This last week has been slightly problematic. Not only did we see the launch of Guild Wars 2, Planetside 2 hit beta and Counter Strike: Global Offensive dropped. It’s been a very busy week indeed. I haven’t spent much time in CS:GO and PS2 is still under NDA, so I wanted to spend a few minutes recounting the simple joys of Guild Wars 2.
Guild Wars 2 (GW2) is free-to-play, but not free to buy. I think this is a more than acceptable trade off as I have no trouble paying $50 or so for a video game, but the $15/mo hit for every MMO does take a toll on the pocket book. The original Guild Wars (GW1) was cheap to purchase and made its money through “expansion packs” (which were stand alone). I’m doubting that GW2 will do the same, as now they have a nice little Gem Store which you can spend your real money in. Note that I said “can”, not “must”. Normally you pay real money for gems, which can then be used to purchase in-game gold or specialty items and account upgrades (extra slots and what not). However you can also reverse the process and use in game gold to purchase gems (but not gems to USD, no getting money back out – sorry).
GW2 is not anything remotely like a clone of GW1, it is a very different game. Even still, it retains a number of key design elements which really lend the two games to feeling like a big family, without being a cheap redux. On that note, I basically love every change they’ve made to the core game mechanics. Hunting for skills in GW1 was a nifty concept, but got REALLY freaking annoying after a while. Plus I’m not a hard core enough RPGer to enjoy the “mix and match skills” game. I like GW2, it gives me 5 attack skills, I mash some buttons, problem solved!
However, of every feature, functionality, revamp, dohicky, gem store, shiny bauble… there is one feature that excites me in ways that are not appropriate to describe on this blog. That feature is the map exploration system (And the map in general). One of my favorite activities in the big MMORPGs is exploration. I really just love to run around and see the enjoy the sights that the team of world designers obviously spent a LONG time on. In FFXI, there was one waterfall outside of Bastok that was just beautifully done… but you’d only see it by chance. In GW2 they have specific Points Of Interest (POI) across the map. They also have Waypoints which function as respawn points. Lastly there are Vistas which are truly fantastic.
The Vista mechanic just makes me so happy. They are sprinkled across all the maps (including cities) at all the best view locations. Some of them are tricky or down right challenging to get to – which makes finding them all the more satisfying. Once you trigger a Vista, the camera detaches from your character and follows a predetermined course which really gives you some fantastic views of the world. During these Vista “cinematics”, you really get a feeling of how much time, dedication, and love was put into the world design of GW2.
While I haven’t gotten very far into Guild Wars 2 (I’m only level 9), I’ve enjoyed my time. It really lends itself to casually popping in for an hour, getting some play in, and being able to move on with life. The game was delayed a number of years, but they were years well spent. I’ll admit, running up to the launch I was sort of ambivalent about it, however now that I’ve got some solid play time – I’m way happy. I suspect that Guild Wars 2 will be a game played off and on for many, many, years to come, much the same way its predecessor was.