By – Mike Bezek

Guild Wars 2 Review

Guild Wars 2: The Journey is an ongoing article similar to Stuart Young’s Online Backpacker series, but with a persistent review built in. Join me now as I chronicle my adventures in Tyria.

There was once a time where I was clean, unobstructed by the time-sink galaxies where dwarves, elves, and other anthropomorphic races battled for supremacy over mystical valleys. In 2005, on a cold February day, my Adobe Illustrator instructor shuffled over to me with a grin locked into his face like a giddy school child wanting to show off his GameBoy collection (a look so reminiscent to me as I was said child in 1st grade Show and Tell). He slid a disc onto my desk in the most clandestine manner, one that would make you think he had spent some time on the lower West side of Philadelphia hustling assorted narcotics. “Kil’Jaeden, Horde, see you there” he said and quietly walked away sporting the same unassuming grin before he decided to turn my gaming world upside down. That night, I nonchalantly loaded a disc which would start an 8 year journey that would find me hopping to other clones of World of Warcraft in order to sate the need for adventure.

In spite of my efforts to find a game that held the same cathartic sense of stepping into a believable, enthralling environment that would constantly evoke the unreasonable notion to, “stay for just 10 more minutes”, I had somehow missed the original Guild Wars. I hopped from WoW, to Rift, to TERA, and a few other assorted MMOs in my spotty career, but none gave me the same feeling of virtual enrapturement that WoW did back in 2004. As cliche as it may sound, MMOs seem to occupy the pleasure center of the brain that constantly demands the replication of, “that first high”, thus evoking the recovering addict schtick that most of us writers like to employ. Luckily after 6 long years of searching, on August 25, 2012, Guild Wars 2 managed to fill that almost unobtainable attribute creating a world that stayed in my mind every second after I clicked the “Exit To Desktop” button. A world where not only do you want to pursue the storyline, but simply walk around and behold the lay of the land because it is so intriguing. A world that would take regalistic residence in my mind among experiences like Half-Life, Bioshock, and Bastion.

This is my journey.

Guild Wars 2 Review

Guild Wars 2 starts off very different from most MMOs these days. There isn’t a multi-million dollar state of the art movie extolling the characters and world. No, ArenaNet has chosen to tell their story, and model their game, based on splashes of paint that encompass almost every facet of the design. Each race has a hand-painted introduction that presents their stories like true lore, resembling illustrations placed in an old tome. Scenes seem to build one stroke at a time, showing the incredible vision of art director Daniel Docieu.

Being a pretty big SRPG fan, I decided to model my character after Mustadio Bunansa of Final Fantasy Tactics fame. After choosing my race: Human, and class: Engineer, I was presented with one of the deepest character customization screens I have ever seen in an MMO.  While heavy customization is nothing new to the gaming world, having such an extensive customizable character in an MMO is virtually unheard of. Everything from height, the bridge of your nose, the color of your eyes, to the jut of you chin is under your full control.

After spending an hour just a few minutes customizing my dashing hero, I am given the opportunity to determine the background of my character. One thing that almost all MMOs suffer from is a lack of character individuality, or any type of notability. In the Guild Wars universe, every character you create is given a choice of his economic background, religious beliefs, and their approach to battle. This drives home the fact that ArenaNet wants to give each and every player a unique experience that connects them to their character in a personal way, rather than just being just another unimportant vehicle in the games storyline. Instead of tasking the player with “Here, do this because I said so” as per tradition, they are rather asked, “Do this, because this is your story and you are compelled to do so”.

After the opening cinematic, I am immediately thrust into a world that does not require me to understand massive amounts or lore, or introduces characters that I would not understand their aim without having played previous iterations. The reason WoW succeeded so well in its launch is because the world was so accessible, this is doubly emulated in Guild Wars 2. Key players in your characters story are slowly introduced, and the backstory of Tyria and it’s kingdoms gradually seeps into the storyline, which is also chronicled in a very helpful story tab that keeps you up to speed at all times.

Guild Wars 2 Review

Upon entering the game, I find out from a nearby NPC the village of Shaemoor is under attack by centaurs, and I should seek information at the nearby inn on how I can assist the defence effort. The first thing noticeable, and what I will hold as the best aspect of Guild Wars 2, is that I acquired this task not by right-clicking and reading a wall of text. It was done by simply overhearing this nearby villager shout to the masses, begging someone to help him. The quest is then logged into my journal and a destination marker is placed on my minimap, which is dynamic and will adjust to your relative position to a quest giver. The world map is undeniably the most detailed and easy to understand in-game navigation I have ever had the pleasure of using. Areas are plainly laid out with only vital information while also providing more detailed information the closer you scroll in. Yes, a world map that you can pan and zoom in on, how sweet it is.

After making my way to the inn, the game switches over to a “face-to-face” conversation mode with fully voiced scenes from top tier voice talent. Nolan North, most notably known for voicing Nathan Drake from the Uncharted series, provides the voice for the male Human race. He once again proves why he is one of, if not the, most desirable male voice talent in the industry by delivering a pitch-perfect performance consistently throughout the entire experience. Other notable names join the fray, like Steve Blum (Cowboy Bebop, Bulletstorm), and Felicia Day (The Guild) to provide a rich and engaging audio experience no matter which race you choose to go with.

