It’s typical of the game’s whole approach. Guild Wars 2 is a game where affordable teleportation waypoints cut down on the tedious travelling and backtracking that’s a necessary part of any MMORPG, so that you can spend your time exploring new areas, not wandering around those you’ve already conquered. Merchants are sprinkled liberally so that there’s always somewhere near to sell unwanted loot, or there’s a clever banking system where you can store your gear and even share it between characters on the same account.
There are detailed crafting systems for those that want them, but no pressure to use them if you don’t. Even death isn’t met with any vicious penalties. You might lose your armour through persistent thrashings, but you can elect to start up again at a nearby waypoint, and there’s none of the corpse-finding rigmarole of WoW or The Secret World. In general, Guild Wars 2 is all set up so that you’re free to enjoy the game, and do so in your own way.
Beneath all this streamlining, however, there’s still plenty of depth and choice. Interestingly, Arenanet has avoided the usual system where experience unlocks new combat abilities for a system where abilities are tied in to weapons, with new abilities unlocking the more you use a particular type. This gives you a certain level of flexibility, as you can have one setup for dealing with foes at distance and another for serious melee work, swapping between them as need be.
Beyond this, secondary skills can be purchased with Skill Points, either earned through levelling up or by completing skill challenges in-game, and these give you bonus-perks or healing capabilities depending on your class. Traits allow you to weight your character towards offensive, defensive, support or stealth roles, and this flexibility works with a well thought-out class system to give you play styles that go beyond the standard MMORPG tank, heavy-hitter and healer archetypes.
The overall effect of all this is an MMORPG with an almost flawless feedback loop, where you’re always doing something, and always getting rewarded for doing it. Even the simple act of exploration is rewarding, with experience points dished out for finding viewpoints that can only be reached by some crafty platform jumping or an arduous climb.
What’s more, Guild Wars 2 is a beautiful looking MMORPG as well. Capable of being scaled down to play on a standard laptop with a basic discrete GPU, the game can also be played on a decent system with a mid-range GPU where users will benefit from luminous fantasy landscapes and some gorgeous atmospheric effects. The character models balance personalisation with a distinctive Guild Wars 2 art design, and areas of the world have a very distinct personality, particularly if you move from one major zone to another using the global teleport system. Only time will tell if Guild Wars 2 can match WoW’s artistic coherence and sense of place, but the artistry and production values are already hard to fault.