DISCLAIMER: Guild Wars 2 is a fantastic game. This article was written in the interest of constructive criticism and the author wholeheartedly recommends that anyone interested in the MMO genre try the game for themselves before making a decision or judgement based on the contents of this article.
Guild Wars 2 has been out for about two weeks now and if our content list is anything to go by then it's clear that we're smitten. So smitten am I that Cody accused me of "gushing" while we discussed elements of the game.
Gushing? How VERY dare he?! I promptly threw my keyboard at my monitor and punched a pugalier in the snout. It occurred to me shortly thereafter that in order to prove my inability to gush, I would need to find things about GW2 that I didn't like, which was tough for me since I've been singing it's praises to anyone who'd listen since the beta events.
So as a final bird-flipping to Cody, I present to you the top seven things to hate about GW2. Note that I'm overlooking minor annoyances or the simple teething issues that come with such a huge launch - only the finest of profanity inducing horrors will be included.
7: The Progression Curve
A very intentional part behind the design of GW2 was to lower the curve for progression. Arenanet's goal was to ensure that the intended style of play would earn you a level every 90 minutes or so. It sounds great in theory, but this system results in players tearing through zones too quickly and missing large chunks of content.
There's a heavy focus on completionism that directly conflicts with this design. For every area you complete in it's entirety you're given a large reward based on the intended level bracket of the zone. This reward becomes less relevant as you level up and the act of completing every task in a given zone will normally put you outside of the relevancy bracket, effectively removing the incentive to complete it in the first place.
Ultimately, the system has a slightly frustrating feel to it, which is enhanced once you hit the level cap with the sense that almost no effort was required to get there.
6: The 250-years Club
Guild Wars 2 contains many references to the lore of it's predecessor, and rightly so. Persistant worlds are a key factor in the overall success of MMO gaming and persistant lore across games sweetens the deal even further. However, there are certain moments that feel like a kick in the balls if you didn't experience the original Guild Wars.
See, Guild Wars 2 is set two-hundred and fifty years after Guild Wars. While most of changes to Tyria have been managed with admirable finesse, certain callbacks are handled with smack-in-the-face subtlety.
Say, for example, you're tasked with retrieving a powerful artifact. The npc quietly mentions that the artifact is over two-hundred and fifty years old, which is quite clearly a secret code for "This thing was in GW1" and nothing else is said on the matter. While it's a nice memory-jog for the players from GW1, for the rest of us it says that something happened in the last game but we can't tell you 'cuz you're not a part of our club, so nyah nyah.
While that alone is fairly annoying, lore-nerds like myself then have to either choose to ignore the history of the artifact which we now know to exist, or start searching online to find out, which breaks the flow of the game.
Speaking of lore, the Sylvari need to go die in a fire. No wait, that's a bit harsh. Still, certain elements of Sylvari lore are pretty damn bad.
The Sylvari are all born as adults from the pale tree. Prior to their birth, they exist within "The Dream". Sound familiar so far? It gets better:
The tree they spring from was raised by a now dead centaur, whose views and ideals the Sylvari now follow and spirit can be found in the grove where Sylvari live. Add to this the fairly obvious connection the Sylvari have with nature and you end up with a disturbing number of parallels to Night-elf lore from World of Warcraft.
To compare: There was little to no evidence of pre-adult night elves prior to The Burning Crusade expansion. The night elves' mortality was directly tied to the World Tree which gave them access to the Emerald Dream. They also revere the centaur-esque demigod Cenarius, whose spirit carried on despite a nasty case of death.
While this is yet another immersion busting punch in the crotch for us lore-nerds, these similarities could be hurting GW2 by reinforcing the argument that it's simply a WoW-clone.
To be fair, once you experience Sylvari lore from their point of view it becomes apparent that they're nothing like night elves. They're actually unique and interesting, but I can't help but cringe every single time someone mention the Dream.
I really like the story in GW2. Everything from the quality of dialogue writing and voice acting to pacing and direction of the story events. Everything about it blew me away... until I met Trahearne.
(WARNING! Story spoilers ahead!)
After going about your business in your personal story you'll meet up with Trahearne, who decides that he should spearhead the attack into Orr where the current threat to life as we know it resides.
I've seen loads of people complaining about this; Trahearne appoints himself as marshal of a unified army, despite admitting to having no military experience whatsoever mere seconds before - however, all of this makes sense in the context of the story (though it's not going to win any prizes either). What really kills Trahearne as a character is his voice.
Terrible, monotonous, cheesy and boring. These are terms used by some of GW2's player base to describe Trahearne's voice. The lines written for the character required "heroic, inspirational and commanding", with the end result of the mismatched voice and writing makes Trahearne seem disinterested, self-aggrandising and condescending - and he's the guy we're supposed to be rallying behind!
To top it all off, Trahearne replaces the mentor character from the order you joined. In the case of the Priory, this is a major step down from the likeable character we had, and the other two orders seem to have similarly great characters, suddenly replaced by the pompous new marshal.
