With the hype around Guild Wars 2 finally settling down and people finally digging into the world of Tyria, there have been many forms of analysis on the internet as to whether Guild Wars 2 has what it takes to make the long haul and continue remaining worthwhile beyond the initial level 80 grind. In rebuttal to that statement, I say "the first game is still going strong, so why wouldn't the second one?" Why is that? The reason is simple: Guild Wars 2 does what most MMOs won't or don't, and because of this, it has excelled beyond many of them.
That's not to say that Guild Wars 2 is a perfect game by any stretch. Then again, I wouldn't peg any other MMO as a perfect game. Instead, I would say that Guild Wars 2 takes a "road less traveled" approach to its general design aesthetic. One of the first places you can notice this would be in how it handles travel around the world. Rather than offer up flight paths that transport you from city to city, they offer waypoints that you can find throughout the world and use as a form of fast travel. Some will complain that the loading screens can cause the world to feel disjointed, but the upside is that the loading screens are generally much shorter of a wait time than a flight path can be. There are not enough fingers and toes on my body to count how many times I've heard people complain about waiting on a flight path to get them where they need to be. While part of an MMO is to immerse yourself in this giant world that has been created, gamers also have a general displeasure towards waiting to achieve a goal. Therefore, this waypoint system gets me where I need to be as quickly as possible so I can get back to adventuring, not watching the world pass by underneath me as I wait...and wait...and wait.
These waypoints are also used as your "graveyard". Once you die, you can resurrect back at a waypoint. There is no corpse run. While some games like Vanguard and Everquest made corpse running an integral and immersible part of their worlds, corpse running in general can be annoying as hell when it isn't necessary. Moreover, each zone in Guild Wars 2 is so massive that it would cause people to travel for quite a while. Again, looking at the design aesthetic of the game, it's about getting you back into the adventure as quickly as possible. They want you to spend your time PLAYING THE GAME, not corpse running and flight pathing. It's a breath of fresh air. Are they the first to do these? Not necessarily, but they handle them incredibly well.
Here's another brilliant piece of design: overflow servers. Most MMOs will have you wait in a login queue, watching what feels like an arbitrary number tick down over time while you wait to get into your virtual world. Guild Wars 2 instead uses the game world itself as the login queue. If the number of people on your server has caused it to be "full", you are put into this overflow server with multiple other servers' worth of people. The benefit? It's the common theme that we see with the previous two features I've mentioned: they want you to play the damn game! You can still do world events, dungeons, event quests, kill mobs, craft...EVERYTHING that you can do on your own regular server. The only issues with the overflow server is that there are multiple overflows. Therefore, if you want to be partied with a friend who is on a separate overflow, it can get a little dicey. Generally, waiting until you are both on the actual server is the best bet there.
Even then, Guild Wars 2 is an MMO where you might not even find yourself partying up very often. This is because of the general structure of questing and leveling up. Instead of the general "exclamation point above someone's head" scenario to designate that there is a quest to pick up, all questing is handled through three methods: story quests (which are instanced and focus on your own character's story), public events (which are the same as public quests, but they are your primary form of quests), and world events (which randomly show up and can either succeed or fail to unlock additional world events afterwards). The stories that unfold through your story quests are generally pretty unique amongst characters, and the voice acting is pretty top notch. The system of public events works incredibly well for general questing and leveling. Yes, there will be quests where you'll do arbitrary things like "put on a cow disguise and do these random things" or "hey, take this water bucket around and fill up some water troughs". If you have no investment in the world, this stuff will seem menial and dull. If you like a little bit of crazy variety in your questing and take in the reasons for doing these different tasks, they fit well within the world. Generally, the events that make the most sense are "go and kill these guys for us". However, it's not an instance of "talk to some random guy who is too lazy to do this shit himself". Instead, you actively see NPC characters participating in these events as well. It helps to make it feel less like the laziness example and more like a world that is alive and aware of its necessities for survival.
