It took me three weeks of playing and a chat with my colleague Kirk to realize and articulate how much magic lies in that seemingly simple function. The map of Tyria isn’t just utilitarian; it’s beautiful. Even mired in the fog of war, the painterly brush strokes hint at all manner of terrain to explore underneath.
But it’s more than just the art. Where every other MMORPG I’ve played directs my attention inward, to a personal quest journal or log, GW2 directs my attention outward, explicitly asking me to take a more global view. Every quest I can complete appears on the map, from the permanent, static heart quests to the mobile, dynamic events. Vista points, seen and unseen, show on the map, as do points of interest and places where I can earn skill points. Perhaps most importantly, downed players—whether or not they are in my guild or group—appear on the map as well.
During a full month playing Guild Wars 2, I recorded impressions in a series of logs. The first was where I discovered an insatiable need to explore. In the second, I marveled at how easy it was to get off the beaten path, how unnecessary it seemed to be to form a party, and how generally amiable the community was. Part three was where I discovered crafting, and in log four I hopped into world vs world PvP and fell off rather a lot of cliffs.
The constant thread running through all my experiences was how truly impressed I remain with the very deliberate tactics ArenaNet has taken to try to break players of the habit of a personal, linear ladder that so many previous MMORPGs have instilled in us. Other games have taught me to view other players as competition, or as danger. If another player and I arrived on a dock in EverQuest II at the same time, we’d make a point of steering in opposite directions from each other as we ran into the zone, to avoid getting in each other’s way with harvests or kills. A recent foray into World of Warcraft has left me feeling that other players are something I have to wade through to get where I’m going. In these, and in nearly other multiplayer game I’ve ever tried, the existence of other players only helps me when I am intentionally in a group with them.
Not so in Guild Wars 2. Every event that shows up in or near my path is a moment that inspires a silent but fervent hope from me that there are other players around. Diving into a massive melee is fun; finding myself all alone, with a half-dozen waves of enemies bearing down on me, is not. And yet becoming overwhelmed at an event isn’t the end of the world, even it if it is briefly the end a character’s life. (Death, fortunately, is but a fleeting and easily remedied condition.) Zones are set up in a state of perpetual warfare: if players cannot defend a location, well then they can help retake it later. After pirates managed to blow up one bridge, a new wave of players came by, helped resurrect me and the other player that had been standing on the bridge when it blew, and then we all worked together to defend the workers repairing it.
That spirit of perpetual cooperation in a living, breathing world is truly what sets gw2 gold. The generally joyful, cooperative feeling is enhanced by the way the game measures progression. There are eighty levels, fairly standard, but every action a player takes contributes to a single bar of experience. Crafting, exploration, combat, questing, event participation, even throwing a rez on another player—every action contributes to growth. Nor are skills entirely dependent on a player’s level. Hotbar slots do unlock at levels 10, 20, and 30, and players can fill those slots with powerful skills.
Weapon skills, though, are based entirely on the weapons a player has chosen to equip. If I fight with a dagger in each hand, I will learn a certain five skills. If I swap the main hand dagger for a gun, I’ll learn three new skills for slots 1-3 in lieu of the dagger skills I had there. If I swap the off-hand dagger for a gun, slots 4 and 5 change. It’s a modular system that sounds complex but that becomes intuitive and fluid almost instantly on playing.