I have no idea if it's at all related, but after a solid hour of searching, I couldn't find out who provided Trahearne's voice. If it turns out to be Alan Smithee I'm gonna be really pissed.
3: Story Consistency
(WARNING! Much LARGER spoilers ahead!)
As I mentioned before, persistence is a pivotal element in MMO gaming. At a point in your character's story, one of your companions will sacrifice themselves to save you and everyone else present.
As far as storytelling goes, I really enjoyed that moment and mentions of that character following the event always stir up a few emotions. Again, it's not the best storytelling ever, but it's several orders of magnitude better than most, if not all, MMO's to date.
So it was a sharp shock when I discovered that the heroic character from my story was very much alive in someone elses story. The companion that dies will always be one from the order you chose. The other orders companions will continue to survive in your story, but will be dead for others.
I completely understand why ArenaNet kills off the character specific to you. If a character you hadn't spent any time with died then you wouldn't care; Conversely, if they forced everyone to have a connection to the same character then it takes away the personal choice element from your story.
So the idea of the persistent world is now ruined, because what is true for others is not true for me. It now feels like we're running around in seperate realities and occasionally our dimensions overlap instead of a single, congruous world.
Worse still is the fact that the only character they involve you with is the one they intend to kill. You don't care about the companions who do survive because you never associate with them prior to the sacrifice. It boils down to this: The choices you make will always result in the death of a character they want you to like. It's supposed to inspire you to be a hero, but ultimately makes you want to go back to the beginning so they'll survive. It's somewhat poorly thought out design and it makes you feel bad too.
2: Bad Launch
I know I said I wouldn't pick on teething issues of a launch, but this is something that goes deeper than occasional server outages or long queues.
For the most part, GW2 launched like you'd expect for a high-profile MMO. Servers were fairly stable, outages, maintenance and patches were relatively few. The biggest problem was that the trading post didn't function. At all.
This meant that players who wanted to buy or sell had to do it player to player like animals. Oh wait - there's no player to player trade either? No sir, the trading post was intended to be the sole option. So people had to send their goods via in-game mail, like... um, goldfish.
This presented loads of problems - the mail system is a one way street. No cash on delivery option meant anyone selling had to trust other players to actually pay for what they received. Every player can store a maximum of ten player-generated mails as well, which helps to stop people from using it as free storage but severely hampered would-be market moguls wanting to capitalise on early demand. Then the mail system crashed too, putting a complete stop to any forms of trading whatsoever.
It took over a week to get the trading post functioning for everyone again, and even then there were frequent outages. This is an issue that will be fixed pretty quickly though, so why is it on this list?
For a start, I suspect that this issue might have been identified early on had there been more than just weekend events for beta testing. During the events the trading post worked fine, but the fact that players could only progress so far in a few days really limited how much the trading post was used for. Extending the beta to one or two weeks would've likely seen this problem identified and solved before release.
When you add the limited testing to the fast levelling curve you also end up with loads of players fighting through heaps of improperly balanced higher level content that's rife with bugs.
The cooking profession is the perfect example: Despite being warned by the cooking npc that it's a much more difficult profession, characters around level 30 could start buying a variety of cooking ingredients for tiny amounts of karma that would allow them to craft a lot of items for very little overall cost. The experience bonus gained from cooking was larger than others, likely due to it being the "hard" profession, which led to a near instant 5-10 level boost. The boost allowed access to more goods, which meant more levels, and so on until the skill capped out at 400.
This meant that those who were cooking the way the designers intended (the ingredients bought were not available outside of these sources) would get around 15-25 levels for a small investment of time and coin - and by small I mean just a couple of hours. The problem has been fixed now, with most cooking ingredients being removed from the karma vendors (replaced by drops) and the ingredients that can be bought are now bound to your character, but I can't help but think that the issue might have been identified by longer beta periods than just weekends.
These issues are mostly temporary and quickly fixed. What concerns me is the lingering effects that these problems have or will cause. The trading post outage has given rise to the rumour that ArenaNet has intentionally left the system offline to secure more real money transactions. The gem system and currency exchange were the first to get fixes and worked just fine long before the trading post did. Not to mention that the people who were on the fence about buying GW2 might be turned away by negative word of mouth - sure, the problems will be fixed soon, but those players possibly won't try GW2 until there's a price drop, if they ever purchase it at all.
I understand the reasons behind the weekend events, but a lengthier beta test might have prevented a lot of issues for GW2.
1: Everything is Endgame
The primary difference between a regular RPG and an MMORPG is arguably endgame. ArenaNet has stated that due to the level downscaling system that everything is effectively endgame content. While going back to experience what you missed is still a challenge, it's still possible to do before the cap, thus it's not endgame content. So throw the idea of "Everything is Endgame" out right now.
