In GW1, the cultural differences we got were from expansions that just made new areas totally designed around a single stereotype (i.e. the Chinese expansion, the African expansion). In GW2, we got a mix of cultures that involved more than just humans being involved. While there are still a lot of archetypes that we're beaten over the head with (all norn are braggarts, all asura are snobbish intellectuals, etc.), the newest characters in the living story have really helped portray the races as collections of individuals that are not just diverse from other races, but also diverse within their own race.
And while the landscapes in GW2 aren't really revolutionary, ArenaNet has come out with some of the most innovative cultures in the MMO genre. The Sylvari are probably the best example of this.
Wow, I disagree with this lol. The cultures in GW1 were at the least original. And when I say original I say it in relation to the fantasy genre. Did they borrow heavily from real life? Of course they did. But they only used as much as they needed to form a framework for the various cultures. From there they molded their own pottery, so to speak. You use the Canthan and Elonan examples, but even these are broken down into various subcultures like Gothic, Egyptian, SE Asian, Arab, etc. And further still, these subcultures, aside from their RL inspirations, have huge amounts of creativity attached to them. They each have a foundation of borrowed themes, with a highly original house built on top of them.
By contrast, the GW2 cultures borrow heavily from common fantasy tropes. Asurans are arrogant gnomes, Charr are industrial feline orcs, Norn are drunk vikings, Sylvari are wood elves incarnate. Even humans are plain Jane white euro-models. The archetypical sea of races is astounding. They've been done ad nauseum with fantasy, while GW1 approach was highly novel. And while Jeff and Ree have given us a higher quantity of cultures to interact with, GW1 had a depth and breadth of quality that can't be matched here.
And yet, the RL things GW2 does reflect on are disappointing.
Example: Hair Styles. Observe the hairstyles in the character creation screen in GW2. A ton of them reflect modern, trendy hairstyles that exist in real life today. There's little originality. Next check out the hairstyle options in GW1. Most of them have little to no resemblance to anything we have around today. Each campaign has choices that are unique to either Tyrian, Canthan, or Elonan lands, not anything we have here on Earth. It's refreshing and marks a willingness to set yourself apart from the crowd.
If you think that Factions was only a "Chinese" expansion, then you either didn't pay any attention to the game, or didn't play it much. It's a general shame that the GW1 approach to cultural diversity was "dumbed down" in favor of this theme park stuff we have now. I'd rather they had simply made a different game if they were going to do that, and not use the "Guild Wars" name for such a gaudy display of cliche this side of the Pacific.