Guild Wars 2 Review — Part 1
The Guild Wars 2 beta left me with a positive outlook on the game’s future, but Game Front Editor Ron Whitaker was disappointed, feeling it didn’t live up to the hype. Now that this long-awaited sequel has been released, was my optimism justified, or have I grown disenchanted with the game?
We’ll find out over the course of this two-part review.
Guild Wars 2
Released: August 28, 2012
Part 1: The first ten levels
To a first approximation, Guild Wars 2 is a fantasy MMO like any other. Sure, there are innumerable differences if you look at the details, but describing GW2 and World of Warcraft to someone unfamiliar with the genre would leave them with a hazy impression of which is which. One immediate difference, however, is GW2′s standard retail pricing model — no monthly subscription fees for this MMO, which is a huge boon. A microtransaction system exists, but you can make the same purchases with in-game currency.
One example of what you can purchase is additional character slots, of which you’re given five by default — too few to try out each of the game’s eight classes, called “professions.” Among these professions are some names familiar to the fantasy RPG genre, including the Warrior, Ranger, Necromancer, and Thief, along with some new and esoteric classes: the Elementalist, a mage that conjures air, earth, water, and fire; the Guardian, a Paladin-like warrior with defensive and protective magic; the Engineer, a steampunk tinker that uses grenades and deployable turrets; and the Mesmer, a mage focused on illusions, buffs and debuffs.
The professions possess enough variety to cater to any desired play style, but gamers hoping for a traditional role-based system — tank, DPS, healer — may be disappointed to learn that every profession is essentially a DPS class with self-healing capabilities.
Your choice of profession is not restricted based on GW2′s races, of which there are five to choose from: the Charr, a race of giant minotaur-like felines; the Norn, hulking, tattooed humans reminiscent of Vikings and more than passingly similar to The Elder Scrolls’ Nords; the Sylvari, magical tree creatures; the Asura, clever little alchemical tinkers with large heads and big, floppy ears; and your standard humans.
Every race has its own unique feel, and my only peeve is that the Sylvari and Asura are not named Dryads and Goblins, respectively. The oft-repeated advice to speculative fiction writers is, “Don’t call a rabbit a smeerp,” and given the similarities, there’s no need to invent new names for these creatures other than to sound original and give players more fake words to remember.
Visual customization options for each race are extensive, from general body type and height to fine details on the face. The developers even managed to create enough variety in the non-human races to avoid the “all members of this species look alike” syndrome, and I’d like to specifically call out the Dryads–err, Sylvari for having such an impressive range of flesh tones, patterns, and twig-hairstyles while still maintaining a unified look and feel for the race.
Also worthy of note is the fact that GW2′s character customization doesn’t just cater to men. Yes, you can create beefy, macho guys or sexy, fashion model women, but you can also create fresh-faced pretty boys that seem to be meant to appeal to the female audience.
The last bit of visual customization involves dying your starting gear, but this decision isn’t locked-in — you can instantaneously change the dye colors of any pieces of armor you wear at any time while playing. That’s right; gone are the garish, mismatched colors common to so many MMOs — unless you deliberately decide to look like a clown.
Once you’ve customized the look of your character, you dive into the game’s biography options, which are extensive by today’s standards. First, you select between one of three profession-specific options that will affect your starting appearance: Warriors select between different types of helmets, Rangers select between animal companions, and Thieves select between different mask/hood combinations.
Next, you select a dominant trait between Charm, Dignity, and Ferocity, which is the first step in establishing a personality throughout the game that affects the way NPCs react to you and your dialogue options. Lastly, you select one of three race-specific backgrounds. For instance, humans were either raised in the streets, by common folk, or among nobility. This decision affects the overall arc of your personal storyline.
While these biography choices are largely irrelevant to gamers who will stick to PvP, they’re an important first step in laying the groundwork for your personal story quest by making you think about your character beyond the superficial.