The Big Picture
This game is not Guild Wars. For better or worse, this is the truth. For years waiting for this game I approached this with the mindset of Guild Wars 2 being a sequel, but don't be fooled. At most, the only "sequel" you'll get is continuity in the story. However, if you want to measure it by the way the game is played, or the features in the game, you're coming at it from the wrong angle.
The main difference I immediately felt was the intent behind what I was doing. In Guild Wars, PvE was obviously intended to be a sideshow in order to gear you up for PvP. Any content released after Prophecies was just consequent of the need to add content. Guild Wars 2 is entirely different in that regard. In fact, it's so different that I'd be surprised to know that there was PvP in the game! It plays like PvE is meant to be the main element, that's for sure.
Guild Wars: Guild vs Guild, Heroes Ascent, Random Arena, Team Arena, Hero Battles, Codex Battles, etc...
Guild Wars 2: Competitive, World vs World vs World
There's nothing remotely similar between the two games. My knee-jerk reaction? GW2 is a downgrade when it comes to PvP formats (mainly WvW). GvG in GW was brilliant to play, and equally exciting to watch. I yearn to have something so fierce in play style and rich in tactical depth, and I feel like Guild Wars 2 moves away from the aspect of pure skill. Of course, I'm a novice in comparison to others when it comes to PvP, so perhaps take my opinion with a grain of salt, but I do find myself wistful for formats like GvG, HA and RA.
WvWvW in Guild Wars 2 is a bit of a frustrating mess. I often felt like it was a fusion between Guild Wars's Jade Quarry and Alliance Battles from the Factions campaign. You join up with an army of folks, you're unorganized, and your objectives don't nearly as heavily rely on skill because of the innate lack of organization amongst players. This might change as time moves on in the game, I will admit that, but for now I'm not too happy. My experience left me wanting more in terms of the skill and organization that could be used to deny other teams any hope in hell for a victory. Not to mention, running a graphically unoptimized client on my computer means WvWvW is an unenjoyable laggy mess. I hope this changes when the game comes out.
I can't comment on the competitive PvP at this point. My stance is based purely on my experiences in WvW. By the end of the weekend my computer was on the verge of emitting smoke :(.
My computer specifications:
- 24-inch monitor (1920x1080)
- AMD FX-6100 3.3GHz six-core CPU
- AMD Radeon HD 6870 1GB
- 8GB RAM
- Windows 7 64-bit
ffghjdafkdlja;s. Excuse me - that was me wiping the drool off my keyboard. I understand that I'm not running a graphically optimized version of the client so I'm going to experience issues that I normally wouldn't otherwise, but the game is gorgeous. Even at minimal settings, you are left with no hint of a doubt that the graphics/environment team at ArenaNet did their job. From the dirt-covered paths to the details etched into to elaborately designed buildings that arc over your head, your visual senses are completely sated. I have nothing but compliments to shower over whoever was responsible for creating the virtual world we'll all soon inhabit. The best part is knowing that once the game is graphically optimized, I should be able to run on high settings no problem. Right now I need to play at medium, but I anticipate different results once the game is released.
PvE content in Guild Wars 2 is completely different than in Guild Wars. GW2 plays a lot more like what you'd expect from having done PvE in other MMOs. My take on it? Not my favourite. I know I'm probably in the minority saying that, but I'm a committment-phobe. I like having 10 different max characters that I can roll depending on what a team needs. You can't do that in GW2. With level 80 as the max level, you need to spend a serious chunk of time to finely tune a character.
Another element that's absent in GW2 is the instanced missions. Guild Wars content is wrapped in neat little packages that you can form a group to complete, or do on your own. This is rather non-traditional as far as PvE content in video games, but I think it really made Guild Wars stand out. The high end missions, akin to dungeons in other games, included DoA, Urgoz, The Deep and, well, dungeons. I much prefer the instanced game play because it allows for better planning and tactics.
That said, I realize Guild Wars 2 is a different game and I do enjoy the PvE. It's not the same, but it's still good. I can't comment on the longevity that this type of gameplay will hold, but I'm sure I'll see a character through to level 80 and engage in the high end content. I'm not sure if I'd be able to hold in as long as I did with Guild Wars, if only because I feel like GW2 compels people much less to group with one another. I'm a social gamer and because of that, I need other people, otherwise I get bored and just start running in circles ;-).
Before I actually got a chance to play at this game I scoffed at the idea of personal stories. As you can probably see by now, I'm the type of player that zeroes in on honing skill, regardless of whether it's PvE or PvP, and story is secondary. Now I'm finding that I need to eat my words on this. The character creation process forces you to choose the background of your character and I began to find myself becoming attached. I was creating someone and not just something; moreover, it's like I could put who I am as a person into the video game. As I pondered each choice, I realized it said something about who I am and what my values/interests are. Going through that process allowed me to form a kind of bond with my character because there was no other choice.
As far as the personal story goes, I won't give any spoilers. I've certainly had some chuckles because, yes folks, clowns can be involved. Clowns. With regards to it running in tandem with dynamic events and pacing quests, it's a little choppy. The regular world content and your personal story are clearly unrelated, which I'm fine with. The quests and dynamic events are much more relatable to the immediate environment they take place in. Speaking of which, it was hard to get used to quests just popping in and out of my quest log, but in the end I was grateful for it. It allowed me to "accidentally" complete content just by slaying certain enemies, or engaging with objects in the environment. It's a harmonious balance between being too lazy/apathetic to take quests and being forced to complete content.
