Guild Wars 2 Revisited

I recently started playing Guild Wars 2 again after a long layoff. The announcement of Path of Fire, the new expansion, due September 22nd, got my attention. Since I last logged in a few years back, there has been a new expansion, Heart of Thorns. When it was announced, I was not too thrilled. The idea of plant-based enemies excited me about as much as a panda based expansion for World of Warcraft. As with Mists of Pandaria, turns out it was me that missed out.

Heart of Thorns is one of the most atmospheric expansions to an MMO I can remember. It takes Guild Wars 2’s tradition of doing things very differently and runs with it. You are part of an airship fleet wiped out by the power of the god-like dragon and dropped into a sweltering jungle that is, in many places, both sentient and hostile. It’s beautifully done– you are suddenly at war, in a place where the environment is quite literally your enemy. In Verdant Brink, the first major zone you hit, you find yourself cycling between a day cycle, where things are relatively calm, and you can go about your adventurous business, relatively unmolested and a night cycle where suddenly every hub is under siege by the minions of Mordremoth, the aforementioned Jungle Dragon and you can run into marauding raiding parties on every trail and back road.

(My charr warrior poses moodily on a rocky outcrop at night. All the screenshots are a bit murky because I took them just now for this post and it was the night cycle.)

The quest hubs, the Pact bases, are under siege and you spend quite a lot of time simply defending them, trying to stop them from being overrun or taking them back if they have been captured. It’s a simple and very effective device that immediately makes clear that you are in a different setting from the standard MMO one. Adding to this is the fact that the jungle is a multilayered three-dimensional environment. You can climb up those massive trees and find yourself in a different layer, the canopy of the forest, where you can find the wreckage of the crashed fleet. You can go down to the roots and gulleys or fall into dark chasms at the bottom of which billows poison gas.

As you push on into the new zones like Auric Basin, you encounter the Exalted and the lost city of Tarir. This is one of the most beautiful environments I have seen in a game, a vast golden city lost in the jungle, defended by glowing armoured floating robot-mechs. Some of the scenarios let you pilot these.

Guild Wars has always had a tendency to do things differently from other games. This expansion sees no raising of the level cap. Instead, there’s a sort of sideways progression that sees you mastering new skills that will prove very useful in the jungle– the local languages, the ability to use the local mushrooms to increase your speed or your ability to get around, and, most visually attractive and game-play appealing, hang-gliding. This is a novel take on the flying found in other MMOs. Basically, you can glide, losing altitude as you go until eventually you stall and drop. With the right skills, you can catch updrafts and lift yourself into the air. It works brilliantly and it provides a useful way of moving around the huge three-dimensional environments and sometimes outrunning your most persistent hunters. I’ve lost a lot of very determined pursuers by launching myself from the canopy or a cliff-edge.

I find the combat system very enjoyable. It is easy to understand and difficult to master. It relies a lot on moving and dodging, which makes you (very) temporarily invulnerable if you time it right. Character generation is flexible, you can retool your build at pretty much any time you’re not in combat. You can teleport instantly to any waypoint you have already found. This saves a lot of time and helps maximise your involvement with the fun parts of the game rather than forcing you to slog across country and grind your way to success.

Another interesting development is that there’s not much traditional questing. Instead, there are lots of open world events that bear some resemblance in scale and difficulty to dungeon bosses in other games. I’ve often found myself stumbling into one of these by accident while exploring the map, and getting my share of the spoils when I joined in. What’s nice is that you don’t need to be invited into a party or ask to join. If you take part in the action, you’re in. That’s not to say there are not advantages to grouping up, it’s just you don’t have to.

The community is impressively helpful and for the most part friendly. I suspect this may have something to do with the fact that the game was set up to be cooperative from hour zero, day one. There was no kill-tagging and you actually get experience points for reviving any dead players you find in your travels, and anyone can rez other characters, all you have to do is choose to do so. These are little things but they affect the culture of a game. I’ve often found myself helping out other players because I could, and being rezzed by passing strangers when things have gone horribly wrong, which given my long absence from the game, they often do.

I must confess to very much enjoying Guild Wars 2 and looking forward to Path of Fire.


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Comments

  1. I’ve never played Guild Wars, but I have to admit I love the Jeremy Soule soundtracks. Excellent background writing music.

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