Seven days. 176 hours. Many minutes. That’s all the time between you and Guild Wars 2. If you’ve already bought the game, it’s even less than that. Let’s just say it’s some hours. A few days. It’s about the right time to engage your excitement glands.
Ours are all worn out. They’ve been palpating for days, engorging themselves to an obscene level. Because we’ve played the game. We’ve investigated the classes. We’ve had a go with the WvWvW and saw that it was good. We’ve been teased and teased with these little capsules of experience, when all we want is to indulge in an all you can eat buffet of MMO goodness. Soon. So soon.
But after playing all this time, and having a good hard think, there’s some things that we need to tell you. A few reasons, in fact, about why exactly, and in no uncertain terms, we think Guild Wars 2 is not only going to be a very good game, but also the best MMO of 2012. Maybe even the best MMO released this decade, so far.
Not only that, but also why it might just change the face of MMOs to come. There’s plenty going for it, and ArenaNet are no strangers to massive success, with the original Guild Wars shipping over fifteen million units across its expansions. It’s so close now that you can almost smell the change coming off of it in pungent waves.
So here they are. Eight reasons why you should be excited. Eight reasons why Guild Wars 2 is different, and, from what we can tell, excellent. Eight reasons to look forward to next Tuesday with barely contained glee.
8. The Art and Beauty
Divinity’s Reach, the capital of the human areas in the game, is a city so large that there is a little town that sits on top of the massive balustrade that crowns the obscene gates. The whole thing is nearly incomprehensible, and it’s a small mercy that ArenaNet see fit to save you from that view when you’ve just started the game; you’d be more like to get cut down by the centaurs while you stare on in slack jawed impression than able to learn the ropes of their lovely new MMORPG.
It’s indicative of the care and vision that’s gone into the game’s art direction, a bombast that has seeped throughout the lands to create something that is simultaneously utterly ridiculous but also breathtakingly beautiful. The Charr city is a giant steampunk Death Star, complete with the viewing room with a huge glass, cyclopean eye that stares out over the lands. Lands that are scorched, autumnal and brilliantly encapsulate the industrial heart of the Charr race.
All of this is in thanks, in no small part, to Daniel Dociu, the concept artist on the Guild Wars series, and creator of such beautiful vistas and breathtaking landscapes that it’s seemed a dying shame, previously, that such grandiose vision hasn’t made it into a game. ArenaNet listened to this malaise, though, and decided that yeah, maybe that would be a good idea.
Not only did they bring Dociu’s complete vision into the game, but they also let that concept art feel spill over into all other design decisions. Fire up the map in game and it’s an impressionistic ideal of Tyria when you’re zoomed out; just heavy, decisive brushstrokes giving the idea of The Grove, or Hoelbrak, with sharp white lines detailing the peaks of the Norn area while muddy orange swirls show off the Charr homelands.
Zoom in, and that same detail is applied on a micro scale, showing off just how much they want everything to feel hand crafted and painterly. Points of interest are highlighted with the swirl of a paintbrush trailing a quick circle around them. Even the icons are impressionistic.
The UI has had the same artistic flourishes applied to it. When in combat most of the game’s classes have some class-specific iconography applied to both their health bar and their ability icons. Guardians, for instance, get blue fire all over, telling them not only that they’re in combat, but that the abilities tied to their function keys are ready to be used. Necromancers get a good portion of their abilities, especially those ranged, looking like swirls of black paint flying through the air. The suggestion of a scythe, painted off the end of their staff.
Items in the distance fade, a little, so that they match the vision that Dociu first pulled out of his head. It’s only when you get a little closer that they’re brought into sharp relief, and you’re able to, just for a second, appreciate quite how lovely this all looks.
World of Warcraft is still so very successful because they were smart with their art direction. They didn’t try to go for photo-realism, because they were playing a long game; nearly ten years on now, and the game is still played in huge numbers, because it always looked like a cartoon. Team Fortress 2 hasn’t aged a day since release, because you don’t have to worry about rendering wrinkles and the fine hairs of the Sniper’s stubble when it’s just grey on skintone. Art direction is important, and ArenaNet have gone into Guild Wars 2 with that at the forefront of their mind.