So what does the actual GW2 endgame consist of? Well, lots actually. The scalable content still provides good rewards and you still gain experience at the cap to continue earning skill points to buy more stuff with. Dungeons are varied and (potentially) very fun, the highest level zones are tuned as essentially giant raid zones with intricate events and even more rewards plus world vs. world with it's own rewards too.
The current endgame supplies a lot of options for fun and progression, but it currently lacks one vital component: A goal.
From the moment you create your character you're set on a quest chain that continues from level 1 to 80, setting an individual story for your character based on your choices. This serves as a great motivator to grow your character but the story will inevitably end. When you reach the end of your story you're left with a load of activities but no real reason beyond "It's fun".
On paper it sounds like a great reason; after all, we wouldn't be playing the game in the first place if it weren't fun.
The rewards you earn in your endgame activities typically have one use: providing new gear. However the gear you can obtain is -by design- an aesthetic change only. According to lead designer Eric Flannum "You won't get a gameplay advantage" from even the hardest to obtain gear over exotic items that can be obtained much more easily. Granted, they look much, much cooler than other gear, but it turns your final goal into a fancy and time consuming dress-up game. I know I'm over-simplifying here, but bear with me.
I can't speak for everyone (though I'm certain there's a lot of people who share this view) but one of the most enjoyable things about endgame for me is more progression, only through new challenges rather than levels. I like being faced with a world-destroying monster that I'm simply not strong enough to defeat unless I work at making myself stronger. Through any combination of hunting for gear, farming for cash or materials for upgrades, finding stronger allies or even helping my friends to become stronger themselves the challenge can be overcome and the power, skills and rewards gained from it can be used to tackle the next challenge, which would have been even more impossible before.
This kind of system doesn't currently exist in GW2. Instead the rewards you earn from playing amount to just farming materials for the biggest and best e-peen gear. The way you look is your final goal and the only way to get it is by farming the numerous different endgame activities. Style over substance is the order of the day, which would be fine if the gear you got was representative of an epic accomplishment, a wearable trophy of your world-saving prowess - but it's not. As it is, the rarest/coolest legendary gear is simply testament to how much time spent farming the hundreds upon hundreds of items required to craft them. I get that this is tantamount to the end result of every MMORPG, but GW2 cuts out the journey in favour of the destination and I'm a journey kinda guy.
So what if you're not me (and you're probably not)? Other people might enjoy the fruits of their legendary labour despite my opinion, so I should just STFU right?
Right. Except as I mentioned above, the dungeons and events required to obtain the myriad of materials needed for legendary weapons are currently buggy and unbalanced. Some dungeon paths are so incredibly difficult that they're near impossible, and the ones that frequently bug out ARE impossible. No doubt that they'll be fixed and/or rebalanced in short order, but where does that leave the people who've put so much effort into it until then? The legendary gear they worked so damned hard for becomes somewhat devalued by any changes that makes it even slightly easier to obtain for others.
I know it sounds like I'm being unfair, but hear me out. Each dungeon has it's own set of this "prestige" gear, with a unique and very awesome look. In order to obtain the gear you need get dungeon-specific tokens of which you can gain 20-30 per run (5 per boss, 15 bonus on first completion of the day, 5 bonus on consecutive completes). Keep in mind that the dungeons' events and bosses suffer from bugs and balance issues, which means getting these tokens is often an exercise in frustration. Now start farming, because you'll need over 1400 tokens to get a full set of your fancy-looking endgame armor. It won't help make these encounters any easier either, as the endgame gear doesn't give you a gameplay advantage, so you'll be running the same dungeon roughly fifty times with no increase in your abilities beyond how well you can coordinate each encounter and that's only if every run is successful, bug-free and with the once-a-day bonus.
It's a frightening amount of repetition in order to look cooler, and that's not even the legendary gear!
Actually, no. The rant continues, but only because I want to clarify a few things.
By this stage I've probably made a few enemies (I suspect Colin Johanson is looking for a hitman right about now) but know this: Guild Wars 2 is by far my favourite MMO. I was accused of gushing for a reason - the reason was that I was heartily defending ArenaNet whilst others around me were pointing out a myriad of minor issues that would probably be fixed within days.
The entire reason for this list is not to bash GW2 or ArenaNet, but to point out flaws so that they might be fixed or avoided in the future.
Guild Wars 2 is fun. Very fun. So much so that despite these issues I would still heartily recommend it to anyone who enjoys gaming. Every MMO has it's problems - you should see my World of Warcraft list; it's as big as your internet - the trick is to focus on what's good. If I haven't listed it here then Guild Wars 2 either does it right, or it's an issue that's likely to be fixed soon.
ArenaNet has given us a quality game, one of the best we've seen in this genre, ever. I could only identify seven major issues with GW2 (I was trying for ten by the way). It might be cliche, but Guild Wars 2 has the potential to redefine the genre and I intend to be there every step of the way.
Assuming I don't get perma-banned for this article, that is.