Guild Wars 2 is now a couple years old, and coming out with their first expansion. Since the game has always been ‘pay once, no subscription’, they’ve decided to make a slightly limited version of the base game free, and encourage everyone to just buy Heart of Thorns, due out in a month.

Smudge and I tried out the game during a couple free weekends two years ago, and kind of bounced off the game. We had a lot of trouble at first, had fun the second day, and then found ourselves frustrated all over again when we came back during the second free weekend. After that, while it was tempting, we just couldn’t go for it, if we needed to re-learn every time.

This last week, we tried again, and… didn’t really have any trouble. It’s been taking us a while to really get up to speed on a lot of nuance, but we didn’t just bounce off the system this time, for whatever reason.

From the first, I thought that GW2 was a very forward-looking design, and I hope that it will be influential in the next generation of MMOs, even when I don’t agree with everything they’ve done.

Questing is where I have the most trouble. There are quest givers who want various things done, do them get a reward. But, you never have to talk to them, just get in range, and a corner pop-up will give the basics of what’s needed, and show a progress bar. The fact that you can do any of a number of things to complete the quest, instead of ‘kill exactly x of critter a, kill exactly y of critter b, and bring me exactly z of this plant’ is great. But, I prefer my RPGs to be heavier on the RP side of things (quest dialogs and conversation trees was the strongest part of SW:TOR, and what I want to see more of), and while you can talk to the quest person, and get a good conversation explaining everything, it is possible to get the complete while doing something completely different, locking you out of that conversation.

Speaking of other things to do, GW2 has a event system that I like. NPCs will go out and do things, get into trouble, and need help. These generally have some good… stage plays to go with them, and are fun, and anyone can join in at any time (many are also specifically kicked off by player action). I’ve come to the realization that these are the real quests in GW2, even though they’re obviously descended from the ‘rift event’ idea of Rift, these are much more dynamic and better thought out.

The map has various things to do scattered around it, points of interest to visit, vistas to see, quests to do. Despite the last being called ‘quests’, they’re really just another type of generally-accessible bit of content to visit. And all these points have done a lot to help get me to explore the world. (Something I like in theory, but often don’t do so well on.) And as it turns out, there’s still plenty of things for the people who like to explore to find that aren’t just part of the checklist, this is just the basics.

Another thing that has taken some re-thinking on my part to understand is character development. The first thing that GW2 shows off is that each weapon you pick up has a completely separate set of skills associated with it, and your character can act very differently depending on what weapon(s) you’re using. After a bit of fun with that, I had disappointment that it doesn’t take long to acquire all the various weapon skills. Deciding what you like, what you want to use and master will take some more time, but the exploration of this neat weapon system is disappointingly short. What I realized is that the idea is to introduce that, then move into various non-weapon skills, and then into specializations, and have your character grow through these different systems. But I’d still prefer to see the weapon skill continue to grow and evolve as you progress.

On the other hand, all of this is instantly changeable. The specializations especially are like the skill trees in traditional MMOs like WoW, but instead of permanently picking a path, you can always rearrange things (starting with your used weapon!) to take on a different role. I just wish you could save off a couple combinations so you can more efficiently go into ‘party healing mode’ or whatever.

So, yeah, I’m enjoying Guild Wars 2 right now. More than I thought I’d be after my first couple experiences.