Five years from now, I believe Guild Wars 2 will still be as beautiful as it is today. The team chose painterly rather than photographerly. That’s almost always a smart choice when it comes to games.
There are scouts in each area of the Guild Wars 2. They’re unassuming fellows, each of them just glancing off into the middle distance, with the kind of thousand-yard stare that digs right into your very soul, if you get between them and their vistas. You can talk to them, though, and they’re happy to give you a little advice. Fill you in on the local sights. That sort of thing.
And if you do talk to them, you’re given a fly-over over whatever area you’re in. Points of interest pop out at you. Secluded skill points, hidden away in the hard-to-reach seclusion of the map’s nooks and crannies blip up on your map. And the waypoints, arcane teleportation devices, are highlighted and marked for you to travel to.
That’s the basics. It’s at this point that the beginning of Guild Wars 2’s design philosophy starts to come into play. If you’re cynical, or a dyed-in-the-wool MMO player, you might think that this is the game, quest givers marked on the map for you to do your circuit, heading to each to do what they have for offer and then move onto the next.
The irony is that these points are for you, it’s just they’re a bait and switch, a way to gently pull you into the flow of a map that has nothing to do with those points of interest, no matter how quest-givery they are. There are quests to do there, but the point you’re headed in that direction is because there are other things that happen on the way. Dynamic events, mostly, emergent stories that happen when some obscure marker hits a certain number, when all the right bits of context have occurred and suddenly you’re amid an invasion, or putting a farmer’s cows back in their pens.
Guild Wars 2’s world is littered with secrets, moments that you can find off the beaten track. From jumping puzzles to mini dungeons, all unmarked, something you have to stumble upon rather than just look at your map and head in direction of the nearest marker.
They’ll be wikied, of course. It won’t take long, and once it’s there, a little of that magic will be lost. Part of our excitement for the game is down to the fact that it’s all fresh, with all this hand-crafted content just waiting for a new batch of players to come in and discover it. Guild Wars 2 is a world that is undiscovered, and ripe for exploration. And ArenaNet have tailored for that, and created a world that’s worth exploring.
6. Play how you want:
So you can explore and sightsee, marvel at the beauty and breadth of the world, and slip away from the beaten track to scratch the itch in your travel-hungry feet. But what if you’re not that guy. You might be the guy who’s happy in their bubble, shut off from the fact that you’re on an internet connection, and just playing the game that ArenaNet have made. You don’t need any stinking company.
Or maybe you’re the competitive sort, who lives for the besting of other human beings, knowing that you have the competence and skill to overcome them and demonstrate your dominance. Or perhaps you just like to be a cog in the machine, helping but not necessarily standing out. The taking part is enough. You could even just want to have some mix of these things. Probably, even.
The thing is, that’s fine. No, really, it is. It’s better than fine, it makes complete sense. Why not play the game that you’ve paid for, the game that you’re going to be spending so very much time in, the way that you want to play it? Why should you be shackled to grinding in PvE just to be competitive in PvP? Why should you have to play in a group if, in the narrative in your head (you might want to get that looked at), your hero is a lone wolf, a Conan like figure who makes their own way in the world?
Guild Wars 2 understands. It’s a reassuring hand on your shoulder, showing you the sweet shop and saying go nuts. There’s no artificial barriers for entry, no prerequisites. Just have fun. Play how you want. If you’re a PvPer, head into WvWvW or the battlegrounds and you’ll be effective from level one thanks to a level normalising that sets all players effectively at level 80, and gives them equivalent gear. If you want to solo, do it. The game scales to you, and your personal story, a surprisingly rich chunk of narrative, will be there waiting for you to play it in your own time, the way you want to. Hell, you can even bring your friends along.
