Guild Wars 2 was an extremely anticipated game. Released on August 28th, 2012, it had many features which had gamers drooling from the start.
Guild Wars 2 was of course the sequel to Guild Wars, a MMO-esque game that I only briefly touched upon myself. It was called an MMO, however there were 2 major things about it that made it quite different. First off, it had no monthly subscription. You bought it once, and you could play it from that point without paying another dime. The game did have several expansions which unlocked more areas, classes, and quests, but they were not required. The other difference, and a major one, was that the game was only really an MMO in the sense that cities acted as player hubs. As soon as you left a city, the only people you could see were those in your party. This seemed akin to chat room lobbies in Diablo 2 to me, and was the reason I called it ‘MMO-esque’. The game was also oddly limited to a max level of 20, with a clear vision of player ability and gear dictating the character, and not a lengthy XP grind. It gained acclaim for its quality and lack of subscription fee. When the sequel was announced, it caught the attention of many players and non-players alike as Arena Net had developed a reputation behind Guild Wars (also worth nothing NCsoft actually owns Arena Net).
During development many wondered just how Guild Wars 2 would be set up. Would it actually be an MMO this time or town lobbies again? Would it have a high or low level cap? All we knew for sure approaching the launch was that it would have stunning graphics, use the same buy to play model supported by an in-game store, and players were meant to be able to have an impact on the game world.
I was able to get into the beta, and I was pleasantly surprised with my first impressions. The character creation was really interesting. You had the usual selecting the class, sex, and class of your avatar, but you also selected their personality test like questions. The game featured a good deal of avatar customization, as well as selecting the base colors of your gear from the get go. You could also change this at any time utilizing dyes, which you received in the game or bought from the cash shop.
The beta (and game) guided you through the intro quest to the game where a village is under attack. Short story even shorter, you help people out, are alarmed by a bad guy, and you faint, because, that’s just what heroes do. It’s actually a bit hard to remember it actually, maybe I hit my head when my character fainted? So let’s just get to the game.
The game had a relatively stable launch. The game would be a true MMO setting, with players able to see and interact with each other outside of just towns, unlike the previous title. The level cap had been raised from 20 to 80. Skills were based not only on class, but what weapons the character had equipped. And of course, there were “guild wars”. Three faction battles (which were actually server vs. server, as the game didn’t actually have factions) that were fought on a massive map involving of course PVP, and even siege warfare.
Being guided through the story quest took you from location to location all of which had their own quest chains. You of course started in your races own area, but could travel freely and quest wherever you so choose. Traveling through the world was unlocked by accessing quick travel points that you could move to at any time for a fee. Making it to the central city of Lion’s Arc also made it so you could quickly access the other starter towns. All of which were magnificent to gaze upon, the graphics were bright, wonderful and colorful.
There were 5 races in the world of Guild Wars 2. There was the races of Humans, Sylvari (plant humanoids), Asura (little grey humanoids with an affinity for technology), the Charr (beast like humanoids that run on all 4s), and the Norn (a northern/cold based race of humanoids that were a bit taller and bulkier than your standard every day human).
Before playing I was on a Game of Thrones kick and a big fan of the Starks. While 90% of the time I chose humans if available (I’m so creative, I know), I decided to go with the Norn’s, as they looked human, but were basically the starks. Guild Wars 2 also had the class of Hunter, which meant I could have a pet, specifically a Wolf (Dire Wolves anyone?). The problem I had though was that you couldn’t change the body mass of the avatars all that much. The Norns were simply big and bulky, and in my mind that does not make a good hunter who should be slender and quick. I was torn between making a Human Guardian (tank class) like I always do, or an unattractive hunter. But then I came up with a fix, I made a female Norn hunter, Relina Stark.
I advanced through the story and made it all the way to the level cap at the time of 80. The game had several innovations that made it very enjoyable. One of which was your skills were based on the weapon you had equipped. Sword, shield, long bow, short bow, staff, etc., they all had their own skills that you had to develop through use (this was quickly accomplished), and then were also able to swtich to another weapon on the fly to use its set of skills. You class also developed skill points which you would invest into skills to also use on the skill bar. This preset weapon skills and limited options for active class skills (5 at a time I believe) made it so you focused less on your skill bar, and more on the task at hand. This contributed to the roll mechanics which allowed you to roll out of danger with a double tap in any direction. This allowed you to quickly dodge a Giant’s club or a dragon’s fire breath. It also kept you focused on the action, and not that bottom bar across your screen.
Another great feature was one of an absurdly simple concept. Whenever you walked into a quest zone, the quest immediately popped up and you could start the progression in it. You didn’t have to first go hunt down quest givers. Upon completion, you could then go hand in the quest. Guild Wars 2 also had active events constantly happen in the form of invasions or wild animal attacks, much like the rifts from Rifts. Players could actively participate (or ignore) these events, and were credited based on their contribution. There also were no penalties for assisting someone killing a mob, so there was no need to worry about griefing or losing XP. This encouraged players to help each other instead of fear each other, a huge step forward for MMOs when all the leading MMOs had players playing with their heads down, ignoring the community at large as you were too preoccupied for your own progression.
Yet another great feature was the way they handled their cash shop. Normally a blight upon most games as they offer unique features to those willing to shell out the cash, or gouge players by placing key features of the game behind pay walls, ArenaNet took a different approach. Firstly, the store was nearly purely cosmetics, those boosts for XP and other rates were offered. The other key aspect was that you could purchase gems (the currency to use in the cash shop) with in-game gold. Players in need of gold, sold gems, players in need of gems, bought them with their gold. You never actually had to spend any real life money on Guild Wars 2 aside from your initial purchase of the game! This was brilliant! I had used my gold to purchase a pirate costume and some pets.
The game also featured underwater combat, which required you to use underwater weapons. By default, all characters had an underwater breathing apparatus, and these sections of the game were also beautifully done. They stood out right alongside the northern lands cased in ice, the jungles, the deserts, and your typical temperate zones. Everything stood out and came to life on the screen. NPCs would move, have dialogue, and interesting stories and circumstances. With the live events thrown into the mix, another layer of dynamic interaction was added. The world truly felt “alive” for its time, and still surpasses many MMOs today. To further create this sensation, there are many server-wide events that the developers call “Living Story” that happen throughout the year and actually have impacts on the game world, continuing the story-line and changing the landscape. One such example was the capital city of Lions Arch being attacked and destroyed, leaving it in ruins from that point forward. These events would take place over a week or two, and the results permanent. I myself took part in one of the early ones that involved battle creatures on an island. This event only happened once, and could not be redone. A once in a lifetime experience.
Because you could go to any zone and quests were automatically distributed upon walking into an area, all you had to worry about was your level. I reached level 80, but never actually finished my storyline completely. I was still in undergrad and Guild Wars 2 was being used for one of my research projects. I always meant to go back, but have yet to. Guild Wars 2’s first official expansion launches next month, and with I they have announced the game going free to play! ArenaNet has made magnificent strides in the realm of MMOs, and still are not pulling any punches. It will be exciting seeing how the game will continue to develop, and I hope to return to it someday soon!
This article was originally written prior to the launch of their expansion, but actually posted much later.