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Review: Guild Wars 2

What else can I write about Guild Wars 2 that I haven’t already said? Most of what I have written already in my initial beta impressions post and Guild Wars 2 Primer still apply so I won’t go too far into the mechanics of the game.

In short, yes the game has lived up to my expectations. This is coming from a long-time fan who’s been playing the original on-and-off for over seven years and been watching the development with ardent fervour since it’s announcement five years ago.

It’s my opinion that ArenaNet is doing everything right in the massively multiplayer genre. Removing the dedicated healing class and not allowing anyone to take the full brunt of damage means that combat has become fluid and everyone needs to rely on themselves — and that the others do their part too — fostering cooperation and community.

The lack traditional quests and instead adding renown hearts and the more-exciting dynamic events makes the world feel so much more immersive and easier to play with friends. A straight-line levelling “curve” means that there is no grinding — I often find myself over-levelled for content because I’m gaining so much experience exploring. Add to this the content scaling and automatic level down-scaling ensuring that no encounter is ever trivial. Amazing encounters just happen out in the world, while instanced dungeon content is challenging for a small party.

An unexpected joy comes in the form of jumping puzzles and vistas. Supplemental to the regular content, users are rewarded for climbing structures to take in a breathtaking view in a very Assassin’s Creed manner, earning points toward map completion. On top of this there are unmarked jumping puzzles which reward you in loot and acheivements. Some of these are face-smashingly difficult and all the more satisfying because of it. Seriously good platforming in a game of an entirely different genre.

If you’ve seen any footage or screenshots from the game, you’ll know that it’s GORGEOUS. And not prohibitively so either –  the developers have really worked to make sure Guild Wars 2 runs well even on low-end computers so that no one is missing out on the experience.

The user interface is minimalist with a beautiful stylistic flair. As you can see screenshot below most of the screen is dominated by your view of the world. Skills are arranged neatly at the bottom with a tidy chat window (with easily customisable tabs!) and mini-map nestled in the corners.

I touched on the sound when writing up my primer, and after tens of hours in the game I can say that it’s all the more beautiful with headphones on. In particular, the effect of being underwater creates such an oppressive but ambient muting that if you close your eyes it’s easy to imagine that you’re actually there. Add to that the snippets of conversation going on everywhere perfectly immerse you in the world of Tyria and allow each region to have a unique feeling.

Guild Wars 2 was scheduled to launch on 25 September at 5pm AEST, while ArenaNet had mentioned that servers may be online from 2pm. Bam! 2pm on the dot, the game was up and running to the surprised joy of many.

Of course there were some minor hiccoughs. Some lag in the first couple of hours as over 400,000 users banged on the servers was expected. Let me reiterate that Guild Wars 2 does not have queues to enter servers (or as they call them, “home worlds”). Instead, if you enter a map which has too many people you’ll be flicked to an overflow server where you can play as normal until space opens up — at which time you’re given a dialogue box offering you the chance to go back or stay where you are.

Because of this, there was none of the hideous waiting times often prevalent in launch week for many online games. As home world populations quickly rose and statuses changed to full, players were forced to choose alternate locations to start their journey. Thanks to ArenaNet though, who foresaw this sort of issue and are continuing to offer free home world transfers until populations stabilise. While space was very limited the first few days, most the of the home worlds stuck at Full seem to be remaining at High.

This probably had something to do with the developers halting online sales of the game for a fortnight to limit early growth. ArenaNet earn massive props from me for this — willing to forgo more money for the meantime for the sake of the experience of those who have already purchased the game. This hasn’t prevented retail stores from selling the game though, but has proved slightly annoying for people wanting to get into the game after the initial rush.

Not expected, however, was the trading post which was down almost immediately from launch. The developers couldn’t really predict how much of a beating some of the back-end systems would take when nearly half a million people are simultaneously logged into the game. As a result it was swiftly disabled and has been brought back over the course of the week, with full service available from 4 September.

There were also intermittent issues with guilds and the chat system. This proved slightly problematic when trying to organise a guild of my own. Thankfully, these were all transient and nothing game breaking. ArenaNet have been extremely transparent and involved with the community throughout these teething issues. With constant Twitter, Facebook and even Reddit updates the current state of the game, the developers want to be sure that their players understand what’s happening and why they need to take certain systems offline. They’ve even gone as far as detail why certain players have been banned, be it for character names, abusive language or game exploit.

Launch issues aside, the game itself is perfect. Wonderful dynamic content with a action-oriented combat system. Multiple engaging story arcs criss-crossing a beautiful world in which I can share fabulous experiences with my friends. This is the game I’ve always wanted, not just as a fan of the game. If you love MMO games, and even particularly if you don’t enjoy them, you’ll find enjoyment in Guild Wars 2 and how it’s not like others you have played.