I already briefly mentioned that grouping seems inherently discouraged in GW2 because of the non-instanced gameplay. Since the majority of your time spent leveling a character is not on the personal story, I think this is a bit of a shame. You certainly will be working with other people as you complete quests, though. Pacing tasks and dynamic events that pop up will show up for others as well, and if they choose to complete them they will be aiding you in completing it as well. In a sense, that is grouping, but definitely more informal. As a social gamer, I do see this as a negative because I want to form strong ties of friendship with people, and I think non-instanced gameplay takes away from that. I hope to be proven wrong, though. I know a lot of things will be different upon launch when you have more than just press and testers playing the game.
One thing I was pleased to see was the "feel" of the races was kept alive. Whichever race's home turf you're in, it is a throwback to Guild Wars. The team did a great job of capturing the races in their environment. Each quest or event that gets tossed into your log just further underscores the fact that you're in, for example, "Norn-land."
Each zone is ripe with content and little details such as a suggested character level for quests are shown right on the map. This helps you direct your progress through each zone, even if you're not following a personal story and are only trying to level. For reference sake when looking at any videos/screenshots, the little orange hearts on the map are the "pacing tasks" that I refer to. These are quests that pop up in your log and once you complete them they are filled in on the map. One other thing I should mention about these pacing tasks is that you feel compelled - but not in a bad way - to do them. It's like a built-in title/achievement system. Your progress through the zone (including waypoints, skill points and pacing tasks) is logged on the map, and if you're anything like me, you don't want to leave a zone with 8/9 quests complete and only 10/12 waypoints discovered!
In conclusion, I had fun in PvE. I think I will enjoy playing through at least the human and norn races. It's not Guild Wars, and in a lot of ways I find fault in that. It's hard to beat the ways in which Guild Wars first appealed to me. It really is a beautiful game to play through, but certain elements like the level cap, persistence and grouping really make me doubt how many characters I'm actually going to level up. Of course, please keep in mind that this is my experience. Who knows? you may find much more joy in what I find is lacking.
I think we can all agree that Guild Wars offered an incredibly unique method of allowing players to interact with skills. You were given 8 slots and often took on a dedicated role. Whether it was PvE or PvP, you had the option of tweaking your bar for maximum performance. This absolutely thrilled me, and became only more fun with heroes because I had even more bars to customize! There did come a point when it became difficult to balance the wealth of skills (the fault of that is a debate that can be saved for GWG...), but the stuff players came up with was legend. Remember iQ's famous victory over EvIL in the GWFC? The "55 Monk"? Or the "600 monk"? The Boon Prot? As standard as some of these bars became, they were able to exist because of the types of skills offered. You likely won't see that in GW2, and I think that's a shame.
Remarkably, I actually wasn't bored mashing the same skills over again because there are other ways to employ decision-making skills when playing. On the elementalist, you can seriously boost your effectiveness by adapting to the moment's needs. Need defense? Maybe use some of your water attunement skills to heal yourself, or freeze the enemy in place to reduce damage, or switch to your air attunment for a speedbuff. What about damage? Fire! Burnburnburn!!!! I'm still working on finding a use for earth, though... The point is, you have to use your character in a different way in combat than what we got used to in GW. Admittedly, this is a less exciting process on the mesmer because your skills don't change unless you swap weapons (your skills change for each element you attune to on the ele, and also for each weapon type you equip). Instead, on the mesmer you get additional illusion-related buffs that are typically offensive. How you play, and what profession you're on will definitely influence the outcome in battle, though!
The Little Things
Jumping - it's more than just an emote, now!! I was totally fine with GW having /jump... until I played GW2. Then I found myself mashing the space bar in Guild Wars, and much to my chagrin it didn't do anything! It's an addictive thing that allows you to take advantage of your environment, so squee!!!
No mission map. This killed me. I hate it. I want my mission map back! We still have the compass, and the "M" world map, but not the mission map (default key was U in GW). I relied so heavily on this feature in GW and it is painful to get by without it in GW2. It is such a small feature that has such a huge impact on gameplay and I honestly feel like the game is worse off without it. I really hope they add it.
Humour returns in GW2! I loved GW for its puns and jokes laced throughout quest descriptions and titles, and character dialogue. They take it a step further in GW2 with how you interact with quests and the environment. Feed bear cubs, turn into leopards and kill rabbits - it's cute, and I love it!
Armor and weaponry are confusing at the start. The armor and weapon system are definitely less self-explanatory than they were in GW. Maybe I just need more time to familiarize myself with the game, but I really enjoyed GW's simplicity in this regard. You knew what max armor was, you knew where to get it (whereas you now have armor drops in GW2), and you could walk up to a rune vendor and easily make the most of your armor set.
What does this all add up to?
Well, if I had to rate the game on a scale of 1 to 10, where Guild Wars is 10, I'd give it an 8. Some of you will give it a 12. I've done my best to convey to you what my wants and needs are from a video game and how that will influence what I do/don't like about GW2, so don't be discouraged by my opinion. GW was my first "real" gaming experience, so what I learned to expect was nearly 100% influenced by that. I do feel like it's more of a PvE game than PvP, and I know that will turn a lot of the old market away, but GW2 does open its arms to a whole new market of players, too.
Okay, I've written a lot. I could write more - especially on the little things. I think what I might do is accept questions and do a "Q&A" sort of thing, which may turn into articles. It's impossible to document everything I've experienced in one blog entry, so I might as well do a bunch of them! Hopefully you've managed to not fall asleep! Thanks so much for reading! I hope you all enjoy hearing about the game today.