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So advanced apologies for this TL:DR incoherent ramble folks!
I'd like to clarify this (highly subjective) opinion piece (I hesitate to call it a review as I am not giving it a score or recommending, or not, people play the game), with a few bits of information about where I am coming from as an mmo player.
Traditionally I am a pvp centric player (I enjoy all forms of pvp from esports through economic pvp to ffa full loot games) who leans heavily towards sandbox mmos. But don't let that put you off, I didn't buy GW2 simply to hate it (I quite enjoy it actually) and I will endeavour not to colour my opinions on the game in this little ramble by comparing it to sandbox mmos or their mechanics (and no I wont be mentioning WoW either).
In terms of my own progression within the game (as that normally gets asked when someone comes out with something along these lines). Well I have a "full exotic 80 warrior looking for Arah farm!" replete with 400AS and 400WS and 92% map completion, as well as having quite a bit of experience running a combo machine Ele.
The Game World, PVE/Dungeons:
The Game World -
It looks great, it sounds great and the general styling of it is impressive. If there is any repeat terrain then it is hidden away well enough not to really notice it, or for it to not impinge on your gameplay in any meaningful way.
There are lots of little things going on that if you take the time to notice them, add nicely to the whole immersion factor.
The zones... yeah I know, I know, they are there for ease of accessibility and to "guide" the player through the game. But the fact they are all pretty much "bricked off" really, really kills world immersion for me and pushes home the fact that it seems like a big ride, you enter one end, get churned out at the other. Surely they could have removed the walls and had the zones still hold in terms of npc power level and name alone?
The mob spacing, is there really any need for placing one mob on every square inch of ground in Orr? Is it meant to make walking through the end zone more difficult? Because it doesn't, it just makes it a pain in the ass and promotes using waypoints as much as possible. It can't be to promote farming as most of the mobs drop next to FA in relation to the sheer amount of them out there.
Jumping and getting stuck. If you are going to promote people jumping about and exploring, don't have it so your character can't jump/walk up even the most gradual of slopes, or get stuck in suddenly spawning machinery in a DE. This is a really, really small gripe in honesty but it can be rather annoying.
Dynamic Events are fun and offer another line of progression within the PVE field. It is also nice to see people grouped in the same area working at the same goal without constant bickering and a struggle for Teh Lootz.
Whilst the heart quests are pretty much kill/gather/escort, you don't have to track back from A to B to A again which is an improvement. Generally they felt more natural and flexible than standard quest chains, whether that was an actual mechanical freedom (which I expect it wasn't) doesn't matter all that much, as it felt a better experience regardless.
Dungeons pose a level of challenge which makes for a refreshing change and promotes intergroup work.
The AI is nothing to write home about, mobs seem to cycle through their abilities regardless as to what is actually going on. For example NPCS use pull specials regardless as to your proximity to them. Champions either have a zerg to death special (hello Eye of Zhaitan) or easily avoidable special cycles. Speaking of pulls...
The pulls and snares are frankly, waaaay OTT. What the hell is the point of a 40+ second snare stack from a random mob? Why does every single mob (exaggeration alert) in Orr have pulls and stuns? Again it doesn't actually make traveling through Orr difficult, it just makes it a major pain in the ass.
The story missions seem to actively promote people going in and just soloing down one mob at a time, reseting then soloing down the next mob. Now I am normally completely against difficulty levels in mmos (if you must have them, have insulting titles for them like the good old days ), but in this case they seem a better option then the "only the player resets" mechanic. Yes most can get through them a breeze, but if not don't worry just die alot and you'll get there sooner or later.
Speaking of the story, (the Human one at least) is really, really poor. Just really cringeworthy. I did mention this was highly subjective didn't I?
Combat - Holy lack of trinity Batman!:
This little topic seems to have been raised a hundred times already on these and other forums, as well as in the game itself. For me the lack of trinity is a bonus. The ability to pick and choose specs regardless of class is a freedom well worth having. But I have to question, just how much room for maneuver is there really?
I'm not an expert at playing every class (or one of them for that matter lol) I'd like to state that I may be way off on this one, but it seems to me that basically, people are speccing into bastardised DPS/Tank/Healer/CC roles anyway and that certain classes are better at certain "roles". As such we don't see groups of 5 necros all doing different roles, we still see classes speccing into the traditional roles you would expect.
I'm not putting that forward as a negative, I just wonder if all the hoo-ha being made about the lack of trinity (from both the pro and con camps) is really warranted.
Generally the combat is slick with nice animations.
Weapon switching is a good mechanic and allows for experimentation. With regards to that, it is pleasing that it is easy to unlock all the weapon skills, for me the more time a player has to work with the skills the better accustomed they will be with them by end game.
The combo system is a great idea, I love the fact it promotes the need for people to actually think about working with others. It also adds something nice for those people who pay a bit of attention to the immediate environment as well as giving another element to help distinguish good, experienced groups.
The dodge system is fluid and works well, again promoting the idea of the player actually dynamically reacting to the environment.
95% of the game (made up statistics alert!) seems to promote mindless zerging of the very worst kind. DE's, yeah they are zergs, story mode is a zerg or rez zerg (thanks to the only the player resets faceroll if you want mechanic). WvWvW is for the main part a big old zerg (yes you get zergs in OWPvP but it seems to have been actively pushed in WvWvW). Even the pug random sPvP matches (yes I know they are shit in all games) seem more (dps)zerg orientated than usual.
