Highly anticipated by fans of the first game for a number of years before actual release, this review is actually done by somebody who had no preconceptions about what the game might have to offer. Alas, I was brought into the game by one such aforementioned fan, and I just happened to like it enough to drop over a thousand hours into it. So we won’t be talking about the first Guild Wars today.
Guild Wars 2 is a curious mixed variety bucket of different MMORPG features with, what I’d like to say is, a good amount of fat trimmed off the sides. Released with the intention of being a “buy to play” model that you could purchase once and then play for life with no fear of a subscription fee making you feel obligated to “get your money’s worth” every month, the game sells itself well to a casual audience. By throwing out archaic features like mob ownership and kill credit, loot rolling, DPS checks and gathering node ownership, the game has managed to garner itself a somewhat friendly community that promotes working together over working competitively.
As such, the immediate thing to note is that unless you exclusively raid or play PvP, you’re going to feel like the game is a very casual experience. Nothing is particularly hard in the game, especially once you’ve levelled one character to level 80 and experienced a good portion of PvE content. Story content is instanced and designed to be solo-able, dungeon content does involve mechanical play that can prove tough for newer players but is thoroughly stomped upon by veterans for the most part, and most PvE content in the open world is laughably mindless.
Not to say it isn’t fun - I haven’t sunk over a thousand hours into the game because I hate myself, after all - but it isn’t necessarily the competitive content you might expect from a game of its genre. And hell, until raids were introduced with the expansion, I’m not even sure people were using third party DPS checkers to see the damage they and their party were doing. The game is definitely a casual experience, designed to be drop-in-drop-out and play-at-your-leisure, with the stereotypical necessities of min-maxing gear and specifically allocating stat-points based on your class thrown out of the window in favour of a “build it how you want to play it” style of game.
Which I find to be rather refreshing, even four and a half years after the game’s release date.
Including expansion content, the game provides you with five races to choose from and then nine classes, none of which are race specific. On top of these “core” classes, at level 80 you gain the ability to unlock “specialisations” of your class; these unlock one new weapon to use completely and promote even more diversity as to how you play. Some classes naturally excel more at some aspects than others; Guardians are very good at providing support as a Paladin-style class, Necromancers are highly skilled at manipulating debuffs and spreading them across multiple enemies, Thieves provide a lot of single-target damage and so on. Each class also has its own skill floor and skill ceiling - by which I mean, each one has a certain level of ease when you pick it up, and has a certain level of skill it can reach by mastering it. Elementalists are considered a harder class for a new player to pick up because they do not have weaponswap - one of two classes not to - but they have instead four “attunements” to switch between at any given point in time. They’re also the class able to put out some of the highest damage numbers in the game by level 80, offer good crowd control and can be incredible supports for parties, but to be good at all aspects of the Elementalist requires more dedication than it would to be good at, say, a Warrior.
Following in the overarching theme of customisation, the game prides itself on (and I’m horribly in love with) its account-wide aspects. Armour and weapon skins, dyes, bank slots and even “Shared Inventory Slots” (if you so purchase them from the gem store) are all shared across all of your characters forever once you have them unlocked. Even if you make a brand new character two years after unlocking a certain dye, for example, that character will have access to that dye as soon as you load into the game. As such, I would wager Guild Wars 2 is one of the most account friendly games out there, and I really like that about the game. It means that the only thing tying you to a character are how much you like that character and their class, because pretty much anything else about them is something you can either easily achieve again, or is something that is unlocked across your entire account. It’s pretty darned good for arbitrary things like making your character look like the pretty princess they’ve always dreamed of being, of course, but it also serves more fundamentally useful purposes. Crafting materials are stored in your bank as long as you deposit them there, which means that you can easily go out and play on one character in the world and store all the materials they get for your crafter character (whoever that may be) without needing to worry about transferring all the materials across. Craft stations also double as bank stations, which means that you never need any crafting materials in your inventory ever while you’re crafting; you can store them safely in their materials tab and forget they exist.
And, if like me, you don’t craft, that means sometimes you’re sitting on a literal goldmine when you remember the materials tab exists at all.
