Three days ago early access opened for those who pre-purchased Guild Wars 2. With a nice amount of sleep and a trip back into The Secret World for an evening, I still managed to log enough hours to get my ranger to level 25. I’ve completed a ton of content, explored large swaths of the world, and even found some time to survey crafting. To put it simply, so far the game is amazing.
Less than a third through level progression, 25 levels is barely 30% of the total 80 levels to earn. Still, it’s no small accomplishment considering the breadth of activity required to gain them. It took several days of steady playing, exploring all five starting cities, and clearing to completion two of the five starting zones to gain level 25. But Guild Wars 2 brought the fun back to the journey, making all 25 levels a joy to gain instead of an exercise in grinding. Read through the cut for a full review of the first 25 levels.
A MMOG Unafraid
The first thing I noticed while playing through the early hours of the game was that it seemed terribly familiar – in a good way. GW2 looks a lot like a graphically enhanced World of Warcraft. The mechanics of combat feel like Diablo with a little splash of TSW’s active dodge element. The puzzles and dynamic events scream out RIFT. Yet all of these features, seemingly borrowed right out of another game, all work better than the games that popularized the system. Indeed, ArenaNet has gone and taken the most popular and exciting systems from other games, brought them into GW2 and polished them to a high shine. The graphics are incredible, the music (scored by Jeremy Soule of The Elder Scrolls) sets the mood, and combat just works. All in all, GW2 packages a ton of content into a polished game engine that brings the best of many MMOGs into a single game.
Exploring the World
For the explorer-gamer, GW2 provides an ample amount of fun. In fact, exploration is more a part of progression than any game has ever done before. Each zone has several exploration objectives – vistas, points of interest, and waypoints. Additionally, adventuring is integrated in with skill challenges and tasks, but these generally involve combat. POIs and waypoints are simple enough to find – waypoints are teleports that allow you to fast travel all over the world. Vistas, however, often require some keen platform jumping skills, much like the hidden jumping puzzles throughout the world. Most vistas are relatively easy to get to with a few jumps and a wiggle.
The great thing is that every map objective completed gives a hardy amount of experience, and completing all the objectives rewards the player with extra experience, some money, and a few prizes. It’s a full reward for the explorer in you. To put it in perspective, I started exploring my second city at about half way though level 20; after completing the remaining three cities, I was level 23.
Innovation in Storage
Why has the term “mule” become so common in MMOGs? Because we’ve got a lot of collected junk and craftables after days of playing. GW2 solves the problem by having a special collectables storage system. All your crafted goods can be stored in this section, meaning your bags and bank are never filled by your crafting goods. Manufactured items still take bag space, along with specialty items like shape changing potions, unequipped gear, and unique item upgrades. Still, no longer do you need to have an alternate character (or two) to store your crafting materials – they are all accessible from the collectibles menu.
Even better, both the bank and the collectables menu are accessible universally from all your characters. While this limits your bank capacity, it makes sharing between characters incredibly easy.
Crafting is Interesting Again
It’s been awhile since a game launched with a compelling crafting system. GW2 has a rather deep crafting system that can actually get a keen player to 80 without adventuring. There are many different tradeskills to learn and, while you can only have two active at any one time, you can learn them all. Material nodes in the world can be harvested by everyone with just a tool, and each node is active for each player – meaning a single copper mine can be harvested by multiple people; no more fighting over nodes. Recipes can be found through a discovery system and inscriptions can be added to crafted gear to provide the desired stats. I have not delved far into crafting, but I can see a potential that I haven’t seen since Vanguard.
What’s more, combined with the innovations in storage, at a tradeskill bench you can access your bank, collectables, and the Black Iron Trading Post – the auction house of GW2. So while you’re crafting, you never have to leave the workbench to grab supplies.
Pro tip: examine the recipes from each tradeskill before choosing your preferred two; some trades double up on certain items. For example, bags can be made by both tailors and leatherworkers.
No More “Quest Hubs”
One of the map completion objectives are tasks. This is the GW2 equivalent of quests. But you don’t have a quest log and you don’t find a spot in the zone and gather up a bunch of quests to head out into the world. Instead, tasks pop up at certain places in the world (indicated by a heart on the map). You get the task automatically by arriving near the NPC and the tasks vary in objectives. Some are the standard kill missions. Some are collects. Other tasks including clicking on objects in the world, triggering enemies to kill, and capturing enemies.
Some tasks are quite unique, transforming your character into something new, like a wolf or a golem, before you go out and accomplish objects. What makes these tasks so interesting is that you usually get a whole new set of abilities when transformed (or when using a special item required for the task) that are used specifically for completing the tasks. It keeps things interesting, since you really only have a handful of primary abilities. Tasks are spread out enough that you don’t find yourself constantly doing kill or collect missions, ensuring you don’t feel like you are just grinding out a quest.
Little Things that Count
At least in the Tarnished Coast home world, the daily achievements reset at 8PM Eastern. The reason why I like this is if I know I won’t be able to play the next day, I can accomplish two days worth of achievements in a single evening. The daily achievements are simply a byproduct of doing your regular thing, such as harvesting or completing dynamic events, further eliminating the guise of grinding.
Trading with players is not done directly in GW2. Instead, you use the mail system for trade. The great thing is that the mail system is accessible anywhere in the world. This is also how task rewards are delivered, so for any tasks that doesn’t require a special item or transformation, you never even have to talk to the task giver.
Polish. I really can’t say that enough. The game is simply polished. It feels like a game that has been live and patched many times over already, and here it is the first day of official launch. The graphics are smooth, colorful, and some vistas are downright gorgeous, without being all that taxing on the computer. For perspective, I can stream GW2 at 720p HD without losing as much as 5 FPS – TSW drops me from 35 to 15 FPS if I’m lucky.
There have been very few bugs that I’ve encountered, although Twitter has been buzzing about guild and log in issues – reported straight from the horses mouth. ArenaNet has been actively addressing these issues with little to no game downtime. In fact, several new builds have been pushed live without taking the servers down – players simply get a notice on screen that they need to restart the client. That said, in-game bugs have been few and far between, mostly related to dynamic events not triggering properly.
Dungeons just became available to me at level 25, so I’m hoping to jump in on them asap to get an idea of what they are like. I will continue streaming my game play as much as possible, so if you are still on the fence about buying the game after reading this, jump on my stream and see for yourself. Also, I may actually check out some WvWvW PvP in the future, you know, since that’s the diamond of the game.
With so much content to consume, from exploring to crafting to adventuring, Guild Wars 2 has the potential to be a blockbuster. In a few weeks time I should finally be able to experience what the “end-game” is like; with no raiding, the concept is that there is no end-game, but we shall see.