Disclaimer: I am a diehard Guild Wars 2 fan. I played the original Guild Wars and I love ArenaNet. Despite all this, I do try to give a balanced description to people who are new to the game, because a rabid fangirl convinces no one.
The minimal reporting and lack of discussion about Guild Wars 2 on NZGamer has prompted me to take matters into my own hands. I'm not saying you should all buy this game (even though you should), but you should definitely all take a look at it.
Are you an MMO player sick of the same old crap in every game, sick of other people being the worst part of what should be a multiplayer experience? Check out Guild Wars 2. Are you not an MMO player? Check out Guild Wars 2. It just might convince you to give it a go.
Start here, with ArenaNet's MMO Manifesto. It's old now - it was released just as the game started to be shown to the public, and to feel like a real thing rather than a vague promise. Still, it's a good taster of what the company is after here. An MMO where levelling up wasn't supposed to be your main goal, that's fun from level one, where other players added to your experience rather than making your ragequit... interested yet?
Did I mention it has no subscription fee?
Guild Wars 2 is a fun game to play. It's not fun at endgame - it's funnow. The highest any of my beta characters got was level 12, and I had a blast. The beginning can be a confusing experience, with tutorials throwing you in the deep end and controls that aren't as intuitive at first as you may be used to, but once you get a feel for it you'll be roaming the countryside happily jumping in to every fray you pass.
Or not - very little is compulsary in Guild Wars 2. I don't just mean that in the usual MMO sense, where you don't have to do something, but if you want to progress your character with any kind of efficiency, or to take part in endgame, then yes you basically have to. You get experience for killing monsters and completing 'quests' (more on that later), but also for completing jumping puzzles, crafting, and exploring. Not only are the main cities huge and fascinating enough to spend an hour or two exploring, but if you do, you're likely to gain a level doing it!
Now, quests - the core of most MMOs, and also the basis of so much frustrating grind. Quests have been indispensible to the RPG for a long time now, but there's only so many times you can "kill x of y" before your heroic activities start to seem a little silly. Guild Wars 2 has three kinds of quests (and that's ignoring instanced dungeons): personal story, hearts, and dynamic events.
So when you're running around the countryside, you might be jumping from heart to heart, helping to locals, leaping into action if bandits attack or someone's goods are stolen...or a norn wants help setting himself up as an idol for the local grawl to worship. It feels active and alive. NPCs go about their business, as if their world wasn't brought into existence just to get you to the next level. And level you will - the cap is 80 at launch - but you won't notice it that much. If all goes well, you'll be having too much fun, and every few levels you'll get around to looking at what you're earned lately.
One of ArenaNet's most important mottos has been "you should always be glad to see another player." To that end, there's no kill-stealing in Guild Wars 2. Every player who helps to kill an enemy gets experience and loot from it (and loot is instanced for each player). Everyone who contributes to an event gets at least some reward for participating, even if they were only passing by. When in doubt, Guild Wars 2 errs on the side of giving you more than you earned, not less. Sure, some people could take advantage of that, but in a game where level doesn't really matter, what's the point? It's more fun to actually participate. In most MMOs, if you see someone attacked by a wolf, it's polite to keep your distance and let them fight alone. In Guild Wars 2, you help, and at the end of the fight the two of you exchange friendly nods and go your separate ways.
Everyone is an ally in this game. Parties aren't very important; any buff you cast affects all nearby players as if they were in your party. Even when you play alone, you play in a group - just a shifting, informal group of whoever's around. An important part of this dynamic is that every character can ressurect a downed player, for free. I've spent whole events just runinng around the fringes, taking hits to revive others so that they can rejoin the fight. It's remarkably satisfying and really builds the impression that other players are your friends and allies, even if you never exchange a word.
Have I convinced you yet? We haven't even got to PvP. That's an area I'm less familiar with, so I'll just give you a brief rundown. There's instanced, arena-based group PvP (with destructive environments, trebuchets, and special objectives). If you played the original Guild Wars, you'll know that they know their structured PvP. What's new in Guild Wars 2 is World vs. World - a three-way server vs. server battle in which guilds can take and defend castles, while small groups harry supply routes and individuals stalk the massive battlegrounds. Everyone's doing three faction PvP now, it seems, but ArenaNet has acknowledged that WvW harks back to Dark Age of Camelot and its server-based grand battles. What's more, you can join World vs. World from level one - your stats will be pushed up to the level 80 equivalent, and you can level up and earn gear from fighting other players.
There are so many great things about this game that I hardly knew where to start - or where to stop. Instead of rambling further I'm going to open this up to comments: what do you guys want to hear about? Is there anything you've heard that made you iffy about buying the game? I'd be more than happy to answer your questions, and if I've converted anyone here today...see you in Tyria!
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