Reviewed on: PC
Thanks to NCSoft for providing this game for review.
The world of MMORPGs is changing. While we still have the big behemoth that refuses to move there have been many who’ve come to chip away at it’s almost impenetrable defences, but lets not kid ourselves here, the World of Warcraft is here to stay. However, there are some who’ve proven they can weather the WoW storm, titles such as Lord of the Rings Online and Guild Wars who’ve shown that Free2Play doesn’t necessarily spell the end for them. One such title that has taken it upon itself to inspire a new generation of MMORPGs is the NCsoft title Guild Wars 2.
The thing is Guild Wars 2 is essentially one of the first Western MMOs to start out as Free2Play, a bold statement that subscription fees don’t have to rule the entire genre. Alongside this rather attractive proposition is a plethora of features that encompass essentially every good aspect of MMO gaming since the early 2000’s.
You’ll be pleasantly surprised to know that this innovation is present from the start. Oh, of course there’s the regular character creation to go through, Guild Wars 2 containing five races and eight ‘professions’ (read that classes) to choose from. Once you’ve created your fluorescent green haired dashing rogue with a strange liking for curly moustaches as any normal MMO player should Guild Wars 2 throws a spanner in the works and presents you with a unique after thought to enhance your character’s depth and experience.
Before you start out on your joyous adventures you must answer a series of sometimes vague questions to decide your character’s backstory. While it’s certainly not the most in-depth or even seemingly relevant set of questions ever it’s another little tool in Guild Wars 2’s arsenal designed to give you a wholly more meaningful experience within the little gaming world ArenaNet have created. In a sense, choice is one of the main aspects within the Guild Wars formula that changes your blank faced, clone adventurer into a character that has much more meaning and weight behind it than your average MMO avatar.
While the choices and subsequent consequences of your actions are limited to quest lines they don’t become apparent until a little further down the line. These choices are extremely obvious however, so don’t worry about missing out. All dialogue is scripted with only a small portion of it containing a selection of responses your character can make. Alongside this are certain objects you can interact with in a number of different ways in various quests. One example of this is storming a cave full of half giants who choose to worship an evil dragon lord. As you complete total religious genocide on the poor brain-dead creatures you come across a shine to the dragon where the giants have been sacrificing your comrades. Do you spit on the shrine, desecrating it? How about praying to your own gods about it? Alternatively you could just walk away, like the passive aggressive axe-wielding barbarian monster you are.
While these little snippets of choice in the grand storyline never give away their true weight until further down the line they’re a great addition to what would otherwise have been just another fantasy story in a sea of many. One great instance of this system sees you faced with allowing a faction leader to live out his misguided ways on his own or outright kill him to prevent his fall to darkness. If you try to keep a virtuous character, letting the villain live, you might seem them come back later on, stronger than ever. It’s this depth of play that makes Guild Wars storyline unforgettable.
However, while this might seem too good to be true, an MMO with gripping plot quests and deep characters, it is. There’s still no end of ‘Go here, kill x number of y’s, profit, repeat’ quests to go around with the intriguing plot decision showing up only every so often to release the monotony of the age-old MMO grind. It’s a start, but nowhere near what the genre needs for a shake up.
Parallel to traditional questing is one of Guild Wars’ best weapons against the boring grind of endless questing. Dynamic events, similar to Warhammer Online’s world quests, are random happenings all over the world of Tyria that players can jump in and out of on a whim to help out their comrades. Bandits attack key points into towns, creating road blocks to be taken care of or besieging small areas in and around towns. Zealous warlords lead charges against religious holy grounds and herds of Minotaur stampede around forests causing havoc. And all this happens in a wholly natural way while players go about their regular business.
These events all have a set of objectives, be it to kill enough rebel centaurs that the retreat from their attack or holding on to a certain building in a village under attack by rampaging robots until an engineer is able to deactivate them all, that all scale to the amount of players attending the event. This leads to massive skirmishes taking place around high population areas where 50+ players could be defending a bridge against hundreds of bandits. It’s an insanely wondrous thing to behold when so many players work together in an epic unscripted battle that seems so natural within the giant world of Tyria. Just hope your frame rate holds as such events can cause game breaking problems on low-end machines, making the game nearly unplayable until you leave the area or the event ends.
