It may not redefine a genre, but Guild Wars 2 offers an identity all its own, and in this age of online worlds, that’s saying something.
Since the days of EverQuest, persistent online worlds have become increasingly complex. Filled with thousands, (even millions), of players, hundreds of quests, and more and more activities to keep these worlds populated, these worlds exist as living, breathing, virtual communities. One of the more recent of these online worlds is Tyria, the stage set in Guild Wars 2. It may not redefine a genre, but Guild Wars 2 offers an identity all its own, and in this age of online worlds, that’s saying something.
You’ll start at the character select screen, where you choose from a few various races, like the beastly Charr, or the plant like Sylvari. Your race affects more than just what you look like; it also affects, to a point, the kind of shape your main story will take on, and what kind of places you’ll visit, at least early on. The customization screens are fairly in depth, letting you adjust your character’s nose, mouth, cheeks, and even eyebrows.
Next you’ll choose a profession, which is the game’s word for class, (not to be confused with crafting professions). There are eight classes, involving both melee-centric classes like the Guardian and the Thief, as well as ranged classes like the Elementalist and the Ranger. Guild Wars 2 also brings back the Necromancer, a ranged/pet class not found in many games since the days of the original EverQuest. Players looking for dedicated tanking or healing classes may be at a loss, initially, as the game doesn’t feature generalized roles. Every class has access to self-healing spells, as well as a group heal, and while the more heavily armored classes provide the most effective tanks, it is at the very least, an option for ranged classes.
You’re then thrust into the world, not too far away from your race’s capital city, and proceed to take down a rather large, intimidating foe, before properly arriving at or near your capital. From there you accept quests given by various quest givers in the world, leveling up and learning new skills. Gone are the punctuation riddled denizens of other online worlds, Tyria’s residents feature outlines of hearts above their heads. Completing the tasks required fills in those hearts and allows you to purchase items from the quest givers, with karma. Earning karma is as easy as taking part in a dynamic event or boss battle occurring in one of the zones, your level of participation determines how much karma you’re rewarded with, as well as one of three Olympic flavored medals.
You’ll have access to five skills based on the weapon or weapons currently equipped as well as five skills that you unlock using “skill points” found and earned while exploring. These can be earned by defeating a tougher than average boss monster or simply communing with a place of power and receiving the point automatically. These skills range from traps and summoned weapons, to shapeshift abilities and summoned companions. Although they have made several attempts to fix these, several of these “skill challenges” remain bugged and unusable, at least at the time of this writing.
You’ll also unlock “traits”, which let you allocate a point into one of your character’s primary stats every level, starting at eleven. Choosing between power, precision, toughness, and vitality affects damage dealt, critical hit, armor and health, respectively. The more points you pump into a given attribute, the greater the bonuses you can unlock, including adept, master, and grandmaster level traits, given enough points.
Dungeons become available at level thirty, with a new one being unlocked every ten levels. These function as you would expect in an online role playing game, you and a group of four others brave said dungeon, battle ferocious monsters and claim loot. Even without dedicated tanking or healing classes, dungeons aren’t terribly difficult, and it’s usually easy to find a party willing to go dungeon diving, even at off peak hours.
The World vs. World PvP mode is actually fairly well done, for a PvP model. You choose a map and attempt to complete one of four objectives, such as capturing structures, or building siege weapons to attack enemy structures. There is also a structured PvP mode, where players can simply fight each other. Your level is set at the maximum and you have access to all skills for your class. This is not only a fun diversion from the normal PvE game but can give you a glimpse of your character, at the max level.
There are no mounts currently, but activating a variety of waypoints within each zone will allow you to fast travel between those waypoints. Several classes also have speed buffs available, so travel time, even lacking any kind of mounted travel isn’t a huge issue.
