Release Date: August 28
Platforms available on: PC
The original Guild Wars was a breath of fresh air when it went live in 2005. The levelling up grind and costly subscription fees of a traditional massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) were absent, paving the way for grand-scale team battles backed by jaw-dropping visuals. Despite the high production values and dedicated following it amassed, the ArenaNet title posed little threat to market leader World of Warcraft, but the launch of its sequel could change that.
Guild Wars 2 takes the series from the competitive online role-playing sub-category it pioneered into fully-fledged MMORPG territory, offering enough depth and complexity to please even hardened veterans of the genre. The game takes place some 250 years on from its predecessor, and the world of Tyria has altered in size and scope since we last saw it.
Guild Wars 2 wastes no time establishing itself as one of the best-looking games around. The environments are overwhelmingly beautiful to an extent that is almost distracting. From the highest peak of its snow-capped mountains to the depths of its darkest dungeons, Tyria is a world that demands thorough exploration and rewards those who delve deepest. Character models are a cross between stylised realism and a cartoon aesthetic - a good fit for the series.
It's the subtle touches that make the title one of the most visually stimulating experiences of its generation. The way characters' hair and clothing shifts as they move, the droplets of blood shed during battles and the myriad environmental effects breath life into the game's world in areas where its competitors appear static.
Guild Wars 2 is a more story-driven affair than your average MMORPG. The overarching plot sees the races of Tyria attempt to bind together to combat a Lovecraftian threat, but players also shape an individual story through character interaction and an in-depth karma system. The end result is a game that stands out from the pack by offering something more than we're accustomed to within the confines of its genre.
In many ways, Guild Wars 2 is anything but traditional. The quest hubs, logs and endless backtracking the genre is often associated with have been put to the sword. The emphasis has been placed on teamwork, with designated quest areas laid out across the map where players can collaborate. If you see a band of other users locked in battle with a horde of enemies, you can jump right in and assist them for an equal share of the spoils.
These large scale battles often look like a chaotic mess, but there's method to the madness. The game has been finely tuned to ensure that well-timed special attacks, ally revivals or skilful resource management are the difference between success and failure. Moreover, the quests themselves are usually a good deal more imaginative that the tired 'kill X amount of enemies' or 'fetch item Y'.
Traditional MMORPG classes of tank, damage-per-second and healer have also been scrapped in a move that makes dungeon raids feel like a change of pace from what we have come to expect. Players must act as all of these things rolled into one, as and when the situation calls for it.
There are eight dungeons, which can be tackled in either story or exploration mode. The former provides a narrative as you carry out your raid, while the latter amps up the difficulty and encourages players to seek out new paths.
The original Guild Wars had a strong Player versus player (PvP) focus, so it was of great importance that ArenaNet nailed it this time around. There's a mountain of unlockable gear to earn, more than 80 ranks to ascend and dozens of tournaments to test your mettle in. As is the case with the PvE quests, skill and teamwork are the deciding factors here.
Structured PvP progression is account-wide, so if you tire of playing as a particular race, you can always start out as another and maintain your rank. An auto-balancing system has been implemented to maintain equilibrium, but we found it can be a hindrance. If one player leaves your team, the entire group is restructured, occasionally to your disadvantage. This is far from a deal breaker, but it's a feature that could have been better executed.
> Guild Wars 2: Our first 24 hours with the MMORPG
The world versus world (WvW) zone is a vast playground where groups from different servers can come together for an epic skirmish. It can be just as chaotic as the game's other battlegrounds, but is everything the fans could hope for. Player can construct powerful siege weapons, lay waste to enemy strongholds, and even venture off to PvE areas to gather resources. The level of freedom on offer makes this section of the game one of Guild Wars 2's greatest assets.
In closing, Guild Wars 2 is a staggeringly ambitious project that makes a bold statement about the future of the MMORPG. It is living proof that a game of this manner can thrive outside of the subscription business model and the genre's established conventions. ArenaNet's opus is visually breathtaking, crammed with content and a significant improvement on its predecessor - so it might just be time to reconsider renewing that World of Warcraft subscription.