Why should a game force you to grind, when you think about it? The only argument you can come up with is that it makes the result of all that grinding feel like it’s more worthwhile, that you’ll enjoy it a little more because of the effort that went into it, but really that’s just a placebo. I’d rather have it the result of a single tough fight than a thousand easy ones. Saves time, challenges me more, and creates an actual story that I can share with friends.
That’s why the world is littered with platforming puzzles, mini bosses and secrets to find and enjoy. It’s why you can play the game as an Indiana Jones type figure, or with a party of friends in something approaching a D&D session. MMOs should be about the social side, of being in a world to be explored and experienced, not about whether you have the patience to slaughter ten thousand boars just so you can play the parts you want to play.
5. No Borders:
I scratch my head, sometimes. And it’s not because of itchy scalp. It’s because we have an internet, this huge global force for communication, unfettered by geography (unless you’re in China), and yet somehow everyone finds a way to segregate it. Shackle it to one bit of land or another, and then say that no, you’re not allowed to interact with the rest of the internet.
When it comes to MMOs, you’re not even allowed to interact with another server. In the same region as you. That’s ludicrous. It may have made sense a decade ago, when the internet was still a delicate flower that you shouldn’t look at too hard, in case your modem exploded, but right now that’s not something that I can get behind.
Which is handy, as ArenaNet agree. While there are server shards, they aren’t there to artificially impound you, force you to play with a set amount of people even though there are thousands out there that you could be playing with, if only you’d picked a better server.
So you can switch between shards, ‘guesting’ with your friends, and playing with whoever you like, whenever you like. You can hop on over to US servers, say hello to your transatlantic friends, so long as you’re happy to put up with a slightly worse ping. And even better, the massive, epic PvP that ArenaNet have tailored, World Vs World Vs World, is exactly that. Three servers competing for dominance over a huge swathe of land.
It means you’re connected not only to those people in your own server, whom you’re pulled into tighter brotherhood with thanks to a common foe, but also all the other servers in your region, as you compete for a higher position in the rankings. It’s not so hard to imagine that certain players will become infamous, their skill making an entire server groan when you get matched up against them.
It’s all part of making the game get in your way the least amount possible. You play how you want to play, and there shouldn’t be any reason you can’t. ArenaNet have even said that, for the first few days of release, you can swap between servers at will, until you find a good match. Once a week you’ll have a free server transfer, before eventually, a month or two after launch, you have to settle down. It’s like house-buying, only here you’re looking for a community that you like, rather than somewhere that doesn’t have damp rising up the walls, or a washing machine with mould in the rubber seal.
And the best part is that even if you do get lumped with a bad community, you can just visit other servers, forever, and never have to deal with them. Like crashing at a friend’s place to avoid your crappy housemate. Only your friend has a lovely spare room and never feels like you’re abusing their hospitality. Best friend.
4. Combat, Weapons, and Swapping:
When MMOs started, they were held together with duct tape, 56k modems and the iron will and patience that allowed players to put up with lag, disconnects and a combat system that was so forgiving that it could take all of this into account and still give something approaching a fluid experience. It’s why hotkey and ability cycles came about, and why most MMOs involve standing still and firing off all your nukes at once, as fast as you can, like an overeager soldier in a machinegun emplacement.
Today, the internet isn’t the same. Game development isn’t the same. Planetside 2 is gearing up for release, and that’s a massive MMOFPS with tanks and planes and all sorts. We can handle that, so why are we still stuck with such stationary combat and ability queues?
We’re not. GW2 is all about movement in its combat, positioning yourself in just the right place so that you can handle the onslaught headed your way. Bosses throw AoE’s on the floor, jump around, and your evade (dodging and rolling to one side or the other) makes you immune from damage for a second. If you play it tactically, it can mean the difference between wiping and coming out unscathed.
This fluidity carries over into the rest of the combat. Every weapon in the game has its own playstyle. Daggers on an Elementalist are all about mobility and damage, whereas a staff focuses on massive amounts of AoE. That same staff in the hands of the Mesmer is completely obsessed with debuffs and buffs, and the management of those. Throw it in the hands of a Necromancer and it’s placing AoE stuns and slows on the ground, before hitting them with a big nuke. Put it in the gauntlets of a Guardian... you get the picture.
