Guild Wars 2 (published by ArenaNet)
(free-to-play once purchased, around $50)
Few MMORPGs possess as much fun, whimsy, challenge, and sheer breadth of opportunities that Guild Wars 2 does. I had never been much of a fan of the first Guild Wars, but I’ve taken GW2 to my heart. Most gamers know about this game (it has been out since 2012) but it was this year that I finally adopted it. With continually updated content, a huge world, and a wide range of things to do inside the game, GW2 easily became one of my favorite games of 2013.
Players in GW2 choose one of five races that thankfully think outside of the standard fantasy game tropes. Each one also comes with their own look and fully realized culture:
- Asura (rat/mouse like people obsessed with magical technology)
- Charr (warlike cat-like race)
- Norn (large spiritual shape-changing Nordic Vikings)
- Sylvari (nature-loving living plant people)
- and of course humans.
The classes are more traditional, although each has its own general play-style and learning curve:
- Guardian (defensive melee)
- Warrior (flexible melee)
- Engineer (guns and turrets)
- Ranger (bow and pet class)
- Thief (complex flexible chain builder)
- Elementalist (utilizing four different types of magic)
- Mesmer (offensive and defensive magic)
- Necromancer (magic pet class)
Although, all classes have aspects of what is normally thought to be a hybrid class, and all players have a range of heal self and/or others abilities for maximum flexibility in play style
Each playable race is given a linear main quest line that takes them all around the sizable world. Quest oriented cut scenes are done cleverly with attractive visuals and full voice acting. Mostly these are engaging. A few times along the main quest story arc the different races’ stories merge which means some repetitive play if you play several different characters. This is a minor complaint (although if I never drive the undead away from Claw Island again in my GW2 career I’d be very happy). A more serious annoying feature of the game is the fact that all of the main quest episodes can be soloed (when of the appropriate level) but the finale goes out of its way to require you to find a partner or party to finish. As a player who enjoys the solo experience, and can not easily find someone else to adventure with, this has stopped cold my quest progression on all characters. They are stuck at the penultimate stage with no chance to complete the last quest on their own (despite soloing everything up to that point). It is a great annoyance.
Speaking of grouping, as to be expected with a game called Guild Wars, a lot of careful attention has been paid to give players who want them the tools to create public and private guilds for group play. This system is seamlessly incorporated into the game itself.
Adventuring through the GW2 map is often a dynamic experience. Along with static quest-givers, every map has many ‘automated events’ that run independent of any player interaction. Players can join in and help with the event, allowing for a degree of spontaneous cooperation without having to formally group. Another aspect of the game that helps cultivate a collaborative environment is that anyone who assists in any combat receives experience and treasure, preventing any kill-stealing. Similarly, crafting recourses on the landscape persist until each player receives their share.
The art direction of GW2 is often stunning, although sometimes it veers close to World of Warcraft type cartoony-ness with huge unrealistic melee weapons and absurd armor (and the female armors tend to skew toward the busty and revealing). The maps are varied and a range of climates and terrain types hold some amazing vistas. One of the most detailed and impressive is one that the players get to learn well– Lion’s Arch, a city lovingly constructed out of decommissioned ships and other naval vessels. The first time you encounter Lion’s Arch with its buildings made of ships piled atop each other, sails still fluttering, it is truly a jaw-dropping sight.
Guild Wars 2 always gives you a range of activities you can tackle. There are standard quests and combat, but also many jumping puzzles, games of skill, and opportunities to make items. Almost everything you do in the game gives you experience. You could level up (albeit slowly) just by gathering materials and crafting. Every day the game also gives you a random list of about 10 activities you can complete (kill so many veteran monsters, revive so many fallen allies, collect so many craft items, etc.) for bonuses and special treasure items, encouraging the player to tackle this ever-changing list, and see it through to the end every time they are in the world. A built-in achievement system possesses a wide range of rewards for succeeding at a variety of tasks.
Combat is both intuitive and simplified without seeming dumbed-down. Every weapon type has usually up to 5 special “attacks” that can be unlocked depending on how it is used (main hand, two-handed, off-hand, ranged, or underwater), and the class of the person using it (i.e. an elementalist can do something different with a dagger than a thief can). This allows a good deal of changeup based on class, play style, and monster encountered, and some weapons complement each other when used together. Additionally, and this is something that tends to blow your mind when first encountered, GW2 has underwater combat, with a range of underwater weapons and equipment. When fighting underwater, combat exists in 360 degrees, with the ability to move in any direction, and requiring brand new strategies. It also helps that the underwater vistas are beautiful, and the transition between the dry and aquatic worlds handled very well.
The world is constantly updated and expanded. Sometimes this involves completely altering a landscape, as was recently done when some signature monsters cooperated to take over, and transform, previously lush rolling grassland in their own twisted way. Regular content updates also sometimes change or improve areas of the world you may have not visited since you were low level, necessitating a new visit and providing new experiences.
As with many MMORPGs, holidays receive attention, usually with numerous special events, treasure, and activities. For example, GW2 created a very fun game for Halloween open to anyone of any level. A group of about 12-15 players were placed in a maze-like build without weapons or armor. One player started as a ghost, possessing powers that could kill other players. Scattered through the maze were several items that the non-ghost players (called “villagers”) could pick up and use against the ghost (balls of gunk that could be thrown to block visibility, sticky webs to slow pursuit, big hammers to fight back, etc.). When the ghost killed a “villager”, that player became a ghost as well and joined in the fight to chase and convert the remaining “villagers”. After a time limit, special prizes were given to “villagers” who survived and ghosts who converted the most. It was a well-thought-out, fun game and was only one of several themed events for that month.
Finally, Guild Wars 2 has been the only game I’ve played where I found any enjoyment fighting other players. GW2 has two kinds of this content- world vs. world (WvW) and player vs. player (PvP). WvW consists of four maps filled with keeps, castles, supply camps, and other strategic points where players from three different servers can contest against each other, and ultimately provide server-wide bonuses for everyone. This is often fast moving with a healthy dose of teamwork. Although it does not offer as much reward as direct combat, I found great fun using siege weapons to attack rival castle while the rest of my team battled to break down the front door. Players from different servers are blocked from communicating with each other, or even seeing each others’ names (although Guild names are visible). This keeps the experience team-focused, which is probably why I enjoyed it. I dabbled in the regular PvP but found it, as always, full of petulant “hard-core” players who either screamed and yelled at team members for not doing this or that correctly, or who were just interested in killing you and being a dick about it. PvP is where the 13 year-olds (real and metaphorical) hang out so I tend to give it a wide berth. I did find WvW enjoyable, however.
Crystal Desert is the unofficial LGBT-friendly server in GW2 and where I play my range of characters (illustrated in this post). Several LGBT guilds call it home as well. Come find me there in Guild Wars 2!