The release date for Guild Wars 2 was just announced, the server “Stress Test” was held earlier this week, and this eagerly anticipated sequel to ArenaNet’s subscription-free MMO is almost here. The many fans of the first game are dying to get their hands on it, but what about the rest of the gaming community? Is Guild Wars 2 something that can pull gamers away from World of Warcraft and Star Wars The Old Republic, or draw in entirely new players to the MMO genre?
Guild Wars 2, like the first game in the series, doesn’t have a monthly subscription. It still plays like a MMO, putting thousands of players in a shared world, but all that’s required to play it is the basic retail fee. It’s not a “Free-to-play” MMO either, there’s no premium content or special features to be purchased in a “Pay to win” business model.
Players will have access to five races and eight professions. Most of the races are familiar faces from the first game, and should be fairly familiar to fans of the fantasy genre. There’s the smart little gnomish people called the Asura. The standard-issue humans are present, along with the typical sturdy race of barbarians from the frozen Northlands. There are the big monster creatures called “Charr”, plus a new race of elvish nature-lovers called Sylvari too.
While these are all typical of fantasy games, some of them do subvert the clichés, such as the barbarians being natural shapechangers, and the huge Charr being technologically proficient.
There are eight classes, with many of them also falling into MMO tropes, like the elemental mage, sneaky rogue and heavily-armored warrior. However there are few oddballs, such as the Mesmer who are illusionist that summon clones of themself to fight enemies. They are a bit like summoning classes from other games, but with a neat twist.
The Guild Wars series differs from standard MMO’s other, more substantial ways as well. There’s a fairly low level cap, and characters have a limited number of skills that they can use at any time. In Guild Wars 2 no more than ten skills can be equipped at once, and some of these have to be unlocked as players progress.
The selection of skills begins with the player’s choice of weapon. Equip a dagger and the character has five powers centered around that weapon. Equip a sword and the same character has a whole other set of powers which vary from character to character depending on race and class. The remaining five abilities are up to the Player to choose and these are mostly determined by race and class, with many powers being hard to unlock.
Even when equipping a new weapon, players still need to adventure with it a while before learning all of its powers. While it’s still something of a grind, the rewards of fiddling around with a new weapon come relatively quickly when compared to the level grind of other MMO.s
There’s a crafting system and loot, of course. But the way that a character’s abilities are so directly influenced by their equipped weapon makes the loot and crafting more of a tactical choice as opposed to just grabbing the items with the highest stat boosts.
There’s also a strong aesthetic appeal to the crafting. Yes, it’s a pretty princess dress-up game for those gamers who enjoy having a highly customized appearance for their characters (The female Mesmers even shoot purple butterflies at enemies).
Along those lines, the graphics are a big step up from most of the other MMO’s out there. Characters look terrific, as do most environments, and most NPC interactions switch to a dialog screen that uses detailed icons of the Player and the NPC to whom they are speaking.
Aside from just looking good, the game also features plenty of voice work from NPC’s too, and a strong story to justify it. Players can choose their character’s background and history, with this having an impact on how their story plays out. It’s no Mass Effect, but it is a step up from the last generation of MMO’s. In fact, this sort of focus on a personal story for each player is becoming the trend for MMO’s lately and might add appeal to the genre for gamers who’ve stayed away from them so far.
Guild Wars 2 has a few things going for it, namely the lack of a subscription fee, but also some impressive graphics, a personalized story, and freedom from the endless grind of more traditional MMO’s. It comes out on August 28th. Check back with Explosion.com as release approaches for more coverage.