In a sense you could get to top-level just by completing these world events, with gold, experience and special reputation points automatically added to your character depending on your participation in the event at large. Come in near the end and you’ll still receive a small bonus but the big bucks lie in seeing it through from start to finish. And these events are present in every area, some taking a mere five minutes to complete while others can last for hours. It’s an amazing way to experience the world ArenaNet have created and one of the finer points of the leveling system.
It seems that dynamic aspects are a theme in Guild Wars, with not only the questing but the entire combat system containing a simplistic layer of depth that’s both easy to jump into but able to open up to those willing to exploit it. While the hotkey bar may seem small at first, containing only five primary skills and five more secondary ones but once you open the hero window to examine the skills at large you begin to realise the mechanics behind Guild Wars combat system.
You see, instead of having class and race depict which skills your character has your skills are in fact determined by which weapon you equip. While your class does admittedly have some say in the matter, with weapons available to you determined by class as well as some of the skill combinations the weapons themselves are what determine your play style.
Do you go for a dual axe wielding barbarian, able to unleash quick flurries of blows that strike in a large area? What about a sword and pistol combination as a dashing rogue, able to unleash deadly accurate ripostes against attacker while catching them off guard with a devastating pistol shot to the face? The amount of choice, again, is key here just like in the storylines with characters able to switch out weapons on a whim in the midst of combat, making you able to tailor your character to almost any encounter at a moments notice.
With that in mind the combat system is in fact fantastic, a simplistic system that is as complex as you want to make it, either sticking with one weapon throughout your time in Tyria or mixing and matching combinations for the right encounter. Couple the easy to use skill system with the frankly amazing combat animations that give a real sense of weight and desperation to the combat and you’ve got a winning formula without the need for the insane amount of skills and talents that many MMOs throw at you as you level to end game.
If PvP is more your thing then Guild Wars has got you covered on all fronts. With small-scale skirmishes in conquest mode which are similar to World of Warcraft’s battlegrounds scaling up to the giant world vs world sieges on huge maps that are reminiscent of the later stages of Warhammer Online’s PvP there’s something for everyone. Even low levels can join in on the action, with gear and stats all made equal it’s merely the player’s skill in battle that determines victory rather than who has the best gear score or highest level.
All in all Guild Wars 2 is a fantastic MMO that in made to challenge the norm. With no subscription fee there’s no pressure to make the most of your game time allowing for casual play that some MMO fans crave. It’s dynamic combat and questing help to alleviate the worst traits of the MMORPG universe while still keeping in line with the genre as a whole. If there’s any MMORPG that has come out in the last few years it’s Guild Wars 2 that takes the biscuit and possibly the entire biscuit factory with it. You’ll find no better alternative to the World of Warcraft than this…
+ Great dynamic leveling system that really helps to break up the grind.
+ Fluid combat mechanics and amazing animations.
+ A Beautiful diverse world to explore.
– Some Frame rate issues in highly populated areas such as PvP and world events.
– Story Choice mechanics spread too far apart.
– Little end game content.
By MMORPG standards the game looks absolutely fantastic in terms of both textures and animations. You’d be hard pressed to find a greater looking game out there today.
With a cast of some of the industry’s finest on the scene for voice acting (Felicia Day and Nolan North anyone?) what’s not to like?
Your average singleplayer fantasy epic wrapped up in an MMO package. If you enjoy high fantasy wars between various weird and wonderful races you’ll love Guild Wars 2’s storyline.
Many of the quests may follow the traditional ‘Kill x, profit’ schemes but the random world events, world bosses and simplistic combat all outshine the genre norms.
It’ll take you a while to reach max level with one character but once your there the content starts to become thin. Good job there’s eight classes and five races each with a different story to tell.
The Verdict: 9
One of the best recent MMORPGs to date, taking in everything good about the genre, sprinkling a little bit of variety into the mix and wrapping it up in a giant subscription free package. Guild Wars 2 is not to be missed by any MMO gamer that’s ever wished for a viable World of Warcraft alternative.