The more I play the new generation of MMOs, and the more I consider the previous and dwindling generation of MMOs, I find myself thinking one thing over and over again.
Man, Guild Wars 2 is a really good game.
It’s funny. I played it on release, but started splitting time with Borderlands 2, my favorite game in many years, when it was released. Then, I had a lot of stuff pop up and had to drop games for a long time. When I was ready to play again, everyone else I knew had moved on so I didn’t give it any more thought. For the next year or so, I tried just about everything else that was out, revisiting some games and finding them pleasantly improved. Then, back in November of 2013, I picked up Guild Wars 2 again and had a great time once more. However, as luck would have it, I could only play a month and then had to drop it again while I went game free for the next few months. When I got everything set up to play games again, I was knee deep in the Wildstar closed beta and delved pretty deep into that. Now I’m back playing Guild Wars 2. and have been for the last month or so.
I’m kicking myself for not going back to the game sooner. I’m having an absolute blast, and I find myself thinking of other games and actively comparing that they are doing to what Guild Wars 2 is doing. I am sad that other people haven’t given Guild Wars 2 a fair shake,for several reasons. The chief among these is simply that Guild Wars 2 is a very good game. The second reason is that the model for the game is unlike most other games out there. It is neither truly free to play nor is it a subscription model. It’s a strange hybrid that calls for you to buy the base game, which comes with the updates at no extra cost, and contains a fairly robust Real Money Transaction storefront. This storefront contains a secondary currency called Gems that can be converted to gold and vice versa. Thus allowing people who make money in-game to still access this content. It’s a really strong example of how to handle micro-transactions in a way that isn’t cloying, overpowering, or completely meaningless. One of my favorite examples of this is that one item that was available for purchase was a gathering tool that never ran out of uses. Is this game-altering? No, not in the slightest. Is it incredibly convenient and something you might drop a dollar or two on? Absolutely. The final reason I am sad is that the game has a lot to offer in the way of game play that hasn’t been picked up by newer games that are attempting to do the same things.
The biggest drawback for the game has always been the fact that PvE isn’t a large scale endeavor in the same sense as other games. The PvE content revolves around large zone-wide events that scale in difficulty and reward the more participants are present. This is further modified by the fact the game “down levels” each player to the appropriate level of the zone and event. Of course, that “down level” modifier is itself modified by gear, and you never lose any of your action buttons. Until recently, PvE content was something that guilds might do, but otherwise only certain zones had events that completed on any regular basis. The most recent game update altered the way individual servers operate, creating megaservers that merge the individual worlds into larger ones. This also included a standardization of event timers, making it much easier to anticipate when events will occur. As such, a huge resurgence of world events has occurred, leading to a fairly diverse way to experience large scale encounters. Of course, the downside of this is that the zones are now experiencing population caps. If you are in one of these overflow zones, there is no guarantee you will have enough people to really pull off a win. I was quite surprised by how complicated some of the events are, given that they are meant to be performed by whomever is in the zone without any real sense of organized co-ordination. When you manage to complete an event, you are rewarded with treasure both from the encounter itself each time you complete the encounter, and a bonus chest you receive for your first completion each day. These events typically have a higher chance to reward good quality items, and the rewards are always scaled to your true level. This means if you are a level 80 character completing the Swamp Beast event in one of the starting zones, you still receive level 80 rewards.
Before I get into why gear is cool and different in Guild Wars 2, I want to talk about Commanders. The idea of the Commander is an absolutely amazing idea that has gotten zero traction elsewhere, as far as I can tell, in games that are soon to be released or are currently ongoing. Becoming a Commander costs one hundred gold, a meaningful amount of money in the game. This allows you to bear the Commander title and places a blue shield icon by your name and on the maps, both full-sized and mini-sized, that is able to be viewed by all players in your zone. Commanders are how pick-up groups end up being led. The Commander announces that she is “pinning” or “tagging” up and then keeps a running tab of targets, locations, movements, and strategy. As you might expect, the presence of a Commander symbol doesn’t guarantee victory or skill, but it does lend some easy organization in an area of game play that is sorely lacking in other games. Speaking as someone who has raid led single guild, joint guild, and pick-up group encounters with frequency, this is a near revelation in terms of ease of use. Having an instant frame of reference for spontaneous game play completely changes the user experience. It makes things like World vs. World vs. World, abbreviated hereafter as WvW, much more accessible to the casual player.
