Guild Wars 2
By Alice Wilkenson
I should have loved Guild Wars 2.
When all else in subscription-land disappointed me, I knew I could always return to Guild Wars; that no subscription model certainly kept me coming back for more, and then a sequel gets announced? Oh yeah, I was totally up for that. It had everything I thought I wanted. More plot! Amazing graphics! New classes! What more could I ask for? Turns out, the proof is in the finer details. The three biggest issues I ended up having were things I didn't initially foresee during the build up of interest in Guild Wars 2, and while I don't enjoy whining about things getting changed for sequels, these made Guild Wars 2 a lot harder to get into.
Disclaimer: I do not have a max level character in Guild Wars 2.
The first issue was the setting. There was nothing really wrong with Tyria, and it did contain some pretty cool locales, all things considered, but location design was something that appeared to get better as time went on as expansions to the original Guild Wars were released. Guild Wars: Factions' continent of Cantha? Oh sorry, isolationist policy and Dragons™ in the way, we're not going there. Guild Wars: Nightfall's Elona? Oh, conquered by that guy your character helped during the Nightfall campaign, we're not going there either. As a result, the interesting character classes from these expansions (Assassin, Ritualist, Paragon and Dervish) are also AWOL with no signs of coming back. So until ArenaNET decides these locations are worth revisiting again, we won't see the Eastern-inspired Kaineng City, or the African-inspired city of Vabbi and their inhabitants again. While Guild Wars 2's Thief class has some broad similarities with Assassin, one of my favorite classes in the original, it lacks the very combo-centric gameplay that made Assassin fun to play.
The second issue was Guild Wars 2's handling of leveling and the level cap in general. In Guild Wars, the level cap was a very low 20, and in both Nightfall and Factions, it was intended that your character would be level 20, or close to level 20 by the time you left what could be best described as 'tutorial island'. The focus in Guild Wars seemed to be far less on the actual leveling process and more on things like exploration. While certain areas remained blocked off based on story line progression, there was no arbitrary level you needed to reach in order to progress the story. This is something that I feel tripped Guild Wars 2; there's an interesting story to be had, but it only takes place at certain levels, and attempting to do things ahead of the leveling curve was an invitation for frustration. In addition, Guild Wars 2's levels felt plodding, and a step back towards something that Guild Wars seemed to get away from. While Guild Wars 2 added a dynamic events system into its areas, in order to keep things 'fair' for these events, entire areas of the game enforce a lower level cap onto the player.
The third issue is the changes made to the skill system and the loss of secondary classes. In Guild Wars, all characters had access to a wide variety of skills, but could only equip eight at once, which could be changed in any outpost area or town. Adding to this, characters could choose to have a secondary class, which added all skills from that class to the overall skill list for that character. For example, Mesmers, who relied extensively on hexes (debuffs) could make use of hex spells held by other classes to diversify their skill loadouts. These cross-class skills were not as effective as if they were used by the class they came from, but they could often be used in conjunction with primary skills for interesting or unusual effects, or to cover weaknesses in an overall build. The Elementalist skills that manipulated the energy pool were useful for casters, and Monk skills could provide some needed emergency debuff removal.
The Guild Wars 2 compromise, since this system appeared to be a nightmare for game balance, was to expand the skill bar from eight to ten, but lock down the composition of the bar. Skills 1-5 were now only affected by the primary weapon type that the character was wielding. Skill 6 was a healing skill, out of a very limited selection. Skills 7-9 were utility skills selected from a list of around 20, and the final slot was the 'Elite' skill, a carryover from the first game, and this was chosen from a tiny list of around three to four. Come on ArenaNET, my Guild Wars Mesmer had access to a potential 14 Elite Skills without any of the expansions, and that's not counting cross-class skills. While there is some variety across the five weapon skill slots, it feels like quite a drastic loss of customization for your character build, and we will never see anything as interesting as Earth Elementalists using Assassin skills for insane short-term damage prevention.
While I have still gotten at least some enjoyment out of Guild Wars 2, I can't help but feel like the changes made to the underlying systems and the world were just too much for me.
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