REVIEW: Despite following the so-hot-right-now fantasy game storyline of 'the dragons are here and now we're all screwed', Guild Wars 2 manages to be one of the most innovative new titles in an often stagnant genre. It's influenced by a healthy mix of MMOs, real-time strategies, and action RPGs with a touch of platforming on the side and throws classic fantasy creatures and themes in with original races and nods to pop culture.
The game eschews a lot of the baggage of the MMOs of yore while keeping the spirit of the original Guild Wars: it's a bit like when you mix the last few nights' leftovers together, then throw them on toast and end up with a taste sensation instead of food poisoning. But somehow even better.
The character creator gives you plenty of options to choose from - there are five races, eight classes and there's a lot of customisation available appearance-wise. You're also asked a few questions on your character's background and personality which will shape the way your own personal story will play out. You'll be given branching choices as you move through the plot, and the majority of these story quests are engaging enough to keep you wanting more. You'll generally have one of these missions every couple of levels, but you're free to try them sooner or come back to them later as you please.
In addition to your story missions, you'll also find 'renown hearts' scattered around the map. Instead of a farmer telling you to kill twenty bandits and jotting it down in your quest log, you'll walk by the farm, see bandits wreaking havoc and a pop up in the corner of your screen will show you what you can do to lend a hand - perhaps kill some bandits, help put out the fires they've started, or feed the cows that have been starving while all this has been going on. There's a good amount of variety in these missions, with opportunities to try everything from destroying ghost catapults to annihilating children in a snowball fight.
As you wander around the land of Tyria, you'll run into large scale events. Many of these will branch off into other events depending on whether the event is completed or failed. Fail to stop the centaurs invading a local settlement and they might drive out the inhabitants, take it for themselves and set their sights on the next village over; however, to succeed in defending it from them might put them on the back hoof and start an event to raid their camps and take out their leaders. In most MMOs the attacking centaurs would just meander aimlessly outside the village, so it's refreshing to see them charge the gates, let alone take over.
Guild Wars 2 features several five-man dungeons, and these really ramp up the difficulty. The game doesn't feature any sort of tanking or dedicated healing classes, so attempting the good old fashioned tank-and-spank will quickly transform your party into a few smears on the end of a lowly ghost warrior's sword.
Survival here requires fast reflexes and a lot of teamwork - you'll need to roll away from deadly spells and arrows, help downed teammates back on their feet and keep close-range combatants at bay, as failure to do so will result in plentiful deaths. Some fights can feel a little cheap the first time around as often the only way to tell a boss is going to unleash his super attack is to be hit in the face with it a couple of times, but after a few nasty deaths you'll learn when to dodge. Well, hopefully.
On the upside, waypoints unlock throughout the dungeon as you go, so at least there usually isn't too much of a walk after being flatlined.
Thankfully every class has a variety of crowd control, support and damaging abilities to prolong their lives, and each class brings its own style to these roles. Engineers can stick foes in place with glue bombs and net-shooting turrets, mesmers can distract them with illusions, and warriors can knock them off their feet and block their attacks. A necromancer might offer some support by drawing debilitating conditions off his allies and then sending them to an enemy en masse, rangers can throw a torch to the ground creating a bonfire that will set alight friendly projectiles shot through it, and an elementalist can conjure powerful elemental weapons for her party to wield. Thieves can deal massive damage while popping in and out of the shadows, and guardians can summon a small army of ethereal floating weapons to bring the pain. No matter what class you play, you can succeed in any role - and in the dungeons you're likely going to have to do a little bit of everything to stay alive.
If you'd rather slap other players around than help them out, then PvP and World vs World will be more to your liking. In PvP, two small teams compete to hold three capture points on a map. Each map also has a secondary feature to keep thing interesting - one map has a trebuchet on each side which can be used to rain fiery death on the ground below, while another has NPC 'keep lords' on each side which can be killed for a large point bonus. When you enter the PvP lobby, you are levelled to 80 and given access to all your skills and a wide selection of weapons and armour, so everyone is on even footing.
World vs World is kind of like a gigantic RTS game where each soldier is controlled by an actual person - players from three servers battle it out for control of castles, keeps and supply camps, using battering rams and catapults to lay siege to castle gates, tipping boiling oil on attackers from the ramparts, and sending huge armies of players to rush fortified positions. If you're feeling more secret agent than footsoldier, small groups of five or so can cause major disruption by attacking supply camps behind enemy lines, cutting off valuable resources to strongholds. Supply is used to repair damaged fortifications and build siege weaponry, so slinking around and taking these out can do a lot of damage to opposing teams (and personal relationships, depending on how well the people you live with can handle sporadic humming of the James Bond theme).
With three full-featured game modes and a strong focus on fun, action, and exploration instead of the usual MMO level grind, and no subscription fees, it's hard not to recommend Guild Wars 2. It's obvious that developers ArenaNet have put a lot of love into this game - everything from the menus to the combat system and environments are well-designed and full of detail, and all the changes to the status quo come together to make a solid step forward in a genre that has been in need of a good shake up for quite some time. There's a whole lot of game here, and whether you're into MMOs or usually hate them, Guild Wars 2 will likely have something to offer you.
Guild Wars 2
Test platform: PC