The world events is where the game shines, however. When you enter specific areas, a world event can pop up. Many times, it will tell you something like "defend this area" or "kill the shit out of these muthafuckers for us". Again, NPCs will usually fight alongside you. As you complete that world event through success or failure, it can lead to another event happening. The thing is that failing an event can have some negative repercussions. For instance, you can completely lose access to a town until the next time that world event pops back up. A primary example of this would be in the Town of Nageling, as it will be taken over and the gates will be shut down when it gets invaded. You'll have to kill an onslaught on enemies, followed by a particularly nasty boss monster at the end of all the defending and/or assaulting. If you fail or don't complete it, Nageling is generally shut off from the public. It's not always a CRUCIAL thing when one of these failures happens, but it's generally disheartening for the player. When you've become invested in the world, you don't want to see something fail. You want to see triumph. Some of these world events can actually lead to specific boss fights that you otherwise couldn't easily reach, and they generally feel both dynamic and like a grand adventure. You feel like a hero when you participate in most of them.
Speaking of grand adventures, another feature where Guild Wars 2 succeeds is in rewarding the player for generally exploring the world. Within every zone, you will find multiple different "collectibles": Waypoints (your fast travel places), Vistas (think of the spinny camera highpoints of Assassin's Creed), Points of Interest (areas of lore within the world of Tyria), Skill Point Challenges (they allow you to unlock additional skill points for your skill tree), and Tasks (these are your public events). Finding any of these is worth a good chunk of XP, and they generally give the player incentive to scour every last inch of a map before moving on to the next zone. It gets you familiar with the world around you, but it also helps build the initiative within the player to look at this game differently: it's not about grinding, but rather about exploring and adventuring. Sure, there is a level cap to hit...at some point. However, there has been a tireless amount of time put into creating this gorgeous world, and they WANT you to find everything. Moreover, getting every "collectible" in a zone will unlock a chest for you which generally contains goodies like uncommon or rare loot, boosts for things like XP/Karma/Magic Find/Speed, things of that nature. Therefore, ArenaNet does something that other games don't: offer incentive to immerse yourself into their world. Mind you, this could feel like a cheap ploy to make you explore the world, but it rarely feels that way. There's a general excitement upon entering a new area or uncovering a new portion of your map, as the world design is just jaw-dropping with how much detail the developer put into each design decision.
Throughout all of this adventuring, there are other things that you may take for granted at first but will eventually feel refreshing. Just look at your inventory bag. There are two options available within the bag: "Deposit All Collectibles" and "Compact". These should become industry standards. The first will automatically send all crafting materials or gems in your inventory to your bank, while the latter will pull everything you have into closer empty spaces, making the search through your inventory less of a hassle. Even then, if you really want to find something in your massive inventory, there is a search bar in your backpack to find exactly what you want. Ingenious all around!
There is also no "trade" window. Essentially, when you want to trade, you will instead use the mail system. Mail arrives instantly no matter what is being sent, and it's also how you'll end up collecting the money you get from either trades or your public event rewards upon completing them. This is something that could be abused: what is the protocol for trading in this kind of scenario? Generally, the community in Guild Wars 2 is a good group of honest guys, but there's always going to be that bad apple that spoils the whole bunch. Luckily, reaching customer support to report something of this nature isn't much of a hassle, and they are generally decent about replying to these types of things in a timely fashion. Moreover, the economy of the game is so low (having 5 gold pieces essentially makes you a god to most people) that losing out on a couple of silver for a day or two isn't going to cause much sting in your pocketbook, but your confidence in community may waver a bit.
Another nice feature is that anyone can gather anything when it comes to ore, plants, leather, and other types of crafting materials. This helps in two distinct ways: it means that everyone can have a way to make money and thusly keeps the economy of these commodities relatively locked down in terms of its pricing for private sale, and it means you can always use these materials for bartering with other characters when money isn't much of an option. Moreover, those gathering nodes are not a "first come first serve" type of system, so you will always be able to gather from an ungathered node, even if someone else is collecting from it. There is the potential for abuse on this from gold farmers and such. However, with the economy being so low and having the option to buy gold with real money through the game's microtransaction store for a rather reasonable price, it seems like gold farming is all but dead weight in the game.
"WHOA WHOA WHOA, MICROTRANSACTIONS?! YOU CAN BUY GOLD IN THE STORE?! THIS IS PAY 2 WIN!"
