The current playable world is the continent known as Tyria; a sprawling land mass consisting of humid jungles, grassy plains, barren scrubland, snow-capped peaks, temperate forests and sunken fragments of dead civilizations. Vibrant colours are used in settings of prominence to lend beauty to the surroundings, a beauty that the player is made to feel obligated to preserve as the antagonist forces would see it otherwise. Scattered about the world are a plethora of cultures, races and as a result, imposing and distinctive architecture ranging from the old stone and mortar structures of the human settlements, to the brazen metallic constructions of the Charr. Uniquely, players are able to traverse not only above ground, but also below the waterline. This expansive and diverse landscape is meant to reflect the flexibility of the game; that the player is allowed to wander and play as they want is shown through the variety of vistas. Exploration is indeed encouraged – unusually – as this is an intentionally beautiful setting that the developers want the player to feel compelled to discover.
There are many races that are represented in varying degrees. Most notably are the (potentially) playable races – unlike the original Guild Wars, the player is not restricted to one sole race but have a selection of five; Charr, Norn, Human, Sylvari, Asura. Each and every one of these five is distinctive from one another and not just physically, for example, the Asura are a learned race who use their heads, are fond of laboratory environments, research and analysis. As a result they are seemingly arrogant and contemptuous whereas the Norn prefer the thrill of the hunt; warhorn in one hand, tankard of ale in the other and listen to their hearts rather than their heads. This variety is a method of letting the player decide their standing; how they approach the game beyond character creation. The playable and non-playable races alike have NPCs representatives – key characters to the plot and general flow of the game. Each playable race for example has a corresponding hero-NPC whom you interact with on occasion and will not only provide the player with help but also a sense of involvement early on in the game.
The playable character is defined by the choices made in the character creation; such as your character’s chosen heritage or something your character may have done in the past. These choices will also influence the instanced content you encounter early on. The customization is quite open, with the ability to choose race, profession, gender, hair, hair colour, skin colour, tattoos, patterns, facial structure, build and basic personality.
Guild Wars 2 provides both visual and audible feedback. The playable character will react to their surroundings, both with speech – i.e. remarking about a new location, outcries of pain upon losing health, or complimenting allies on special attack combinations. Footfalls differ in sound depending on the surface you’re walking on to represent different terrain as well as being displayed visually through various puffs of dust and footprints. Immersion is maintained through these methods and the focus kept on the character. Several techniques are used to express combat; certain physically violent actions or events – such as explosions, being hit or hitting something or someone – will cause the camera to shake, the more frequent and forceful, the stronger the shake – in large conflicts, it conveys a sense of trauma. Another technique used is a fairly common method of displaying pain or damage; as damage is taken, the edges of the screen will blot with flares and splodges of red. Additionally, the character will occasionally lament or curse as their health drops. Upon death, the screen goes grey to signify death inexorable.
The playable character has a variety of potential physical properties as the customization is so vast, thus the player’s interactions with the character have to take all these possibilities into account. Actions are performed with certain keys to interact and navigate with your character; hitting spacebar will cause the character to jump, allowing access to another axis of exploration – the developers make use of this by way of special puzzles orientated around jumping, also known as platforming. Other keys such as number keys will activate combat abilities that pertain to your chosen class. A unique feature of Guild Wars 2 is the ability to perform a dodge-roll. This ability allows for a higher level of potential play as utilizing it allows the player to avoid damage, spells and area of effects – dodge rolling uses up what is referred to as the “energy bar” which replenishes over time and can also be augmented by the player through various means. The player is also able to perform simpler interactions, whether talking to an NPC or flicking a lever using the F key and moving about with WASD – keeping things in line with other games of a similar genre helps new players acclimatise to Guild Wars 2 as this will be something familiar, thus one less thing to learn.
