I didn't realise it at first but, like most MMOs, there’s a neat little feature in Guild Wars 2 that tells you exactly how long you’ve been playing for. So, after finding out, I innocently typed /age into the command box and what appeared was a rather shocking result.
There are already plenty of players rocking the current max level of 80. It took me two weeks to get there but a dedicated few did it within a day - though such a feat doesn't mean the same in Guild Wars 2 as it does in other MMOs. There’s no obvious need for grinding here, no endless and desperate assault of your clicking finger, and no laborious tasks to undertake. To put it simply, Guild Wars 2 offers a really smooth levelling experience - and one fun enough that you’ll hardly notice your gradual damage increases and the number next to your health bar tallying up.
In fact, the game is maybe a bit too generous with its XP. For me, the gap from 70 to 80 passed far quicker than 40 to 50. Your bar keeps looping infinitely after dinging max level, and I've watched it go round and round numerous times since.
But, after well over 100 hours, what exactly do I do now? Guild Wars 2 has been an entertaining ride so far, and I've enjoyed running across the world and exploring each map, trying to unlock each secret area, assist each imperilled NPC, and employ rudimentary platforming skills to climb up the game's myriad and gorgeous vistas. Having the compulsive need to fully explore each map so you can unlock new treasures along the way has also been surprisingly fun, but now it all feels like an anti-climax.
This is the all-important End Game, then; the elusive content served up to max level players, and the part of these games that often unravels fresh and hopeful MMOs - just look at The Old Republic. According to developer ArenaNet, all of Guild Wars 2 is End Game. Tyria is a huge world, and ArenaNet wants players to finish exploring it fully before chucking new content to the dedicated few. The argument, they say, is that Guild Wars 2's area-specific task checklists will mean you'll want to revisit all the areas you rushed through the first time in a mad romp for loot and stats. But does it work?
To compensate for your burgeoning strength, one of the game's notable design features is that your level is often brought down to the area’s specific range to compensate, which stops your level 80 avatar from decimating the place. It’s an interesting concept that helps people play together, but it also hinders some of the best bits of the genre - those satisfying moments where you go help a newbie friend, or show off by one-hitting a pathetic low level boss that, a long time ago, caused you untold amounts of grief.
Besides, you’re still stronger than you used to be. Your skills, gear and know-how make a huge difference when you step back onto old ground. It just doesn’t feel as fun.
Not that there isn’t anything to do in Tyria. Hidden ‘jumping’ puzzles are scattered everywhere, each requiring a steady hand and a good chunk of patience. Each of these challenges are designed to bestow some decent loot upon completion, but it’s a shame the rewards are not scaled to the player as going back and cracking these challenges in early areas results in a useless throwaway prize.
There are also the game's hardcore dungeons, which start to unlock from level 30. These require you to team up with others and don’t appear to scale down if you wish to tackle them alone. Or you could jump into the competitive side of things. Joining WvWvW (World vs. World vs. World) pits a trio of servers against each other, and there's also a sizeable chunk of good old fashioned PvP. Competitive modes instantly level your character to 80, meaning everyone can get stuck into adversarial play as soon as they finish installing the game.
WvWvW offers the most immersive experience of the two. You get to explore a new map and take over castles of varying size and state with other players from your server. These are massive, intense battles and each fight rarely sees one team holding down the fort for long. Each result feeds into a persistent, ongoing conflict, too, which feels more compelling than PvPs isolated flag capturing matches. PvP servers are also incredibly busy at the moment, so you might find yourself waiting a while if you want to get in.
'...this is a game pepped with neat touches, such as special transmutation stones that allow you to bind the stats of one item to the visuals of another.'
Incentives to keep playing PvP and WvWvW are item drops that allow players to create their own special armour and weapons in the adversarial modes. You can also exchange tokens plucked from your victims for swanky gear, though you'll need to scalp hundreds of players for these items and you definitely shouldn't go in expecting Call of Duty bodycounts. It's a significant time investment.
What Guild Wars 2 does best is its details, with its aesthetic a lovely combination of a Western sense of grander and practicality with the visual finesse of an Asian developed MMO. The five playable races, each with their own massive personal story arcs, are also beautifully designed. Tyria's races range from diminutive Asura and the plant-based Sylvari, through the bog-standard humans and the people-esque Norns, and finishing with the Charr, the cat-like warrior race that served as one of the primary antagonists in the original game.
The design might be nice, but more could be done with the variety of outfits on offer, seeing that most players are suffering from the same three robes - even 20 levels apart. For example, take the medium armour worn by the Ranger class. There are two main styles: a long torn pirate jacket or a trench coat. Both these outfits are regurgitated over and over again throughout levels 1 to 80.
In fact, the same jacket you wore at level ten might look identical when the same thing drops at level 80 but with better stats. The thing with MMOs is that you want to show off your level by the armour you wear. The more powerful you are the most spectacular your garb should become, but Guild Wars 2's all-inclusive approach means it seldom works out that way.
Light and Heavy armour see more variety, with varying levels of skirts, trousers and dresses from both. And you can customise the colour of your outfit at any time, unlocking new colours by dyes that drop from enemies from time to time.
Yet this is a game pepped with neat touches, such as special transmutation stones that allow you to bind the stats of one item to the visuals of another, though you can’t mix armours between light, medium and heavy types. Guild Wars 2 gives, but Guild Wars 2 also takes away.
Even crafting, currently an expensive hobby in a world that still often has a broken in-game marketplace and ruined economy weeks after launch, can become a frustration with core crafting items selling for well over their value and money difficult to make.
The other option when it comes to self-financing is running to the Gem store, Guild Wars 2’s in-game real money store. 800 gems will set you back just over £8 and players can exchange them direct for gold (though the conversion rate is not that great, surprisingly) and purchase temp stat bonuses, revival orbs (£2.50!?) or in-game minis that run alongside your character.
There's plenty to see and do, then, and I managed to whittle away 100 hours quite easily. But this isn't the transformative revival of the MMO genre that some were expecting, with many of the quests falling into the same pitfalls of repetition that often blights the genre. ArenaNet's efforts to encourage discovery and exploration are rewarded, and their efforts to streamline the genre help Guild Wars 2 raise the MMO bar ever so slightly.
Guild Wars 2 is beautiful game that runs very well on most mid-spec machines, but there’s currently very little reward for rushing to the top. The lack of monthly fees cements ArenaNet's wish for players to take their time and explore all of the content available, but the developer needs to rethink its approach to rewarding the game's most devout players if it still wants people to be actively participating in Tyria over the coming months. Rewarding players' hard work should be paramount.
Version Tested: PC