Guild Wars 2 – Second Impressions
Developer: ArenaNet / Publisher: NCsoft / Played on: PC / Price: $59.99 / ESRB: Teen [Blood, Mild Language, Use of Alcohol, Violence]
A further week into Guild Wars 2 it’s time to revisit our impressions of this new MMO that’s making headlines and destroying productivity among a growing legion of fans. Makes sense, because it continues to be impressive in so many little design decisions and balances. We started out with an overview of the main thrusts of the game design—the fact that your character’s personal story is very much central to your experience; that dynamic events and specific quests are the main source of experience rather than hacking and slashing the local monsters; and that it looks impressive and just handles very effectively in the early game, despite the sense that there’s so much damn stuff to do here, you’re barely scratching at the surface.
And so it feels through level 15, at which point your story drags you outside the starting zone and into fresh areas. Aside from the natural shape and look of the environment shifting, so do the enemies, and so do the styles and inventiveness of the dynamic events. How does disguising yourself as a cow and teaching cows some tricks sound for an event right out of left field? While that’s just plain weird, disguising yourself as a Separatist to infiltrate a base and plant evidence is slick and stylish (though a bit of a shock when my lumbering Charr suddenly changed into skinny white dude—the disguise was automatic). Of course, more familiar events like thwarting a marauding posse are common enough, but can still feel very different depending on what other players just so happen to be around when the event starts. I found myself having to ignore a couple of events since I was on my own, but dived into some major fracas when a platoon of players provided backing and support (if in a somewhat chaotic, headless-chicken runaround fashion at times). And as an example of why you want to seek out these events, slashing same-level monsters can earn around 10-14 experience points each when you’re in the teens levels, give or take a few bonuses for consecutive kills, and having help from other players. Earning a Gold distinction by successfully completing a big event (and by big, maybe 10 minutes max of actual gameplay time) and that XP amount is more like 600-plus.
But this also helps illustrate how you don’t need to be playing in your own guild or with your friends to still have a cooperative experience (without the need to actually talk.) That’s in part due to some of those aforementioned great design decisions. For example, every character can heal. You can revive actual players and roaming NPCs, and earn XP for doing so. So long as you’re armed with a gathering, mining, or logging tool (available from vendors) any character can harvest any of the available resources (herbs, ore, and wood). Those tools degrade, and you need higher quality (and more expensive) variants for more advanced (rarer, and available only in higher level areas) resources. It’s a format that makes everyone a hunter/gatherer, regardless of actual profession. The real choices come in the profession you choose, but even there, an amenable switching option never closes a door, no matter how far down a particular path you may have traveled.
The eight crafting professions lend themselves to particular classes (it made sense for my Ranger to take Huntsman, but the other option was a toss-up between weaponsmith, armorsmith, even tailor) of the two you’re able to have active at one time. But in a twist that keeps every option on the table, you can drop a profession and pick another just by going to the trainer in any major town. Certainly in the early game this keeps every option on the table, and lets you shape your crafting future in any way you choose.
What also helps is the wonderful ability to deposit any “collectible” (read: resource) item directly in your bank from anywhere in the world. It makes inventory management less arduous than most other MMOs. Similarly, when you’re at a crafting station for your chosen profession, you can pull items from your bank (split into an area for core (maybe created) items and one for those collectibles). No need to run back and forth from bank to station, just a focus on finding out what you can make.
Related to that is the ‘Discovery’ option that sells itself as cooler than the function actually plays out. On this screen you can plug in up to four raw materials and hope you’re told it’s a new recipe and creates a cool new item. It appears less robust and with fewer options than its promise suggests, though the pay-off for finding a new recipe (and many are already online) is a very hefty chunk of XP, and a huge boost to your profession ranking.
My only other beef so far is with the pace of progress. This focus on ‘My Story’ provides solid motivation for moving through the world and experiencing new locations. However, each instanced event that pushes that story has a level recommendation (as do all the other dynamic and NPC-directed events). So when I completed my task that suggested level 19 (but I wish I’d attempted at 20 or 21), the next event suggested level 22. And they don’t lie. In most instances I wished I was a level or two higher than the suggested minimum to avoid any ‘Restart at Checkpoint’ notifications when it all went pear-shaped.
As a result, I found myself wandering somewhat aimlessly for a few levels, chopping wood, mining ore, even spending hours at the Huntsman station to refine some items or craft pieces that wouldn’t actually help me, but offered better, quicker XP accrual than monster culls. That’s where the familiar grind of the MMO came into clearest focus. I’m guessing there’s a way to game this system, to gather the resources across a broad spectrum that can then be refined or crafted across all the available professions, and spike that experience charge while you feel out the requirements to succeed in your next story task.
But those frustrations also highlight the intensity and quality of the individual story being crafted here. I’m vested in my Legionnaire, without any question. That story has, for the most part, been consistent and sufficiently believable, while casting me—my character—in a prominent role within this world.
That’s such a tough role to sell, but NCsoft really seems to have nailed it. Between not having to wait for key quest or loot entities to respawn while waiting in a queue, or even suffer the indignity of a resource being swiped before you get to it, Guild Wars 2 manages to feel like a single-player experience within a dynamic massively populated world. And that’s entirely the opposite sense to most other MMOs, and even the likes of Kingdom of Amalur: Reckoning. This far in, it’s proving continuously challenging and invigorating, and right now is absolutely recommended for any RPG fans, be their social butterflies or pariahs.