The Emperor’s New Clothes

It’s worth noting that it achieves all this without ditching the well-worn conventions of the genre; instead, it takes the best elements pushes them forward. Classic kill-and-fetch quests are still here in abundance, for instance, but they’re disguised as “hearts” that activate once you get in range, and each allows several different ways of completing the objectives, staving off monotony. Its dynamic events have roots in games like Warhammer Online, Rift, and even World of Warcraft, but they reach new heights of variety and significance here. A marauding pack of centaurs may overrun the garden where you were picking cabbages for a local farmer, compelling you to join in with dozens of other players and put an end to them, or a frightened fisherman may come running up to you asking for your help, only to lead you back to an ambush at a bandit camp. Even better, many of these events are chains, and by leading you on epic quests across Guild Wars 2′s zones they inject life into areas that would be dead in other MMORPGs. It’s important to note that they’re scripted events that eventually repeat (and are not, as some players assume, completely random events,) but they have thus far never failed to ensure that Tyria feels like a living world.
And Tyria is such a beautiful place. Playing Guild Wars 2 is like playing in a painting, to the point that most screenshots of scenery look like ArenaNet’s painterly concept artwork. Such strong art design manages to walk a fine line between system-demanding realism and the clunker-friendly cartoony vistas of World of Warcraft, and Guild Wars 2 celebrates this beauty by including 266 “vista points” across the world that usually require complex feats of jumping and balancing on narrow passageways to reach. It’s a world that invites and encourages exploration, as stumbling across new villages or harvesting resources almost always grants more experience than simple enemy grinds, and often just striking out in a random direction is the best way to find new hearts.

I’ve found teleportation to be a nice touch that can bring dozens of players running to one location for a dynamic event. Coming from other fantasy MMORPGs, it may seem jarring that there are no mounts in Tyria, but then there is no need for them. As it stands, Tyria is dotted with more than 500 waypoints that you can teleport to within seconds for a tiny fee as long as you’ve already discovered them. In theory this fast travel would hamper immersion, and that’d hold true if you’re seeking a realistic fantasy world to play in; in practice in Guild Wars 2, I’ve found teleportation to be a nice touch that can bring dozens of players running to one location for a dynamic event through a simple call for help in the local channel. It especially proves beneficial if you’re struggling to find more hearts at your level in a zone, as you can quickly ‘port to another zone for your level bracket with ones you haven’t finished.

Storming the Gates

I’m loving the PvE quests, but it’s in its PvP that Guild Wars 2 shines the brightest. Most notably, it’s the world-versus-world battles that match three different servers against each other in a massive battlefield that’s as large as a couple of zones in Tyria proper and crammed with keeps, towers, and supply posts ripe for the taking. It’s one of the closest approximations of medieval combat I’ve ever seen in an MMORPG, complete with the need to work together to build siege engines such as trebuchets and battering rams in order to knock down the doors of castles. It’s so popular at the moment that most servers suffer from queues for entry.

The concept is great in theory, and it’s wonderful when sides are fairly balanced and there’s a tug-of war between objectives, but that’s not always the case in practice. ArenaNet is still working out the kinks of matching servers to prevent one server from consistently steamrolling to victory (which is important since victory awards server-wide bonuses), and that, with some qualifications, victory seems to go groups who can amass a large army of players to swarm objectives. Yet that’s not a problem in the structured PvP battlegrounds, which resemble the battlegrounds of World of Warcraft except that every player enters on even footing, temporarily promoted to level 80 with a preset sampling of skills and gear. The four maps are refreshing, filled as they are with claustrophobic corridors rather than open expanses, but I found myself wishing some involved more than the same goal of capturing and holding points. If you’re looking for the latest innovative variation on capture-point gameplay, you won’t find it here. 

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