Here’s a surprise: I’m still infatuated with Guild Wars 2 a week after launch, entering the final 20-level spread of the PvE game with PvP and World vs. World and all the other potential character builds and instanced stories in the offing. At this rate, I’ll either need a TARDIS or a 12-step program to break away long enough to finish The Last Story, Dragon’s Dogma, LittleBigPlanet (for PS Vita) and Resident Evil 6. If I sound like a broken record…well, a broken record wouldn’t play, so let’s just call me a skipping needle.
You’ve maybe seen my list of things I didn’t care for in Guild Wars 2, which honestly took some putting together given how few and far between the foibles are. Here’s another that took almost no time at all: a list of things I love about the game, and what I think it does better than any other MMO.
Dynamic everything, wherever you go. I’ve said it before: The dynamic world and area events are unsurpassed in Guild Wars 2. ArenaNet really hit it out of the park. You move through zones picking or passing on events that spawn periodically, which means what you’re up to depends on where you are, not what someone’s sent you to do, e.g. “drop some ring into a volcano half a world away.”
That also means no lazy NPCs doling out quests or drudging lists that make you feel like one of those home delivery grocery services. Instead, you’re diving into an activity ecology, jogging around a world-sized playground with dozens of events playing out at once, with or without you, picking from this or that one, maybe slipping off to harvest spices from a clump of grass or chisel a hunk of platinum ore off some outcropping, maybe just wandering willy-nilly to unlock some new vista. Even friendly NPCs get in on the dynamism, dashing out into the world when bad things happen and summoning passersby to the scene like town criers.
To be fair, Guild Wars 2 isn’t the first dynamic event MMO — Warhammer Online was doing dynamic events already in 2008 — but no one’s implemented them as well as ArenaNet has here.
No one has better PvE quests. Someone needs you to get food sacks to feed the starving townspeople, but the sacks are strewn along a mountain path plagued by Ettins, and if you’re struck while carrying one of these sacks, the food’s shot. Do you: Attack the Ettins, hoping to clear the path before more show up? Set frost traps to slow them and hopefully avoid combat? Or just go for broke, hoping to outmaneuver them as you zigzag with your arms full of foodstuff?
Guild Wars 2 is chock full of PvE events like this, each with its own interesting iterations, each offering multiple ways — risky or risk-averse, violent or nonviolent — to fill an event’s completion meter. And events are often chained, meaning once you do one thing, it may prompt another and another still. You might escort a caravan from an outpost to a small town, fending off attackers along the way, then find yourself further defending the entire town from an enemy onslaught before racing off to counterattack. Or you might be asked to help train a task force of locals, gathering supplies and testing weaponry, then — once they’re ready to roll — march off with them to war.
Waypoint travel. Guild Wars 2 eliminates the slog of overland travel by sprinkling its maps with electric blue, diamond-shaped waypoints you discover (and accrue XP for discovering) on the fly. To use them, the game asks that you pay a small travel tax that scales up the further you want to travel. This makes any part of the world that you’ve explored instantly accessible, and the tax is enough to mitigate zipping around arbitrarily. The clever twist: Sometimes world events can actually block access to “contested” waypoints, which brings me to…
What you do in Tyria actually changes Tyria. Really an extension of my prior plaudits, Guild Wars 2‘s PvE maps are often mutable — even more so in the higher-level zones — changing on the fly as NPCs attempt to snatch and hold areas like towns or garrisons in a kind of perpetual tug-of-war. This gives the entire world a wonderful sense of elasticity and treacherousness. That spot in the tent beside the weaponsmith in the town over yonder may look like a safe place to park your character, but could just as well be swarming with enemies moments later.
You can hit your level maximum just by cooking, healing and exploring. Also: farming resources, crafting goods and reviving downed players — even pets. Max out all the crafting professions and you can zip to level 80 without killing a thing. Almost everything you do in Guild Wars 2 generates experience, and in a shock reversal of a cross-genre video game cliché, you’ll actually generate more experience from farming resources than killing an area’s stock bad guys.
The intuitive crafting system. If you could cook it in real life, it’s probably a recipe in the game. Want to make “Fancy Potato and Leek Soup”? Get potatoes, cream of soup base, leeks and saffron. How about “Lemongrass Poultry Soup”? Chicken, coconuts, herbed poultry stock and lemongrass. “Chocolate Raspberry Cake”? Baker’s dry and wet ingredients, chocolate bars and raspberry frosting. Wolfgang Puck or Giada De Laurentiis it’s not, but intuit two or three or four ingredients, and chances are you’ll unlock a new recipe and get an experience attaboy in the bargain (there’s no penalty for randomly trying either).
The way your character scales to lower-level areas. Most zones have recommended levels, just like other MMOs. But in other MMOs, if you go back to your starting area, you could sneeze and insta-kill half the zone. Not in Guild Wars 2, which has a way to keep even level 80 demigods entertained: Wander into a zone that’s lower than your character’s level and the game automatically drops your level and character’s abilities (though skills, traits and gear are left untouched, so it’s not a total nerf-job). And it’s no joke: If you’re not careful, a swarm of level four or five bears or wolves or minotaurs will annihilate you.
I worried at first that this might violate some crucial “sense of accomplishment” maxim — the inverse of Oblivion‘s automatically up-scaled fauna, say — but it actually livens up the exploration XP hunt, say you want to drop back into a level 1-15 area with your level 50 or 60 character to clear a map or play with a low-level friend or group.
The build-focused, action-angled, profession-agnostic combat. Guild Wars 2‘s combat system feels a lot like Diablo III‘s, where you’re starting with a handful of skills, gradually unlocking dozens more, but can never use more than a few in combat at any time. This forces you to make very specific build choices instead of spamming (or macro-ing) everything together in elaborate chains. It also makes your Ranger or Mesmer or Engineer much more likely to be different from someone else’s. And whatever class or race you play, Guild Wars 2 lets you switch between melee or ranged combat on the fly, mitigating the so-called MMO trinity (“tank-heal-control”) by letting players switch roles without radical reconfiguring or having to keep alts (alternative characters) on standby.
The design team at ArenaNet couldn’t be more responsive. Guild Wars 2 a week after launch already feels like a notably different game than at launch. You can see the first round of status updates here and more recent ones on the official Guild Wars 2 wiki. Roughly half the issues I was grousing about last week have already been remedied. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a design team work as fast or effectively to stomp out bugs and smooth over gameplay, and whether your particular issue’s been fixed or not, that’s something we should all raise a glass to.