This weekend is another Beta Event Weekend for Guild Wars 2 and I finally played enough to feel like I can comment on it. I also played in the first beta weekend but it took until now to firm up my thoughts on the game.
I like Guild Wars 2 in it's current state. I've been away from MMOs for awhile so GW2 is scratching an itch that's been building for me. But, fair warning, GW2 isn't completely groundbreaking or genre re-defining. It's just a hotbar MMO that's being executed superbly.
That's not to say that ArenaNet hasn't made improvements to the MMO model. Public quests - called events - are interlinked and very fun. They flow into one another and form interesting stories across a zone. It's really cool to see players organically work together to finish these events. Every player gets full experience and loot for each kill, so there's no reason not to work together. The interesting thing is that I'm constantly working together with players around me, but I never have to formally "group up." I haven't actually joined a group in the entire time I've played, but I've teamed up with more players than I ever did in other MMOs.
GW2 introduced a new game mode besides standard PVE and PVP. World vs World (vs World) is an interesting approach to PvP that most MMOs can't recreate. It's a persistent 3-way war between 3 different servers. I think it's a bold design choice that WvW gives regular experience. This means that a player can play GW2 from level 1 to 80 entirely through WvW. There's also more traditional PVP gameplay, but I have a feeling WvW is going to be hugely popular.
GW2 includes adaptive leveling. When you zone into WvW you retain all your skills and weapons but your effective combat level instantly becomes 80. The same idea applies in PVE where your level automatically adapts to the surrounding content. If you're level 15 but enter a level 5 area your effective level drops to 5 but you still gain the amount of experience you normal would at level 15. It keeps the exploration and backtracking fun because you can never steamroll over low level content and you're always gaining experience. It also encourages grouping with low level friends and guild mates.
A lot of other MMOs end up giving so many skills by the end of the game that you need 6 hotbars and a set of macros to control your character effectively. At least that's how I always felt in World of Warcraft. Guild Wars 2 gets around this by limiting skills to 1 hotbar of 10 different skill slots. The first 5 skills depend on the weapon - or weapons - you have equipped. The other 5 skills are bought with skill points gained from leveling and are determined by the player. There are many skills that can be swapped in and out of each slot, but only 10 will ever be in the hotbar at one time. This keeps combat from being overwhelming, but also encourages tactical thinking and experimentation with skill swapping outside of combat.
I haven't even mentioned how much I love ArenaNet's business model. There is no subscription fee! I've sworn off games with subscription fees, but GW2 only costs the $60 price tag. I can't stand paying sub fees, but I'll gladly pay full price to be able to play a game for the lifetime of it's servers. There are also some optional in-game store items, but they don't look to be critical to gameplay. For the moment I'm not worried about buying extras in game.
Guild Wars 2 is shaping up to be a fun game. It's cool to watch the leaps and bounds the developers are making between beta weekends. With the new features and gameplay modes I'm getting excited for it's eventual release!