Missed part one of our review? Read it here
Reviewing an MMO is never easy. In a year Guild Wars 2 could change beyond recognition. It could be better, it could be worse. We've played it for over 50 hours across multiple characters, and it still doesn't feel like enough.
We've only dipped our toes in PVP, and have yet to experience any high level end-game content. So this review is based mostly on PVE. We've tested all eight classes and worked our way through a large portion of the human and norn story quests. So bear that in mind as you read on. There's a score at the end, sure, but it's subject to change. But what this review will do is tell you if Guild Wars 2 is worth buying, whether you're an MMO virgin or a hardened veteran.
The freeform quest design is the game's greatest strength. Not just in terms of gameplay, but in how it brings players together. You don't have to collect quests from NPCs and turn them in; they automatically trigger when you enter an area. They're made up of multiple objectives across a specific area of the map, and each one you complete fills up a progress bar. The quest is complete when the bar is filled, and the reward is delivered straight to your mailbox.
Having four or five things to do in each quest cleverly hides the grind and repetition that plagues most online RPGs. You're still just killing and collecting things, but the typical MMO objectives are always mixed up with bizarre and entertaining mini-games to keep things interesting. This means you can alter your play style depending on your mood. If you don't feel like fighting mobs, there's always an alternative. You can finish most quests without even raising your weapon.
Better still, you never feel lonely. If another player is in the middle of killing an enemy, you can help and it'll count towards both of your progress bars. It's this collaboration that makes Guild Wars 2 an incredibly social experience, even if you aren't playing with friends. The large amount of players currently invading the game's servers is not unusual for an MMO at launch; but seeing them all working together is. You won't spend all your time in the game silently grinding through quests on your own; you'll be doing them alongside massive groups of other players.
World events continue this idea of player interaction by giving everyone taking part in the quest the same progress bar. These occur randomly, and when one is triggered you'll see most players in the area run towards it. Some of these are huge in scale, and see you battling enormous bosses like the towering Shadow Behemoth in Queensdale. You don't even have to worry about being too high level to take part; the game automatically scales your character down. You'll frequently see players with top tier gear fighting alongside freshly spawned newbies.
Sometimes enemies will attack fast travel points and make them inactive, which gives players an extra incentive to band together and repel the invaders. In World of Warcraft you'd have to organise raids or wait in a queue to experience these big group boss fights; in Guild Wars 2 they're everywhere, and anyone in the area can join in instantly. It's a level of accessibility rarely seen in an MMO, and putting long-time players on a level playing field with fresh-faced newcomers gets rid of the elitism that's usually rampant in games like this.