So I purchased a digital copy of Guild Wars 2 yesterday. I never played Guild Wars but I've played my fair share of World of Warcraft as well as a small amount of a few other MMORPGs and Guild Wars 2 looked promising.
Jumping into a new MMO, even for someone who's played one before, can be a pretty big jump. You have no idea of the world's setting, game mechanics or whether the community is going to be comprised complete idiots. Logging into the game with promises from the developers of "putting the player first" and have no grinding, I was either in for a surprise (of it actually being true) or a let down.
The first thing is clear - the five races are distinct and offer up different options. I ended up choosing an Asuran, the highly intelligent (with no qualms about pointing that out) and proud race of short aliens with notably floppy ears. Taking inspiration from Bioware games, Guild Wars 2 has you select not only your race and profession (class) but a few choices about your history. I needed to choose which college I belong to, what my first invention was and who my mentor was. These choices affect the story quests, and while only really being superficial choices they do manage to effectively make your character yours. I made sure I chose the longest set of ears, then adjusted them to be even longer - this way they flop around even more.
Beginning to run around it becomes clear straight away that the art design is fantastic. Lush colours, unnecessary detail and lovely underwater effects (such as light piercing the surface) are all very welcome. Jeremy Soule's score is reminiscent of his Elder Scrolls work, with wonderful tunes that integrate into the world perfectly. What I've seen so far of the voice acting is well done, with the Asuran pride really being brought to life.
There are no quests as such in this game (in the traditional sense), rather you move to an area where there is someone who wants you to do a number of tasks that constitute completion of one. For example, one guy may want certain monsters in the area killed, energy harvested and then put into machines for their latest crazy scientific experiment. There are usually 4-5 tasks and doing any of them pushes a bar on the UI forward to completion, where a nice reward of XP is given. The game also takes from Rift where events suddenly pop up nearby. Unlike Rift they aren't the same thing every time (I recall portals opening in Rift with the players fighting mobs that spawned from them getting tiring) - I've had to save local children from a frenzied bear attack, save a strange frog race's eggs and collect raptor eggs for yet again another crazy science experiment. Players nearby tend to rush toward (rather than away from) these events, and your participation in them is measured with an appropriate reward being better if you had a large contribution. These events are touted by the developers as being a realistic take on questing; no longer will a citizen come up and tell you how the local bears have been threatening their children, only for you to find them wandering aimlessly nearby.
There are also story quests, which are based on the choices you make when creating your character. In my case my first invention was a machine that alters the weather. Some way down the story chain it becomes apparent that someone is claiming to have invented the same machine - and they have erased all record of me ever creating it. What an outrage! The story quests have voiced sequences where your character speaks to the relevant people about the situation. This allows your character to actually be a character. While it's true that this (to some extent) means your character is voiced a certain way and therefore isn't 100% under your control, it's certainly better than your character only ever screaming in battle.
It helps that so far I've seen very few idiots in the local chat areas. People are helpful and not overly judgemental when someone asks a question, humour actually often warrants a laugh and there's a sense of community building. This of course may not hold true in the long term, but it's certainly helpful for those (like me) starting out (the game has had a few days of early access for preorder customers).
When you die you have the option of fighting on with limited combat options and unless your foe is nearly dead, or is also fighting others your chances aren't that great. The only option then is to resurrect at the nearest waypoint, which is often not that close to where you were. Every character is able to resurrect a fallen player, and unless no one is around everytime I've died so far someone has done me the favour.
Speaking of waypoints, this game has a number of them, and once discovered they allow you to warp instantly (with a small fee). Unlike flight points in WoW, these are instant, and you can also warp to areas outside of your current zone. This makes travel much more pleasant, without the need for lengthy run times between zones.
The crafting system seems similar enough to other MMOs, with the added benefit of gaining XP while crafting and the ability to retain crafting progress later if you change your crafts. The auction house has been down but that hasn't bothered me too much as a new player.
All in all so far I'm enjoying myself and having no monthly fee is a welcome change. The worst that could happen at this point is I get sick of it, in which case by that point I'll have got my money's worth out of the game and not have had to waste money on renewing a subscription (I anticipate I'll be playing for at least a couple of months at this rate).