That's why I'm celebrating Guild Wars 2's launch: This is the game I wanted from ArenaNet from the get-go. It most certainly carries the torch of the franchise, particularly in its lush world-building and incredible vistas, but it does the most important thing a sequel should do: preserve the good, add bold new ideas, and drop the dead weight.
At risk of offending those who hold the original Guild Wars as a sacred cow (blasphemooey?), I present the top 10 ways Guild Wars 2 most definitely beats the pants off of its predecessor.
Movement in Guild Wars took a lot of getting used to, especially for someone who came from other MMOs. The inability to jump and constant invisible walls (curse you, one-foot-high dune!) were a constant frustration, even if it was more subconscious.
ArenaNet didn't just take our pleas for jumping into account; the studio downright went overboard with jumping in the sequel. "You like hopping around like mindless froggies?" the devs said. "Then have jumping puzzles! Diving boards! And constant 5,000-foot drops to your demise!"
Achievements -- really, titles -- in the first Guild Wars were about as grindy as you could possibly get. Perhaps players who had been in the title constantly since 2005 didn't think much of them (because what else was there to do?), but I was in horrified shock at how hard and insanely tedious many of them were. Really, if you ever see a player with the God Walking Among Mere Mortals (GWAMM) title, you need to be in awe and perhaps take six steps back so you don't catch whatever he or she has.
Happily, Guild Wars 2 achievements are more accessible for those of us who don't have OCD. Sure, there are tough achievements, but many of them happen naturally during the course of play. I particularly enjoy the daily achievements that give you a substantial reward when you're through with them.
I understand that ArenaNet's first outing wasn't exactly the traditional MMO and that its extensive use of instancing was part of what made the game easy for the company's servers to run. But it also made the world feel lonely, almost more single-player than multi. There just weren't a lot of options for players to get together outside of a few shared instanced cities, guild halls, and small groups.
That's why moving to a full-fledged MMO with a persistent open world is perfect for the series. We really needed this because it provides that spark of social connection -- you not only see other players around you but fight with them from time to time.
The trading post -- GW2's version of an auction house -- had a bumpy start this past weekend, but I still hold great hope for it. It's accessible from everywhere in the world and allows you to place buy as well as sell orders. Guild Wars gave you a chat channel so you could scream alongside the other hundred people hawking their wares, which is about as retro as you can get without shoving coconuts in people's faces and grunting.
It never quite sat right with me that Guild Wars had a whopping total of one race to play, humans. Ugh, humans. I play one of those in real life; I don't need one in a game too.
It hit me the other night just how powerfully the addition of four new playable races transforms Guild Wars 2. It takes the focus off a single race and that race's perspective and puts it on a much more diverse spectrum of societies, beliefs, and styles. There's a little something here for everyone (except for us Dwarf-lovers... sigh), and I'm glad to see it.
Here's where I'll say something very nice about the original Guild Wars: It was one of the most beautiful games I've ever played. The art team at ArenaNet is outstanding in both concept and execution, and if nothing else, the world and characters were always easy on the eyes.
Here's where I'll say something less nice: Guild Wars 2's visuals blow Guild Wars' out of the water, making the latter look for the first time like a relic of the mid-2000s instead of a potential beauty queen contestant. This upgraded Tyria is so dang good-looking that I can't stop from taking screenshots all the time, even when I'm dying.
The meat and potatoes of Guild Wars 2 is, strangely enough, in self-guided exploration. Largely stripped of the quest hubs we've come to expect in MMOs, GW2 instead gives us general pointers of where to go in the world but doesn't force us down those routes. Instead, we're treated as adults and given permission to do as much bushwacking as desired. The best part? Often we're rewarded for going off the beaten path.
There was very little motivation to explore in the original Guild Wars for me, as the map completion title was too annoying and there usually wasn't that much to find anyway. But here, I can explore knowing that it's fully supported by the game.
What helps are the frequent waypoint markers, which when unlocked offer you fast travel back to that point. To an explorer, these are invaluable. I don't have to worry about fighting or trudging my way back somewhere or do mental calculations of how much time I'm losing by not making a beeline to the next quest giver. Instead, I just explore, then zip back; pick another direction, explore, then zip back.
Guild Wars had dyes, but I rarely saw them. They occasionally dropped and could be purchased through a vendor, but on the whole, I found them to be expensive and not worth the trouble.
Guild Wars 2 not only has scads of dyes but turned this system into a Pokemon gotta-catch-them-all collection activity. You begin the game with several blah-looking dyes unlocked, but can find or make more in your adventures. When you unlock a new dye, it's forever yours; you can dye and re-dye your outfits to your heart's content without worrying about cost. I was absurdly thrilled when I found an uncommon dye, and I really enjoy making my Asura look as if she stepped out of a 1980s dance video with pink and purple neon.
Loot in Guild Wars was just... meh. Because the game was centered more around player skill and builds and not gear (which was an admirable goal; I'll give it that), pretty much all loot that dropped was either useless gear you'd never equip, vendor trash, or crafting mats. Hey, I'm a shallow guy sometimes: I like pulling the slot machine handle on mobs and seeing what spits out. But in GW's case, it was junk piled on junk.
So finally we have a game where drops are more in line with what we've come to expect in MMOs. There are crafting mats, gear, dyes, rare gear, vendor trash, and other random goodies. I'm still trying to get a handle on the fact that green gear is better than blue, but I'm just glad that loot got fun again.
I'm not always a crafter in every MMO, but Guild Wars 2 proved too hard to resist. There's so much more variety and accessibility than in the first game, and I adore how well-thought out this system is. From the discovery panel to the ability to deposit all collectables, it's as user-friendly as can be.
Plus -- and here's the important point -- I'm the one doing the crafting, not some NPC who takes my mats and money, and then tosses back a dress in return. My clothing labels say Made in the Syp-S-A, and I'm proud of it!
Justin "Syp" Olivetti enjoys counting up to ten, a feat that he considers the apex of his career. If you'd like to learn how to count as well, check out The Perfect Ten. You can contact him via email at email@example.com or through his gaming blog, Bio Break.