Guild Wars 2: Second Impressions

On Friday, I upgraded my computer just so I could play Guild Wars 2 and I am glad I did. As the owner of one of Asus’s Republic of Gamers laptops I am now in a position to really appreciate all the work that has gone into this game. The world now looks like all the screenshots on blog posts and magazines. It’s jaw-dropping. The special effects when you use a spell or skill are lavish. When you get a group of people fighting together it’s like an explosion in a fireworks factory, and I mean that in a good way.

Graphically GW2 is stunning but that’s not what excites me. It’s that the world is so damnably well done. This is the first game in a very long time where I have sunk serious amounts of time into simply exploring, walking around, climbing on things, looking at views. I am excited by this in a way I haven’t been since I first got into Japanese RPGs like Final Fantasy back in the 90s. There is a real sense of visiting a place that is strange and different. For the first time in a very, very long time the Sense of Wonder glands in my gamer’s brain are being tickled.

The Black Citadel, the Char capital, is simply boggling to wander around, a vast half-finished Steampunk metropolis built on the ruins of what looks to be the former human capital of Ascalon in Guild Wars 1. Remnants of the older human structures, litter the place, like bomb-blasted remnants of an earlier war, while gigantic steel and brass structures loom over them. There are vehicle parks full of monstrous tanks, huge balconies that give you sweeping views over the city and the surrounding lands, giant statues of heroes that speak of the history of the place. People wander everywhere, players and non-players alike.

The other night I found the Asura Gates that lead to the other main cities and took a brief jaunt to the capitals of the different races and to the Free City of Lion’s Arch. I saw them only briefly but they all appear to be just as detailed and just as striking as Black Citadel. In particular I was struck by the Sylvari capital where what looked like helicopters of swirling leaf carried heavy loads overhead. For the first time in a long time I have been boggled by something I have seen in a game.

In terms of gameplay I’ve been trying to put my finger on what it is that I find so appealing about this game, and I haven’t quite got there yet. I have seen elements that I have liked in other games. Dynamic questing most notably in Rifts and in Warhammer Online. I think that in part its because the game system is different. Both of those other games had interfaces and game mechanics very much like World of Warcraft. In the end, I felt that if I was going to play a WoW clone, I might as well play WoW where I have guild, friends and family, and a huge investment of time.

GW2 is different enough a game so that it does not feel at all like WoW. The combat is more dynamic and the way things work is different enough so that I have a sense of novelty. One example of this is the way weapons work. As I’ve said before you get different skills on your hotbar depending on what weapon is equipped. One nice touch is that if you equip different combinations of dual wield weapons you get different combinations of skills on the hotbar. These even vary depending on which hand you have the weapons equipped in so, for example main hand sword, off-hand axe gives you different skills from main-hand axe, off-hand sword. My Char warrior has settled down to using a rifle for his ranged weapon and a main-hand sword, off-hand axe combo. This gives me the speed and mobility of the sword, and allows some excellent area effect attacks when needed, at the cost of some protection.

Some of the appeal is simple novelty. There is a lot to be said for not knowing exactly how everything works and not being forced to shoehorn yourself into a certain build to achieve optimum DPS efficiency. Right now no one has any real idea what optimum is, and so there is a sense of discovery about the whole thing. I don’t know how long this honeymoon period will last but its enjoyable right now.

One thing I find interesting is that I am enjoying the process of levelling, a thing I long ago got bored with in WoW. I am not simply grinding through things. I am having fun exploring the world, teaming up with other people and going through my personal story. I have not even dipped into PvP yet which was my main reason for being interested in the game. GW1 had the best and most balanced PvP of any MMO I had experienced. There was no need to grind gear. GW2 duplicated this. I’ll doubtless write more about this in the future.

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