OpinionReviews

Guild Wars 2: A Game of Charrs and A.O.E.s

GW2_Logo

Game: Guild Wars 2

Dev: ArenaNet

Platform: PC

Website: www.GuildWars2.com

The term “Massively Multiplayer Online Game” brings many visions to the mind.  Ideas like trudging through grass covered plains, your plate mail chinking and clanking with every step, shoulder guards that reach up high into the sky, and crazy long twisting swords drawn from the hip and ready for battle.   From a simple click on the mouse you grind out levels and spend points, earned from hours of hacking and slashing, on abilities and talents to improve your digital “avatar”.  These are all things that have been at the very core of every single MMORPG to date.  So to really make any sort of waves or even get noticed in the hard core genre, there has to be something a bit extra in your game that is simply not offered in all those other games. 

This game, like most games I play and review, have a little bit of history to them.  The history was in the form of a previous World of Warcraft rival, Guild Wars (1).  I sadly never was sold on Guild Wars 1.  It just seemed like yet another one of that generic breed of fantasy MMO’s.  Not only that, but I’m rather picky when it comes to many of these role playing games that have this same cookie cutter shape without much deviation from the original MMO’s of Ever Quest and World of Warcraft.

Old fashioned sword and shield

My major complaint is when it comes to playable “races”.  In Guild Wars (1), there were only humans, which was a huge turn-off.  I get tired of the fact that most role playing games, book based or otherwise, having to only able to choose from x number of different size humans with the only distinctions between them being pointed ears or height.  I want to play monsters. I want to play crazy aliens and beast races.  And Guild Wars 1 didn’t really support that so I just simply didn’t pick it up.  Thinking about it now, that’s kind of why I picked back up World of Warcraft: Cataclysm.  Werewolves in top hats and now in World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria, pandas… how could I resist (And trust me, I’m so going to write a review on the new wow expansion… there’s a lot to cover)?

With Guild Wars 1 in mind, and a quick recap, I’m a very vocal proponent when it comes to RPG’s.  They are, in fact, one of my favorite genres.  In my original review blog, I wrote about my  poor experience in the Star Wars: The Old Republic Online beta.  One of my huge issues with that MMO was the same issue I have with nearly every MMO.  The lack of beast “non-human” races.  If it looks human, has a human face, it’s a human.  Short, tall, fat, thin, blue, green, pointed ears.  All human.  I tend to lean more towards games that break the mold and let you play as interesting, mostly bestial, races.  Playing human is just… well, too over done and cookie cutter.   And sorry but no, Star Wars: The Old Republic fans,  wearing a pair of Oakley brand sunglasses does not make you a cyborg.

Guild Wars 2 is anything but a cookie cutter MMO.  It doesn’t really fit into one single genre or theme setting of games.  It is a melting pot of various themes all intermingling to create a vast and somewhat complicated world.  It has your classic fantasy mixed with hyper-tech and sprinkled with a little bit of steam punk and uber-industrial.  And much to my excitement it features a couple of very interesting races to choose from (let alone it’s similarly interesting classes).

I get by with a little help from my friends…

Let’s take a look at two out of the handful of races there are to choose from.  The reason for only these two is that they are player characters as well as unique to Guild Wars 2 and not really seen, as they are represented, in other games or mediums.  The first is the Sylvari.  At first glance they have the typical pointy-eared human/elf shape to them.  What’s incredibly fascinating is that they are plant people. Their skin and body are leaves and blooms of vegetation.  When creating a character, your choices of customization not only have different colors and such, but also different ways the leaves fold together to make your body, what kind of leaves and petals they are (orchids vs roses for instance).  The textures and colors follow natural nature rules of plant color distribution.

A great deal of thought was put into this player race to make it as close to what sentient plant life would be as possible.  It really turned out quite well and is a nice artistic twist to an age old more than over-played “elf” playable race.  From Tolken to DnD, the same elf look has been around for a very very long time, and is getting to be a little…cliche in the video game world.  It’s very nice to see a game company dare to update and revamp the pointy eared freak look into something else that is both new, yet organic.

