October 27 2012
Guild Wars 2 launched in late August, and not unlike the original, certain elements of the design continue to be hotly debated by MMORPG fans. In a world of World of Warcraft clones, Guild Wars 2 does some key things differently, and as is often the case, players tend to either love them or hate them.
Combat and Skills
I haven't yet mentioned the game's combat system, but despite appearances, is does have unique aspects to it. Mobility plays a larger role than usual, not only because you can dodge by double-tapping movement keys, but also because you can use almost all skills and spells while moving.
You have conventional controls and hotbars, but the skill system is another departure from the norm. Abilities change depending on what weapon you have equipped, and you have access to only a pre-selected group of your utility skills. The classes are such that they all have the potential to perform support roles like healing, as well as dish out damage, which removes the need for the traditional tank/healer/damage group structure. Weapon and ability selection offer a variety of ways to play the same class.
The net result is a lot less standing around taking blows and trying to heal through them and a lot more dodging around and trying to get into a good position. It's almost as close as you can come to being an action game while still remaining firmly on the RPG side of the line.
Progression That Ends
While Guild Wars 2 has 80 levels of PvE content right now, which is probably enough to keep the average gamer with a job going for several months, one of the most common grievances is the lack of "end-game" content. 5-player instanced dungeons are available from about level 30, but only a few of these are intended strictly for those at the level cap. There is currently no larger scale, raid-style PvE content in Guild Wars 2, nor is there any corresponding gear progression that begins at level 80. Once you have reached the cap and have exotic gear, which doesn't entail weeks of repeating instances, character advancement simply stops, apart from a few purely cosmetic rewards. What you do at that point is PvP or roll a new character, at least, until the next major update or expansion.
This is a familiar approach to those who played the original Guild Wars series, but it can be a big shock for people coming from games like WoW, where the expectation is that you will race to the level cap to run raids with a guild for countless hours to get the top tier of equipment. Needless to say, if you play for "end-game" that doesn't include PvP, you'll probably be disappointed.
The relative lack of "gear progression" impacts various aspects of Guild Wars 2, such as the economy, and in turn, crafting. It's a simple case of too much supply and virtually no demand.
It has become evident now that the initial rush has passed that many of the game's systems depend on a healthy player population. Numbers have a significant impact on the enjoyment of both dynamic events and WvW. The former scales to some extent, but it's just not as engaging without a group. WvW doesn't really work at all if only one team shows up for the fight. So far this hasn't been a show-stopper, but there is that potential as the game ages.
The Bottom Line
Guild Wars 2 is a complete and highly-accessible package with a unique collection of features, such as public quests and 3-way server battles, that set it apart from other games in the genre. It may look a lot like other MMORPGs on the surface, but there are key differences that won't appeal to everyone, particularly those who play almost entirely for loot. If you need something other than PvP to keep you going long-term, there are probably other games that would make a better fit. While it might be argued that Guild Wars 2 does a little less than its closest competition, it largely sticks to its principles, and it does it without the monthly fee. It's as likely as any game to make you fall in love with MMORPGs again.