The game boasts a staggeringly large soundtrack, with many of the core songs composed by Jeremy Soule - the very same man that was responsible for composing the music of the first Guild Wars and all expansions of that game. Interestingly enough, while I find the game has some absolutely beautiful music that is certainly worth boasting about, a good number of tracks (particularly any in a snowy map) are very similar to the atmospheric music of Skyrim. Some days, my mood is such that I can really appreciate this. Other days, it actually strives to irritate me somewhat. Certainly the soundtrack to the core Guild Wars 2 content is good and I’d recommend playing the game with the music turned on for at least a little while if you’re a new player, but I also can’t fault anybody that deigns to turn it off after a while, too. You could play Skyrim music in the background and forget you’re even listening to the music of a different game, honestly. The expansion content, Heart of Thorns, was composed by Maclaine Diemer and, if I say so myself, is a well-needed improvement. The expansion brought music that felt more atmospheric and had better impact, and while I don’t mean to sound like I’m trying to discredit Jeremy’s work, I’d be a liar if I said that the change of pace in music breathed whole new life into the game that made expansion content considerably engaging.
As for the game’s story, this is perhaps where we’ll see the most... Trouble. You know what? Trouble isn’t the right word, per se, but it isn’t easy to describe the story of Guild Wars 2 in summary. You see, the game’s story is good fundamentally. It has decent enough pacing, and it does a very nice job of giving you flavour text here and there based on your race or chosen faction later in the game. The little decisions you make at character creation play into what sort of story you get at the start of the game too, which is a rather nice little feature that really does breathe some life into your character and make them feel a little more personalised than the Average Joe protagonist of most MMORPGs. However, there is some really bad writing that crops up, too. Characters who would otherwise be quite interesting are thrown to the metaphorical wolves and practically left to rot in a pit of unfortunate dislike, the scapegoat of poor writing that overshadowed any likeable aspect of their character. Perhaps the most unforgivable result of this is that one of the main characters of the core story winds up being a victim of this (though, not the only one) and is later sacrificed in the expansion content due to being an unsalvageable mess of a character that was mostly disliked by the community - and the developers couldn’t think of a more inventive way of trying to retroactively cure their bad writing than to kill the character off entirely. The final boss of the main story - an Elder Dragon called Zhaitan - also has some incredible build up as you might expect, considering eighty levels of the game are geared to getting you ready to kill him, and yet his boss fight falls unforgivably short and is perhaps one of the least interactive experiences in the entire game. This was remedied by the expansion, where the pacing was excellent, characters were mostly rounded (though two were once again thrown into the pit of death for the sake of plot rather than given any meaningful dialogue and resolution) and the final boss fight felt extremely intense and was mechanically engaging.
Of course the expansion brought along the likes of a raid scene and also tried to retroactively “fix” the main staple that Guild Wars 2 was built around - the staple that you could make any build you wanted within reason and play the game. Raids are perhaps the only place in the game next to PvP where a meta has emerged and people are becoming very rigid in sticking to it. Sadly, this means that a good portion of GW2 players who came along for a promised casual ride may find themselves locked out of end-game raid content unless they’re willing to learn rotations (a word rarely heard in GW2 ever) and confirm to a certain standard. But, while I do think this is a slightly worrying step backwards for a game that advertised itself on trying to move away from those cliches, I also don’t think it merits that much concern either. After all, 80% of the game is still geared towards casual PvE content to play solo or with friends, and as long as that stays that way, the game continues to deliver what it promised it was selling.
OVERALL SCORING: 7/10 - recommended
The game has a free trial that you can leap into at any given point in time and, importantly, that doesn’t expire. Guild Wars 2 is very good at being a game where you don’t feel obligated to play, you simply jump in and play when you want to. It fostered a relatively friendly community overall, where people are willing to help you out if you get stuck or are confused with something and where veteran players sometimes even give things out to lowbies in the starting maps. The game has a wealth of content for casual players to enjoy at their own pace and it does craft an enjoyable if not predictable story for the core of the game. The expansion, should you then decide to purchase the game proper, builds upon most of these good aspects in good ways: it adds new maps for level 80 content with new items, new in-game currencies that are fairly easy to save up, new world events to play with your friends and an arguably better written and more engaging story with actual surprises. The voice acting is good and consistent throughout the game for the most part, with perhaps my favourite fact being that even Average Joe and Simple Sandy NPCs are given radiant dialogue that’s fully voiced (even if it’s the same three people voicing them, admittedly) which just helps make the world feel alive. The music is fitting, the UI is easy to read and fits the graphical style of the game very well and while the graphics are not necessarily the cream of the crop, they certainly aren’t anything to be sniffed at for a four year old game. One thing to note, however, is that GW2 is a CPU hog and requires a good processor to run smoothly more than it does a good graphics card. If you have some free time and you’ve been looking for a game to try out with some friends, this could be a good pick up that you can really sink your teeth into.