This is a strange first impressions post for a couple of reasons. First, Guild Wars 2 will be three years old this year. I purchased the game when it launched in 2012, but only recently started playing it in earnest. So, it may be the absolute last “first impressions” post about GW2 on the Internet. Secondly, my highest level character is currently in his low 60’s, and though leveling in GW2 is a pretty fast process, that still represents a few months worth of playtime for me. My impressions have been developed over that period of time instead of the relatively shorter period spent on past reviews such as Wildstar, ESO, and Archeage. Truth be told, I prefer to spend more time in a game in order to provide a more well-formed opinion, but interest level and business model sometimes conspire against me.
The character models in GW2 are pretty darn good. I’m not sure they’re quite on par with ESO from a realism perspective or with Archeage from a flashy armor perspective, but they look good, and fit well within the unique art style of the game (more on that later). I especially like the sylvari, asura and charr races, as each of these come with some unique customization options such as a secondary glowy appearance (Sylvari), ear style (Asura) and tusk/horns style and length (charr). Humans look ok, but I still contend that the human running animation in GW2 looks clunky. I’m not sure how else to describe it, other than it doesn’t seem like a natural human movement. On the flip side, charr and asura movement seems especially appropriate, though I would like to see charr (a cat-like race) move faster when running on all fours. Currently, the charr moves the same speed whether walking upright or down, which makes the cat-like run feel slower than it should. During character creation, the wizard prompts you to answer several questions that influence your initial cinematic, and some aspects of your early personal story, so that’s a nice touch.
I’m still getting used to the fact that GW2 has eschewed the “MMO standard” terminology and uses different names for everything. “Professions” are known as classes in most MMO’s. Since GW2 was designed without the “holy trinity” of tank, DPS, and healing in mind, professions are largely a matter of personal play style taste. The class that I have the most experience with is the engineer, which I’ve found utilizes a nice combination of conditions (debuffs) and bleeds to take down foes. However, engineers can also be built to perform various support functions such as calling in healing drops and building mortars that fellow players can use. All classes have these types of variances in builds, so it’s impossible to describe how they fit into the overall ecosystem of combat. Generally speaking, if mele is your play style, roll one of the heavy armor classes. If you enjoy pets, roll a ranger. If you enjoy stealth, roll a thief. If you enjoy debuffs, roll an engineer. If you enjoy casting/magic, roll a light armor class. So far I’ve sampled elementalist, mesmer, thief, and ranger in addition to my engineer and have found elements that I enjoy within each of these.
One of my gripes with GW2 when I first tried the game was that there were so few skills available during combat, and that they were influenced by your weapon type instead of your character’s progression. One thing I’ve come to terms with, however, is that I only used about 5-10 skills in my combat rotation even in more classic MMO’s like LOTRO. Also, the speed of combat in GW2 almost necessitates a lower number of skills with reduced cooldown times. This adds to the “action-y” feel of combat, and enables character movement (dodge, etc.) to be included as an additional mechanic while firing off skills. Now that I’m used to it, the combination of weapon skills, self-heals, auxiliary skills and character movement make for a fluid, yet somewhat strategic combination. While I’m still a little wary about how my character “learns” a new skill when picking up a weapon, I’ve grown to appreciate the customization of skills available by combining main and off-hand weapons and shields.
One of the biggest reasons that I stopped playing GW2 the first time around was that I was slightly mystified by the progression through the world. My familiarity with the quest hub system worked against the more free-flowing event and exploration driven progression in GW2. Luckily, that same familiarity with progression in LOTRO is what eventually compelled me to seek out a different style of MMO. One of my friends once tweeted that leveling in GW2 happens “almost by accident”. Experience points are gained from nearly every action in the game, from crafting to discovering a new area on the map. I think the reason for this is that leveling is not meant to be the primary progression system within GW2. Players are meant to experience the world via dynamic events, map exploration, and personal and living world stories. Leveling is a lucky by-product of participating in these systems. Characters learn ever more powerful skills via the skill point system, where various abilities can be purchased for earned skill points. Leveling (up to level 80) does provide an increase to base stats, but like most MMO’s, these bumps are barely noticeable from one level to the next. The Heart of Thorns expansion is attempting to continue the trend of de-emphasizing leveling by freezing the max level at 80 (forever! They claim) and focusing on other methods of advancement such as traits and masteries.
The art style in GW2 is incredibly unique. I’ve heard others describe it as “playing in a painting” and I think that is pretty accurate. Half-realism, Half-cartoonish concept art, I find myself accepting both gritty, realistic landscapes and crazy floaty crystals and technology with equal validity. Dialog boxes and event notifications share the unique brush-stroke style and blend right in to the gameplay experience. Arenanet has gone to great lengths to “show off” their landscape accomplishments, as each vista discovered provides the option for a beautiful Assassins Creed style 360 degree view. Many a screenshot have I grabbed during that mini-cinematic! In my Wildstar post I complained about the mouseover outline (green for friendlies and red for baddies) of other characters in the world. This is something that bothered me a lot when I first started playing, but I can honestly say that after several months in the game, I don’t even notice it any more. Perhaps my brain is finally taking the visual cues as intended.
Guild Wars 2 is a buy-to-play game with cash shop micro-transactions. I love this model in that it provides both a mild barrier to entry (I’m starting to think that zero barrier is not necessarily the best thing for a game community) in the form of the up-front cost, but doesn’t milk the player for a monthly fee that they may or may not get any value from. The micro-transactions seem pretty reasonable so far, with most of them being centered around cosmetics. I’ve already spent some extra money on transmutation charges, and will probably unlock season 2 of the living story at some point in order to experience the GW2 lore to its fullest. The best part of the business model is how it makes me feel as a consumer. I feel like I own the game. I feel like additional in-game purchases are entirely my choice. I don’t feel like the game is designed to push me into micro-transactions (additional grind, etc.). It seems like a real win/win to me, and I wish more MMO’s would try to make it work.
The fact that I’m still playing GW2 after several months speaks volumes. While it may be a case of still being in the honeymoon phase, I’m excited to experience some of the things that I’ve to this point only heard about, like the living story and PvP, not to mention the forthcoming Heart of Thorns expansion later this year. If Guild Wars 2 isn’t my main MMO at this point, I would have to consider it my co-main.
Featured image by Antonio Ruiz García of Flickr Creative Commons