At 8 AM on August 25 I was sitting at my PC, waiting impatiently for Guild Wars 2 early access to start. This was three days before the official release date of August 28 and anticipation for the sequel to ArenaNet’s beloved MMO was massive, particularly amongst myself and my friends. Unfortunately, for me anyway, the anticipation quickly turned to disappointment; the more I played Guild Wars 2 the more disappointed I was.
I should preface this by assuring you that Guild Wars 2 is not a bad game, not in the slightest. It is a decent game, but nothing really more, and coming from the excellent Guild Wars, that’s a disappointment. You see, Guild Wars 2’s biggest problem is that it’s nothing different, certainly not in the way Guild Wars was. It is, for lack of a better term, an MMO-ass-MMO in every way, and that’s something the original wasn’t. It does nothing to advance the genre forward or even change it in a meaningful way, and is a sure sign that the MMO genre is in a state of stagnation that will be difficult to remove.
The WoW-ification of MMOs has been a problem for a long time now, and it’s been ever-more prominent as MMOs are no longer a sure success. Star Wars: The Old Republic is an example of that, another game too similar to previous MMOs that has failed to keep a sustained audience and has now gone free-to-play. The Old Republic is a decent game, like Guild Wars 2, but nothing more and it too didn’t do anything to break the MMO mould. Guild Wars 2’s model is different; it doesn’t require a monthly subscription like other MMOs, but it’s also not free-to-play. Rather, players just purchase the game like they would any other RPG. This sets it apart from other MMOs, but it’s one of the few things that does so.
In typical MMO fashion, you’ll choose your race and class upon booting up Guild Wars 2. There are five different races; the plant-like Sylvari, the regular Humans, the tiny Asura, The beast-like Charr and the Norse-inspired Norns, each with varying styles and genders. You’ll also get to choose from eight different classes; Elementalist, Engineer, Guardian, Necromancer, Ranger, Mesmer, Thief and Warrior. Each class will use different types of weapons and armour and will have varying abilities based on which weapon you use. I started my adventure as a Norn Ranger, and it was probably the biggest mistake I made in the game.
First and foremost, the Norn are probably the most boring race in the game. They’re big into animals and hunting and live their life that way, but they’re incredibly uninteresting. The story is bland, the settings even more bland and the conflict situations are largely uneventful. There is such a criminal lack of variety to the Norns, matched only by that of the Ranger class. The Rangers are your archers who also have pets, much like the Hunter class in World of Warcraft. You’ll use mainly bow-based abilities and you’ll be able to collect and tame different animals as you move through the game’s admittedly vast world. However, there’s simply no nuance or excitement to the Rangers. You just auto-attack until you can use their weak abilities again while your pet tanks the enemy damage. It’s uninspired, boring and no different to any other MMO out there.
Thankfully, you can store multiple characters on your account; I set up an alternative pretty quickly having been unimpressed by the Norn Ranger. I decided to go in entirely the opposite direction to my previous choice, and went with a Sylvari Elementalist. The Sylvari are a peaceful, magical plant-species whose world is a luscious green, full of foliage and trees, a far-cry from the Norn’s icy, barren lands. The Elementalist does pretty much what you’d expect it to, it combines elemental magic for its damage, and is a very rewarding class. The Elementalist has different attunements relating to different magic, such as water, fire, earth and air. There’s five spells for each attunement and different weapons give you different spells. This makes the Elementalist one of the broadest classes in the game, ensuring you’re constantly learning new abilities to keep the combat fresh, and combining weapon types can yield brilliant spell combinations. The change in pace and class gave me hopes that Guild Wars 2 might actually be something special, something different, but alas I was wrong.
Make no mistake: Guild Wars 2 is most definitely a series of fetch-quests, escort missions and ‘kill-x-number-of-this’ drivel, and that’s a major problem for me.
One of its main problems is its quest structure. It’s boring, lacklustre and menial in nature. Make no mistake: Guild Wars 2 is most definitely a series of fetch-quests, escort missions and ‘kill-x-number-of-this’ drivel, and that’s a major problem for me. Sure, you may love that, you may be one of those people who likes to jump into a new MMO at launch, power through all the boring quests and reach the level cap before hopping to the next one, but it’s not a commonly enjoyable setup and that’s something I realised when playing Guild Wars 2. At one stage, I did enjoy that kind of uninvolved quest-structure, but I enjoyed it many years ago the first time I did it. It’s 2012 now, times – and I – have moved on. Personally, I like games that are more involved in nature and I’m sick of the same old boring quests in MMOs. Yes, it may sound vitriolic and jaded, but the MMO genre is in much need of a refresh, and Guild Wars 2 is one of them. What it does, it does well, but is that enough anymore? I don’t think so.
Elsewhere, Guild Wars 2 is finely crafted game. It’s beautiful, that’s for sure. Those with higher-end PCs will love it, at times it can be simply breathtaking, with the Sylvari starting area being a definite highlight. The use of colours with vast landscapes and at time beautiful character design means Guild Wars 2 is definitely easy on the eye, although some environments, such as the Charr’s and Norns’, are barren and lifeless and look boring after extended play. Sound design is usually good, there’s some fantastic music and sound effects but the voice work can be hit or miss. Again, the Norn Ranger is a particular offender in this regard, but those who play a human male are treated to Nolan North’s voice-work, naturally.
If you’re someone who loves PvP in your MMO, the new world vs. world feature in Guild Wars 2 will probably whet your appetite. It’s an interesting feature that pits players from different servers against each other to control territories in mass-skirmishes. It’ll be a nice distraction for those who like to get involved in PvP, but for those who, like me, aren’t at all interested in the PvP elements of an MMO, it’s nothing more than a bullet point on the box we’ll never take notice of. That’s disappointing for me nonetheless, as it was the major innovation to the MMO genre that Guild Wars 2 boasted.
Guild Wars 2 then rather disappointing, especially for someone who loved the original for what it did differently. Who knows, maybe I put too much reverence in that ArenaNet did in Guild Wars and there’s an element of rose-tinted glasses here, but one thing’s for certain; Guild Wars 2 does nothing to innovate on the MMO genre and, while it’s a well crafted game, that’s no longer enough to keep me engaged in such a massive game. If you’re all about your MMO content, maybe you’ll love it, but to me it’s nothing really more than a simple WoW clone.