Guild Wars 2 does one thing that I love dearly: they do not have PvP stats. When I say PvP here, I mean the organic WvW experience, and not Structured PvP, known henceforth as sPvP. While sPvP is fun and interesting, it is not tied to the rest of the game in terms of single character progression. Guild Wars 2 assigns gear groups of stats in clusters of three. For example, Power/Toughness/Vitality, Power/Precision/Ferocity, and Condition Damage/Toughness/Vitality, and so on. All of these stats function the same whether you are out exploring in WvW or engaging in PvE content. There is no concept of “take less damage from players” or “deal more damage to players” from any statistic that is present on gear. Instead, if you want more survivability, you simply seek gear with the survivability statistics rather than the more damage focused statistics. This provides all the flexibility one might want, without further gating the WvvW experience by requiring gear that is only obtained by participating in the content that you are not yet geared for. In my mind, there is nothing worse than having a miserable time getting crushed in PvP in an MMO until such time as you have gained enough currency to then purchase the equipment needed to not have a miserable time. This is exacerbated in other games by the concept of rating, which then encourages your teammates to actively harangue you for not holding up end of the tacit PvP bargain. After all, no one likes it when another player negatively impacts their goals and experience by not achieving at the expected or desired level. Without this separation, it actively encourages WvW participation regardless of level of previous experience. Casual players can engage with the content of their choice without feeling like they can only really experience one genre of play because of the different levels of investment in equipment.
Speaking of casual player, I feel like Guild Wars 2 has embraced the casual player like no other MMO to date. Players can choose to gear through WvW or PvE, and receive the same quality gear. An exotic quality piece of gear will have the same stats regardless of if you bought it with WvW currency or dungeon currency. Of course, there is a little bit of a mismatch in the matter of time invested to obtain gear right now, but that’s actually ok. The difference in the gearing comes down to the looks and options. WvW gear has the most common and popular stat groupings, but lacks some of the more diverse stats groupings that allow truly strange player builds. The look of WvW gear doesn’t have that much diversity, either. If you want gear that looks better or has strange groupings, then you should seek out dungeons for guarantees, or world events for random chance. While not perfectly equal, I feel like this is a pretty solid model. What you then strive for is customization in look and skill, rather than pure entry level requirements. Currency is all global, too. Meaning you can play whatever character you would like in order to them customize and equip your other characters. This embraces the concept of the altoholic like none other. The game knows that no matter how you do it, you will be grinding out the cost in some manner, so does it really matter how that happens? It’s not like you don’t have to level the alt and invest time there, anyway. It’s refreshing to not feel beholden to a single character in an MMO.
Another great thing is that the Legendary items in the game are purely prestige items. While they are equivalent to the best gear available in the game, they are not mechanically better than the rest of the best gear available in the game. Instead, Legendary items provide unique item skins that alter the way some skills and movement look. The items all look fantastic, and the prestige is readily apparent when just looking at other players. Legendary items are not garnered through raids or defeating huge bosses, but are instead tied to interaction with the full array of content the game offers. Legendary items are crafted through trade skills, and require items obtained through map completion, gold, specific dungeon currency, Karma, which is a generic pool of secondary currency, WvW currency, and several other areas of game play. It is a long process that truly rewards investment in game play. I think this is fantastic. I’ve always enjoyed long quest lines that result in a signature item that you will then display for status, and even better if you will use it actively. Legendaries also provide a level of flexibility that other items do not. Legendaries allow the player to select and change the stat groupings as desired. This is great, as it cuts down on the need to them obtain other gear, but it isn’t gamebreaking or a play requirement by any means. Like the gathering tool mentioned above, what this instead provides is a high level of convenience.