The majority of the classes have a ‘weapon swap’ function, which lets them change the weapons they’re holding, which in turn changes all of their abilities. So you can have something for AoE and something for DPS. Or ranged and melee. Or defense and offense. Or just pure damage, all the time. It means that you can adapt to the situation at hand through a smart choice of weapons and placement, as well as complementing the team composition that you’ve come up with.
And that’s all without talking about combos, such as laying down a wall of smoke as the Thief and having a Ranger’s arrows catch a big old cloud of the stuff as they pass through, blinding any enemies they strike. Synergy like this is often accidental, but as you learn the game it’ll be more and more a part of your strategy.
With a focus on movement, adaptability and, above all else a fluid interpretation of both where you want to be, what you want to do and how you want to play, Guild Wars 2’s combat has changed the game’s eight classes into eighty, effectively, with each one having multiple ways to be played, and multiple ways to interact with one another.
3. No Holy Trinity:
Continuing their philosophy of ‘play how you want’, tying into the fluidity of Guild Wars 2’s combat, ArenaNet have done away with that hoary old cliche; the Holy Trinity. In most other MMOs, no matter how many classes you’re presented with, they’ll fit into one of three roles. You have Tanks, who get the attention of bad guys and soak up damage with lots of armour and healing. You’ve got DPS, who are very good with weapons, and use the Tank’s distraction to stab stab stab and bring down the colossal health bars of bosses and elite monsters. And then you’ve got healers, or support, who make sure no one dies, and resurrect those who fall down.
The problem with this construct is that if not every class can fill these roles, you’re going to be left sitting waiting for someone to show up.
Instead, every class is a tank. Elementalists cover themselves in rock armour. Necromancers slip into a death state where they roam around, unkillable, for a certain amount of time. Warriors are naturally tanky, and Thieves can slip in and out of ‘shadowstep’, where they’re invisible for a few seconds at a time. On top of that, every class can heal, and every class can resurrect downed players. As for damage, they’ve all got that taken care of.
It means that one day you can focus a little more on one role than another, but you’re still going to be dipping your toes in all types. Classes have builds, now, rather than roles, and getting those right is a much more intricate and interesting balancing act rather than just ‘some dps, some tanky and some heals’.
Most importantly of all, it cuts out the horrible wait times when you’re trying to put together a team for a dungeon crawl. You can grab four other Necromancers and still fulfill every role you’d ever need to take down those creeps. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve got diversity of classes, and that means that everyone is useful. You’re never going to say ‘Oh hey, can I get in on that raid’ only to be replied with ‘Sorry, we’ve already got enough Thieves.’. That leads to you heading off to some dark corner of Divinity’s Reach to have a quiet cry.
So that’s Guild Wars 2; preventing quiet cries and opening up versatility of roles. That’s a pretty good reason to be excited.
2. Fair and Social:
PvP in an MMO is an odd thing. On the one hand you’ve got player skill, the ability to put themselves in the right place and the right time, and know exactly what to do and how to do it, to secure the win. On the other, you’ve got their items, their levels, their skill build and their stats.
It would be easy to say that those stats give an unfair advantage, and ruin the balance of a fight because if you do X damage and your opponent does Y, the amount that’s higher is going to win out. The only thing is a lot of that is all part of the skill of the game; putting together a build that’s more competent than your opponent should be a factor in who wins the fight.
Putting a tonne of time, time that your opponent might not have, into grinding for PvP gear, however, should not. Just because one player works long hours and can’t spend all day grinding doesn’t mean they should be disadvantaged for PvP. Which is why it’s such a pleasant surprise that Guild Wars 2 normalises everyone in PvP so that you’re not only all the same effective level (80), but your gear is also artificially bumped up to make you competitive.
These factors will still play a hefty role, but now at least you don’t have to blame your defeat on a level disparity, or the fact that you haven’t had time to get the Boartusk Helmet of the Fungus People that gives you 20% more damage. This isn’t just for WvWvW, either, but also the more instanced PvP.
