The true heart and essence of Guild Wars 2 lies in its map.
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.
Guild Wars 2's map isn't just a record of where I have been; it's a living guide to all the places I have yet to go and all the things I have yet to do.
WHY: With a mix of familiar MMORPG tropes and new, modern approaches to delivering them, Guild Wars 2 is an excellent, welcoming take on the genre.
Guild Wars 2
Released: August 28
Type of game: Fantasy-set MMORPG
What I played: A month on a main that reached the high 30s, plus some time on a few alts. Played as a member of a guild, with solo, group, dungeon, and PvP play, plus crafting.
My Two Favorite Things
- Design that explicitly encourages cooperation and community among all of the players loose in the world
- The art, not just in the game zones but also on the map and in cut-scenes and loading screens. It's vivid, lush, and lovely, with a sense of human hands behind it.
My Two Least-Favorite Things
- Falling damage. With so many jumping puzzles and high vista views, an unfortunate series of splats is almost a certainty for any player. Even with ways to mitigate the damage over time, it's tiresome.
- Uneven performance. I can't explore the Black Citadel, because my framerate drops into single digits. All other zones I have encountered in the game so far are fine. It's frustrating.
Made-to-Order Back-of-Box Quotes
- "900 screenshots isn't too many, right?" - Kate Cox, Kotaku.com
- "A multiplayer game where hell isn't actually other people." - Kate Cox, Kotaku.com
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.