Guild Wars 2 Review: Level 21 and Still Entertained

GuildWars2 has been much anticipated by most MMO-RPG gamers since the developers announced that it was in the works back in 2007 - however I was not one of those gamers. Having never played the first GuildWars, I had nothing to compare it to and no genuine urge to play yet another MMO-RPG.

Although I am an avid World of Warcraft player, I have, out of boredom or awaiting another expansion in my beloved game, attempted to find another MMO to quench my thirst for new content. I have usually found the competition to be somewhat dry - games such as Pirates of the Burning Sea, Star Trek Online, Champions Online, Rift, Star Wars: The Old Republic and Tera have all failed to capture my attention the way World of Warcraft always has. Even during these bouts of drought in WoW I have always gone back to it and discovered something entertaining to do in Azeroth.

Several of my friends urged me to try this game, and while I felt like a sucker for yet again buying a game that I may hate, I figured I would give it a shot. After all, this game promises no monthly subscription, so a one time purchase seemed to me to be a no-brainer. I figured at the very least I could do a review and potentially help my fellow frugal friends by telling them in advance the pros and cons of purchasing this game - a game that for me has been like no other.

Your Story

What I loved about this game right from the get-go was the story. I've always loved reading and as a great reader I've always appreciated a storyline in any game I've played. I love my storylines so much that if I play a game that has a poorly thought out storyline, it often ruins the experience for me. Reading and playing games cover the same need - escapism. If I can't escape into my story, something has gone horribly wrong and it usually ends up with an uninstall.

This game provides you with various traits, histories, and lifestyles to choose from right from the character creation screen. For my character, I chose a female guardian. She was raised in the streets, and has an aptitude for charm. She is blessed by Dwyana, the Goddess of healing (chosen because I've always chosen a healer) and she is endlessly plagued by never having recovered her sister's body and laid her to rest. She has aspirations of becoming a conqueror.

This story I thought was finished the moment I hit "play" however it follows me wherever I go. My main story quest drives me along, and while I am anxious to play the story out, the game also provides many events and random occurrences to keep you occupied as well.

The random events appear as orange text and a shield, crossed swords or as "skill challenges" like this one, while the reputation gains can only happen once, and are displayed in yellow with an empty heart. The green section is your storyline quest.
The random events appear as orange text and a shield, crossed swords or as "skill challenges" like this one, while the reputation gains can only happen once, and are displayed in yellow with an empty heart. The green section is your storyline quest.
New events can randomly show up on your minimap.
New events can randomly show up on your minimap.

Events

Throughout the world, random events pop up on your map and they're nearly impossible to ignore. Everything gives you experience in this game (including gathering, crafting and PvP) but the events give you gold as well. When you are in an area where there is a heart indicated on your map, it represents an opportunity to gain reputation in that area. If you complete the tasks required to gain the reputation, the heart fills up and you are then able to purchase specialty goods from an NPC, who conveniently has a heart icon floating above his or her head. I've purchased many upgrades this way, and I'm only level 21, and the experience is pretty nice too. Don't forget to check your mailbox either - usually the NPC also sends you a cash reward!

The events usually involve keeping up with the circled orange portion on your minimap and either escorting a caravan to safety, killing an NPC and his or her gang, or protecting an NPC or location from a bandit invasion. These are a lot of fun but a word of caution - don't go in guns-a-blazin' as I have done far too many times. Sometimes there are many NPCs to defeat and only one of you... so attack with care.

Hopping into the water not only provides you with this handy water-breathing mask but also provides an entirely different set of skills and weapons to choose from.
Hopping into the water not only provides you with this handy water-breathing mask but also provides an entirely different set of skills and weapons to choose from.

Combat

I'll be honest, combat in this game is pretty much the same as any other MMO-RPG with the exception of one or two fairly significant differences. The first and perhaps most significant is the ability to swap weapons. Before you start "so-whatting" all over the place, here's the rub: each weapon set provides a different set of abilities, changing your play-style entirely. This is very different from any other MMO-RPG I've ever played.

The first and most interesting change I've discovered is the difference between land and sea fighting styles.

Beware: You may be an expert on land, but in the water there will be a whole new set of skills to learn!
Beware: You may be an expert on land, but in the water there will be a whole new set of skills to learn!

One thing I'll applaud GW2 for doing that many other games haven't done, including WoW, is provide you a swimming mask that enables you to breathe underwater. Such a fantastic idea - and, pardon the pun, but it adds to the game's immersion. By "immersion," I mean how far it takes you from your own life. I'd like to think that if I really were an adventurer, I would find some way to breathe underwater. It would make SENSE. Well done GW2.

There are many different weapon skills to choose from - trial and error is probably the best way to determine your play-style.
There are many different weapon skills to choose from - trial and error is probably the best way to determine your play-style.

Weapon Skills

You will notice as you progress that equipping different items will provide entirely different skills - skills that you will have to unlock before you are able to use them. Don't worry, it only takes a few fights to do so, but learning how and when to use the abilities can be much more challenging.

