Guild Wars 2 Review
Guild Wars 2 is a big game. It took me all those months to have enough experience with the game in order to properly judge it. And here is my judgment.
One of the game's main features are dynamic events. In a traditional MMO, players would be expected to reach a quest hub, collect "kill 10 rats" quests for each kind of nearby enemy, then kill everything in sight before proceeding to the next quest hub. Guild Wars 2 changes this overly-simplistic design by introducing dynamic events, made to allow easy group play while changing the world. And when those events work, they are indeed great. For example, there's an event chain in a middle level area based on an Ettin research site, populated by a human and an Asura. The human is collecting Ettin pelts, and after receiving them he makes an Ettin disguise for the rather grumpy Asura and sends her towards the giants' camp; there, the Ettin chief claims the Asura is cute and wants to take her as his bride. After freeing the NPC and escorting her back to the research site, players watch as she builds an Ettin-killing golem to get revenge on her fellow human researcher; but the golem runs out of control, forcing players to shut it down. It's a little side story with beginning, middle and end, although players are free to join at any step within the event. Some other events are great by changing the world: in the Sylvari starting area, there is a village of hostile Hylek that become friendly once an event is finished, opening an entire new outpost, with merchants and other services.
Unfortunately, many events are not that interesting, having no real context and making no change in the world. There's an event in the Norn starter area that consists of "kill nameless and random NPC X", without any story or impact on the world; and to make things worse, this event appears to be in a 2 minutes timer, so it basically keeps repeating over and over and over. Orr is especially guilty of this: while the high level areas do have meta-events that change the world a little bit and have a context in the game's lore, most events there are both meaningless and futile, making players just escort NPC X from Y to Z, or defeat enemy A, without any real impact in the world.
Despite those issues, the idea behind dynamic events is great. Content available to everyone, allowing players to play together without the need of rigid party structures, changing how the world works and dynamically telling a story. The current execution is far from perfect, but the potential there is huge.
Significantly less interesting are the hearts. Made so players unfamiliar with the game have somewhere to go, and to keep those players in place until a dynamic event nearby begins (so hopefully said players understand that the events themselves are the meat of the game), hearts are basically little grinds. They require us to do some menial tasks over and over, with boredom being softened only by the little lore they provide and by the diversity of tasks available (so instead of "collect 10 mushrooms", it's "collect some mushrooms or kill some of those enemies or water these plants"). When played the way they were meant to be played - someone begins to fill a heart and then an event begins nearby, with event completition also filling the heart - they are actually doable. When the opposite happens - doing nearby events do nothing for the heart - they are just a maddening and pointless grind, much like quest hubs in traditional MMOs (and it speaks a lot about the GW2 community that some people there actually prefer the hearts to the dynamic events).
Linked to dynamic events and hearts, exploration deserves to be considered a major system by itself. This is one of the best aspects of Guild Wars 2: exploration has an in-game reward, and a considerable one, sure, but the experience of exploring the world of Tyria is the true prize here. Beautiful and detailed landscapes, rendered in the amazing painterly style used by ArenaNet (which assures the graphics will age well), together with an amazing soundtrack, are by themselves reason enough to explore every corner of (almost) every map. Adding everything else to find in the maps, such as vistas and skill points and dynamic events and amazing pieces of in-game dialogue, allows exploration to be truly a joy...
...Most of the time. Following a pattern seen in Guild Wars 1, in which the "elite areas" of the game were filled with bugs (The Deep, Urgoz's Warren) or ugly and badly designed (The Domain of Anguish), the high level areas in Guild Wars 2 compare very poorly with the rest of the game. Orr is extremely unappealing: the maps themselves are ugly, they have the same enemies repeated over and over with basically a single enemy type filling three huge maps, the environmental effects are more nuisances than interesting additions to the game, and there is little of interest in those maps. Which is a pity, considering how the great cities of Orr could have been so much more - a repository of beauty and lore from an age past, showing the last remnants of the time when the gods still walked on the world. Instead, it's mostly dominated by grinders and farmers. Which is somehow a better fate than that of Southsun Cove, a high level area added in the November update: no one ever goes there since there is absolutely nothing interesting to see or do on that map.
