Guild Wars 2

"Thankfully, my party was more than able to make up for my own shortcomings."

The world of Tyria is what keeps me coming back to Guild Wars 2. The wide open plains, battle worn cities, and unique races fill this world with more personality than most big release titles. But just looking good wasn't enough for ArenaNet. They filled the world with tons of tasks and accomplishments, making the focus of this MMO the simple act of exploration over grinding. Walk a few feet and you'll fill in another area of the map. Climb to a vantage point and you'll receive a sweeping view of the landscape. And all of this awards you with experience points, meaning you'll actively scour the land like it's a large checklist, and all the while the game reminds you of just how many more of these things you must complete in a given zone before you receive a substantial experience bonus.

And yet, there is a slight downside to this approach of exploration and questing. See, Guild Wars 2 has you doing a lot of the same things over and over again. Though it may hide the MMO trapping of "kill X rats" for a given exclamation point on the map, you're still performing some menial tasks at times. But there are some unique highlights. The Norn starting area, for example, features unique spirit transformations that vary the gameplay a bit. Better still is the Cattlepault close to the Charr starting zone, which I'll leave you to discover on your own. Thankfully, these events and quests pop up enough to calm the sense of boredom associated with the more reserved objectives.

But herein lay the beauty of ArenaNet's design: there are numerous ways to get to the level cap, and you pretty much get to decide how you're going to go about doing it. By giving the player experience for EVERYTHING, the developers want you to play the game however you feel. I've been focusing on filling in the map and Hearts as I go, but I'm often distracted by dynamic events and new waypoints. I found myself wandering off the beaten path just because a mountain looked cool, and another time I ran to the aid of a player who annoyed a particularly nasty plant, monster... thing. And if none of this is appealing in the least, you can jump into the massive PvP component (which I'm waiting a bit longer before tackling). I doubt many players will investigate the entirety of Tyria, but you can't fault ArenaNet for giving you lots and lots to do. I hope that future expansions and editions will address some of the more mundane tasks, but we'll have to wait and see on that one.

Unfortunately, the personal stories just aren't doing anything for me. Maybe it's a problem endemic to the Charr, but everything just feels trite and boring. Each instance of go here, do that, talk to this person feels the same and these tasks can't grab me in the way that a wide open map full of unique characteristics can. I keep hoping that something earth shattering will happen, but, alas, nothing substantial has occurred yet. I may try another starting race just to see if this is a notable disparity in the writing.

I tried my hand at crafting and found perhaps Guild Wars 2's most glaring flaw: the game expects that you've played an MMO before. I had no clue that I had to collect items and go to a unique artisan (after selecting from a list of possible crafting disciplines, mind you) until my fellow editors steered me in the right direction. There is a handy wiki run by ArenaNet that answers most, if not all, of the possible questions a new player may have, but the in-game hint system and guide prove quite lacking. This problem even extends to the main driving force of the game. My time during the beta weekends helped me to understand the focus on exploration and dynamic events, but newcomers will find little guidance.

I'll admit that I was really worried once I opened up the elite skills at level thirty. Only having ten available skill slots means that it's all about swapping out abilities to find the right build for your character. I was growing slightly bored with my engineer, but the trait system allows for far more customization than I initially anticipated. You gain trait points after level twenty, and you allocate these into categories that are class specific. You eventually hit milestones with enough points that allow you to assign more passive abilities. You might add a vulnerability buff on critical hits, or maybe you gain a speed boost below a certain health threshold. These radical differences allow for a great deal of experimentation. I can't wait to hit level sixty, as I'll unlock some pretty significant changes to my build (can't wait to get the Juggernaut buff for my trusty flamethrower). ArenaNet has also rolled out some pretty significant balances to keep the combat fair and sustainable. I'm guessing these updates will come with regularity given the multitude of options available.

I spent a great deal of time preparing my skills and traits before entering my first dungeon encounter. Dungeons act as GW2's answer to raids in many ways. You gather a party of five and traverse an area littered with traps and really nasty enemies (those thinking that Tyria is a walk in the park are in for a rude awakening). These sections also feature the main characters associated with each race, helping to give the game a much needed source of drama. Getting to the end of my first dungeon proved both rewarding and exhilarating. There was a great deal of tactical decision-making and discussions among the group. Careful targeting and preparation are essential during these raids and help to mitigate the more passive MMO experience I described during the first journal entry.

But the best part of these dungeons is how adaptable each profession can be to the given situation. ArenaNet called for the end of the Holy Trinity in MMOs, and by God they seem to have done it. No one was asking for specific classes or equipment setups outside of the instance. Each class can fit a wide range of roles, and the ability to easily swap out skills, armaments, and traits in-between fights helps address common problems with the genre. I focused on ranged attacks and healing buffs for a party mostly made of warriors, and found I had to take the front lines quickly when they were in trouble. These quick shifts in combat tempo kept me on my toes and proved quite challenging. Thankfully, my party was more than able to make up for my shortcomings.

Guild Wars 2 continues to surprise me with its ease of use and player accommodations (the lack of an adequate guide notwithstanding). You can send mail from any spot in the world, easily communicate with guild and party members, and you don't have to seek out a certain person when you complete a quest or level up. A lot of the fat has been trimmed out of the modern MMO, and that's proving to be the main shift ArenaNet is bringing to the genre. I'm still fighting monsters and completing objectives on a massive (though very pretty) checklist, but the ease of use once over the initially startling learning curve makes this quite the inviting experience.

I plan on moving into the PvP and World versus World arenas during my next journal entry. Wish me luck!

© 2012 NCSoft, ArenaNet. All rights reserved.

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