In all honesty I thought I would never be writing this post. I got an opportunity to play the game last year, and what can I say, I really hated it. The entire thing felt extremely “grindy”. I felt clueless as what I should be doing and what I should be focusing on. I went from heart to heart, and event to event, and would still end up having to go out into the fields and grind random mobs just to get to the next story element.
All that said, I was just honestly expecting too much for the state the game was in. There has been so much obnoxious hype surrounding this game, and so many often times violently devoted fans force feeding the notion that Guild Wars 2 was the gaming Messiah. After all of this, and after reading the Guild Wars 2 Design Manifesto blog post, I was expecting bottled magic. When this unrealistic expectation did not appear before me, I rejected it wholly and had essentially written off the game.
What changed my mind
I really hated the original Guild Wars, but even saying that I own two different accounts from two different attempts to play the game. I expected to give Guild Wars 2 a chance, regardless of my pre-disposition. With the very public beta weekend coming up, I went ahead and preordered the game to give it another chance. Essentially I went into this weekend expecting the game to be horrible, based on my previous experience.
I allowed myself to play the game with a fairly clean palette. What can I say, the game has grown on me. I can’t entirely attribute this to my change of attitude, because really the game is in a much more polished state. Previously most of the mobs were not even properly itemized, so that only added to the feeling of purposeless grinding. This time around I allowed myself to wander aimlessly, explore, and work my way through the various objectives on the map in a much more fluid way.
The Strong Points
This is by far my favorite feature of the game. As you move through the world, and it is a huge one, your level is automatically mentored down to the content. If you wander back in a level 4 area at level 15, you will be scaled down to level 6 or so allowing you to participate in events. The best part of this is that you gain experience and karma similar to your native level.
Auction House Anywhere:
This weekend there were some major issues with the Trade post system, but when it was working it was nice. Essentially you can open up your commerce window, and buy and sell from the trade post anywhere in the world. Once the bugs are ironed out, this will allow you to clear your bags of anything worth selling very quickly. The only negative of the system, is that it is not terribly straight forward, and it takes a bit to figure out that you have to physically go to a trade post location to pick up your items and earnings.
Dynamic Role Switching:
Early in the process, they have claimed to be abolishing the holy trinity of MMOs. This is certainly true from one perspective, but I like to look at it slightly differently. Each weapon set, gives you your first 5 hot bar abilities. Each weapon combo, gives your character a completely different feel, and you can swap these out on the fly based on your situation.
I tended to focus on a sword and board style tanky warrior all weekend, but my choice of main hand greatly changes the flavor. From my shield, I gained hot bar slots 4 and 5, but if I equipped a sword in my main hand, I gained a good deal of mobility with a nice leap, as well as a powerful cleave. If I swapped in an axe, I lost the mobility, but gained a strong 360 multi target AOE. If I changed it out again for a Mace, I gained several new defensive abilities, including a really strong block/counter attack combo.
If I dropped the shield entirely, and equipped a two handed sword, it gave me a series of very powerful AOE attacks, perfect for playing a more dps role. If I equipped a rifle, I had the ability to actually do powerful ranged damage. To complement these weapon abilities, are a series of skills that you purchase with points earned by doing the various skill challenges spread across the map. While there are still very clear tanky, dps, ranged, style roles, it feels like you have the freely to swap between them at will just by changing out your gear.
Huge Detailed World:
I cannot emphasis this one enough. The world is massive, and filled with tons of exploration candy. I put on several levels by just roaming around aimlessly trying to unlock the various points of interest on the map. A lot of times in these games, you sacrifice detail for size. However every little corner of the map seems to have the same artistic care as the main hubs. I found lots of little secret paths, stuff hidden under water, and plenty of other reasons to go off wandering.
I have a friend who claims she is part mountain goat, and she would have felt right at home in this world. If you can see it, there seems to be a way to get up there. I’ve only actually seen a very tiny portion of the map in my roughly 20 hours or so of gameplay. I’ve already seen snowy mountain peaks, lush forests, and murky swamps. The best part of the world are the cities, they are more detailed than I have ever seen in an MMO. They didn’t just get the city proper right, they got the surrounding land, and suburbs as well.
The Weak Points
Limited To Original Server Choice:
This one is pretty massive to me. When you first log into the game, you are asked to choose a server. At this point there is no real way to fully understand the ramifications of this choice. Essentially this server becomes your home server, and the only way to change servers is to pay 1800 gems (which if it follows standard cash shop trends equates to $18). There is a system in place, that lets you play on other servers as a guest, but since this was disabled during beta weekend it is uncertain how limiting this will be.
