Our main character is a ranger, and we've been ploughing through the starting areas for each race. Cleverly, your stats are adjusted to fit the level of the area you're in. This means you can work through quests that are designed for people with much less in-game experience than you, but you still get decent XP and levelled loot. This provides the opportunity to explore every corner of the map without worrying that you're wasting your time.
There's something amusing, almost heart-warming, about seeing someone with fancy, high level armour doing quests alongside newbies.
Getting around is made easy by portals. If you want to join a friend on a completely different side of the map, all you have to do is visit your race's capital city and stroll through a portal. This takes you to a hub with connections to all the major cities. You can travel quickly around maps too. As you explore you'll pick up waypoints, and for an inconsequential fee you can travel between them instantly. There's no waiting for zeppelins to arrive or hearthstones to recharge - another example of the streamlining that makes the game such an effortless pleasure to play.
In another example of the game's design bringing players together, sometimes waypoints are marked as 'contested'. This means enemies are invading the area around it, and players on the map will have to band together and fight them back to make the spawn point available again. This makes the world feel alive and dynamic. Of course, we haven't even scratched the surface. That's why we've broken our review up into two parts. We've just reached level 20 after 25 hours of play, and we've only uncovered a tiny fraction of the world map. But in that relatively short amount of time we've experienced so much - and all with other people.
From the hardcore MMO player's perspective, there are some complaints about the interface and PVP balancing, but this is to be expected. So far ArenaNet has been incredibly vocal about fixes, and sorting out the inevitable launch problems. Besides an initial four hours of being unable to login at the beginning of the headstart sessions, we've had no problems connecting. It's a much smoother launch than The Old Republic, but still far from perfect. Gameplay, interface, and balancing issues will, as with all MMOs, be continually tweaked and improved as the months - and perhaps years - go on. So the Guild Wars 2 we're seeing now, as good as it is, may be a completely different beast as the patches roll out. Time will tell.
We'll have to see whether our excitement lasts. The first three map areas we've completed in full have been entertaining, beautiful, and full of memorable moments, mostly involving armies of other players. Whether this extends to the farther reaches of the map remains to be seen. If you fear the idea of an MMO, or have tried the likes of World of Warcraft and didn't like it, Guild Wars 2's slicker design and focus on social interaction might win you over. There's no monthly subscription fee to worry committing to; all you have to do is buy the game and you're in.
We'll be back on Friday with a full review.