August 29, 2012

The Guild Wars 2 Review: Character Development

     A well implemented character progression system is one of the key factors that keep players immersed in an online game. When we play a character, we expect a certain level of improvement and accomplishment as we continue to spend time within the game. This makes it an essential topic for review since this is what will draw people to play and define how long they will be playing. So, like my other review, let's get to it then. Let's talk about character development in Guild Wars 2.

     The first question that usually pops up to a player's head is: What is the maximum level? This gives a general summary of how the progression will be like. Guild Wars 2 opted for a slightly different approach in terms of levels as opposed to the original. The level cap is now raised to 80 from the 20 levels you get in the original game. There is some debate whether this is a good thing or not as keeping the level cap low has its advantages but I will save that discussion for another time. What I can say about this though, the 80 levels now give a more traditional sense of progression as opposed to the a larger emphasis on content progression. Don't get me wrong, from what I expect, there will still be content progression when you hit the level cap but it is no longer the main emphasis since it only occurs at the end. Unlike the original Guild Wars where getting to level 20 (the max level) does not take very long, but you have just experienced a quarter of the content available.

The sequel has a lot more statistics compared to the previous game
     Since the character development now follows a more traditional route, attributes also now play a larger role. You essentially have 4 main attributes: Power, Precision, Toughness and Vitality. These attributes contribute to your character by increasing damage, critical hit chance, armor and life respectively. Also, there is now quite a variety of secondary attributes such as healing power, critical damage, condition damage, etc. This is quite a significant change since you now look at maximizing particular statistics to suit your play style. To push this further, itemization is now based on which particular stats you want. If you have a character focused on burning enemies, you will want to get more condition damage and duration. As opposed to a tank-type character (emphasis on tank-type as there is no real tank in the traditional sense) that needs more toughness and vitality. 

     Comparing this with the original Guild Wars, the items and stats are no longer tied to certain skill trees. To illustrate, in the original game, the stats you increase are always tied to a particular skill family e.g. Axe Mastery, Protection Prayers, Shadow Arts, etc. Items have a statistic that adds to this skill family so a chest that adds +3 to Axe Mastery means that all axe skills are effectively 3 levels higher. If you compare this with the current system in Guild Wars 2, the statistics are a lot more diverse and flexible since each stat can affect skills from different groups. Though note that abilities are no longer "grouped" like the original. They are now more or less grouped by the effect of the skill.

There are five different trait lines to choose from
     I would be talking more about skills on a separate article but I will be touching on the trait system. The trait system in Guild Wars 2 also provide another facet of character progression. To define it, each class has 5 different trait lines each with their own specialization. As an example, the guardian has the Valor trait line that focuses on improving the Guardian's shield skills but also, the class has a Radiance trait line that focuses more on applying the burning condition to enemies. Each player places points in these trait lines to form their particular build and trait points are obtained from leveling after achieving level 10. Since we have 80 levels, we then have 70 trait points to spend across 5 different trait lines. As I said earlier, I will be covering more on skills and traits in another article, but this system also gives a sense of progression since your character gets more powerful (and access to more skills) as you spend points in your preferred traits.

     In my view, the change to 80 levels is quite a welcome one. While this boils down to particular player preferences, having a higher level cap gives a more pronounced measurement of progression. When talking with my friends, it was easy for us to gauge how far each of us has progressed based on the level. When I say I have reached level 17, that more or less tells me that I have explored much of the first map and moving on to the second. I feel this is a tried and tested system and is quite convenient if nothing else.

This is what the gear of a starting Guardian looks like
     But what really impressed me was the overhaul of the stats and items. One of my complaints with the original Guild Wars was that itemization felt very limited and you get to wear the best items very early in the game with straightforward variations. If I want to use axe skills, I stack my armor with axe mastery. With swords, stack armors with sword mastery. People can argue that there are some builds that require a more complex mix of armor stats but I found them far too few. This game blew the previous system out of the window and introduced statistics that affect one particular attribute rather than a set of skills. Although this is a more traditional view, it felt refreshing to me since I find myself changing my gear every few levels to get the maximum number for a particular statistic that I need. And yes, admittedly I love looking at large numbers in my hero window and finding that magic number to maximize my damage, crit, or whatever I fancy at the moment. This adds another sense of improvement since you know that not all people your level are equal. Some may have a focus on other attributes. Some may be even weaker altogether since they may not have the proper items for their level or are focusing on a less optimal set of attributes.

     To summarize, the progression for Guild Wars 2 is quite compelling. There are a lot of ways to develop your character and prepare yourself in tackling the content. This system promotes diversity among players and can suit varying play styles and preferences. I give character development a very solid thumbs up.

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