To talk about ArenaNet’s Guild Wars 2 is just like running up to a wasp nest with a nerf bat wearing nothing but your underwear and pretending that you’re Babe Ruth. Since the early access release of the game for those who pre-purchased it, and even before then, there has been a strong dividing line between those who consider themselves true fans of the title and those who seem to just be passing through. Those with the’ true and loyal fans’ title will sometimes even come across as radicals, dismissing genuine concerns and flaws of the game with ‘turn a blind eye’ reasoning. Those just passing through can just as easily come off as being entirely too judgmental, ripping the game apart at the seams when it comes to several different aspects of the new MMORPG that are different from the norm.
Extremities in either case come off as bias, so writing this first week’s impression piece is going to be a bit rough around the edges. To begin with, Guild Wars 2 has had a rough start with several bugs and glitches. To top it off, the forums that are there to interact with the community and the developers on their website are still closed. The auction house, also known in fancy in-game speak as the Black Lion Trading Company trading post, was also shut down until about late Wednesday night and promptly went down again. We have seen similar issues in other online games, take the infamous launch of Diablo 3 and their auction house issues for example. Still, these inconveniences in other titles have been met with the cold harsh reality that comes with nerd rage.
From personal experience, I’ve also run into several issues involving group dynamics. Before a recent update, I sat stewing over that fact that I couldn’t see members of my own party on the map if they were more than a few feet away from my own character. The constant jumps between being on your real server and being dumped somewhere else in the overflow has made me more jetlagged than Link in Ocarina of Time. You could also get separated from your group with no means of getting back to wherever they were in time and space.
Admittedly, the developers have been hard at work, or so they tweet us, tweaking both optimization and making sure that you’re able to play without accidently broken in-game mechanics. It’s the purposely broken ones that you’ve got to worry about instead. While you can say that there was an outcry in other games about the lack of variation in mounts, what sort of complaints are there for a large open-world MMORPG without any sort of mounts at all?
I’d like to say that maybe in this plane of existence horses haven’t been invented yet. There are horse-people, as you will find yourself neck-deep in centaurs at any given moment, but I don’t think I’ve actually seen a regular horse. I’ve suggested that humans should be allowed to mount themselves on the back of Charr, but I haven’t gotten a formal response on that suggestion yet. With the forums being down, I doubt I’ll get one anytime soon.
On one hand, you can argue that this game isn’t created for mounts. With the instant-cast teleportation system, you can zip about the world faster than any of the other games who use flight points instead. This is true, which I found incredibly convenient, but that doesn’t solve the problem of running around on foot in this slow jog the rest of the time. You also have to find the teleport points first before you can use them. There are quite a few mobs out in the world that would make suitable modes of transportation, ranging from overgrown lizards to giant birds, but here’s to wishing in one hand and those quests involving cow pies in the other.
Another major feature is the combat, which does stand out as unique, but only in how the skills are set up. You get a different set of skills depending on your weapon for the first five and unlockables from skills between six through zero. Depending on your combination, you can ‘stance dance’ your way with up to ten skills between your first five number keys in a fight with only a minor timer in-between switching up. This really only works through if you’re completely changing out your weapons. Otherwise, you’ll be getting only the first three or last two to rotate out. For example, while playing a Guardian, I favor having a shield. This means that between my two stances, I’m only switching out my main hand between a mace and a sword. This will only change my first three attacks, since my shield skills remain the same in slots 4 and 5.
However, if I were to switch completely to a two-handed weapon, than all five slots would change. There’s also a stamina bar for tucking your tail between your legs and rolling out of the way from attacks. This is a great mechanic for ranged classes, even squishy melee ones, but as a Guardian, it’s a feature that I never see the point in using. My rushing-in attacks place me in front of the mob, while my defensive skills are meant to pushback and shield both myself and my allies from incoming damage. Of course, I’ve been told that I’m playing it wrong; that my slave mind for ‘normal’ mmo’s has made me a stagnant player without the urge to utilize every aspect of the game. They’re right, of course, but also wrong.
I’ve played games where even strong and sturdy melee classes have to get out of the way to save themselves from giant baddies. Games like Vindictus, for example, that has an over-the-shoulder game play of smash-box combat, active dodging and a sense of urgency are nothing new to me. The problem with this game, however, is that there isn’t really a feeling of impending doom. Frankly, I’m not scared enough to duck.
The mobs, for the most part, aren’t that intimidating. They’re extremely repetitive and in my 30 levels of gameplay, I’ve killed more centaurs, bandits and giant mole-rat than I ever thought possible. They aren’t giant, flesh-ripping and face eating ones either. In a game like Vindictus, there’s blood, screaming, panic, and a rush from dodging the giant spiked club of a monster who wants nothing more than to make you his pretty little girlfriend. Here, not so much.
The game also makes you feel more like a peon than a real hero. Despite your actual level, you’ll be rolled back to match any zone that you’ve outgrown. With the current incarnation of the title, there are definitely quite a few problems with this. For starters, there’s a definite underestimation on what level some classes have to be in order to effectively clear an area. Just like any other game on the market out there, some combinations and classes are very much so glass cannons. Their survivability is significantly lower due to their gears and skill set, making them take much more damage, have less health and have an good chance of being more easily overrun and outgunned. With the way the game is set up, there isn’t a way to go gain a few levels in an easier area and come back later.
This sort of element may hold a problem with some, but not with others. There are a lot of players who want to overpower certain mobs in order to complete a quest or clear a zone without help, however, one can also argue that the active dodging and run around combat is based on skill. A rebuttal from those without any problems about this feature could be that if you’re not skilled enough to learn how to deal, then you’re not good enough to play the game. Still, I feel as if this feature needs to be tweaked quite a bit to find a balance between all the classes. As it stands, the ranged and squishy classes seem to have a much harder time with this feature then those who can actually take a hit or two without any real issues. There also seems to be some disgruntled players who rather just die then play the pre-death mini-game of button mashing your way back to your feet in the ‘fight to survive’ addition.
Not to say there isn’t anything redeeming about this title. It’s a pretty game, to be sure, with a great set of voice actors that came directly from the likes of SWTOR, Skyrim and other fantastically voiced RPG games. Playing as a human male, Nolan North does a fantastic job of playing the hero even though I made him a total jerk as a Jedi Consular (Sorry Nolan!). The cut-scenes are clean, albeit it lazy. Instead of fully animated interactions, they used something that I’ve honed as ‘Sock Puppet Theater’. There are two people talking; one to the left and one to the right, just like in a solo sock puppet show. The story isn’t that deep either, which is perfectly fine for most people. If you’re playing because you enjoy the open world and going exploring, this title is right up your alley.
Many times have I heard comparisons to the Sandbox and Theme Park genres in MMORPG, especially since release. This is definitely a title that lights fire in a select few but sizzles out quickly for others. Tune in again next week to, “So are the Days of Our Guild Wars” (Pending title)