In fact, it’s not just for PvP at all.
The other problem with MMOs is that people have different schedules. Not only do some people have more time than others, but they also play at different times. So even though you start the game with a friend, you’re going to end up being a different level to them fairly quickly. Which, in most MMOs, mean that you’re not going to be able to play with them nearly as much.
Head back to a lower level area in Guild Wars 2 and your level drops down appropriately to the area. You still do a bit more damage, but the mobs are still a challenge, and more importantly the quests give you loot that is appropriate to your level. ArenaNet have effectively made an MMO with a horizontal level curve. Which is a little insane, and a little brilliant.
There’s even sidekicking so that you can bring a lower level player up into a high level area, and they can still have fun. There’s no barrier for entry, anywhere in this game. That’s brilliant.
1. No Subscription:
Your wallet just perked up. You can hear the creak of the leather and the smile of that gaping hole that it calls a money slot. Yes, Guild Wars 2 doesn’t have a subscription, despite being a fully fledged MMO that has an open world and a comparable amount of content to a major MMO like World of Warcraft or The Old Republic.
But just, for a moment, forget about the money. Because as good as that is, it’s not really why the lack of subscription is so great. It cuts deeper than that, right down into the core of the design, and how MMOs are made.
When a developer starts work on an MMO, they know that subscription is there. They know they’re going to be asking for however much every month, and you’re going to have to want to pay that, otherwise they’re going to run out of players, and they’re going to run out of money. Suddenly their massive investment looks foolhardy, and they’re forced into retrofitting their game into a Free to Play MMO. No one wants that.
They develop it in such a way that you won’t run out of content. But they’re only human, so they have to stretch it out. Put a few roadblocks in between you and the game, so that you spend twice as long doing what should take you half the time. Taxis slowly trundle through the game world under the guise of letting you enjoy the view. And you do, the first time you take them. The second, maybe. But after the fortieth time riding that griffon through the game world, you just want to be there.
Similarly, you spend ages waiting for one role before you go on your dungeon crawl. Almost as long as it takes to do the dungeon in the first place. And you grind. And you grind. And you grind. You have to invest huge amount of time just to be competitive in PvP, and even then they keep releasing new hard-to-get sets of armour so you can never stop.
It’s exhausting. And it’s not rewarding for the player. It forces you to always be on the backfoot, always waiting, when you want to be playing. The game is getting in the way of the game, and that’s never something you want.
Take away the subscription, and ArenaNet don’t have to worry about keeping you there and playing. They just have to make the next big installment of content (purportedly one every six months) as good as the first, and you’ll happily grab it to play at your leisure. Everything about the game is designed to let you play how you want, with whoever you want, whenever you want. They’ve got rid of the Holy Trinity of classes. They’ve made levels all but vestigial in terms of competitive and PvE play, only expanding what you can do, rather than making you unreachably powerful, so that they don’t create huge gulfs between players. They’ve normalised PvP so that you don’t chase loot and levels, and they’ve filled the world with reasons to enjoy it, rather than things to slow you down.
You can teleport between waypoints instantly. You can raid as much as you like, as often as you like, with no artificial limits. There’s no proper grinding, and you can play whatever you like from the moment you start the game. Skill is the only proper differential between players, rather than any artificial loot gap.
To put it more succinctly, Guild Wars 2 isn’t about to waste your time. And if you feel it is, you can stop playing and not have to worry about cancelling any subscription.
You can even come back in a few months time and pick it up again, as if you’d never left. And your character will be sitting there, just like you left it. And who cares if your friends are all level 80? They can come play with you and be dropped down to an appropriate level so you can all enjoy the game together. It’s inclusive rather than exclusive, bringing people together rather than pushing them apart.
And when a game is massively multiplayer, and online, I think pushing forward the idea of social interaction, bringing people together to play the game how they want to play, is probably the best way to go about it. And that’s why I’m seriously, unapologetically excited about Guild Wars 2.
There might be seven or so other reasons, mind.
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