Monday, August 27, 2012

Guild Wars 2 Initial Impressions

Guild Wars 2 head started on Friday shortly before midnight.  I was able to log in immediately to the Maguuma server and get started on my Norn thief, Heartless Foe, and my Human ranger, Heartless Gamer.  (Heartless Foe is a throwback to my Warrior/Necro character name from Guild Wars 1).  Guild Wars 2 immediately lives up to many of it's expectations by improving and simplifying many MMO tropes, but at the same time there are some core issues that hold it back.

Upon logging in the first enhancement is immediately visible: overflow servers.  This is the first MMO launch in recent memory where the word "login queue" didn't apply.  Instead, extra players are thrown into an instanced server where they can play and progress waiting to join the main server.  The downside is that right now overflow servers make playing with friends difficult, but to me its a better solution than NOT playing the game while watching a login queue.  Playing will always win the war against NOT playing.

As far as the actual game goes; Guild Wars 2 is a brilliant package.  There is a lot to like, from the excellent world/zone maps, "quest" design, and graphics, to the little things such as the collections tab, waypoint system, and emotes.  Without spending too much time droning on about the nuances, suffice to say that Guild Wars 2 listened and executed well in regards to improving on many little annoyances of MMOs.  Anyone that has experienced MMOs for the past several years will be spoiled by Guild Wars 2's feature list.

However, I can't put Guild Wars 2 on too high of a pedestal as there are some problematic core items that have already started nagging on my brain.  First and foremost is the combat which works somewhat well in small scale, but is a complete clusterfuck once more than five people show up.  Worst of all, it clearly seems to have been designed to be a clusterfuck in certain situations.  In the open World vs World PvP map or large public quests (aka dynamic events), the combat is just unintelligible spam.  With spell effect scaling, players will often find themselves subject to invisible attacks and random death.

Guild Wars 2 relies a lot on reflex and action-based combat.  This works great and lets players showcase their skills in small-scale combat, but again it does not work, AT ALL, in large scale confrontation.  There is literally so many area of affect abilities (and one shot death in PvE) being tossed that the dodge mechanic is completely rendered moot.  And the game was designed to bring clusters of players together in small areas to spam the shit out of these abilities.  It is very troubling to me that so much effort was put into this action combat to have it result in a complete button mashing affair when it should shine the most.  Combat is very difficult to follow because of this.

I want to reiterate that outside of combat, Guild Wars 2 has completely won me over.  The features are really that freaking good.  Advancement paths are varied and traditional MMO quests are all but gone.  Players are always encouraged to play together and never are they penalized for helping each other out (seriously, how the fuck has it taken this long to get an MMO where playing together is NOT a penalty!).  The non-combat heavy players will also find they can successfully thrive and reach max level simply through crafting and exploration.  If you can do it in Guild Wars 2, it probably advances the level track (even resource gathering gives experience!).

Another core area of weakness, which Arena Net keeps holding up, is all the voice acting in personal story quests and dungeons.  Instead of traditional MMO quest text boxes, Guild Wars 2 opts for quasi-cut scenes with voice acting (think Mass Effect 1 dialogue).  The problem is the character models are nearly 100% emotionless while the voice actor puts passion into the lines.  It is terrible.. honestly terrible... and I end up clicking skip the end just to red the blurb that will appear on the map (which again, the map is awesome).

Even with the core weaknesses in combat and the story telling, Guild Wars 2 is certainly a refreshing take in the MMO market.  I would highly recommend anyone who is interested in MMOs to check it out.  If anything, it is certainly one of the few games worth the $60 box price and there is no subscription so it is a game that players can continue to come back to at their leisure.  It also features level-up mechanics to bring lower level characters up to level 80 for the World vs World combat (albeit as a lower level character your stats are lower and options limited).

I expect a good healthy run in Guild Wars 2.  Once I reach level 80 down the line I will certainly be spending a good amount of time learning the WvW map, but at this point I think I am going to have to let the "mists" dissipate a bit as it is not fun currently.  Hopefully the WvW areas will change to encourage smaller group skirmishes (Arena Net should start by removing the invisible walls at the bottleneck leading out of the portal keep).

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