In the past 2 years we have seen many MMORPGs either go free to play to retain players or just fall flat and die off. In 2012 alone, Lego Universe, Earthrise, Black Prophecy and City of Heroes all closed down. Star Trek Online, EverQuest, Aion and Vanguard all went free to play. Amid all of this, major games like Tera, the Secret World and Star Wars: The Old Republic all launch within 12 months of each other. Not to mention a little thing called Mists of Pandaria, a new World of Warcraft expansion, coming out later this month. With all this competition, does Guild Wars 2 cut through the clutter?
ArenaNet's Guild Wars games have always been free to play. In the past, to cover their upkeep costs, their expansion packs came out quickly and they allowed players to use real money to purchase account upgrades. This is in place of the monthly service fees which is the usual way companies pay for a game that requires constant upkeep. Guild Wars 2 works much along these lines. Once the initial cost to purchase the game is paid, players do not have to spend any more money on the game if they do not want to.
In Guild Wars 2, when the game is started for the first time, players are asked to pick a home server. There are about 30-40 home servers to choose from and once one is picked, players cannot change servers unless they pay real money. The home server concept is new to MMOs and usually a player can create a new character on any server and play with that character. For instance, in most MMOs, if they have friends on server A and server B, they can create individual characters on those servers to play with them. This also gives players a large number of character slots for creating different characters. Guild Wars 2 does not allow this as once a home server is chosen, players are there to stay. In order to play with players from another server in-game you must form a group using your friends list. Once in the group, you would right-click on their portrait to join them in whatever realm they are in. This is a nice benefit to have but it is much more complicated than it should be. There have been times when I have tried to join groups and the game won't let me transfer to their server, and when this happens, players must log off and log back in to try to get it to work again. ArenaNet has said that they are going to fix this issue. But as of publication date, it is still a problem.
Once in the game and creating a character, players have 5 races and 8 character classes to choose from. There is no limit on races and character classes, so any race can be any class. The classes are pretty diverse, ranging from warriors, and rangers to necromancers and elementalists. Most of the character class names are pretty straight forward, an elementalist will use abilities that surround the four elements, necromancers will deal with the dead etc. What is pretty unique to Guild Wars 2 is the way abilities are learned. Characters learn five basic abilities and five skill-point required abilities. These are earned by finding certain points on a map and achieving a goal at that point. Now, only ten abilities may sound kind of boring, but the first five abilities change depending on the weapon being used. For example; if two daggers are equipped to begin with but is switched over to a sword and dagger later, the first three abilities will change completely. The first three abilities are dependent on what is in a character's main hand. The last two are dependent on the weapon in the off hand. Abilities can also be combined between players during combat. So choose wisely.
Combat in Guild Wars 2 feels much like a cross between Tera and World of Warcraft and characters can only use the abilities that they have equipped to attack and do damage. These abilities do not require mana. Once used they are placed on cooldown and when that time expires the ability can be used again. There is also a roll mechanic for dodging incoming attacks with a gauge above the hit points meter shows whether a character can roll. A full gauge allows a character to roll twice before they have to wait for it to replenish. That being said, some abilities can be used to dodge as well. For example the elementalist has an ability that makes them roll away from an enemy leaving a line of fire in their wake. If an area of effect ability is used, there is a translucent wall that appears around the affected area. This wall can be moved through freely which is used to show players where the edge of the effect is. So if a player sets off an area heal, other players can make sure they are in the proper spot to get healed. This also works the other way during PvP, players can then see more clearly if they are in a dangerous area.
Visually Guild Wars 2 is one of the best looking games out there and is full of colorful and very pretty looking environments that fit very well within the game. Whether you are running across a field that has seen battle, or a swamp that is trying to kill you, the landscape looks and feels right. ArenaNet and the Guild Wars team has always had some of the best concept art in the industry and does a fantastic job creating a world based on that art. The spell and ability effects are very impressive and I especially like the mesmer's effects. The mesmer's abilities are based on distraction and confusion, so many of his abilities have the mesmer looking like he splits into two or three people, and once the effect is over, the mirror copies disappear in a hail of butterflies. The elemantalist's lightning whip is really good looking as well, and just having a character run around being able to throw lightning like a whip or cause it to rain giant fireballs from the sky is darn cool.
As I mentioned earlier, there are some problems grouping up, though thankfully ,once the group gets together, it goes pretty smooth from there. Waypoints around the zones allow players to teleport to the different areas by paying a small fee as long as those points have been visited by the player before. Also, if a player is grouping with a much higher level character, the game evens out the levels of the characters depending on what zone they are in. When I grouped up with players in the human starting zone with players who were much higher level than I was, their level was reduced, but they kept all the abilities and equipment that they learned.
Questing in Guild Wars 2 is a little different than most other MMOs. Yes there is a main quest, but most of player's time will be spent running around a zone trying to find points of interest, waypoints, skill points, etc. As players travel they will run into quests that have already started or other quests that are on a timer that just start without player interaction. There have been times where I have stumbled upon a merchant traveling and I would have to help defend them from minotaurs, or prevent creatures from stealing items from a farm, or even defend a watchtower being built. There are hearts on the map as well which represents people who are in trouble. Mostly though the NPCs require players to wander around an area and kill monsters or find items and bring them somewhere. One had players running around finding people painting graffiti on walls and telling them to knock it off. While another led to a fantastic boss fight against a giant undead foe. Each map objective players succeed at gains them experience.
With a very unique take on the MMO genre, Guild Wars 2 is a great entry into the series. The music and especially the environments are extremely well done and suck the player into the vast world. There are a few technical bumps along the road, which will hopefully be fixed in later patches or updates. However, if you can overlook a few minor launch glitches, the game is worth every penny. If you find that you have time to add an MMO to your life, I suggest picking up Guild Wars 2… it was definitely worth the wait.