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Casual Gamer Review: Guild Wars 2 (Part the Second)

The "2" doesn't lie: there are dragons aplenty.So, last week (alright, the week before last) I started a two-part review of Guild Wars 2, the latest massively multiplayer game to pique my fancy.  In that review I discussed the PVE elements of the game—the casual-friendliness, the engaging crafting, the creative questing system… All of the stuff that carebears like me enjoy in our games.  Of course, sometimes my inner grizzly comes out and wants to tear the stuffing out of that lime green, shamrock-sporting freak.  And that means it’s time for some good old fashioned, noob pwning PVP action.

PVP is something I look forward to in most games.  Look forward to in the sense that I rarely start playing the PVP game until I max my character out.  By that time, I’ve gotten a sense of how to play—I’ve gotten a little experience under my belt, as it were.  I’ve never been a fan of ‘twinking’ or level bracket play.  Games never feel balanced or well-executed in that kind of play, and I always feel like I’m wasting time that I could be spending having a better experience after maxing my level.

Guild Wars 2 ameliorates that problem by largely (but not entirely) disentangling PVP from the PVE game—which is bloody brilliant!  Upon entering a PVP zone, your character is instantly boosted to max level, with a commensurate increase in stats and hit points—meaning that you can roll a new character and begin PVPing at max level immediately.  If your primary interest is PVP, you don’t have to engage in PVE at all.

The degree to which PVP is divorced from PVE depends on the type of PVP you’re engaged in.   See, PVP comes in two flavors, structured PVP and World vs. World (vs. World).  Structured PVP should feel pretty familiar to players of that other game.  Basically, two teams engage in capture and defend battles across a selection of maps.  In structured PVP, you’re given a full set of battle-ready PVP gear that you can customize to taste, and access to all of our classes advanced abilities at no cost to your own resources.   Basically, everyone is brought to par gear-wise, so teamwork and skill are the largest determining factors in achieving victory.  In my humble opinion, this is how PVP should work, always.  It makes the PVP game feel like a test of skill, rather than an arms race.

Structured play isn’t perfect, don’t get me wrong.   For one, it assumes that the classes are balanced.  And while they are close, there are some that are… a bit more balanced than others.  It’s early yet, however, and the devs have said they intend to take the post-launch balancing process slow, to avoid the dramatic swings in class balance that plague some games.  That said, the ability to test each class in structured max-level play means that you basically “try it before you buy it,” or invest time in level a class that doesn’t work for you.  For a player like me, who has to budget his playtime, that is a godsend.

Another somewhat obnoxious flaw in the structured PVP experience is the internal mechanism that keeps the teams balanced during a match.  It will, on occasion, ask a player from one side to switch—voluntarily—to the other.  This is almost invariably from the winning side to the losing side.  And asking is a formality: if someone doesn’t volunteer, players are randomly force-swapped to the other team.  Mid-match.  Bam, you go from win to loss—because someone on the other team ragequit… This wouldn’t feel quite so punitive if you received some level of compensation for it, whether in the form of “glory” (the PVP currency that determines your ranking), or eventually an achievement for being a “swapper,” or whatever.  But as it is, it feels like an arbitrary mechanic that punishes a player for being on the winning team.  I appreciate what ArenaNet is trying to accomplish with this mechanic, but it definitely needs a tweak.  [Edit:  Incidentally, on October 1st, shortly after writing this, ArenaNet released a patch that addresses many of my complaints, by suspending swapping late in the match and by giving swappers a bonus for being good sports.  Right on, ANet.]

But that’s only half of the PVP game.   One of the biggest draws of Guild Wars 2 is its “World versus World versus World” (WvWvW, Wv3, or, my favorite, ‘wuvwuv’) PVP.  In world versus world play, a trio of servers are locked in a three-way battle for map supremacy.  Right now, these battles last for 24 hours, but the developers plan to scale these matches up to two weeks!  Victory in “wuvwuv” (heh) grants your entire server bonus to things ranging from experience gain to crafting, meaning that everyone has a stake in fighting for the “Mists” (the MacGuffin for world versus world is that multiple realities are colliding at the frayed edges of… something or other… and that place is called the Mists… and we’re warring for it, damnit).

World versus world battles are huge, and the maps are extensive.  Teams can claim towers and fortresses, and their opponents must leverage siege weaponry to bring down the gates.  In a word, it’s some epic Game of Thrones level shit.  Like structured PVP, players are boosted to the level cap while fighting the Mist War.  However, unlike structured play, you’re reliant on your own gear and the abilities that you’ve unlocked during world versus world, meaning that honest-to-god maxed out players do have an advantage on a one versus one level.  However, with hundreds of players engaged in le grande melee, it’s really hard to tell how much of an advantage level 80 gear really gives.

It’s not all roses in WvWvW, however.  With hundreds of players actively engaged in the battle, the limitations of the client become apparent.  My gaming rig is no slouch (a perk of working for a living, I suppose, even if I don’t get to use it nearly enough…) and sometimes enemies won’t render until they’re on top of you.  On more than one occasion I’ve tried to take what appeared to be sparsely defended outposts with a ten or so players on my side, only for dozens of enemies to materialize out of the ether and savage us.  It’s a problem, and its not isolated to the individual—this is a problem with how the game renders models, and it really needs to be addressed (perhaps by rendering a “basic” model that reflects class or race, before trying to render the actually character model, with all that additional detail).  Technical problems aside, though, world versus world… versus world feels truly epic, as three sides vie for control of territory and resources at the hinterlands of reality…

So, I’ve devoted 2500 words or so to extolling the virtues of Guild Wars 2, but how do I really feel?  Well, I’ve definitely become more particular about the games I play in recent years.  I have to be sure that what time I have for gaming is maximally enjoyable because I don’t have much of it, and what I do have is precious to me.  I need games that have a high return of fun for my limited investment of time.  I need games that are challenging, but not a grind.  I need multiple pathways of progression, so that I can get those delightful endorphins flowing without feeling like I’m working a second shift.  And Guild Wars 2 delivers on all counts.  It’s truly the most polished game I’ve played at launch, and one of the most immersive.  It has a shallow learning curve, but with lots of complexity under the surface.  Multiple styles of game play mean that there is always something to do, and level boosted PVP means you don’t have to rush through the PVE content to start pwning nubs.  It’s also simply gorgeous, and the music is unbelievable.  What flaws the game does have are, quite frankly, overshadowed by everything ArenaNet got right.  I give Guild Wars 2 my highest recommendation.

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This entry was posted by Chris Avery.

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