Guild Wars 2 review: The final verdict
31st Aug 2012 | 09:21
Reviewing an MMO is never easy. In a year
We've only dipped our toes in PVP, and have yet to experience any high level end-game content. So this review is based mostly on PVE. We've tested all eight classes and worked our way through a large portion of the human and norn story quests. So bear that in mind as you read on. There's a score at the end, sure, but it's subject to change. But what this review will do is tell you if Guild Wars 2 is worth buying, whether you're an MMO virgin or a hardened veteran.
The freeform quest design is the game's greatest strength. Not just in terms of gameplay, but in how it brings players together. You don't have to collect quests from NPCs and turn them in; they automatically trigger when you enter an area. They're made up of multiple objectives across a specific area of the map, and each one you complete fills up a progress bar. The quest is complete when the bar is filled, and the reward is delivered straight to your mailbox.
Having four or five things to do in each quest cleverly hides the grind and repetition that plagues most online RPGs. You're still just killing and collecting things, but the typical MMO objectives are always mixed up with bizarre and entertaining mini-games to keep things interesting. This means you can alter your play style depending on your mood. If you don't feel like fighting mobs, there's always an alternative. You can finish most quests without even raising your weapon.
Better still, you never feel lonely. If another player is in the middle of killing an enemy, you can help and it'll count towards both of your progress bars. It's this collaboration that makes Guild Wars 2 an incredibly social experience, even if you aren't playing with friends. The large amount of players currently invading the game's servers is not unusual for an MMO at launch; but seeing them all working together is. You won't spend all your time in the game silently grinding through quests on your own; you'll be doing them alongside massive groups of other players.
World events continue this idea of player interaction by giving everyone taking part in the quest the same progress bar. These occur randomly, and when one is triggered you'll see most players in the area run towards it. Some of these are huge in scale, and see you battling enormous bosses like the towering Shadow Behemoth in Queensdale. You don't even have to worry about being too high level to take part; the game automatically scales your character down. You'll frequently see players with top tier gear fighting alongside freshly spawned newbies.
Sometimes enemies will attack fast travel points and make them inactive, which gives players an extra incentive to band together and repel the invaders. In World of Warcraft you'd have to organise raids or wait in a queue to experience these big group boss fights; in Guild Wars 2 they're everywhere, and anyone in the area can join in instantly. It's a level of accessibility rarely seen in an MMO, and putting long-time players on a level playing field with fresh-faced newcomers gets rid of the elitism that's usually rampant in games like this.
If you miss traditional questing, your character's personal story will scratch the itch. These take place in instances, and come complete with voice acted cut-scenes. They're reminiscent of more traditional MMO quests, and give your character - depending on which race you selected - a unique story to follow. There are even branching paths depending on decisions you make, but these are limited to you; anyone playing the quest with you won't be able to alter your path.
These quests are entertaining, and always yield fantastic loot, but you can ignore them altogether, as they'll always scale you back to the level they were intended for. You can leave them until deep into the end-game if you want. But they're a welcome break from the map quests, which can feel a little impersonal at times. Each storyline is dictated not only by your race, but by choices you make while creating your character. Humans, for example, can choose something they regret, like never knowing their real parents. This is then threaded into their story quests.
Each profession, or class, offers an interesting variety of gameplay. Guardians are one of the most entertaining, allowing you to charge into battle with heavy and armour and weapons while casting healing spells and dropping sigils that buff your allies. Rangers can tame animals to use as pets, which draw aggro while they pepper enemies with arrows from afar. Steampunk-inspired Engineers use flamethrowers and mobile rocket turrets. Mesmers can create copies of themselves to confuse foes. They're all riffs on fantasy RPG archetypes, but with their own distinct flavour. Our only complaint is that higher level skills are often just slight variations on early ones.
The norn starting area is probably the most fun. They're giant, burly vikings who drink ale, brawl with each other, and hunt animals twice their size. Their land is reminiscent of Skyrim, made up of jagged mountains, fjords, hot springs, and glaciers. They're all great, though; the game's lore is rich, and fantasy cliches are usually given some twist to keep things interesting. If your PC can run the game at high graphics settings, you're in for a treat. The art style is wonderful, and there's always some stunning new vista or piece of architecture to stare slack-jawed at. The capital cities in particular are a visual highlight, especially Rata Sum, home of the tiny asura.
In order to distance themselves from World of Warcraft, a few expected features have been left out. There are no mounts, but you can increase your movement speed with boons and gear. You can't fight other players in duels outside of the PVP 'World versus World' mode, nor can you 'inspect' them to see where they got that fancy hat or those fetching pantaloons. Honestly, we miss all of these things. It's good that ArenaNet are trying to carve their own niche in the genre, but we're so used to these things now that the omission feels glaring. Fans have been vocal, both in favour of and against these features, so perhaps we'll see them integrated in future updates. That's the beauty of MMOs; they're able to constantly evolve and mutate.
So the interface could be more customisable, and it's sometimes hard to see what the hell is going on in crowded PVP matches and world events, but for a launch MMO, Guild Wars 2 is incredibly polished and robust. Many hardcore MMO players are proclaiming it the saviour of the genre, but we'll have to wait for the launch excitement to cool down, and another fifty or so hours of play, to decide whether that's true or not. It's easy to get caught up in the buzz.
But what is true is that