I would recommend, at least as a guardian, to equip a staff for ranged attacks and some healing and buffing abilities, and depending on what type of guardian you'd like to be, you can equip a greatsword, two-handed mace, two-handed axe, sword-and-board or mace and shield for your main attacks. I've chosen mace and shield as it provides a lot of aegis, buffs, and heals for nearby allies. I've always enjoyed playing a support healer so for me, this was the most natural choice, and there are many combinations and weapon choices to match virtually any play-style out there. I found that the best way to determine my play-style was to experiment and learn all the abilities for each set until I determined which one worked best for me.


I should clarify here and say which TWO play-styles worked for me; you'll always have your two weapon sets available. Although swapping in combat will create a small cooldown on weapon swapping, it's great for when you want to provide a specific buff to your allies, or when you're trying to pull a mob without pulling the whole area. A ranged attack will usually pull one mob, whereas running in and dropping symbols on the ground could easily pull several mobs. If you're a seasoned MMO-RPGer this will not be a difficult concept, but it's a great learning tool for those who aren't as experienced.

Slot Skills

Slot Skills are where your character becomes unique. You have several (dare I say too many?) choices for how you play your character, and how he or she operates in a group setting. Many of the abilities are best for PvP game-play, while others are best for damage or support play-styles.

How you choose your skills is entirely up to you. Thankfully there are a few re-trainers dotted around your map so if you end up hating something, you can remedy that fairly quickly. I have yet to do this; I feel that I have much to learn at this point to start messing around. If I was ever to gain any interest in PvP, however unlikely that would be, I would definitely switch out some of my skills.

It's important to note that some skills may only take 1 point, while others can take 3 or 6 points. This is unusual but personally, I love it because it gives me plenty of time to consider what I might be needing the moment I have enough skill points to purchase one.

Traits

Traits are what I would describe as passive abilities and what you choose is pretty important - especially as they seem to go hand in hand with your stats. Precision, Power, Condition Damage, and Vitality, just to name a few of the stats, affect the intensity of your Traits. I haven't yet had much experience in traits but I've already mapped out which ones I'll be using as a support Guardian - honor and valor. There are, of course, many options, and I would recommend giving yourself an education as I did before choosing them. I don't believe you can train out of these skills at this point, and so far I've only really discovered one essential use, but there appear to be many, many options. I've chosen to have my symbols enlarged, so that more people can be affected by their benefits. Seems to have helped so far, but again, I'm but a wee noob.

Heart: the reputation I mentioned earlier; Diamonds are Way Points; Squares are Points of Interest; Arrows are Skill Challenges; Triangles are videos of the area you are in.
Heart: the reputation I mentioned earlier; Diamonds are Way Points; Squares are Points of Interest; Arrows are Skill Challenges; Triangles are videos of the area you are in.

Experience

As I said, everything in this game rewards you in some way, usually through experience. Killing enemies, gathering, mining, chopping wood, making things, exploring - even watching cut scenes - all provide you with experience. I love this. Games that make you work for no real reward always lose my attention pretty quickly and I'm so glad that this game hasn't made the same error.


One thing I found particularly interesting with this game is the video locations. They are marked as red triangles on your map, and are usually places that are difficult to get to. However once you get there, you are able to interact with the triangles and it will show you a cut scene of the area you are currently in. This is not only beautiful, but it also provides you with - you guessed it - experience.

Some Screenshots of the Videos

This game is not a game I would have thought I would like - geared largely towards PvPers, I assumed that a chronic PvEer such as myself would have hit a few roadblocks. However I was pleasantly surprised at the amount of PvE available to me. I haven't even attempted a dungeon yet (you have to be level 30 to do so) and I've been finding myself happily occupied. As a support class that's generally unheard of.

I've heard of a few cons for this game but personally I haven't felt they were "cons." The first is that there isn't really a power bar - no resource management to tie you down. Ordinarily this would mean that you are able to spam abilities, because there is no cost. In this case however, it just WORKS. The cooldown management system operates like a power bar in that you do have to make choices about what abilities you are going to use.

I've also found that if you don't have anyone holding your hand through the game, knowing what to do and where to go can be hard to determine. I wouldn't recommend attempting this game without a healthy knowledge of MMOs to begin with, but I would also suggest looking up guides to help you get through.

A major pro for this game is the waypoint system. For those who aren't aware, in GW2, leaving a location and going to a new one is as simple as finding an available waypoint on your map and CLICKING. For those who have played many MMO-RPGs, you will know how frustrating travel can be - hunting down a flight path or boat to another location can take away from valuable play time. This system is so pain free, I still can scarcely believe it.

I would recommend this game to fellow WoW-heads as a great alternative to WoW, especially for those who are looking to ditch the monthly bill. This game does NOT charge a monthly fee, and while I believe you can purchase some rather frivolous items in game with real money, I have yet to find myself at a stage where I need to do so. It's challenging and fun and provides a seemingly enormous world of adventures. I still love my dearly departed Azeroth, but this game has provided me with the entertainment I've been looking for as I wait for the new expansion. It's a breath of fresh air in a previously stale industry.

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