualized and always beautiful. The sound design is also good, although some of the voice acting could be improved: female Norns sound absolutely terrible, for example, in comparison to the quick-witted and hilarious Asura characters. It’s a flaw that isn’t always present, but when some bad dialogue pops up you really notice it, which is unfortunate given the rest of the game’s polish.
Guild Wars 2 is pretty close to an immaculate MMO experience. The gameplay is extremely fun and easy to pick up, it’s pretty to look at, and the experience of journeying through the world is unforgettable. Hardcore gamers might be pissed at how the game works to narrow the gap between casuals and people with more intensive gaming habits, but the majority of people will appreciate Guild Wars 2’s more laid-back approach to the MMO genre. It’ll be interesting to see how this game unfolds over the next few years, so stay tuned for further reviews. For now, Guild Wars 2 gets a Z-Score of 92%.