Call Guild Wars 2 a kinder, gentler MMO. The massively multiplayer online game from ArenaNet exists to erase, address or ameliorate all the hassles, friction and headaches that seemed written into the DNA of the genre. On paper these refinements seem like mere collection of bullet points. But for long-time denizens of similar virtual worlds they merge coolly into the proverbial breath of fresh air.
This mostly means that adventurers spend more time tangling with monsters and less time planning said entanglements. Guild Wars 2 automatically assumes that if two players are standing side-by-side they want to work together. Add your sword to the fight and you’ll automatically earn your share of loot and take credit for participating in said quest. By ditching all the formalities of fellowship Guild Wars 2 feels more social. You spend less time talking, planning and negotiating with others and more time playing with them.
The old way of doing things required players to take on roles, such as healing or monster wrangling, and perform those duties for the rest of the group. Guild Wars 2 makes everyone a jack-of-all trades responsible for keeping their own health bar full. That’s not to say that the game has totally ditched the five-player dungeon. Said meat and potatoes are still served. What the game does, rather brilliantly, is replicate the experience of such crawls in the open world for those who would rather not spend the time recruiting allies. Adventures just happen.
When an angry giant unleashes its wrath on a small village players turn up to take part in the fight. Soon an army of archers, magicians and fighters rain hell down on the monster. In other games such epic fights were reserved for “raiders”-organized groups of dungeon crawlers who scheduled and planned such undertakings with the dull efficiency of middle managers. Here lone wolves find themselves in on-the-fly fellowships fighting off invasions or collaborating to sidestep the traps and locks of a dungeon.
Guild Wars 2 doesn’t solve all the problems implicit in the genre. Real-world friends who want to play together may find themselves on different servers. A hoop or two jumped (some in effect and some planned) will offer a work around. But when the two do manage to find themselves side-by-side in the game world there’s little else to keep them from having fun together. A clever rubber band workaround adjusts player power to the area they’re in, allowing those who have invested days into building up their character to hook up with newbie friends and not seem like a god amongst ants. This means that no matter where a player goes (and whenever they go there) there will always be a challenging fight to be had. Lands once conquered never go stale.
All these well-thought innovations go a long way towards making Guild Wars 2 feel like a sprawling world with adventure around every corner-a game that gives players the freedom to explore, find trouble and conquer evil without feeling corralled like tourists in a theme park. It is about time a virtual world acknowledged that no-self respecting hero sticks to the path.
Guild Wars 2 was developed by ArenaNet and published by NCsoft. This review is based on the PC version. It is also available for Mac.
Gus Mastrapa is a freelance writer from Apple Valley, CA. His work has appeared in Edge, Variety and Wired. Follow him on Twitter: @Triphibian.