 The other playable race that I wanted to tip my top-hat to is the race called the Charr.  In Guild Wars 1, they were referred to and were in the game as monsters or villains and other forms of NPC’s but never have they been playable.  And now Guild Wars 2, here they are in their own player race.  I remember a few years back when they had a press release to display this new race.  To a few of my friends, it was a big deal.  They were heavily invested in the Guild Wars franchise at that point, so they were quite excited to see the direction the new MMORPG would take.  How to explain the Charr with words is a little tough.  They are big hulking large cat-like people.  They have anywhere from 4-6 ears and large ram or bovine like horns.  They represent a more industrial and steam punkish culture.  The voice acting for them is always gruff, intense, and barbaric, and they always have a kill first ask questions later attitude.  It is a nice change of pace to the usual simple and overly generic “hero” type player character choices one usually has for races.

Charr_Necromancer
“Read the Necronomicon” they said. “Don’t worry, it’s safe” they said…

Beyond the choice of classes for players, Guild Wars 2 has an interesting pool of pros and cons all wrapped up in its packaging.  It’s odd, but it does fall between things that I really enjoy and then things that get rather frustrating. It’s best to get the sticky issues out first.  The main issues I have are with game mechanics.  A minor complaint I have is in the realm of AI pathing and target acquisition.  Through all the classes, I tend to favor the engineer.  The engineer class has turrets.  That is, you drop down a gun on a stick and it chooses an enemy and starts firing and keeps jamming bullets down its throat till its dead.  Well, that sounds all fine and dandy, but it has a problem.  Your turrets will auto-select their targets without any input from you.  Which is generally fine…until they get tired with who you are trying to kill and stray to a new untouched group of disreputable gentlefolk, leaving you to run for your life as they chase you with torches and pitchforks.  Or when your turret finds a random destroyable box that can be shot to make it explode.  When the box it shot, it “dies”.  However, unlike most thing in the video game that die and derez (goes away), boxes and other destroyable objects will turn invisible when they die.  That is to say, they are still “there” but can not be “seen”.  The issue is, the turret can still “see” the box, even though you can not.   So your turret is more than happy to focus fire on the dead invisible box.  It’s muzzle flashes as it screams out “Take that box!  You think you’re better than turret? You may be able to contain other objects, but I contain bullets!”  The problem with that is the fact that this interaction happens when you are being swamped by enemies and really need your turret to assist with things that can kill you, not rogue boxes.

Caithe
~Plant people, plant people. Look like plant. Taste like people.

The only other major problem I have with the game is the “strategy “aspect.  The phrase “Area of Effect” summarizes pretty much everything in the game.  We’ll get to what is good about that in a little bit, but right now I’m talking about AOE in its classic definition, which is attacking and doing damage in large circles (like explosives or a huge cleave with a sword for example.  Another more real-world name for Area of Effect damage, is “splash” damage).  Now this is fine as an occasional flair in the middle of a large combo or special move, but in Guild Wars 2 every NPC pretty much AOE attacks all the time.  This is especially apparent in dungeons.  Enemies, traps, bosses, all of them pour AOE attacks down like bowling ball sized ice in a hail storm.  You can “try” to dodge, but usually the damage ticks before the move is displayed and it’s a one hit kill anyways.

Engineer_Widescreen
Engineers = Lots of bullets

This is an issue because the game is supposed to be about strategy and balance.  But the speed at which combat plays out, you get stomped, and die before you can really start to try out strategies.   It’s more about just trying so many times that you just “out last” or out luck the enemies.   Something else that is problematic to this style of play is that some classes (Engineer) have end game skills that require you to stand in one place for an extended period of time.  When dodging the un-dodgeable you have to be mobile.  Standing still is death and it is counter-productive to have skills and abilities in the game that require you to be immobile (the particular move I love is the Engineer’s mortar turret.  You place the turret, and then you interact with it to take control and rain down several different payloads onto your friends and enemies.  Yes you can heal your friends by shooting them with your mortar… issue is, like all turrets they don’t move or dodge, so the enemy’s AOE attacks destroy the turrets, your mortar, and you in one fell swoop).

Those are my major complaints, now for some things that are a little more sweet.  Now as I mentioned, AOE’s can be things other than attacks and damage.  Area of effect questing is a very interesting innovation in Guild Wars 2.  You start quests in Guild Wars 2 by being in the area of a quest giver.  On your mini map, big orange circles show you where to go and the quest log just auto-updates as events and worldly quest things happen near you.  This quest area system means that quest givers don’t have to be localized and can be scattered throughout the map semi-randomly giving the player more choice and freedom to decide what they want to do and when they want to go do it.  Plus there is always a quest or an event or a challenge going on anywhere you happen to travel.