Guild Wars 2 is classified as an MMORPG (massively multiplayer online roleplaying game). As such, multiplayer is featured predominately; however there are instanced single player events and quests which friends can be invited into by the player. Most prominent of these is a quest chain referred to as the player’s “personal story” in which the choices made in the character creation will play out for the earlier instances. Certain portions of the game require differing amounts of players; dungeons will require the player to team up within a group of 5 for the best chance of success whilst the open world can be explored alone or with as many other players as can be found. The Majority of gameplay revolves around coordination and teamwork. This is reflected in most aspects of the game, the point being to encourage the player to seek others out for the optimal experience. There is a piece of recurring content in the open world called “world events”. World events can be triggered through various means; other events being completed, a certain amount of time passing or simply by player interaction. When they trigger, a marker is displayed on maps and UIs of every player in the vicinity so they’re easily found – the amount of players in the immediate area dictates how difficult the event will be (varying amounts of mobs, health pools or damage values). Upon completion, each player is rewarded separately – world events are a clever way of subtlety manipulating players to work together for individual benefit.
Guild Wars 2 carries on the story from the end of the original, 250 years later. A key goal of Guild Wars 2 is the focus on the immediate; the narrative rarely features the past but focuses on events that occur in the present, which the player is integral to within the previously mentioned personal story instances through which the story is told. Prominent NPCs are utilized as a means of exposition when necessary as the story progresses – this helps maintain immersion within the confines of the current narrative as the NPC talks directly to your character in a type of cutscene designed specifically for dialogue. Other unrelated pieces can be obtained through talking with other NPCs throughout the world or even overhearing conversation between two NPCs or witnessing events yourself as they unfold. This is a story being written, not read and this is what the developers are keen to hit home.
There is tangle of interwoven ethical, moral and political problems within Guild Wars 2, complicated further by the variety of character customization at the player’s disposal. The first game set the stage of humanity (player protagonists) against the Charr (NPC antagonists). In the sequel, the player can be Charr or Human; black and white settings do not exist anymore, this is made apparent also from the narrative. All races from all walks of life are thrown up against the greatest challenge to date, dwarfing otherwise petty squabbles between kin, clan and creed and twisting the certain into the uncertain. Charr, Human, Norn, Asura and Sylvari must unite together if they’re to survive. Of course it is not so simple and is an on-going struggle, this intended to allow the player to come to grips with these meaty issues themselves, to decide for themselves what they think right and wrong and where to stand – this provides a huge amount of retention and incentive to further your knowledge on these thorny problems to ensure you make the right choice.
The aim of the game – like so many aspects of Guild Wars 2 – is entirely dependent on the values held by the player. It also makes an effort to cater to both hard-core and casual players, which is a monumentally difficult task and not one that’s wholly achieved. The threshold between hard-core and casual is simply a measure of time and dedication – people are able or willing to play for varying lengths; the problem being that the hard-core players will gain access to a higher level of play, better resources and a superior amount of knowledge (typically) than those who play casually. In the past, games tend to omit the wants of the casual player, expecting them to be content with whatever content they feel like playing and instead focusing solely on what is termed “end game content” for the hard-core player, as they will likely reach this stage faster and will otherwise find the content lacking if there’s not enough of it to sate their addiction. When the casual player eventually comes to the void that inevitably grows between these two styles of play, it can seem an overwhelming amount of effort that’s required for very little in return – Guild Wars 2 still suffers from this. On release, fixed supreme weapons with stats that adjust to the current meta – to ensure effort spent is not made redundant in later patches and updates – called “legendaries” were released to soak up the attention of the hard-core player, however they overestimated how much the other pieces of content would last for the casual player, meaning the void between the two was breached before new casual/hard-core content could be released.
Initially, the player would set out to reach the highest possible combat level. There are various methods to levelling up, all rely on the archetypal acquisition of experience which can be obtained through several pieces of content; the crafting skills, levelling through exploration of the open world, completing events, personal story instances, dungeons, “World versus World”. Once again, the ability to play how you want is represented strongly, although all roads lead to the same goals.
As with a game that incorporates a myriad of different content, the mechanics differ also which lends refreshing change and keeps things interesting. Difficulty however, is universal; entirely dependent on the player’s ability – there is no easy, medium or hard, the rule of practice makes perfect applies. Throughout the main piece of content, difficulty can vary from class to class and certain classes excel at different activities, this is of course an area of speculation in terms of balance. Using the content referred to as “player versus player” for example, certain classes are easier to play than others and some feel underpowered, this can only be speculated but there are clear advantages and disadvantages here between one class and another.
Original Publication: 2013