Intro

I recently played a free trial weekend of Guild Wars 2. The tl;dr is that I enjoyed myself quite a bit, but am on the fence about purchasing. Below are my thoughts on various aspects of the game, prefaced with some background.

How I play MMOs

I’m a casual MMO player who focuses on questing/leveling and exploring, some crafting, and the occasional non-raid dungeon run. No raiding, no PVP, only incidental roleplaying.

Thus, what matters to me is the world/environment/story, and the game mechanics as practiced against the AI.

Experience in other games

The vast bulk of my experience, and what I automatically compare GW2 to, is (surprise!) World of Warcraft, which I’ve played on and off for about 7 years. I also have a month’s solid experience in SWTOR and the free trials of LOTRO and EVE under my belt from a while back.

What I did/saw in the trial

A final but crucial bit of context is what I achieved during the GW2 trial:

  • Got a Sylvari ranger, Asura thief and Norn guardian each to level 4-5, and saw maybe a third of their respective starting (levels ~1-17) zones.
  • Played a Charr elementalist to level 2 (first couple of quests, and about 13 of the racial capital).
  • Leveled a human warrior to 8 and saw half his starting zone.
  • Fully explored each racial capital, save for the Black Citadel (Charr).
  • Did enough gathering & crafting on the human warrior to craft the level 5 axe.

On to the subjectiveness! Presented in bullet points because full-on prose would make this even more tl;dr than it already is :(

The unambiguously good

Stuff I loved without reservation:

  • The nontrivial experience gains for exploration, gathering and crafting is probably my single favorite thing about this game (unsurprisingly).
    • My warrior gained a level or more solely from the gathering and component crafting required to create his first axe. Ditto for exploration of the racial capital.
    • Having these activities be part of leveling a character instead of delaying the process feels great.
    • Craftable items also appear to be on par for quest/mob drops, which makes it even less a waste of time pre-endgame.
  • Weapon-based combat abilities are a neat twist affecting both gameplay and flavor. Having distinct playstyles for each weapon type feels more natural and/or realistic than simply presenting different animations.
    • This includes how a given weapon’s ability set varies across classes, and how it is extended by some spellcasting classes. E.g. elementalists’ abilities take both element and weapon into account.
  • ArenaNet’s UI/chrome artists know their stuff: the entire interface, from launcher to dialogs, is very aesthetically pleasing.
  • I’m fortunate to have disposable income, so this is almost moot, but the one-time entry fee and resulting lack of guilt during ‘off’ periods feels like it’d be a welcome change.

The “refreshingly different”

Things which were generally positive but either subjectively, or about which I had reservations:

  • Many aspects of the world/zone design (that which I saw, at least) fall into this category:
    • Humans have a well defined pantheistic religion instead of a boring Christianity rehash, which is definitely refreshing (albeit not unique among fantasy settings).
    • The Asura seem to have a bit more oomph than the average “short tinker people” trope, with their capital being a huge fuckoff sky cube, and the race (rather than e.g. mages) being sole purveyors of all the teleporation tech. I really liked their architecture, which I can only describe as “Draenei meets Mayan”.
    • I didn’t find it 100% appealing, but applaud the lengths the designers went to make the Sylvari look truly plantlike and not just “LOL green skinned elves”.
  • Teleportation instead of e.g. WoW’s flight points is convenient, and the “show off the zones” factor is mostly preserved via Vistas. A great example of “different, if not necessarily better”.
  • Combat is more visceral than in WoW, though I didn’t have time to get used to dodging and positioning so can’t fully judge. Whether this is better or worse than WoW-style combat is subjective.
  • Dynamic events are a great idea and I probably didn’t even see the full breadth of the feature.
    • But they tended to trigger my “oh god I have to do this right now” reflex more than I liked, and even in my short playtime I saw events repeat a few times.
    • I’m also ambivalent on the “get rewarded whether succeed or fail” aspect, though I sympathize with how hard that angle of gameplay is to balance.
  • “Heart”-based questing was billed as “No quests! No questgivers!” and that’s a lie: there are questgiver NPCs who are always in the same place and the quests still, in essence, boil down to “go here and do this thing”.
    • However, it’s different enough from WoW’s quests (multiple different and non-exclusive ways to gain the “quest’s” experience; don’t have to actually talk to the questgiver to take part) that I still found it an enjoyable change.

The bad, or at least disappointing

The inverse of the previous section: I took issue with the below, but they aren’t necessarily deal-breakers.

