The first third is pretty good, the second third is one of my favorite things in anime, the last third shits the bed in some really strange, unexpected ways.
Still one of my favorite anime on the strength of the second third.
I'm really fond of the ALO arc, actually (Spoilers for second half of season 1 btw). I know a lot of people weren't, and I get why - Asuna being powerless was really weird considering the first half of the show - but I found some of the stuff they touched on to be pretty good =D
Actually my biggest problem with it is how randomly servicey it becomes. It's completely jarring, especially in contrast to how they handled the romance between Kirito and Asuna in such an unexpectedly mature and adult way for a shonen anime.
Agreed. If you saw the OVA that came out before season 2, that problem is only intensified. I totally agree, the way they handle Kirito x Asuna is really strong; but yeah, the fan service stuff is annoying. Hopefully you've seen some of Season 2 =) It is way better in a lot of regards.