When I first encountered Guild Wars, it was creating a reputation for itself as one of the main alternatives to World of Warcraft, offering a similar experience without the crippling monthly fee. Guild Wars 2 represents a major step forward for NCsoft and ArenaNet, completely stepping out of WoW's shadow and firmly planting itself as the new standard for MMORPG's.
GW2's story has plenty to offer both longtime GW veterans and newcomers. Set a thousand years after the events of the first GW, the land of Tyria is under siege by hellish dragons and their army of undead minions. To save the continent, multiple races must band together to overcome the common threat. The story introduces new narrative elements, while also building on much of the lore from the first game and its expansions.
Players that like to explore will be blown away by Tyria's massive size. The continent is enormous and exploring the whole thing could take the average player weeks, if not months. The world is beautifully illustrated and each area has its own distinctly beautiful style, from the gritty, dirt-filled Ascalon Plains to the gorgeously aquatic and luscious woodland environment of the Caledon Forest.
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On top of its beautiful visuals, GW2 goes out of its way to show players that its entire continent is truly a living, breathing world. Events unfold dynamically at all times of the day. I've often wandered directly into an active battleground or I'd sit idly by in a seemingly-quiet area, only to find myself overrun by a sudden harpy invasion. There's always something happening in Tyria, whether it's an escort mission or a group of random NPC's attempting to fight level 10 Ascalonian Spirits.
The only time that GW2's world stops turning is when the player pauses for a personal story mission. Personal story missions follow the game's narrative while also playing on individual personalities through a series of pre-game questions (all of which vary depending on the player's chosen race) and through in-game dialogue choices. These create individual experiences, but given the length of GW2 and how much narrative there is to cover, I've yet to see if any of these choices will ultimately impact the story's endgame scenario.
There's one area where Guild Wars 2 falls short and that's in welcoming new players. Veterans can step right in and pick up the game's mechanics without missing a beat, but newcomers have to poke around without the benefit of a detailed tutorial. Scouts give players a sense of direction, but there isn't a similar kind of helper for combat, weaponry, inventory management, or crafting. Everything I know about crafting and how different weapons work, I had to teach myself without any help from the game. Beginners have to learn on their own or ask a more experienced veteran for pointers. While the overall GW2 experience is overwhelmingly positive, it starts off rough for anyone new to the MMORPG genre.
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Fortunately, newcomers to the combat aspect of the game are helped greatly through the manner in which XP is awarded. All players are awarded XP, regardless of how much they contributed to an enemy's demise, which gives everyone an incentive to help one another. It certainly makes grinding a lot easier and less of a chore, though hitting higher levels is still aggravatingly time-consuming. Unfortunately, this won't help during dungeon raids, as newcomers and veterans alike can expect to be taken down a peg through beefed-up foes and fiendish level design, made more difficult by the fact that everyone is scaled down to the dungeon's specified level.
Players looking for more than the main story experience can jump into Player vs. Player and World vs. World modes. While Player vs. Player houses mostly-skilled players looking to test one another, World vs. World is a unique mode that puts players against each other in a perpetual Territories-style struggle between two to three teams all representing their servers for server-wide bonuses. In a fun twist, many of the aspects of the main Player vs. Environment mode can be found in WvW, as well, including harvesting and random NPC enemies. Surviving WvW is still difficult, but even newcomers can make an impact, as long as they tag along with a large group.
After nearly three weeks, I remain blown away by Guild Wars 2 and its massive world. With so much to do, so many choices to make, a friendly community to help out, constant patches and updates, and a huge narrative that continues to unfold day-by-day, it's easy to make the case for Guild Wars 2 as a contender for Game of the Year.
Field Reports provide our first-hand experience with the latest games, but should not be considered a review. This report is based on the Windows version of the game. Continue following Ozzie's travels through Tyria by reading his Guild Wars 2 diaries.