Guild Wars 2 – The Game That Doesn’t Change Everything

 We founded ArenaNet to innovate, so Guild Wars 2 was our opportunity to question everything – to make a game that defies existing conventions. If you love MMOs, you’ll wanna check out Guild Wars 2. And if you hate MMOs, you’ll really wanna check out Guild Wars 2.

That line is from ArenaNet’s MMO Manifesto video, which I embedded in a blurb I wrote a few days before Guild Wars 2 launched. As a rank MMO amateur who likes his single-player fantasy RPGs, the video effectively sold me on trying the game. After all, I was in the mood for a high fantasy RPG and since I largely hate MMOs, I “really” need to check this game out, right?

Among a host of other promises, the game promised a better combat model, a more immersive world in which you feel a little less like one of a billion other hosers all doing the same thing, and perhaps most significantly, no grinding. After roughly a dozen hours with the game, it’s hard to say that it really cashes in on these promises. No, you’re not collecting a dozen wolf pets every fifteen minutes and the game does solve a lot of problems that MMOs have, but it is most decidedly not a game for people who hate MMOs. If that’s you, do what I failed to do and just save your money. Dark Souls PC is just $40 on Steam. Maybe try that.

This is a game for people who love MMOs, but are Bored Beyond Belief with World of Warcraft and its innumerable knock-offs. As a quality MMO that breaks out of some tired conventions, Guild Wars 2 seems an excellent product. It’s set in an imaginative world, Tyria, that is far more interesting to explore than the sterile environments of, say, The Old Republic. The art, world, and character designs are a perfect melding of styles. It casts off the traditional fantasy races (elves, dwarves, etc.) in favor of some effectively derivative variants, like the Sylvari (people-sized Ents, basically) and Charr (think Kilrathi). And it has a rather innovative skill system that I can only surmise has some legs to it for the folks who stick around over the long haul.

Forget just MMOs, in most RPGs of any stripe, when developing a character you either specialize at being really, really good at one or two things or you try the jack of all trades route that leads to not being particularly good at anything. I still think that model works well for single-player RPGs where you’re trying to balance the skill curve for a set story and play duration. In an MMO do you really want to be stuck being just a master of the sword for however long you manage to stick with it? I did love being a Whirling Dirvish of Lightsaber Deathiness (TM) in The Old Republic, but after just a month with the game it got rather dull using the same skills over an over.

Guild Wars 2 does have class-specific weapons and equipment, but aside from those, your character can use whatever, whenever and will build up skill with that weapon through using it. Maybe you use an axe for your first ten levels of the game and you unlock three to five skills specifically related to using an axe in combat. Then you switch to a two-handed sword. That’s an entirely different set of skills. So is a bow. Or a horn used on your off-hand. Every weapon type has a set of skills associated with it and you can work on building them up at your leisure. Skills don’t degrade, so it’s just a matter of putting in the time with whatever it is you feel like wielding on a given day. There’s also no need to sell off a particularly awesome weapon just because it doesn’t fit your specialty. And the skills look good in combat. A character using sword skills in combat will not look like a character using an axe.

What the combat is not, however, is wholly different from any other MMO you’ve played. ArenaNet really sold a whopper there. The breakdown of combat skills may be aces, but you’re doing the same thing here you do in World of Warcraft, LOTRO, or The Old Republic. You get in range of a beastie, hit a number key to attack with a skill and, if you want to use that skill again, wait for the cool-down to expire. I’m not saying there’s no nuance to it at all, but for the MMO lay-person, like me, there’s nothing remotely remarkable about it. This is not aided by how crowded the screen can get when you participate in dynamic group events.

Speaking of these events, they are one of the more interesting aspects of Guild Wars 2. The game has a personal questline that you can follow from instance to instance, and there are set non-instanced quests you can take fulfill that are open to everyone to tackle on their own or as part of a group, but the dynamic events just happen and you and anyone else are free to wander into or out of them as they appear in the world. There’s no need to organize yourself into a group. When you wander near an event you can just jump right in, along with whoever else is around. When the even is complete you get rewards (gold, silver, or bronze level) relative to your degree of participation. This is a nifty system that I haven’t seen developed to its fullest in my time with the game, but it has incredible promise if ArenaNet has taken it as far as they’ve claimed in their Manifesto (where some of these events can cause lasting impact on the area of the world they appear in).

The only real problem with events (other than the tendency for some of them to repeat at far too regular intervals) is that the element that makes them cool –open participation– also can make them a chaotic mess on the screen. I’ve run across more than one event where I could only blindly click areas of the screen so thick with other players and elaborate skill effects that I could hardly separate them from the things I wanted to attack.

Other stuff to keep in mind before you buy is that the Trading Post that lets players buy and sell equipment between each other has been down more than it’s been up following the game’s launch. I haven’t been back in the game for a few days, but my understanding is that it’s up now and should remain so. There’s also a bug that messes up grouping with other players. The US servers are consistently under Heavy to Full usage states, which means you’ll spend a lot of time in overflow servers where you can play the game normally while waiting for a slot in your official server. It would be an effective system if moving into and between instanced areas didn’t kick you back to the overflow and, very often, break up your party. This is a bug that will be resolved (if it’s not already), but it’s something to keep in mind if you plan to wander Tyria with your buddies. Finally, I’ve not touched the PvP elements of the game. If that’s you’re thing, you should look for someone who knows this genre far better than I do to tell you what that’s like.

Expecting Guild Wars 2 to change everything isn’t reasonable. The problem is that’s what exactly what ArenaNet’s Manifesto promises.  That’s what sold me on the game. The game is good. Really good. But it’s not the tonic to everything single-player fantasy RPG lovers don’t like about MMOs. It’s not remotely close. On that level the game fails utterly. On the other hand, if you’re looking for a place to swing a sword at monsters along with a thousand of your bestest besties, you should give Guild Wars 2 a serious look. It makes the grinding feel less grindy, the dynamic events system is worth the price of admission, and it’s something you can pay for once and play for as long as you like. It’s a compelling package, really. One that, since they have my money already, I intend to stick with for awhile longer.

EDIT: Note that we do have a No High Scores [NHS] guild, started up by rhamorim. If you want in, just send an in-game email to “Wolfox” and he’ll get you squared away. (Officially, I’m an admin on the guild as well, but I’m rather useless, so you’ll get much farther contacting him. That said, feel free to join me for a romp if you see me online on the Sanctum of Rall server. Just know those times won’t be particularly often/consistent.

Enjoy this? Share it so others can too!
Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmailby feather

Todd Brakke

Todd was born in Ann Arbor, with a Michigan helmet in one hand and a mouse in the other. (Never you mind the logistics of this.) He grew, vertically anyway, and is a 20-year publishing veteran as an editor of books on consumer tech and professional development for educators. Because that wasn't enough of a challenge, Todd was a 20-year part-time snob about video games, writing reviews, features, and more for multiple outlets from 1997-2015. Follow him on Twitter @toddsfoolery.

You may also like...