One other worrisome aspect of the game is how Jeremy Soule, the artist responsible for the entire GW1 soundtrack, has left Guild Wars 2 after composing songs for the main game. So far, the replacements have been doing a good job, as seen on the holiday events last year, but it remains to be seen who will fill that hole when it's time for an expansion. At least the departure of Soule means players won't have to deal with DirectSong anymore, one of the worst music sites I have ever dealt with (I strongly recommend never buying anything there, they have horrible support and their products are filled with issues).
But exploration in most of Guild Wars 2 is great, and I would be amiss to not give credit where it's due: the in-world dialogue is wonderful. Heard when random people in the world are just chatting with each other, or before and after events, the common dialogue in the world has been very well written, and most voice actors actually manage to do a good work delivering it. This is one of our best windows into the world of Tyria, and it's my favourite prize for exploring in the game.
It's surprising, then, and almost incomprehensible, that the personal storyline is so bad. One of the main systems in the game, it's based on interesting concepts: it's ruled by player choice, beginning with character creation and the personal biography, going all the way to providing branching story steps depending on how a player wants to deal with a given issue. It follows a chapter structure, with each ten levels being a story chapter (although this is never stated explicitly in the game), and covering the character's journey from being a local hero to helping save the world. Its missions offer some variety, with one being about participating in a party, another about searching for an undead pirate, one other being a noble's trial, and so on.
The result, however, is less than satisfying. The fact there are multiple options on how to reach a point in the story has the side effect of making the chapters follow a somewhat modular design - the chapter about joining an order is the same whether your character is a commoner who has just fought his people or a noble who has just saved her Queen. As a result, almost all NPC characters are forgotten from one chapter to the next - that relative you saved in the beginning of your story will never appear or even be mentioned again, the Durmand Priory character who you interacted through 10 levels' worth of the personal story will be gone, and so on. Needless to say, this not only hurts character development - almost no NPC has enough time to be developed - but it also impacts the choices we make: if most of the time they don't matter, what's the point? Ironically, the game has a system in place to counter this - a personal instance that would reflect your character's unique storyline - but it is woefully inefficient, changing little, if at all, as we play through the game.
One more issue is how bad the dialogue is. More often than not, the dialogue is very badly written and very badly delivered, which is puzzling considering how much better the ambient dialogue in the open world is. To make matters even worse, it's clear that ArenaNet has cut costs regarding voice acting. Considering how there are 10 race/gender combinations, each with its own voice, most things our characters say would need to be recorded at least 10 times, each with a different voice actor, which would likely become very expensive very quickly. This has been solved by making NPCs deliver most of the dialogue in the game, including major speeches that should have been delivered by the protagonists. The result is a common feeling among players that they are actually watching a NPC's story, while our characters do all the grunt work for someone else.
Bad dialogues plague one more of the game's major features: dungeons. The story mode of dungeons, which tells the story of Destiny's Edge, have by far the worst dialogue in the game; all the NPC "heroes" are written as children, which is oddly fitting with how they were also poorly written in the second Guild Wars book. This is Guild Wars 2's storytelling at its worst... Which makes it slightly less bothersome that it's so hard to find groups for dungeons anyway. The game does not have any party-searching feature, so those looking for a group are left spamming map chat in Lion's Arch, something not only annoying but also ineffective, considering how the anti-spam system in the game soon blocks those advertising. One third party site is being used as the unofficial group making tool for Guild Wars 2, which is a nice sign of how flawed the game is in this aspect. Regardless, there are significantly less groups being made for story mode than for explorable mode.
