Thursday, September 20, 2012

Guild Wars 2 PvE Review: A Fanboy's Perspective

If you're wondering why I haven't made a post in a hella long time, one major reason is the recent release of Guild Wars 2 which has eaten up quite a bit of my free time. To say I've been looking forward to this game is a bit of an understatement. In most areas it has lived up to or even exceeded my expectations, though there are a few places in which I've been a bit disappointed. Like Obama and his "change," Guild Wars 2 doesn't quite live up to all the hype of being a revolutionary, greatest game of all time, but it already ranks as one of my favorites and one that I'll be playing for years to come. I haven't had much of a chance to look into World vs. World or structured PvP, but here are my thoughts on the PvE game.

My level 80 asura Necromancer with Rata Sum in the background

Personal Story
As the name implies, the personal story is your primary source of plot for the game and is essentially solo content. Originally I wasn't too excited about this aspect of the game, but after playing through most of it, the personal story is one of my favorite parts of Guild Wars 2. It's fun, well-written, and has worthwhile rewards in addition to plenty of cool characters. In some respects however, it doesn't completely live up to expectations assuming you've been following this game since it was announced. When you first create your character you are faced with a number of story options to make which will, supposedly, make your story completely different from somebody who makes other choices. To some extent this is true, you will have different story steps in the beginning, but these stories appear to have very little, if any impact on the primary story of the game or the choices you make further down the line. These creation questions mostly just determine which early game sub-plots you'll see. Just as these early storylines are forgotten so is the Home Instance which was touted earlier on in development as a place that will change along with your story. Considering its your home, you visit it rather rarely and not at all once you reach level 25 or so, and other than a few NPCs added every now and then who stand around not doing anything, it doesn't really change either. I think Arenanet may have missed out on a golden opportunity to make a space for players to customize and that they can truly call their home. But as it stands, all of the sub-plots and the main story are thoroughly enjoyable so I don't have much trouble seeing past these minor discrepancies.

This is the most interesting thing I could find in my home instance

Events are the bread and butter of the game and what you'll probably spend most of your time doing if you're a PvE focused player. These are what I was most looking forward to about the game, and I'm pleased to say that, with the exception of a few buggy events here and there, they have met my expectations. They are buckets of fun and feel so natural that I forgot about the traditional MMO questing system within moments after I started playing. A lot of hours can be spent following an event chain or wandering between events across the map with nary a dull moment. Its also pretty amazing to see just how quickly and easily random people come together and work as a team to complete more challenging events which really helps the world come alive. When alone however, it can often become apparent that the majority of events aren't designed for one player to complete by themselves regardless of whether or not it is designated as a Group Event which can be frustrating. Luckily, with the already massive popularity of this game, you'll very rarely find yourself in this situation and fun times are had for all.

One of the more memorable events sees a group of us chasing after a jakalope

When events aren't running or you feel like a change of pace you'll find Tyria one of the more rewarding online worlds to explore. For starters, its beautiful with varied locales and unique set pieces. You can also find plenty of lore tidbits (and many references to the original game) scattered around by interacting with books, plaques, or NPCs if you're into that sort of thing. If you're looking for a challenge you may find one of the games many hidden jumping puzzles which reward you with an achievement and some loot at the end. If you don't really care for beauty, lore, or challenges and are one of those min/max types then you'll get all valuable experience simply by visiting all the vistas, points of interest, waypoints, and skill challenges on a map, earning yourself some useful gear to boot. You'll also have to fill in renown hearts, however, which are pretty much just traditional quests without the exclamation mark. Most will have you running around killing monsters in a given area to fill in a bar which can be a real chore if there aren't any events running nearby. Thankfully there are normally multiple ways to fill in a heart and while most are forgettable, there are a few that can actually turn out to be quite memorable. Once you reach the later areas of the game, the hearts disappear entirely, but it is also at this point that in order to explore and not get ganked by hordes of undead, you need a group of people with you. This is when exploration can become something of an aggravating chore, and instead of feeling a sense of accomplishment for getting to that hard to reach vista, the predominating emotion is relief for finally having it over and done with. Nevertheless, Tyria is an explorers paradise and a worthwhile use of your time and effort.

This vista from Divinity's Reach is one of the most popular, and for good reason

For me, dungeons are the best part about Guild Wars 2 which feature the most enjoyable and challenging content. While the free-for-all that are dynamic events is all fun and good, I find I get more pleasure from the more structured dungeons where communication between party members is key. Every encounter in a dungeon is fun and often unique, and the boss fights are a blast. Upon finally reaching the end, the sense of completion and success is enough reward in and of itself regardless of what the loot chest contains. On the subject of loot, I feel Arenanet may have backpeddaled a little bit on their promise of not having to grind the same dungeon over and over to get the gear you want. Although you do get the gear via tokens earned from the dungeon, and the tokens are guaranteed to drop at the end, you only get appear to get a fraction of what you need for a single piece, meaning you'll still have to repeat the dungeon over and over again if you want that awesome looking armor. On the plus side, it is in dungeons where the lack of a holy trinity in Guild Wars 2 is at its most liberating. Not having to wait on a healer or tank makes forming groups a breeze and once in the dungeon their absence isn't even noted.

One of the more interesting armor sets in the game and it will only cost you 1380 tokens 

Other Thoughts
- Combat is fun, fluid, immersive, and rewarding when you do it right
- The professions and their associated skills/traits all feel distinct and are fun to experiment with
- When you receive mail, a little bird flies to your character to deliver it which is a nice little flourish
- Lots of small conveniences like being able to deposit materials into the bank from anywhere
- Crafting is actually pretty fun
- The emotes in this game are fantastic

This image of a norn dancing makes me absurdly happy

And just for kicks here's a picture of asura children (aka progeny):