After playing Wildstar, I definitely feel that the responsiveness of the action dodge system of Guild Wars 2 is an unsung hero. While Wildstar has a variety of effects to actively move and avoid, and the way those are represented vary in a huge way, which is awesome, Guild Wars 2 dodging feels so much better. The concept of evades, which just flat avoid effects, is really missed in Wildstar and the skill in timing that represents feels really good as a user. When you active dodge in Guild Wars 2 you ALSO evades. In Wildstar you just need to get the hell out of the area, so the active dodge just speeds you up in that direction. While that helps you get out of the way, it’s not nearly as satisfying and can be outright frustrating, at times. It is probably just a preference thing, but feeling like I outplayed someone by baiting and then avoiding something is a big part of why I like competitive PvP in most games. In Guild Wars 2 it feels just that much better.
The economy of the game is surprisingly stable, as well. I see fluctuation from weekday to weekend, but the average week to week fluctuation is pretty low. This is thanks to the fact that gold is used in so many area, but surprisingly not gear repair. You still have to repair your gear after death, but all that requires now is time rather than money. Travel in the game requires money, but this simply takes the place of something like mounts. Instead of paying a lump sum, the game instead requires constant small costs for traveling around quickly. This travel is unlocked through exploration, but is then available from any unlocked point by just visiting your map and selecting it. If you have the money available, you use it when you click it. Easy enough. Trade skills take a fair bit of money, but are far from mandatory. Obtaining the proper gear augmentation, in the form of jewels, runes, and sigils, can be expensive, but it is not something that is usually done often. Once per set of gear is the norm, here. In response to this, money doesn’t flow like wine at an orgy. Money is meaningful and seems to retain value. Sure, you can reach a point where it becomes a high score, but it seems to happen much more slowly than with other MMOs, particularly with the ability to buy RMT currency with gold.
The game has also received quite the overhaul in WvW, now holding rankings and tiers so that it’s ideally not so lopsided as your server ratings adjust. These rankings and tiers also carry rewards for all WvW participants, so there is a reason to care about how the fight is going. Beyond that, there has also been the introduction of Edge of the Mist. Edge of the Mists resets every three hours, capture points are much more closely packed, and instead of individual worlds, multiple worlds are assigned to teams. This is an amazing way to level, accrue WvW currency, and obtain chances at gear through randomly generated loot bags. Plus, the level design is SO GOOD. Seriously, the way this map is just plain fun to play. There are precarious bridges, ledges, drops to your death, tight turns, tons of siege locations, and a middle area filled with tough baddies. Plus, the keep champions are individually pretty mean. It’s a blast. I can’t stress enough how much this adds to the WvW experience, as the rotating matches make it so you can get involved at any level without feel you are Rally fodder for the opposing forces.
The only downside now is the trait system, which also received an overhaul and is a total drag now. Instead of just spending money at set level ranges, you now have the option of spending Skill Points, another form of currency in the game garnered by continuing to gain experience, and gold, or completing certain encounters. This might be something as simple as “capture a WvW point” or as complicated as “defeat the undead priestess of Lyssa”. This is pretty bad system, as it encourages you not to buy your active skills that you can select for your hotbar, and instead horde points until 80 after only picking up a few skills, and then buying all of your traits at once to save time. Seriously, why would you do it any other way? Sure, you will probably pick up several as you level, but there are just FAR too many to try and unlock them all through play. There is probably a happy medium area where you immediately buy the ones you want to play with at 80 and then unlock the rest, but I haven’t played with it enough to really know.
Besides that one blemish, the game is better than it has ever been, and this is without going into the whole Living World experience. I really encourage people to give it a shot again and see what it has to offer. After all, if you paid for it once, it doesn’t cost you any more to check it out again. I think you’ll be very pleasantly surprised.