It’s not the destination but the journey that matters most: It’s a romantic sentiment and one that seems to hold little weight in the genre that Guild Wars 2 represents.
As any MMO aficionado will attest to, the endgame portion of these titles is the biggest time sink; it’s the segment of the game that provides that proverbial ‘carrot on a stick’, and a way to keep these virtual worlds in perpetual motion. It’s a device born out of a necessity to provide longevity, which is fine, but the way in which they are implemented is often clunky, and to the detriment of the levelling segment of the game. It’s also the principle reason I’ve only gingerly dipped my toe into the vast pool of games in the MMO mould.
Does the lure of late-game treasures really justify the hours on end spent trudging through vacuous environs, mindlessly slaughtering everything in sight, like Bear Grylls with an insatiable bloodlust? Nope. No it doesn’t. It’s refreshing then to see then that ArenaNet are hell-bent on tackling the more inane of these genre tropes, and in doing so creating the first true evolution since the inception of the World of Warcraft behemoth.
Levelling and exploration in an MMO should be enjoyable in itself. After all, the whole MMO concept revolves around occupying your own niche in a thriving, well-realised, fantasy world. Guild Wars 2 unsheathes its sword and slices through the prohibitive barriers that have prevented this becoming a reality.
Dynamic Events (DEs) are one of the biggest changes to the series. These are essentially open-world quests that pop-up on the mini-map and encourage anyone in the area to drop what they’re doing and converge at a central point – like the threads of a spider’s web.
DEs are often part of a series, developing a brief diversion into a gratifying demonstration of teamwork. For example, one chain of events involves the co-operation of two groups of characters on opposing sides of an intra-volcanic network of tunnels. These two groups are tasked with fighting through swathes of phosphorescent insects and ethereal imps, before arriving together in a cavernous central chamber, to engage the monolithic guardian of its core. Defeating the beast brings with it various treasures, but more importantly that feeling of inclusion that’s intrinsic to the philosophy that guides ArenaNet.
Exploration is applauded and rewarded at every juncture. Viewpoints, points of interest and renown hearts all offer various ways to gain levelling-experience whilst absorbing the beautifully sketched, almost water-colour aesthetics. It conjures up the desire to discover every hidden cove or sun-dappled lagoon; to traverse every foreboding mountain peak and underwater metropolis.
The world has become an attraction again, not a mere means of providing a route from A to B. This is a particularly evident whilst spending time in the game’s central hubs – the home cities of the game’s five races. There’s real artistry to be found here, be it in the steampunk-infused, industrial abode of the Charr; the arcane and perplexing geometrical shapes of the Asuran capital; or the solar-suffused and tangled branches of the Sylvaris forest home. Each is majestic and grandiose in their own right, and thread through with strands of subtle character and intimacy (it really is a notion better experienced than explained).
The sheer plethora of ways to experience this game is staggering, and serves the real purpose of negating much of the grind that plagues games of the same ilk. The Player Vs Player permutations are particularly impressive.
Player Vs Player is offered in two formats: ‘Structured PvP’ and ’World vs World’. Structured PvP is your typical small-team PvP. The beauty of this mode is that you get to create a fully-levelled character – with a complete arsenal of skills and equipment – allowing you to jump straight in on an even-playing field, regardless of how much time you’ve invested in the game.
World Vs. World is the real gem in the pack. The premise: three servers, pitted against each other on a trilogy of gargantuan maps, are in an ongoing (24-hour) struggle for territory, key locales and glory. With 250 players per server coordinating in groups to siege battlements and paint the land with their realms’ colours, the battles can get oh, so satisfyingly epic – the first time you fastidiously line up a mortar shot and watch it obliterate a throng of attacking assailants is quite beautiful.
World Vs. World then is a real assimilation of the components that make Guild Wars 2 the evolution the genre was in dire need of. It’s been 8 long Warcraft-fuelled years before we could witness the changing of the guards. Thankfully, there’s no going back from here.