Another thing to look at is Loot… A small note on loot.  There are many games where loot is a huge fight.  It is a fight both between hard to kill NPCs as well as a fight between yourself and other players.  For instance, something might drop that is meant for 1 class (a sword for a knight, or a staff for a wizzard) and some other player “ninja” loots the item having completely different and non-related class than the player who needs that specific crucial item.   A player has more rights to a piece of loot if they killed the boss, but a different player might be uncouth and just take it for themselves anyways.  It’s a long standing issue with many loot reward based games.  Guild Wars 2 tries to prevent such squabbles by having everyone get their own loot.  What drops for one player won’t necessarily drop for a different player.  Even crafting nodes (trees for wood cutting, ore for mining, herbs for cooking and such) are player specific.  No longer will you have to camp a node so you can be the first and only one to grab it.  It’s there for all players and every player has their turn.  It’s very nice and civil.  Quest rewards are also A.O.E.  Everyone who’s in an area of the quest gets judged on their participation in the quest’s progress.  So even if you are just passing through, you still get something.

The_Shatterer
In this situation, there’s really only one thing to do…RUUUUUUN!

Another great thing is the de-leveling effect.  When you are a high level, let’s say 40, and you want to play with your friend who is only level 7, when you join up with them and come to their zone/map, your level adjusts to the max of the current map.  So no matter what player levels are in your party, as long as everyone goes to the map lowest level of player, everyone can stay together and no one out performs anyone else.  The balance is good.  With that, the exp gains are scaled as well.  Even if you’re a higher level in a lower level zone, unlike most games, the zone can still be a bit of a challenge at times and will reward you accordingly.

Another type of “quest” or “challenge” are jumping puzzles.  Some of these things are incredibly elaborate (below is a youtube for the mad king’s clock tower, the Halloween platform jumping puzzle, and you’ll see what I mean about them being “elaborate”).  Most of these puzzles are long and arduous taking a lot of skill and even more patients.  The best thing about these jumping puzzles though, is that it brings back a retro gaming feel.  This was an objective of some of the earliest video games.  There was a whole genre for them called “Platformers”.  So having this element within Guild Wars 2 was really a breath of fresh air.

http://youtu.be/EzNwc130y1s

Sadly Guild Wars 2 does have an element of being “unfinished”.  There’s still quite a few bugs, puzzles that have no solutions, NPC’s that spawn in walls, and a few graphics holes in the levels.  But on the bright side, there’s no subscription fee.  You just pay for the base copy of the game and go from there.  There’s no subscription fee as they have the “Free to play” model up.  That is, the game is built around an in game store where players can buy upgrades dyes and such using real world money.

My last issue, also minor, is the overall speed of the game.  At the beginning, it’s very fast, which is fine.  Later on, it falls off a cliff.  It does become a little bit of a grind as the difficulties of events and dungeons fluctuate wildly making “common ground” difficult to really ascertain.  You might be the level to “do” the dungeon, but it will mop the floor with your corpse after it puts it through its AOE grinder.  This last grievance (if you could really call it that) is probably going to be solved through patches and updates, each one pumping new life into the game.

Ok, one last tiny little thing: Dyes!  Sometimes armor dying in other games is muted and bland.  In Guild Wars 2, you can unlock tons of different colors, but some of them are very vibrant.  I was walking around like a storm trooper in black and whites.  I’m is just a giant horned cat person engineer with his big blunderbuss, turrets, and all black and white armor running around and causing havoc.  And you really can just change armor colors at any point.  Something that would be nice and will probably be included later, would be a way to change your character’s facial looks in game as well as more customization options would be nice.

And one last thing to note.  The game is very pretty.  There are a lot of huge structure, statues, and scenery that have been stuck into this game.  What’s cool is that they really want you to “look” at it and not just play “near” it and ignore it.  They set up points where you have to climb up to large observation points (like on a mountain or a tall building).  When you get there, you click on the floating map icon and your camera will start to pan out to show you a good view of a structure, or artistic statue, or something else of importance.  It’s a very clever trick to get players to stop and smell the digital roses (plus it rewards players by being apart of a map completion side quest that rewards experience and various bits of loot).

So yeah, that’s it.  Guild Wars 2.  I really think it’s worth a bit of a play, especially if you are tired of the same old same old as it goes for MMORPGS (Meh-mop-eh-gers).  All in all, it can be summed up as a “Nice bit of fresh air in an otherwise stuffy and cramped MMORPG market”

–N00basaurus

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