September 9 2012
The Guild Wars franchise has always been a bit of an oddity amoung online RPGs. ArenaNet, the developer, has consistently shunned monthly fees and still made a profit. They've also managed to provide progression without making it a huge barrier to features such as PvP, which is primarily an end-game activity in many games of this kind.
Guild Wars 2 is a much more ambitious game than the original, and I've been playing with the initial rush, which almost always presents a few problems.
The Launch Rush
Right off the bat, ArenaNet deserves a tip of the hat for overflow servers. Instead of landing in a queue when your server is full, you land on an overflow server, were you can continue to play the PvE portion of the game. The faces may not be familiar, but it's infinitely better than watching a queue counter.
Of course, there have been other problems stemming from a popular launch. The auction house has been swamped to the point where it is out of service as often as not, some of the low-level public quests are semi-broken by the sheer number of players bashing away at them, and it can be a long wait to get into World vs. World PvP even after getting onto your server. Several social features aren't working properly, such as grouping, which sometimes places group members in different instances, and so on. Things are getting fixed, however, and for the most part the game has been quite playable during this very busy period.
One of the first things you notice about Guild Wars 2 is that it takes a different approach to questing. The now traditional "quest hub" has been turned over to proximity triggers, so that, for the most part, you're no longer required to go back and forth talking to NPCs to acquire and complete quests. Instead, as you wander through an area, quests enter your log automatically and rewards are sent to you by mail when they are completed.
The effect this has on gameplay can be quite remarkable. On your way to do one thing, you may find yourself carried off numerous times by other interesting activities you didn't expect that are unfolding right in front of you, and in one way or another, you're being rewarded for all of it. The quest hubs are still there, denoted on the map with hearts that fill up when they're completed, but the process flows more naturally, largely allowing you to just wander around and do things along the way.
The public "events" offer an impressive amount of variety, ranging from somewhat humdrum collection tasks to compelling escort assignments. These seem to scale nicely to the number of players involved, and some of them unfold into a series of objectives that can take you right across the zone. While they're not worlds apart from the public questing pioneered by Warhammer Online and Rift, they are better implemented. It remains to be seen how engaging these events will be once most players have moved on to higher levels.
Interestingly, Guild Wars 2 lets you revisit content you've outleveled by automatically adjusting your level to that of the area you're in. This means you can group with friends in early stages of the game without being completely overpowering, or repeat events you found particularly enjoyable. It's not perfect, as you'll have better gear and more skill points, but it's still a welcome addition. In a similar way, when you jump into PvP with a low level character, you're scaled up to the level cap.
ArenaNet may not have entirely reinvented the genre, but it's almost immediately obvious that there are plenty of good ideas here. From relatively big things like the quest system and world vs. world PvP (which I'll discuss in upcoming articles), to small things like the ability to "Deposit All Collectibles" in inventory without going to the bank, a dye mode in the character pane, and a bank tab at the crafting station, Guild Wars 2 raises the bar for fantasy MMORPGs. We'll get into more detail about other aspects of the game in the weeks ahead.