Is this because explorable mode is fun or tells a good story? Nope. It's because explorable mode is farming mode. The little stories told in explorable mode have better dialogue than story mode, but presentation is still awful. Most of them are told through cutscenes, in which two characters appear talking to each other over a static background made of concept art. While many players have complained about this kind of storytelling tool, I think it's the best possible option for scenes in the open world, where seeing half dozen player characters talking to the same NPC during an important dialogue would be immersion-breaking. What is puzzling is how ArenaNet decided to rely on the same trick in smaller contexts, such as the personal storyline and the dungeons. Both have very few in-game cutscenes, all of very low quality, which is puzzling considering how well developed cutscenes were by the end of the original Guild Wars 1 - the cutscene showing the fight between Turai Ossa and Palawa Joko in the Bonus Mission Pack was miles better than anything in Guild Wars 2 (and for the records, speaking about wasted potential, it's a pity the cinematics made with animated concept art are so uncommon in the game; they are one of the most beautiful and unique aspects of Guild Wars 2).
If the stories told in explorable mode are not that engrossing, do they have engaging gameplay? More often than not, no. Dungeons often have few interesting mechanics, and most rely on the same artifice over and over: a few enemies (or one boss) who don' do that much damage, but who have a lot of health so they take a long time to put down. There are a few variations here and there, but that's all most dungeons boil to, in the end. They would likely be ignored if not by how they are used as farming tools.
Dungeons do (or did, in some cases - more on this later) highlight one of the best aspects of the game: the combat system is great.
Guild Wars 1 had many issues, but one of the biggest was how the game had too many skills, and was introducing too many new ones too quickly; the result was a massive mess, as it was clear that ArenaNet would never be able to balance so many skills and skills combinations. Another smaller issue was how it was very easy for players to gimp themselves - a warrior player could easily make a horrible build by relying on elementalist skills, without investing a single point in that profession's attributes. Guild Wars 2 elegantly solves this issue by assigning specific skills to specific weapons, and having significant less skills than GW1; as a result, it's easier to balance skills, and it's harder for a player to make a completely useless build.
Meanwhile, classic MMOs always rely on a trinity system, with a tank, a healer and some DPS. Guild Wars 1 often avoided tanks, since the game does not have "taunt" abilities that control who the enemy monsters will attack; it does have healers, though, which would often cause some issues (from groups having to spend a long time spamming "GLF one more monk!" to profession elitism). Classic MMOs also often have "fear" mechanics that basically remove an enemy from a fight, by applying long lasting effects that prevent the enemy from attacking. Guild Wars 2 avoids both those systems: there is no real "healer" in the game, as every character is mostly responsible for its own health; there is no real "tank" in the game, since there are still no "taunt" abilities and a character cannot just stand there being healed by others; and the effects that disable enemies have a very short duration, acting more like interrupts from Guild Wars 1 than the classic "fear" from other MMOs. Together, those features are great, but there's one caveat: the community is really bad.
I'll go into more details later, but the community of GW2 players is deeply flawed, in that it's filled with people who wish they were playing a classic MMO instead of GW2. Nowhere else is this more evident than in the complaints about this game's combat system. Imagine someone who cannot understand a game that is not a clone of traditional MMORPGs - such person would see combat as a division between tanks, healers and DPS. Since GW2 does not have traditional tanks or healers, then, this player would claim, everyone is DPS, and so the combat system would be weak due to being simplistic and lacking roles.
Those assumptions are, of course, extremely flawed; however, the very high number of players who cannot understand (and, to the honest, do not want) anything different from traditional MMOs makes such complaints very common. There are many ways to refute them, but my favourite is by using one example. One dungeon had Scavenger enemies who would charge an attack and then knock down a character, quickly dealing a lot of damage and very likely killing it. Someone who does not understand how the game works and who believes it's all a matter of DPS would say the only counters are to kill the enemy quickly or dodge the attack. In reality, the options were:
1. Interrupt the charging animation. Any kind of crowd control works for this.
2. If the character cannot interrupt the attack, use some kind of defensive skill to prevent the attack from hitting. Aegis for Guardians, Mist Form for Elementalists, and so on.