  • Weapon-based ability unlocking seems to go by so quickly (within minutes of finding a new weapon type) that it felt quite pointless.
  • Dodging/positioning during combat felt like a hassle, and was difficult to get right. Could simply chalk this up to my lack of skill and/or experience.
  • In the end, the classes are the same as WoW’s. Yes, every class having a self-heal is nice; and ArenaNet did split things up a little more (e.g. Engineer is a class, not a crafting discipline). And it’s surely difficult to deviate from the mold without losing potential players. But at least in my cursory glance:
    • Guardian’s a Paladin: moderate damage with lots of mitigation, some healing, and emphasis on local area effects;
    • Warrior’s a Warrior: unlimited weapon/armor use, focus on damage and bleeding, build up rage (sorry, adrenaline) over time to release for special attacks;
    • Elementalist’s a Shaman: elemental spell damage, mix of damage and utility;
    • Thief’s a Rogue: steady drip of combo points (sorry, initiative) expended for rapid damage, stuns and blinding; emphasis on dual wielding;
    • Ranger’s a Hunter: pets and ranged damage (though I did like how melee weapons became ranged when wielded by Rangers).
  • The overall setting/atmosphere/zone & model design doesn’t grab me in the way I was hoping.
    • Part of this is doubtless being spoiled by WoW’s distinct visual and thematic design, but I never found GW2’s world quite “clicking” with me.
    • Hard to say exactly why; part of it was the exaggerated scale, or how the world was fantastic but not in a way that appealed to my personal sensitivities.
      • E.g.: the wacky-ass garden in the heart of the human capital; some of the Sylvari plant “architecture”; etc.
    • Buildings were frequently too big/“epic”, sometimes in a way that was ridiculous/immersion-breaking, e.g. the Norn grand lodge’s dozen or so interior levels with no visible method of access.
    • I missed the “cozy” feel of many of WoW’s nooks and crannies and hideaways; the more human scale of the interiors; etc.
    • WoW also wins in the props department – GW2’s environmental elements aren’t bad per se, but they felt a bit stiff compared to WoW’s warmth.
    • Again, none of this was actively “so ugly!” off-putting – but it didn’t pull me in either.
  • I can’t connect with the lore / the lore doesn’t quite grab me.
    • Not entirely GW2’s fault, as most of my previous MMOs came from established intellectual properties.
    • However, I’m quite open to new-to-me IP (e.g. I enjoyed a recent playthrough of The Witcher) and I still wasn’t quite sold on Tyria.
    • The world-building felt generally competent, but most of its departures from typical fantasy tropes fall flat.
      • A race of plant people is kind of neat, but they’ve only been around for 25 years, which is just…odd, from a culture/tradition/experience point of view. Everything must be made from whole cloth in some fashion, surely? I didn’t get into their lore enough to really tell whether or how this is addressed.
        • At least WoW’s Draenei are only new to the world itself, and have actual history behind their culture, architecture etc.
      • Catlike humanoids? Let’s make them technologically advanced – but only in a largely superficial, contrived and (to me) ugly steampunky way.
        • I admit I gave up on the Charr early on due to personally disliking the aesthetic – it’s possible their motif is fleshed out more believably later. But it came off as a failed attempt to be different for novelty’s sake.

The ugly

Nothing! Judging by my experience during the trial weekend (I have zero experience with their other products), ArenaNet is packed with talent and savvy, so it’s unsurprising that nothing I saw actively turned me off or appeared broken/ugly/etc.

I didn’t have time to discover whether the mid & late game suffer in the same way SWTOR did. However, GW2’s been out longer than TOR with none of the apparent backlash; and I have friends with characters in the mid 30s who are still going strong. So I feel confident assuming the rest of the game will mirror both the good and bad elements I encountered in the starting zones and cities.

Conclusion

You can tell from the above that I’ve got mixed feelings about this game.

I want to like it, and wish to see more of the setting. However, I worry I’d end up dropping $60 and dozens more hours, and still feel ambivalent about the world my character inhabits.

Ironically, getting another taste of MMO gameplay – and the inevitable mental comparisons to WoW – made me start jonesing for World of Warcraft again. Probably not what ArenaNet intended. I haven’t decided on GW2 yet, but I may go back to WoW for a while instead, and see whether I find myself jonesing for GW2 in turn.

I look forward to any comments or questions! I’m sure I’ve forgotten some angles that make the game unique, and certainly glossed over a lot of things; would enjoy the opportunity to discuss.