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The Guild Wars community collectively held its breath on March 27, 2007, when ArenaNet officially announced the development of Guild Wars 2. The staleness that most MMOs suffer from in their questing mindset is shattered in Guild Wars 2 as new mechanics, vehicles, cut scenes, important characters, and terrain-altering actions are thrust upon the player repeatedly, and artfully so. For those loyal to the Guild Wars franchise it was a promise of something new, but also a continuation of the unique MMO philosophy of no subscription fees after purchase of the game. With the release around a month ago on August 28, 2012, does Guild Wars 2 shape up to be the next-gen MMO it promised it would be or does it fall in line with others that have almost completely sunk shortly after leaving shore?
Upon launching Guild Wars 2 you encounter a very artistic and attractive log-in screen with cycling concept art behind the ‘2’ styled to look like a dragon. The music hits like a ton of bricks and you are instantly expecting something new, something fresh. One of the game’s greatest strengths is being hinted at here right in the splash/welcome screen: the ability to pull the player into their world using every aspect of the game, even the log-in screen. It is a difficult thing, to say the least, for larger games such as Guild Wars 2 to accurately prepare and bring in its wide and diverse consumer base into one mindset through the combination of music, art style, social integration, story, and playability. Guild Wars 2 does it though and it does so with such mastery that you hardly notice any creases in story telling or grinding while leveling up.
Like most MMOs, Guild Wars 2 does some things very well and a few things not as well. The main driving force in this game is story backed by a rich collection of lore that saturates the environment, characters, and motivations throughout the entire game. There are a few notable features that really promote the effectiveness of the storytelling such as extensive voice acting, dynamic group quests, and unique story quests that constantly change the questing norm. To me nothing really breathes life into a character or world more than voice acting. It gives it personality, face, and something we can wrap our heads around in a lot of different ways. Interaction with other players in a fluid manner makes the world feel more alive and vibrant as you can simply hop into an area boss fight and not have to worry about things like ‘tagging’ an enemy for yourself. All of a sudden it's about the event, not so much the loot.
In the previous Guild Wars it was very difficult to do anything effectively alone, relying on teaming up to do anything of consequence was a must. In Guild Wars 2 every character is self-sufficient with heals, crowd control, escape mechanics, and damage-dealing capabilities. This is not to say, however, that the entire game caters to single-player gameplay, the case is actually quite contrary. Large bosses, dungeons, and PvP require teamwork to gain any sort of progress or experience success. PvP specifically pits three servers against one another in a never ending onslaught of point capture, base destruction, and player killing mayhem.
As with any MMO it's always a better time with friends and for most players the interactions they have with their friends are the reason that they start and continue to play. You can make a guild, team up and help each other quest, and generally just tear the world up in a group. The interesting twist that Guild Wars 2 offers in regards to helping out particularly lower level friends is level-based scaling. If your character is level 50 and you want to help your level 13 friend with a quest in his level 13-15 zone, then you will be scaled down to level 15 in regards to base stats and health. The days of high level players griefing the newbies with Area of Effect spells are over. Guild Wars hits the nail on the head in regards to player interaction both socially via guilds and physically through level scaling. There will be inevitably players that find the idea of scaling down their hard earned levels a bit emasculating and perhaps this is going to be a point of contention between ArenaNet and their audience but one things for certain: you can't blame them for trying.
At the core of any MMO, however, is the basic emotion of greed. Every player wants something. Whether it's the next level or a new sword, we all want something to set ourselves apart or give ourselves an edge above the rest. This is where Guild Wars 2 falls short in some respects. Yes, there are rewards. Yes, the PvP is difficult and skill-based. Yes, there are exclusive drops from rare spawns. The problem here is that there has been such an extreme effort to make sure no one is getting screwed out of anything that nothing feels satisfying anymore. Maybe I've been here for 20 minutes beating on this boss but that dude over there just showed up, fired a single arrow, and got the same rewards I did. This is a point that people will not admit affects them but deep down it is unavoidable. In order for an MMO to be successful, addicting, and compelling; someone along the line has to draw the short straw.
Guild Wars 2 has brought a lot to the table trying to make what they want to deem a “next generation MMO”. With the focus on immersion and storytelling, Guild Wars 2 truly is a noble attempt. Did they truly succeed? Perhaps. All I know is that there is nothing but fun to be had in this game and it is truly a blast with friends. It succeeds as an MMO and does so with flying colors. Who can resist such a polished and fun game with no subscription fees? I'm sure that plenty of people will make Guild Wars 2 their permanent new online home.