Why is this such a huge deal? Well this is just one of the ways the game is not super friendly to groups of friends that want to play together. As a long time guild leader, it is always a struggle to try and get all of your members on the same server at the launch of a game. SWTOR had a great system that let you preload your guild onto a server intact, but even with that there were a good number of stragglers that could not be bothered to sign up for the system.
As a result, even with that system in place it was a mess those first few weeks getting everyone re-rolled in the right place. Essentially there is no re-rolling on a new server without an additional cash outlay. This system is going to be a wholesale nightmare for large guilds, and will likely cause a certain measure of un-necessary fragmentation. I know personally that I can afford to pay to swap servers, but not every member of my guilds can. My only hope is that for a few weeks after release they turn on the home server moves for free.
This honestly could have just as well gone as a positive, but it has some rather crippling side effects. When you load into your server, instead of placing you in a queue, you get placed into the Overflow system. This is great because it allows you to get in and play immediately, but in essence it places you in limbo. You are not really on the server as the rest of your friends.
So if you are trying to hook up and play with other players, you can wind up in separate instances with no way that I could find to swap between them. Since this entire system is a bit murky, I figure this is going to cause more than a small bit of headache. All that said however, I applaud the efforts they have made to remove queues from gameplay.
No Golden Path:
This is what gave me so much trouble when I had played it last year. You have series of instanced storyline quests that move the tale of your legend forward. The problem is there is no clear path outlined for you to get from point a to point b. If you were like me and went into this expecting the same basic quest construct as the rest of mmo-dom, you will likely find this as mentally jarring as I did.
Guild Wars 2 essentially is a sandbox, much the same way as Skyrim was. Quests exist out in the field, in the form of the various hearts on the map, but there is no guiding hand to make sure you go by and visit them all. On your map, there is a completion score showing how many hearts you have completed, points of interests discovered, and waypoints unlocked. I found that wandering around and exploring, took me across most of the major hearts and events, but I just had to change my mindset.
This is something odd, because while playing this weekend I recognized a good number of the voices from SWTOR. The male warrior voice, sounds like the same actor that played the Jedi Consular. Another voice I recognized as the woman who says “Oh Spanios” during “Lovers” quest on Tython. The problem is, the voice acting as a whole is not nearly as high quality as it was in SWTOR. While some of the same actors obviously were involved, the delivery just feels a good deal more stiff, and forced.
On the positive side however, the world is full of dialog. As you walk through the cities there is often times a murmur of multiple conversations going on at the same time. It really makes these areas feel more lived in. The only place you really notice the stiff delivery of lines, is during the story quests, when you have nothing else fighting for your attention. It wasn’t bad enough to keep me from playing, but it was noticeable.
As the weekend has gone on, the game has grown on me more and more. Essentially I have adjusted my outlook to fit the game, rather than trying to mold the game into what I was expecting from other games. GW2 harkens back to an older era of MMOs, where the focus was on exploration rather than following a pre-planned path. Will I be cancelling my paid subscription MMOs to play it? Not likely, but I will be playing Guild Wars 2 when it releases.
Scarybooster put the game in perspective for me this weekend. Essentially he said that he is viewing this game as competing with the other free to play experiences. When you view it in that way, then it wins hands down against the other f2p titles. The world is huge, engaging, and as you move through it you are in no way gimped for not having spent money. When you look at the game like that, it is a complete no-brainer to buy.
For many players this game will be enough to make them cancel their subscription accounts. For me, it just scratches a different itch. I have no plans on cancelling either EQ2 or SWTOR for the sake of this game. I am in the position where I can do that. I think for your average player, this game will be enough for them. The game is a much more polished experience today, than it was at the tail end of last year when I initially tried it. So I have some hope that all the little bugs and annoyances will be given a thick coat of shine before release.
So all this said, I am taking back my opinion on the game. I am officially “un-writing it off”. I look forward to release, and look forward to seeing how the game progresses as we go through other beta weekends. As we close out the weekend, I made it to level 15, after 20 or so focused ours of gameplay. With 80 levels worth of content, and large chunks of it unique to each race, it looks like there will be more than enough content to satiate us. Fun combat, lots of content, and no subscription fee seems like a win to me.