The world of Tyria, as imagined in the massively multiplayer Guild Wars 2, is an endlessly intriguing place, stuffed with mystery and adventure, gifting you with gorgeous sights and personal stories that etch themselves into your memory. These are the kinds of stories you tell for months to come--and they arise from your own spontaneous experiences. There's the one about how you and your guildmates emerged from chilly waters into an ominous thunderstorm, captured a tower from the enemy, and escaped from a roaring crowd of necromancers and rangers before they could deliver you to the devil. Then there's the one where a giant lightning-breathing dragon landed in a dark-misted field, and you joined a legion of soldiers to cleanse the land of its blight. Guild Wars 2 strips away the traditional game of "follow the waypoint," allowing you to feel like part of a vast living landscape rather than the tool of a thousand and one taskmasters.
6396285There's nothing quite like emerging victorious from a challenging boss battle.None
How does Guild Wars 2 make Tyria so inviting and inventive? It starts with the loss of the traditional quest log. That isn't to say that Guild Wars 2 doesn't provide you with side quests and other activities outside your main storyline--it's that they are structured in a way that makes them organic to the world around you. In a sense, your map serves as a journal. Here, you see points of interest to discover; waypoints that you can unlock and that serve as nodes for quickly traveling from one area to the other; and non-player characters designated with hearts that have optional activities for you to do.
Your map is more than a sketch of the surrounding lands: it's a personal guide to your adventure, beckoning you to uncover unexplored territory. It isn't just the marked activities that have you peeking into every nook, however, but the surprises lurking on mountaintops and within hidden caves. Suddenly, you're stumbling upon a secretive entrance or emerging from a deep lake to discover a hidden oasis. Further inspection reveals hidden treasure, tricky labyrinths, and giant ogres needing a smackdown.
As for the more structured activities, those NPCs labeled with hearts are more than just quest givers--they're vendors, too. By fulfilling these characters' requests, you get access to whatever gear they sell, which you buy not with gold, but with a currency called karma, earned by participating in world events (more on those soon) and by just doing things. This system of hearts is more or less like the traditional "take quest, earn reward" structure of most role-playing games, but the reward is access to a merchant's entire inventory, rather than a piece of equipment you may not want or need. You don't have to speak to that character to take on the task--you just get prompted when you come near, and the prompt disappears if you leave the area before completing the goal. (Of course, it then reappears when you again enter the area.)
These might seem like small adjustments to a familiar formula, but Guild Wars 2 rethinks old standards in new ways so that you can go have an adventure of your own, rather than be guided through one someone else created for you. For instance, like in other massively multiplayer online games, you can visit low-level areas as a high-level character--perhaps the starting regions of other races--for a change of scenery. But in other games, there's no real reason to be there: the quests don't provide pertinent rewards, and local wildlife goes down in a single hit. In Guild Wars 2, your level scales downward in such places so that your foes are a greater threat. Furthermore, while your experience rewards aren't notable in lower-level regions, the loot you earn is scaled to match your level, as opposed to the region's. And by rethinking a single trope, developer ArenaNet makes each glade, swamp, and valley a tantalizing destination for every player.
Those "heart" missions generally have you performing any number of tasks: repairing fences, killing enemies, delivering ale to thirsty inn patrons, and more. Not every task is all that engaging; some activities are just busywork (collecting tools), while others involve elements (such as stealth) that don't feel natural given Guild Wars 2's basic mechanics. But you're always free to move on to something more interesting, perhaps to discover another grand vista. Vista points are scattered about Tyria and seen as glowing bits of parchment, usually hovering in spots just out of reach.
Getting to those vistas can be a joy or a chore (usually the former), depending on the quality of the jumping puzzles that lead to them. Leaping about in Guild Wars 2 isn't a slog--the game has perhaps the most fluid movement in the genre--but the camera has a tendency to get caught up on walls and ceilings. When you're afforded the opportunity to see all around you, scaling icy cliffs and rickety planks is a pleasure. In cramped environments, the camera might freak out, and you can't see well enough to make an educated leap. But even when you wrestle with the camera, the effort is worthwhile: you activate the vista, and the camera spins about, showing off the spectacular panorama surrounding you. A gentle tune accompanies the moment, and you revel in the pastoral uplift it creates.
While you do get experience for unlocking these vistas, the greater reward is getting the chance to admire Tyria without hindrance. Guild Wars 2 is a beautiful game that makes an impression in big ways and small. In Lion's Arch, a bridge takes the form of a giant sloop now retired from its days sailing the seas. In Blazeridge Steppes, a dragon's electric attacks have burned the foliage to a crisp; swirling claw marks and a shimmering veil of darkness tell tales of the devastation that occurred there. From snowy mountains to humid swamps, Tyria encompasses a diverse number of climates and landscapes, yet it still looks remarkably cohesive.
The cohesion comes from painterly techniques employed in textures, special effects, and even the interface. Look at the edges of spell effects and the trails of projectiles, and you see swirls that recall a painter's brushstrokes. The sides of the screen are embellished with subtle inky streaks, as if your entire view were being drawn in real time. Such techniques are most effective in lush meadows and forests: strips of green, gold, and mahogany make tree trunks seem as though they belong on a canvas, and forest canopies look like layers of acrylic due to subtle gradations of light and color. These touches aren't heavy-handed, but make Tyria more than just another fantasy world.
6396283No obstacle is insurmountable with good friends at your side.None
The 3D-as-2D approach is most obvious during cutscenes in which one or two 3D characters are superimposed upon a moving 2D background. These cinematics are attractive, if not particularly dramatic; the minimal staging doesn't effectively demonstrate emotion, nor does much of the acting from the Norn and human races. (The female Norn player character is excruciatingly inexpressive.) Atmospheric dialogue is more impressive, and some of it will tickle your funny bone. While the voice acting varies from poor to great, you can always count on the symphonic musical score to set an exact tone for every region and event. In a tranquil grove, a flute and oboe weave melodic threads in and out of each other--simple music for simple surroundings. Heavy drums and pungent trombone licks immediately evoke the ferocity of the Charr. It's a terrific soundtrack that stands on its own, but more importantly, it suits the world at large, its people, and its individual places.
Just as the visuals and music contrast the peaceful with the powerful, so too does your adventure. You might be leisurely crossing a lovely meadow, only to be alerted to a nearby world event. The event might then lead to another, ultimately culminating in a giant boss encounter or furious area-wide struggle for dominance. The fight may start small: a crowd of centaurs, easily defeated by the group of players the event has brought together. Soon, champion warbeasts have arrived, their sharp scales forcing you to work harder for victory. And then, a giant hand reaches from under the earth, as if a trapped golem is escaping from its underground prison. This ravaging battle isn't one you are expected to fight, but one you stumble upon as you roam the land. And that's the Guild Wars 2 experience: going about your business, only to be drawn into another battle, another hidden secret, or another bit of Tyrian lore.