This review will not cover the mechanics of the general game. For that you can view Guild Wars 2’s Metacritic page which is a very good representation of the game at launch.
Player vs. Environment
ArenaNet facilitates most of its PvE content updates through their living story. While only somewhat recently they solidified their approach going forward with the living story updates, it does provide a unique way to expand and truly change Tyria over time.
I have found the living story updates to be truly enjoyable most of the time. Discovering a new island and exploring it, taking part in holiday festivals, voting for my favorite Charr to win the election - it's a unique spin on how to get immersed in the world. I love the pageantry of the way they present the updates on their website, giving a little page with historic, current and future updates with imagery.
Guild Wars 2 Releases Web Page
The additions of fractals - repeatable minidungeons that become increasingly difficult as you win them - and guild missions - various challenges a guild has limited time to complete - have also provided unique and varied experiences. Guild missions themselves have truly offered a unique way to help build a community and work with others.
Arenanet has also showed it’s creative side when they released the Super Adventure Box - a Legend of Zelda / Mario type game mode with 8-bit graphics and sounds. I think SAB really showed the community that there are so many crazy and interesting ideas they have, and are able to put in the game.
The downside to all this is the lack of difficult and rewarding permanent content. While the dungeons and fractals were a decent bit interesting for a number of runs, and the guild content was a fun challenge to learn the mechanics, they become dull and exploitable. The basis for many of these systems is there, but needs to be truly brought to the next level.
The living story also started off incredibly slow (and turned many off to the idea), though I reserve this as a positive for the game as the recent months have really showed what can be offered.
With the frequency of updates we are receiving, and ever changing world, increased focus on more permanent content and a polished form of delivery of the content, I would say we have a lot to look forward to, and a long year of things to be thankful for. After being in the MMO community for many years, this is probably the first time a game truly pushes the story on such a continuous and rapid pace to make the world feel alive.
Knights Templar Guild During Wintersday
World vs. World
WvW is one of the most unique aspects of Guild Wars 2, offering a mode of PvP not seen in years. While the feature set is full and expansive, there were a number of issues really holding back WvW for the larger part of the first year. Never the less, it has not stop ArenaNet from building on this core game area to improve it.
The first major milestone of WvW was the removal of culling - a system that would limit the number of visible players on the screen. New graphical options exist to limit the quality of models and number of models present on the battlefield, allowing solid performance even though they everyone is visible.
The second major addition was the progression system which was added at the same time as the removal of culling, and expanded on after almost every update since then. Players get World Experience for doing all sorts of things in WvW, which gains them rank points that they can spend in things like increased damage with siege weapons and new siege weapon skills. The system started off slow, but as they have increased the rate at which you gain ranks and added more ways to gain ranks, it has really come into its own and proven to be something that will change gameplay over time.
There has been other various polish since release we are thankful for - blueprints being tradable, siege time buffs, new server rotations each week, ect.
I think the biggest thing holding WvW back is the lack of updates that add new, fun content to the game, and the lack of updates that polish how the game is played for a number of folks other than large hardcore guilds.
To be fair to ArenaNet, it is in some ways the lack of perceived content that has been worked on. I do believe they are working hard on bunches of stuff (at least after the culling removal), and it does take a long time for such changes. WvW is played by a large amount of people, with a vast variety of playstyles. Some like small groups, some like to zerg, some are hardcore guilds, some are hardcore individuals, some servers are backed with queue times, some servers can only fill one map. I don't pretend designing new content for these mass differences is easy or quick.
I do not think this excuses the slow reaction to what is happening out there. We have been teased with some things to come (even video), so we do know that its coming - the question is, “when?”.
3-Way battle after culling removal
Ideally year 2 looks more promising that year 1. I do think WvW is the most fun and interesting piece of the game, but easily needs the most work.
Structured Player vs. Player
SPvP has had quite the journey, and sort of represents the journey I had hoped WvW would take.
A large pass on skill balance for every profession and every trait line, custom arenas, spectating arenas, ranked ladders, new solo vs. team queue and 3 new maps. It has been a busy and pretty productive year of stabilizing, and adding to the game mode. Oh, and ability to reduce skill effects had a solid impact there as well.
Furthermore, tournaments have started popuping up, such as MistLeague.com, ESL picking up Guild Wars 2 and ArenaNet hosting their very own 10 thousand dollar prize pool tourny.
I don’t think there is much to harp on here. SPvP started out with some rough edges, and over the year has been cleaned up, new content has been added to it, and I think the year to come should have even more planned for it. Hopefully including some rewards that allows this area of the game to integrate a bit better with other areas.
ArenaNet’s first $10,000 tournament
Improvements to the engine with culling removal, improvements to achievements tracking achievement rewards, and tons of reward improvements a are just a sampling of the various general improvements made to the game.
One specific item I would lile to call out is the addition of the Guild Wars 2 API. This allows websites to grab streams of game data to show things like events that are going, WvW map status, and more. Example sites are MOS's live WvW maps and Stuff's events maps.
Guild Wars 2 boasts over 100 Awards and Accolades
Also, the cash shop has not become intrusive. There is the ever loved "RNG" on new weapon skins (this is sarcasm) that has been somewhat improved after its initial existence.
I've also been fairly impressed with how they interact with the community on a number of things, which I've outlined here.
Guild Wars 2 In-Game Mail
I'm pleased to see foundational issues fixed and lots of lessons learned. Also pleased to see them really find their stride in recent months with the living story, and offering increasingly enjoyable experiences. Their continued focus towards improving systems of the game is admirable. Now I would like to see them really explode what can be done in the living story, and give solid and continuous love to world vs. world, and keep on going with SPvP (especially around rewards).
Let me know what you think of the last year in the comments below!