Calm your jets, Kimosabi. Guild Wars 2 is not a "Pay 2 Win" just the same as it is not technically a "Free 2 Play" game. It's a Buy 2 Play with a vanity store of microtransactions. If buying a baseball cap or some aviator sunglasses is going to all of a sudden make someone down a giant dragon quicker, then you can start exclaiming that shit. Yes, you CAN buy gold by spending real money to buy "gems", then use those gems to collect gold. However, it also goes the other way: you can spend your in-game gold to acquire gems. In turn, ArenaNet has offered a way for the game to be completely self-sufficient without needing to spend a dime beyond the initial $60 game purchase. If someone wants to give them more money, then that is their own personal prerogative. That doesn't mean they are "winning" any more than you. They will just look cooler than you.
As a matter of fact, they don't even really allow higher level players to automatically win in lower-level areas! Thanks to a smart level scaling system, high level characters will be scaled down to the level of an area. Therefore, if you are level 70 and go into a level 20 area, you'll be scaled down to level 20. Now, as far as we've noticed, it seems that this scaling only applies to your personal character stats and not the gear that you have equipped. Therefore, you still get a slight edge over an actual level 20 and feel that power in your character, but it generally evens out pretty well. What makes this level scaling even more interesting is how future updates and expansions could work. Since your character gets scaled down, it means that ArenaNet doesn't have to solely make new zones catering only to level 80. They can make a level 30 zone and it works because you will get scaled down, meaning the content can still present a general challenge.
Because of this level scaling, it also makes dungeons hard as hell. It's a whole new ballgame in learning how to approach something like a dungeon, specifically since there is no dedicated healing class. There is a lot of crowd control necessity followed hand-in-hand with knowing your class, your weapons, how to evade attacks properly, and generally using your environment to your advantage. This means that you not only use the terrain within fights, but also what the terrain has available in terms of items. Upon first fighting Vassar and Ralena (the twins boss fight) in Ascalonian Catacombs, you'll find that you die pretty damn easy. However, once you realize that it's because you don't have one person being dedicated to throwing boulders at Ralena while you beat the shit out of her lover, the light bulb clicks in your head: these fights are about more than beating the shit out of someone. Some of them are pure tank 'n' spank, but the majority of dungeon fights require some thought and knowledge. It's a nice change of pace from the rather simplistic mindset of other MMOs when it comes to dungeon design.
Last but not least, there is the shining gem of Guild Wars 2, the reason you want to play the game: WvWvW. That incredibly awkward-looking anagram stands for "world versus world versus world", which is the main PvP mode in Guild Wars 2. The general idea is similar to what some other games have attempted (like Warhammer Online): have one server face off against another in objective-based battles on huge battlefields and the winning side will gain benefits for dominating. Luckily, Guild Wars 2 actually makes it work. There's something incredible and visceral about seeing forty people from one server turtling in a garrison to fire off ballistas and drop burning oil on top of the invaders at the gate, all the while the opposing force is building catapults and battering rams in the hopes to breach the enemy walls, storm the garrison and lay waste to everything inside, then claim the territory as their own until it again becomes contested. The whole experience is visceral and exciting. A flow of giddy violent joy sweeps over you when the gates come crashing down. Granted, Yak's Bend happens to fucking WRECK SHOP in WvWvW (seriously, we are almost completely uncontested in our awesomeness). Nonetheless, it's still exciting as hell to play.
Overall, there is no "revolutionary" thing about Guild Wars 2. It's been stated by multiple people, and I can reiterate it. Some have called it "iterative", and I don't think that can necessarily be contested either. Personally, I like to think of it more along the lines of these two words: "refined" and "different". When playing the game, it's the two words that constantly pop into my mind.
Hopefully this has helped you understand why there is such a fervor around the game in general. There are those who won't enjoy it, and that's more than okay. However, that doesn't mean that ArenaNet hasn't crafted something unique, enduring, and entertaining. Many things in this game should quickly become genre standards, while other things should just remain within the confines of Guild Wars as a whole.
Until next time...piece.