To say that the fans have been eagerly awaiting the release of Guild Wars 2 would be nothing less than a drastic understatement. In the seven years since the release of the original Guild Wars the series has become legendary, a reference point for all massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) as well as a defining moment at which the genre began to mature; technology had suddenly caught up with the developer’s desire to create huge worlds populated with thousands of players, and yet still allow them to experience their own unique adventure.
Those subsequent seven years have seen much change in the genre. Why World of Warcraft still towers above all else, the rise of free-to-play has been significantly noticeable in the world of MMORPGs, and the likes of Rift and TERA have shown that there is room to innovate outside of Blizzard’s dominance. The development team behind Guild Wars 2 has clearly made note of all of this, handpicking those aspects which they deem to be noteworthy and throwing out the rest. Guild Wars 2 is presented as the best of the MMORPG genre, and while there’s still plenty of room for improvement, this is exactly the landmark release that the fans were calling for.
As with most MMORPG titles, Guild Wars 2 begins in a rather slow fashion. Ignoring the unfortunate (and short lived) issues with the log-in process on launch day, players would head straight to the character creation process. As Electronic Theatre has previously noted on many occasions, throwing such decisions at the player before they have even become aware of what effects their choices may have on the way the videogame is played is an insistence that needs to be brushed into the annals of gaming history as soon as possible, but as Guild Wars 2 is a videogame which demands extreme player investment – expecting you to have multiple characters ready for adventuring side-by-side – you’d be wise to experiment with a few different options before embarking on any lengthy expeditions.
The character creation process is devised as you would typically expect; choose race, profession, customise appearance and combat persona. The options for your appearance appear limited at first, but the consideration that has been taken into account when deciding what aspects of your build require sliders and which only need an option of several templates is obvious. So too is the decision to limited the colour palette; allowing for a great amount of refinement in terms of placement, but not so much with regards to colour gradients.
The choices of class and profession make for some interesting combinations that allow players to specialise in a specific area while patching over their weaknesses. For example, want to be a spellcaster but still keep that backdoor closed with plenty of armour options? Opt for a Charr Necromancer. But if you want to excel in magic attacks and aren’t worried about the retaliation, the Slyvari Elementalist will surely be a more suitable choice of character.
Once entering the world of Tyria players will discover that their choice of character will affect the opening chapter significantly. Without want to spoil any surprises, each race has a series of quests designed specifically for them which can be completed as part of a continually progressive storyline, but also can be dipped-in-and-out of as the player wishes. If you’re waiting for your friends to come online there’s always plenty to do by yourself, before venturing out into the big wide world for team based efforts and group raids. Additionally, Guild Wars 2 populates its earliest areas with non-player characters (NPC) not just to advance the story, but also to take place in battles. Even when there are no other human players in the local vicinity, if there is supposed to be a war raging it will feel like it; there will be pressure and encouragement offered by your NPC comrades. Of course, a lack of other humans to encounter won’t be a problem in the opening weeks of Guild Wars 2, but as times goes on newcomers will welcome the feeling of being part of a much grander adventure than their own right from the very start of the videogame.
Guild Wars 2 follows many of the traditions that would be expected of a modern MMO; world map missions, trafficking for new areas, instances separated from the main map and so on. However, there are a few new ideas Guild Wars 2 brings to the established template, such as immediate quests offered on the map by NPCs in a similar fashion to open world titles such as Grand Theft Auto or Mafia II, and the ability to form a warband of NPC comrades when playing as specific races. Of course, with Guild Wars 2’s expansive map and questing design, why shouldn’t it borrow from other genres? The entirety of the MMO genre is built upon the ideal of making a large scale RPG, and now it encompasses everything from racing to action videogames; why not take what’s good about those genres in single-player campaigns and adapt the to fit within the MMO mould?
The levelling system is fairly unique in the world of MMORPGs, but in truth is another mechanic that has clearly been influenced by the immediacy of console RPGs. As players progress through the levels they will earn Skill and Trait Points, which can be spent to purchase new abilities. Skill Points are typically used to acquire support and booster skills, equippable like any weapon skill and available to use at all times (bar the cool down restriction) while Trait Points work more like a traditional skill tree, unlocking minor and major traits with each further investment of an appropriate number of points.
The customisation options for the videogame are remarkable, offering the player immediate feedback on just how well their hardware will perform with their chosen settings. That being said, even when set to its upper most limits in every regard, Guild Wars 2 isn’t the prettiest of videogame experiences. Background textures will frequently be lacking in detail or of a resolution so low that they are simply a blurry mess up close. Character animation is fantastic, though this comes as a trade-off with the draw distance; there are many times when characters will pop into view immediately in front of you, both other players and NPCs. Additionally, the character cutaways given to advance the plot and instruct the player of pivotal moments in a mission are just as elegant as NCsoft had promised, beautifully animated (regardless of how grotesque your custom character may be) and perfectly presented as moments of significance.
Seven years after that first step into Guild Wars, NCsoft has created the perfect reason for gamers to return. Guild Wars 2 is a high quality MMORPG experience without the demand for a subscription model or microtransactions. This is the answer to the demand that was placed at NCsoft’s door, and it’s a confident one at that. Guild Wars 2 may not innovate within the genre quite as much as some might have been expecting, and certain areas are noticeably lacking in direction or polish, but when taken as a whole the title is a remarkable feat of creativity and engineering. Guild Wars 2 doesn’t rewrite the rulebook, but it sets a new standard for MMORPGs that all subsequent titles must aspire to surpass.