There is also a fairly in depth crafting system in the game, however, it’s not explained particularly well. The basics are you can gather materials from the world, through mining or chopping down trees for wood, or gathering food from bushes and you use those materials to construct the basic elements needed to craft more complex items. With eight crafting professions available, there is quite a lot to accomplish here. You also get experience from crafting items, but nowhere near enough to make crafting a viable substitute for questing or killing enemies.
Challenge-wise, the “scholar” classes seem the most vulnerable at the moment. I have no doubt this will change as time goes on and the game evolves, but for right now, specifically the Elementalist and Mesmer classes are very squishy and dealing an adequate amount of damage with either of them forces you to put in more effort than the melee classes. While weapon swapping on the fly between two sets of equipped weapons may be the most effective method in combat, Elementalist players forgo the weapon swapping option to have the ability to swap between different elemental attunements in combat. The Mesmer’s clones help, but the truth is, at this stage, these classes simply do not have the survivability and ease of use of the other classes, which is a shame.
One of the nice things about the game is that you get experience points for everything you do. Killing creatures, completing quests, crafting items, and even just exploring the world nets you points and rewards. You’ll unlock achievements for repeating all these actions, as well. Exploring the world also has other perks, as there are points of interest and views, located on each zone map. Getting to some of these views often involves a tricky jumping puzzle, but your reward for doing so, in addition to experience, is a panoramic view of the surrounding area, as the camera swings around. It’s a great way to take in more of the world itself and ultimately brings you one step closer to immersing yourself in varied and often times, eye catching landscapes of Tyria.
Focusing on the journey, rather than the destination, the game incorporates a variety of dynamic events that take place in each zone, some reminiscent of large scale end game encounters, others simple escort missions that have you facing off against hordes of smaller foes at once. Some of these events are chained together and comprise two or more events. These dynamic events usually involve many players and can be quite challenging, even at peak hours of the day. Completing these events earns you karma, used to buy items from any of the quest givers in any of the zones.
There’s an in game trading post, where players can sell any or all of the loot they’ve accumulated. There’s also an option to use real money to buy gems or gold, which in turn can be spent on luxury items. The game can get away with these micro transactions, which are becoming increasingly more popular in online gaming, by not having a monthly subscription fee.
Visually, the environments are beautiful. You’ll notice power plants glowing beneath rippling waves and mist slowly rising from swampy forests to blanket the moon. Sparkling fireflies hover in the air in some zones, and there’s a neat “water on the lens”, camera effect when coming out of a body of water. Distant bonfires blaze to life at night and forests are lush and earthy. It’s all quite lovely and a pleasure to take in. Character models up close are well detailed and armor can be dyed a number of different colors. You can also find dyes as drops in the world, including special rare dyes, so the chance that your character ever looks exactly like another character is a slim one, indeed.
Noted composer Jeremy Soule provides the soundtrack for the game and it is a great complement to the lush backgrounds that populate the world of Tyria. From the haunting themes of snow capped peaks to the subtle but mischievous strings heard in the darkened swamps, the music is one of the highlights of exploring the world. The music ramps up to dramatic levels when you’re engaged in battle, and although these battle hymns aren’t terribly memorable, they do a good job of amplifying the increased tension.
With eight character classes, a bevy of crafting professions, and a rich landscape to explore, Guild Wars 2 is the exception, rather than the rule. It may borrow a page here and there from other online role playing games, but in the end, is able to carve out its own identity through a varied selection of races and classes, a unique skill system, and a world punctuated by symphonies that’s just begging to be explored. Every long journey begins with a single step and this is one journey worth undertaking.
Little details like water on the camera and lights in and around buildings really help to bring the world to life.
Combat is fast and furious. Only five weapon skills at a time being available may turn off purists, however.
Music is a treat to listen to and compliments the visuals perfectly. This is some serious ear candy.
With enough content to last several lifetimes, there’s plenty to keep you busy. More content has also been promised in future updates.
If you’re an online role playing game fan, it’s hard not to like Guild Wars 2.