3. If the attack cannot be defended against, use some source of Stability to prevent the knock down and thus avoid the killing attacks.
4. If the character cannot prevent the knock down and is actually thrown on the ground, use any kind of stun breaker to leave the knocked down state and just walk away from the killing attacks.
5. If a character cannot do any of that… Just ask for help. Party members can do all of the above, plus interrupt the killing attacks themselves.
The combat system in Guild Wars 2 is one of the best aspects of the game. Too bad so many players wished it were a copy of all other MMOs.
It's also too bad that combat fails spectacularly underwater. On the surface, when an enemy moves too far from its spawning location, it will regenerate all its health and move back; but this happens very occasionally. When underwater, due to having three axis, this behavior happens all the time. All the mobility in the surface combat has to be ignored underwater, as it's likely that using it would make a monster reset; skills that move the enemies are best ignored, too, since they can trigger this behavior. The result is a very frustrating system that makes any underwater fight against an enemy with a lot of health something to be ignored.
And lastly, there's PvP. I'm not going to discuss structured PvP, since I have never played it. World versus World, in other hand... The mechanics behind WvW are mostly fine, but there's a single aspect that prevents me from playing it again. Someone roaming alone will certainly find a small group and be defeated. People in a small group can achieve a few things, but unless they are just a diversion split from a big group, anything they accomplish will be undone within minutes. Those in a guild can try to coordinate, but their efforts will be in vain unless the world they are in cares about WvW. In the end, the truth is that a single player is mostly irrelevant in World versus World. If you are not in a big WvW focused guild within a world that actually cares about this game mode, you won't really accomplish anything, no matter what you do.
Then, we have the game's smaller systems. Crafting, unlike other games, does not rely on gathering skills, and the crafted items do not "proc" into things with better stats (which would effectively make only the "proc" items to be desirable, and leave most of crafted items as failures). The system works by allowing players to craft weapons, armors and jewels with specific stats combinations, and in the case of armors with unique skins as well. Unfortunately, crafting is filled with flaws. Some are relatively minor: not all stats combinations are available through crafting, and weapon skins are mostly the generic models seen everywhere. Other flaws are huge: with the addition of a new gear tier, Ascended items, crafters are not capable anymore of crafting the best items in the game. More importantly, crafting at all levels is limited by the amount of fine crafting materials a character has; those are so hard to find in sufficient numbers that many crafting guides tell players to give up crafting for their main characters, and instead craft only for lower level alts. I actually managed to level crafting as I played due to having multiple characters, but even then I have hit a wall: crafting exotic items, at the top of each crafting discipline, requires Globs of Ectoplasm. Those are the worst RNG in the game, as they are available only through the Trading Post or by salvaging rare and exotic high level items, which has a random chance of producing a few ectos. In other words, it's actually RNG within RNG: there is a low chance that a player will get a rare or an exotic item as a drop, and those may result in ectos when salvaged (or not). Considering how salvaging exotic items for a chance to get some of the components required to craft exotic items isn't exactly very smart, high level crafting is an exercise in frustration,
The Trading Post is another minor system in the game. In theory, it has been very well designed: it's fully global, there are no auctions, players can see all prices being offered and asked for each item, and there is a fee when selling so the TP works as a gold sink. Unfortunately, in practice the Trading Post is a mess. ArenaNet has implemented a Diminishing Returns system against grinders, so the more someone farms, the less loot that player gets. This is great - it difficults the lives of grinders and helps preventing them from making quick fortunes, which would artificially increase prices for normal players. The issue is that the Trading Post has no similar restrictions, and so the most efficient way to make gold in the game is to "flip" items - buy at the lowest price and sell at the highest. This has a vast myriad of issues: the more money a player has, the more he can make, thus creating massive gaps between players; for items rare enough, this allows players to have a monopoly and thus increase prices sky high; and it basically makes money making a matter of artificially inflating prices for everyone else. It speaks wonders about how bad the GW2 community is that so many players don't see anything wrong in manipulating the market this way, despite how deleterious it is for everyone else.
