Guild Wars 2 has been a game that many have had on their radars since it was first announced in March 2007. I was able to avoid the rabid following and fanaticism orbiting this game due to one very simple fact. I never really played the original Guild Wars to begin with. I probably watched my brother play it from afar but I could not really get into it at the time since I had just gotten into playing World of Warcraft and was completely oblivious to any other Massive Multiplayer Online games being released at the time. So here I am now experiencing a game that never was, for the first time.

Make no mistake about it. Guild Wars 2 is a fantastically polished product. In recent memory, MMO launches are horrible affairs in which the gamer installs the game, and then sits around hours on end not being able to play due to either servers being flooded, face lengthy queue times to join, or experience various reference based error messages. Even the lucky few who are able to get on a server and create a character are only able to load up the game to be disconnected shortly thereafter. ArenaNet has done a fabulous job minimizing this downtime and have not had many issues in my experience so far other than a few random disconnects that are few and far in between. That is a accomplishment that I and many other gamers can truly appreciate.

GW2 visuals are really quite stunning. From all of the different locales I have traversed so far, they have all been varied and feel no forced repetition in the world structure. Starting off in the human starting zone introduces you to an idyllic farmland backdrop with lush greens, grassy knolls, battle scarred keeps and waterlogged caves. Head back towards the main player city and you are introduced to a large imposing castled city the likes of which hearkens back to the visuals presented in the Lord of The Rings movie trilogy city of Gondor. While this is all a familiar backdrop to those versed in MMO’s, their execution is the reason why it creates a lasting impression. The forest and nature city of the “elf-like” Sylvari is again, a concept that has been done before, but the color tones and blurs of the blues, purples and greens of the forest really had me stop and scroll my view around just to enjoy all of the hard work that the designers and graphical artists put into the landscape. At one point I was fighting off a horde of fireflies somewhat haphazardly since I was caught up in the slight glow they emitted on the landscape. Player animations are immensely satisfying as I would be standing next to fluidly animated “Viking” like warrior character swinging around a massive two-handed sword in the midst of battle while a “Thief” character would dart in and out of combat like a gymnast and attack with a pair of daggers.

This leads me to my next point. This game runs really well on different hardware setups. A low end gaming card is able to punch through the game without significant lag or delay assuming you realistically dial back all of the candy visuals such as antialiasing and shadow quality. I’ve seen the game through three different setups so far from low-mid-high range and even when things get graphically intense and lots of players are firing off spells left and right, the game just chugs along delivering up smooth frame rate and game play.

Now, no game is worth a dime if the game play is non-existent or boring. GW2 has created an interesting solution to long held beliefs about how questing/leveling should be done. Gone are the days when people had to wait for quest mobs to respawn so another person has a chance to kill them. Gone are the days when working on professions were cutthroat affairs where players would rush over to harvest a node before someone else has a chance. All of these are now shared and can be worked on by any of the players in the immediate vicinity assuming that they take the time to make one swipe on the mob with their weapon of choice. The best feature that GW2 has incorporated into the game play is the introduction of “real-time events”. For example, the player character may be doing the typical questing fair such as disposing of bandits in a nearby orchard when suddenly an event text pops up over screen and alerts the player that a Non-player character from the local farm needs help escorting her barrel of brew to the city. From that point on, there is a highlighted portion on the map in which the player must run towards and escort the NPC to safety and fight off spiders that attempt to hinder the route. Other players in the area also receive this alert and naturally all players arrive and defend the NPC. This is just one example of how these real time events play out, but it all happens so fluidly and organically that you wonder why this has not been the standard in MMO’s to date. The mere presence of these real time events brings back the feeling that you really are playing alongside other people. This is something that I feel has been lacking for quite some time.

Being that this is an MMO, it sure is a breath of fresh air to have ArenaNet launch the game as a free to play standalone polished game. As many have noticed from previous MMO’s that have come along with subscription fees the past couple of years, it is not a very successful business model if you are not named Warcraft. That being said, ArenaNet incorporated the “pay for comforts” feature, such as buying experience boosting or extra character slots, to continue sustaining the massive world that is Tyria. The only detractor from this game is that it is not a very intuitive game whatsoever. You get general tips from the beginning of where to go and people to see, but after that it is up to the player to look up information about how to work professions or how exactly their character progression works out. A little help from third party sites helps alleviate these issues but it would be nice to have a bit more tutorial in-game to explain and describe the process of leveling up.

Overall this is a fantastic game and I wholeheartedly recommend it to those who have enjoyed MMO’s in one way, shape or form in the past and are looking to enjoy a stand alone game without the hassle and pain of a subscription fee. I will definitely update this impression as more content is released and I sink my teeth a little bit further into Tyria. Happy gaming everybody.

I game. I love.