Someone (yeah I know being overly confident anyone will respond TL:DR lulz) will no doubt point to the fact that dungeons are challenging, or that tourny sPvP is challenging. But are we really saying that outside of a couple of elements that it is alright for everything else to be just one massive zergathon?
Given they have thrown in area awareness elements and dodge, I think personally they could have gone the whole hog and gone FPS aiming. Many will disagree with that no doubt.
Well if it brings larger scale, more open pvp to the consciouness of the masses then that is a good thing. It is not such a good thing if it has multihour queues, door zergs and a hilariously bad espionage system.
Let's start with the queues. The fact of the matter is that ANET should have anticipated demand and they should have been aware that not enforcing caps on servers from the start was a bad idea. It is also certainly the case that they should not be coming out and mentioning people moving server when they have not first laid out clear plans for server caps, destination server mechanics et al. Still this is improving and should continue to improve.
The pvp itself can be quite enjoyable, but the combination of the reward system and the objective format seems to have ensured that it is one massive zerg fest. Why roam around looking for open combat when everyone is getting points zerging a fort?
The trouble is that unless an RvR lake is handled exceptionally well it is just better off having full on open war servers or sticking to arena pvp. The "spying" going on in the game is indicative of the issues. You can spy on other servers and they can spy on you and yet there is little real recourse. You can't whomp on the spy, you can't stop him logging into the zone. I love the spying/espionage/dirty tactics of open pvp games, I am not so fond of this incarnation.
The worst thing being, you see that guy spying, that guy logged in working for the other side? Well he is taking someone elses place, someone who wants to try and pvp a bit is instead stuck in a queue because someone from another server is logged to "pass intel".
So whilst WvWvW can be fun, it seems fundamentally flawed.
I'll state here and now that I am only really just getting into the sPvP aspects of the game and have been restricted to running the hotjoin matches via the npc. As such it has been pugs all the way and clearly that is going to temper my expectations.
Generally the whole idea of sPvP in GW2 seems to be well done. I like the idea that everyone is immediately 80, that everyone has access to the same gear and that you can't unlock better stats. I enjoy esports and think that if you are going to go for that, it needs to be based on esport principles and not traditional mmo principles.
The whole thing does feel a bit dps heavy currently, but again that is because I have been running in non tourny pugs.
My only real concern (as with all mmos) is why would someone who is dedicated to esports, do them in this game? The whole idea of GW2 seems to be pick it up and get into what you want to do straight away. That is fantastic, the problem is that if I want to jump into some pvp arena I can just jump into an FPS/RTS or some purely dedicated esport game with ladders/rankings.
I am not doubting in anyway the credentials of those taking part in GW2 tournys, there will be far better players and teams in there then I will ever be, I just don't really understand quite why there are there.
Crafting and the Economy:
Probably the worst thing about the game, although having said that it does bring some cool stuff to the table and I didn't expect much from it in the first place.
The ability to bank and use collections tabs for crafting resources is great.
The discovery idea is a solid one.
The sheer range of stuff to make is good.
Most of it is completely and utterly pointless in the long run.
See all those resources selling? They are selling because people are grinding up to 400. There is little point to any of it once you hit 400 mind you unless you really care about legendaries and if that is the extent of the need for crafting..
I got use out of AS as I wanted to craft myself the Knights Draconic set for stats, now that I have the skill is pretty much redundant. I get more selling raw mats on the TP then I would do bothering to craft most stuff. To be honest though, I didn't expect anything at all from crafting/economy in a themepark game so it is not an issue.
All mmos have a grind (or more), some are more extensive than others. Guild Wars 2 is no different. People grind for dungeon tokens, they grind renown, they grind for Legendaries and they grind crafting professions.
For the main part, the grind is truly optional and I personally cannot see how anyone can use the need to grind as a legitimate complaint against this game. BUT I do find some players within the game are somewhat disingenuous when they talk about just how frequent grinding is. If you actually get down to the nitty gritty, alot of people within the game are actually grinding away.
The cash shop:
No issue with it at all, doesn't seem pushed down my throat and nothing in there that overly worries me about not having.
The fact you can trade IG currency for gems is also a bonus. If I ever fancied something I have the option of slowly making enough IG to get it. So long as the items are xp boosters (like I care someone gets "first" before me) or vanity items it is a non issue for me.
This kind of game is simply suited to the model. That is the important factor, some games suit it, some simply don't. In this instance it works.
I may be slow (and old and boring) but I got there in the end. As themeparks go this is a good one, but it is not without it's issues.
The world is attractive but for me really doesn't feel like a world at all and is far too pigeonholed (my sandbox background kicking in, but on subjective feelings like this it can't be helped).
The combat is fluid and does offer the potential for some interesting group interplay but I have to question some of the hyperbole we see about it. And far too much of the game stays around the faceroll requirement level.
The pvp is both accessible and enjoyable (quite often). Though WvWvW feels like a missed opportunity. I have to applaud the fact that they have removed levels/gear as a consideration from sPvP, although (outside of high ranked tournys) it seems more about the accesibility then anything else really.
Indeed the main theme for the game seems to be that it is accessible and it allows you to jump into whatever you fancy once you log in (WvWvW queues aside). That is a great thing, but it leaves you feeling somewhat cold when you are looking for anything like a persistent game world in your mmo. It is a filler game, or a second game, something to run alongside a main mmo or to pass the downtime between FPS matches etc.
9/10 as a themepark/pass time game, 4/10 as a persistent world mmo. Oh right I said I wouldn't give it a score... I lied.
"Come and have a look at what you could have won."