Legendary items deserve to be considered a minor system as well. Created as the ultimate in-game reward, they symbolize everything bad in the game. Not all Legendary items were ready on release: not only some were missing animations that would be implemented later, but others were simply bugged, and even now, more than six months after release, some are still extremely lackluster. While originally meant to be only aesthetic rewards, Legendary items became more when we were told they would be updated to always match the highest item tier in the game - and considering how ArenaNet has added the Ascended tier after release, hinting that more may come at a later time, this gives Legendary items quite the advantage over everything else in the game. Lastly, and more importantly, Legendary items are just a big grind. They have some interesting aspects - requiring map completition is nice, for example - but in the end they are merely a reward for time spent, filled with RNG (there's a component that requires using Ectoplasm - the RNG within a RNG, as described above - for a chance to get Mystic Clovers; this is three layers of RNG stacking on each other). This tells players that the most deserving activity in the game is grinding, since that's the only way to get the biggest reward in the game; and so, it's little surprise to see players who spent 10 hours per day, each day for 5 months, having more than one Legendary right now despite a huge lack of skill. The concept of "skill > time" has never been mocked so blatantly in the Guild Wars games.
And, speaking about grind, we have the Mystic Forge, which allows players to throw four items and get something else in return. Often, this is just a way to add grind for different skins, by using specific recipes that always give the same result (usually requiring very time consuming components, such as Ectoplasm or lodestones). In some cases, it's one more example of GW2's obsession with RNG, by randomly giving rare skins in exchange for high end items. This is the kind of concept that would make more sense in a loot-based game like Diablo 3; in GW2, it's more often than not a source of frustration that has been nicknamed "the Mystic Toilet" by players.
The last minor system in the game is the Gem Store. After the success of the in-game store of the original Guild Wars, it's no surprise that ArenaNet would add something along those lines to the sequel. It's mind boggling, then, how they decided to make something so different from what had worked before. In the original Guild Wars, some of the best selling items were costumes: they could be worn everywhere, they fit the lore of the game, they gave every profession new armor styles, they were account bound, they could be made as many times as desired, and they were relatively easy to design because costumes did not work as armor: there were just a headpiece and a body piece, so the artists did not have to worry about the gloves of a costume clipping with the chest of a given armor piece. This kind of design has been completely removed in Guild Wars 2 and replaced by town clothes, which: • Cannot be worn in combat • Are often "funny" items that don't make sense in the context of the game (boxing gloves? Aviator caps?) • Are character bound, not account bound • Can only be made once per purchase • Work as armor, in the aspect that they are multiple pieces, so a costume's gloves could clip with a chest armor piece In other words, they are almost the opposite of costumes. Everything else in the Gem Store goes downhill from there. While there are not blatant "pay to win" items, the other things available are basically what someone could find in cheap free to play MMOs: armor boost consumables, experience consumables, lottery chests that have a very small chance of actually giving something interesting, and so on. Not to mention the entire can of worms that is selling gold in exchange for real money. There's a great example of how the Gem Store has actually made the game worse: originally, dyes were going to be account bound. Later, in a blog entry from a former Nexxom employee and currently member of GW2's commerce team, players were told that dyes would actually be character based and sold, as random packs, in the Gem Store. It's even funny to see how transparent that money-making scheme is (and how it's even more RNG).
Conclusion: all minor systems in Guild Wars 2 are bad. ALL of them. While a few of the major systems may be innovative and somewhat promising, the minor systems are a bunch of grind filled with RNG and more RNG, catering to grinders and addicts instead of to players who want to have fun.
