Guild Wars 2 Review — Part 1
Once you’ve loaded into the game, you’ll immediately be stricken by GW2′s impressive graphics and artistic style. The world is beautiful. The visuals are distinctly high fantasy, with grandiose cities and cinematic vistas. Your race will determine your starting location and initial quest before setting you off on your personal storyline, a series of quests that can be completed solo and tell an ongoing narrative centered around your character.
While GW2 doesn’t include full voice acting, most important conversations in your personal storyline are voiced. This helps draw in the player, but the implementation feels dated and lazy. When one of these conversations begins, you’re transported to a cutscene window with an out-of-focus background and two characters standing in the foreground, one to the left, the other to the right. Only two characters can ever be on-screen at once, so if a third party is included in the conversation, either the left or right character is temporarily swapped out for the new speaker.
While this was also the case in the beta, an “under construction” notice led me to believe that this was a placeholder system while the team worked on the animations for actual cutscene sequences with different camera angles, character movement, and environmental interaction. Instead, we’re left with this awkward school play with characters standing in place before the audience, taking turns speaking. But I’ll still take these semi-cutscenes over a visit from the exposition fairy and her wall-of-text wand any day.
The effort that went into the personal storyline is appreciated, but thus far, it’s falling flat for me. I enjoy playing through the story quests, but the plot is failing to engage me. Perhaps things pick up later, but in storytelling, it’s especially important to hook your audience from the beginning, otherwise they may not stick around until things get interesting.
Apart from the story quests, other missions can be found throughout the world. Rather than follow the standard MMO quest formula of, “pick up quest from NPC A; travel to location B; kill X number of monster C; travel to location D; turn in quest to NPC E,” GW2′s quests activate when you approach the objective area, can be completed by performing a number of different activities, and don’t need to be “turned in” to receive a reward. It’s a much more organic, varied, and efficient experience than most MMOs offer.
Further, a dynamic event system sees the spontaneous collaboration of multiple players. Once certain triggering conditions are met — which may or may not result from player actions — all players in the vicinity are notified of the start of an event, which scales in difficulty according to the number of participating players. Events are typically chained together, with the outcome of one event affecting the next. The system successfully encourages and rewards teamwork while granting players a feeling that their efforts actually make a difference in the game world.
Combat in Guild Wars 2 is visceral, deadly, and much more fast-paced than standard MMOs. Players are relatively fragile and need to actively dodge, maneuver, and heal themselves to stay in the fray. If you fall in battle, you are still able to perform some limited attacks as you bleed to death, and should you take down an opponent while you’re in this state, you’ll be back on your feet. However, when multiple combatants are on-screen, combat can get chaotic, and targeting becomes messy, especially given how characters move about so much.
Every weapon type available to a profession comes with its own unique combat skills, which are gradually unlocked as you use the weapon, giving you the opportunity to become acquainted with one skill at a time. But within only a few hours of play, you can unlock every skill on every weapon, which kills one of the exciting features of an RPG: leveling up and growing ever more powerful. There are passive abilities and utility skills that you can unlock as you continue to level, but it’s at least mildly disappointing to learn that the attack abilities you’re using at level 5 will be the same you’ll be using at level 50.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of this review for a look at PvP, crafting, higher-level play, and a final score.