I am still impressed. If anything I am more impressed now than when I started. An incredible amount of work has gone into this game, giving it a level of polish in the world-building that I don’t think I have seen in an MMO before. It’s not just that the game is beautiful; it is clearly a labour of love. Look at the way your characters head turns to follow your target in combat. Listen to the children chatter away in the background in the city. It’s also that the game is very much itself– the lore is its own, the world is its own, it does not remind me very much of anything.
GW2 is very clearly the work of people who have given a lot of thought to what works in MMOs and what does not. A simple example of this is tagging of nodes and monsters. In most games, if someone hits a monster, it is theirs for the xp and the loot. No one else gets either. In GW2 anybody who takes part in a fight gets the xp and loot if there is any.
In Guild Wars 2 anybody can collect resources from any node. One of my least favourite things in World of Warcraft is clearing the area around a mining point only to have some scumbag drop from the sky and ninja the ore while I am fighting the monsters who were defending it. The people at ArenaNet have chosen not to allow this to happen.
Indeed one of the nicest things about GW2 is that you are not locked in some sort of furious Darwinian competition for every kill and find. It actually encourages you to stop and help. It encourages cooperation.
The dynamic questing system is a refinement of many of the trends of the past few years in MMOs. Believe it or not, back in the day, in Burning Crusade, when I first got into WoW, I used to read every bit of quest text. I did this not only because I was interested but because it was usually the only way of working out where to go and what to do. This was before I had ever heard of Quest Helper or the successor system that Blizzard built right into WoW. Back in those days your targets did not simply appear on your map with bosses helpfully mapped. You actually had to figure out where they were from what the quest giver told you.
In some ways I kind of miss those days, at least until I imagine wading through pages and pages of quest text, but the truth is that not many people do read the text these days. They show up at the NPC with the exclamation mark over their head, collect the quest, do what’s needed and return. If you’re going to have a system like this, better it is done the way GW2 does it. When you are in an area where a quest is active, it shows up on screen automatically and a progress bar fills as you achieve objectives. When you’re done, a message shows up and the rewards are given. You don’t need to run back across half a zone just to turn in the quest and get what is coming to you.
A lot of this is simply a result of GW2’s financial model. You buy the game and then you get to play it for as long as the servers are online. You don’t need to pay a subscription. This means the people at ArenaNet don’t need to find make-work work for you, just to keep you grinding away. (My least favourite example of this ever was the way WoW used to make you walk across huge zones just to deliver quests and pick up new ones. Yes, I’m looking at you, long trudge between Ironforge and Menethil harbour.) They don’t need to delay the epic stuff till end game either, a carrot dangled in front of you to keep you motivated. There’s plenty of epic stuff in the early stages of GW2, monsters like end game raid bosses show up and ravage towns just for the hell of it. Small armies of PCs gather to take them down.
Map travel is a blessing that comes from the lack of grind. You want to go somewhere? Call up the map (push M on your keyboard) and click on the waypoint and you are there. You don’t need to spend ten minutes flying across continent. (To be fair, when I first played WoW I loved this. I loved the sweeping views of Azeroth as I skimmed over its war-torn lands. It got old the hundredth time I had to do it though.)
I like also the fact that in GW2 you get experience for pretty much everything. Crafting, healing other players, exploring. It all feels pretty dynamic and keeps you progressing. It’s a big world too with lots of interesting systems that I feel I have barely scratched the surface of.
This is a game that makes it easy to be a casual player. You can just drop in and drop out. I can already hear a few diehard grinders shouting, this is a symptom of the dumbing down of MMOs. I prefer to think of it as taking the boring bits out. So far I have been playing GW2 in relatively short bursts, a half hour or an hour at a time, rising to a couple of hours on the weekends. I log out where I am standing usually and re-enter the world where I need to pick things up.
As you can probably gather I would still recommend Guild Wars 2 on the third impression.