One of Guild Wars 2's main issues is its community. The Manifesto claimed the game was for those who don't like MMOs, but it failed to captivate those players. As a result, its community, both in game and in the official forum, is dominated by the MMO player stereotype: grinders, farmers, addicts and exploiters who are more interested in having something worth grinding than in having fun. This is the player who played ten hours per day every day for four months after release, and believes this kind of behavior makes him the ideal player that ArenaNet should cater to. This is the kind of person who scorns at anything innovative in the game and is asking for a return of the "holy trinity", so he can grind rare gear in 50-people raids and then go sell his items to buy mounts. This is the guy who claims that all MMORPGs are grindy, and if you want something different you are playing the wrong genre.
Those are the Guild Wars 2 players. Like addicts seeking their fix, they want grind, not fun. They complain that the game doesn't give them enough loot, not that they want more interesting content. They gather in activities that allow them to farm, while leaving the rest of the world empty. It's a pity that ArenaNet has focused so much on making a game in which it's so easy to play with other people, only to have it filled with people you don't want to play with.
Is ArenaNet catering to those players? Yes, although by now not doing so would be suicide. The result is that the updates to the game after release have only made it worse. ArenaNet has added a new tier of gear, which is mostly a way to add more gear grind; they have added Fractals of the Mists, a dungeon system in which the same levels keep repeating over and over under an increased difficulty and with a gear-based lock mechanic. Even the smaller updates have been poor - remember those Scavenger enemies I mentioned above as good enemy design? The ones that had a lot of interesting counters? They have recently been reworked as enemies who dig tunnels in the ground, causing an area of effect knock down when they rise (no counter to stop them from digging, they are invulnerable when inside the ground), and given a passive effect that makes them evade attacks after being hit (no counter for this as well); their damage has also been reduced. In other words, they have become more of the "low damage but takes very long to kill" kind of enemy which already fills dungeons. I'm sure all the players who never understood GW2's combat system must be happy with this change.
In this, ArenaNet is following a pattern of having bad updates; once in a while changes that make the game worse, such as the example described above, but often updates simply filled with bugs. The amount of bugs in Guild Wars 2 is staggering - upon release the game was filled with them, and many (especially broken profession traits) were still left six months after release. Worse, new updates often introduce as many bugs as they fix, and ArenaNet's slow pace in making updates means it could be a month or more until a new bug is fixed. An update created a bug in which players could do an exploit to easily kill a few dungeon bosses, for example; since the entire GW2 community learned about this bug and decided to exploit it (again showing how such a great community it is), this basically meant I was left one month without playing in that dungeon, while waiting for a fix. Another fun experience was when the update lauded for introducing guild missions was actually bugged so many of those missions could not be done. ArenaNet desperately needs better testers and a better QA system.
Story-wise, updates have been poor as well. ArenaNet is trying to introduce the concept of a "Living World" by giving lackluster story content to a community that doesn't really care about anything other than loot, so as expected the result isn't pretty. It's saddening to see how the end of the first chapter of the "Living World", much like the end of the game itself, is a dungeon that requires you to party with four other players. Good luck trying to enjoy story content with grinders, farmers, addicts and exploiters!
(And, for the records, the official forum is rather bad, too. It's not a matter of moderation, rather of bad design. Like the game, it was incredibly bugged and it took months for ArenaNet to fix most of the major issues. There is almost zero in-game integration, despite how we have to use the same account for the forum and the game. There are a lot of unused areas, like the empty space below a user's name. The Ignore List is STILL not working. And so on.)
Guild Wars 2 failed. By ArenaNet's own definition of success, "Is it fun?", the answer often is "no, it's not". Good for them that the community of grinders that fill this (and all other) MMO are not really interested in fun.
My advice is: play through the tutorial, and then go explore the world. Do all the interesting dynamic events you find, admire the beautifully crafted world, listen to all the ambient dialogues, dig through all the lore you can find; do that from the starting areas all the way to right before you enter Orr. Ignore hearts, the personal story, dungeons, and definitely ignore the "lesser" aspects of the game (trading, crafting, item acquisition, etc). Once you have explored everything other than Orr, leave the game and never look back.