This is not inherently a bad thing. My time with Guild Wars 2 has not been unpleasant (but you can read more about that next week), even if it hasn’t been perfect; I’ve been having fun. At the same time, once you’ve dissected the game’s various map-based offerings and the story’s general flow, there’s not a whole lot else to be said. I could pick apart bits and pieces of the story that work better or worse, but at that point, isn’t it largely perfunctory?
Of course, there is something to be said for the paucity of other things to talk about. Path of Fire is an interesting experience to come back for, because while you can see that the game is putting in overtime to address some of the issues from Heart of Thorns, there are other issues that either aren’t addressed or aren’t addressed terribly well, both of which are interesting to analyze. From my perspective, anyhow.
Case in point: dungeons. I’ve had some bad things to say about GW2’s dungeons in the past for a variety of reasons, but what I will definitely say about them in the base game is that they were there. They really needed some actual party roles to work properly and I didn’t find them all that fun, but that’s the “fix and improve” part.
Instead, the game seems to have altogether discarded dungeons from top to bottom. More akin to the original Guild Wars, the closest thing you get are the elaborate setpieces of story missions, and the rest of the time you’re just pathing about in the world and taking on foes there.
The result is an oddly isolated feeling compared even to the other games that I’ve played here. The open system for fighting enemies and taking part in events has meant that I don’t see a lack of other players, but they tend to show up, do their own thing, and then leave without ceremony. There’s no real impetus for people to band together as anything more than momentary ad hoc groups unless you’re invested in Fractals or raids, which strikes me as something of a missed opportunity.
Perhaps I’m wrong and just missed seeing anything like a Path of Fire dungeon, but I suspect not.
The power curve at work is also kind of weird. As much as people dislike having another batch of X many levels to clear through for a new expansion (including me, although a full discussion will have to wait for elsewhere), it does usually have the net result of providing a feeling of growth. There are other ways to achieve that same end, but PoF uses… well, none of those. Gear is the same, you probably have most of the gear you already want, and unless you’re working on a new Elite Spec you are probably starting and finishing the expansion at the exact same power level all the way through.
Masteries help a bit with this, but not entirely. It’s ultimately just not the same as getting more levels, or getting some form of alternate advancement that feels like a steady power curve. You could go through the entire expansion without ever changing gear or skills, which is simultaneously commendable and kind of bland.
No, I’m not suggesting that another dozen levels for players to earn would make for a better expansion; just that the lack of a power curve is notable. (And I suppose I sort of did say that, which may mean that there’s just no pleasing me. Or that designing a satisfying reward matrix for MMOs is difficult. Pick whichever you like.)
I also can’t help but still not be in love with the game’s combat system; it’s all functional, and frequently fun, but it reminds me a bit of Marvel vs. Capcom 2. No, not in the sense that I’m constantly swapping characters, although the amazing alt-friendliness of the game encourages that, too.
If you’ve never played MvC2 and only played the later games, you’ve probably gotten the sense that the games are usually meant to be somewhat casual on the surface with a competitive core. MvC2 specifically, though, always felt like it was a bit badly tilted there. It’s not that the game had no depth; it’s that mashing wildly with only the vaguest understanding of how a character worked would often work well enough that you could pull out consistent, entertaining wins.
Heck, someone whose opinion I trust once said that you feel worst at MvC2 when you’re starting to get good, because you’re trying to pulloff strategies with depth… that are often steamrolled by button-mashing madness. Staying at that level is often more rewarding.
That’s kind of how I feel about GW2’s combat. There’s clearly lots of depth there with the combo system, the various conditions and management of same, the multi-stage nature of each Engineer skill, and so forth. But “mash everything as soon as it’s off of cooldown” is a solid and frequently rewarding approach to gameplay, and so you kind of get used to that. The result is combat that feels very chaotic and kinetic, but also like it defies assembling a strategy. You’re flailing until you win or until you die.
And yes, for a more casual-friendly game, I think that’s probably the right way to go with the system. But it also feels kind of awkward, and I’ve had lots of moments in which my character has been downed not because I did something dumb that I could see but just because things went wrong. My personal preference is that if I’m going to die, it should be because I did something wrong that I can suss out. I own it.
That having been said, there’s something wonderfully fun about jumping into a pack of enemies, tail swiping them, and then unloading upon them as a Holosmith. While the core of Holosmith is still akin to the weapon kits of Engineers, in practice I find I like it more simply because of its temporary nature. You’re going to be constantly switching in and out, and the actual sword skills still feel fun even when you aren’t in holo mode.
Plus, it feels like something you are in total control of. Are you paying attention to your heat? If not, you have no one to blame but yourself. Used it too early and need to cool off? Again, it’s yours to manage or explode. There’s a really fun cadence to that, and I think it’s something lots of games should do more to manage; instead of just making it a cooldown, it’s really a matter of carefully watching your time in what amounts to super mode.
Yes, the whole elite spec thing is a problem, especially as evidenced by how many people outright have said that the big reason to clear out maps is exactly that in the last poll. But at least the net result is something fun.
By and large, though, I keep coming back to what I said right at the start of this particular article. I seem to have run out of things to say, not because the game is proving bad or unpleasant to play, but because it continues as it begins. It gives you a good reason to keep hacking along and more map objectives to complete, it still lacks quest givers that really fill that role (no, heart NPCs still really don’t), it still has length and sometimes mildly frustrating missions that manage to be neat set pieces, it goes onward.
I suppose the other thing to point out would be that I’m not super in love with the number of zones that are gated more by story than anything else and the need for new mounts, but even that is basically repeating myself. It’s not like you’re locked out from everywhere, either, and it at least tries to push the urgency of taking on a deity.
And as for my thoughts on the experience as a whole? Well, that’s for next week. Until then, you can feel free to leave your thoughts and mockery for my dearth of good screenshots in the comments below, or you can send them along to email@example.com. Tune in next week for a wrap-up and a poll on our next destination, which is probably not going to turn out this well. (Yes, that’s a bit of a spoiler for next week.)