Perhaps one of the biggest names in the game is the famed composer Jeremy Soule. From his small beginnings devising the soundtrack to Secret Of Evermore for the SNES, to the magnum-opus that is Skyrim, his ability to capture the sense of adventure in audio form is simply unmatched. It couples perfectly with a game that begs the player to explore every nook and cranny of its vast landscape.

But back to my little adventure.

Upon being tasked with defending the local garrison from centaurs, I immediately make my way to the objective which is very clearly marked out for me on the minimap. When I reach my destination, other players were already engaged in an all-out war with unending hordes of centaurs. My old self would have naturally gone into Local Chat and asked for an invite to the group, but not here. Groups are automatically “assembled” by simply taking part in an objective. There is no need to join a fixed collection of characters as you will receive experience, Karma (a type of currency) and gold dependent on your level of contribution to the group, whether it be healing of damage output. There is even a Bronze, Silver, or Gold medal that pops up on your screen to congratulate you on your accomplishment. All you need to do is enter the general area where an event is taking place, and a convenient objective with full quest details will temporarily pin itself to your Task Bar until you either complete it, or leave the effective area.

Guild Wars 2 Review

If these improvements to the genre aren’t enough for you, allow me to let you in on another wonderful feature: everyone gets loot. That’s right, as long as you make a generous contribution to the collective effort, you will be rewarded. Read that sentence again and think about how many times you fought Illidan or The Lich King with only a guild screenshot to commemorate your efforts. Yeah, now you’re getting it.

Yet the ultimate test here, and for any MMO, is the combat system. No matter how much I want to believe every developer who promises to provide an experience that transcends WoW’s “whack a mole” combat philosophy, I have been let down one too many times to believe any of that rabble anymore. But my cynical mind has been brutally brushed aside by GW2’s action-based combat that relies on skill rather than simply outgearing your opponents. All too often I found that the gap between high-ranked PvP and PvE players in MMOs was widened by numbers and positive affixes.

Combat is based on a new breed of strategy and skill: positioning, aim and timing. Players will need to actively face their character in the relative position of their target. For example, my Engineer has an attack in Shotgun proficiency which does damage relative to the position and distance of the target. If I am facing the wrong way and engage the attack, it will still fire off, but I will blow my cooldown and shoot into thin air. Gone are the days of characters shooting arrows at obscene, unrealistic angles simply because they only have to be facing a certain 90 degree slice of a 360 degree circle to allow them to attack a target.

Guild Wars 2 Review

Dodging is also a very big part of combat, players will constantly be moving and leaping out of the way of power attacks and other assorted area of effect skills used against them. Careful management of movement impairing skills and your dodge meter (which recharges continuously after being used) can allow a player to take on higher level monsters simply on skill and persistence alone. I am from the camp that believes gear should not rule every aspect of an MMOs experience, and Guild Wars 2 allows people like myself to develop strategies based on skill rather than numbers.  Normalization is a very key element in the game, no matter how much you achieve in the game in terms of gear or level, everyone is on an equal playing field in every aspect of the game. This breeds healthy competition and erases the have and have not ideology that runs rampant in most MMOs.

Once my ragtag group of adventurers had defeated the initial onslaught of centaurs, we all chased down a powerful chieftain who was making a hasty escape across the bridge to the safety of his nearby camp. As our group crested the hill, the chieftain paused and summoned a massive rock elemental in an attempt to finish us off.

A collective “Holy s***” (The profanity filter is on by default) filled the General chat as this colossal rock elemental towered over our group of twenty as if we were ants. Traditionally, large monsters are reserved for players who spend hours upon hours grinding end-game content in other MMOs, but GW2 makes epic experiences like this available at level one. It may be obvious to some, but at this point that if you are not running your machine at the recommended level that ArenaNet has put forth, you are going to experience some slowdown during these massive showdowns that are quite common. (As a side note, I stay above 50FPS 95% of the time at my current setup. Details are at the end of this article).

Guild Wars 2 Review

After battling with the huge creature for a few minutes, he eventually goes down under our collective efforts, as juvenile as they were. Skills were once again unlocked, rewards were doled out, and virtual high-fives were had.

But there was more.

In his glorious firework display of death, our friendly rock elemental decided to attempt to blow us back to the resting place of The Six by detonating himself upon defeat. I later awaken to find myself in an infirmary, attempting to piece together the events that had transpired since my untimely collapse on the battlefield. Apparently in my heroic efforts for Queensdale, the Human home country, I had become the Hero Of Shaemoor, and would be referred to as such for here on out.

What lies before me now is the unending possibilities that are immediately available from this point forward. Limitations in Guild Wars 2 is only placed on the player by none other then the player himself.

By the way, did I mention this was only the first 20 minutes of the game?

System Specs:

Current level as of 8/28/12: 14

Processor: Core i3 3.2GHz Sandy Bridge

GPU: HIS ATi Radeon 7770 HD

RAM: 8GB Ripjaws

Sound: THX Onboard Sound Studio

OS: Windows 7 x64

Next time we will be looking at the finer details of Guild Wars 2, such as PvP, crafting, the rewards system, and map completion. See you there!

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