Yesterday I read Keen's review and not only did I think it was very fair but I thought I'd steal his format and categories to give myself some much-needed structure. Like any commentary on any MMO, it's no more than a snapshot. A month or a year from now, GW2 may be very different and so may be how I feel about it. That'll be then. This is now:
Overall Leveling Experience: A-
I still have a nagging feeling that leveling in GW2 goes by too quickly. That's about my only reservation. As others have mentioned you can easily find yourself drifting upwards when you didn't think you were even trying and as yet there's no way to slow that down other than not playing. It hardly matters, though because the combination of eight classes that play very differently and far more places to level up than one character is ever going to use puts GW2 near the top of the list of MMOs for people who enjoy the leveling process for it's own sake, as I do.
Dynamic Events: B+
They aren't all that dynamic, are they? I was in Frostgorge yesterday and we were discussing in guild (all three of us) what the schedule was for the Claw of Jormag event. Next dragon attack due in two hours twenty-seven minutes. Get yer Charzooka here! Like the much-hyped ambient NPC conversation that was supposed to make the world feel alive but actually gives me the feeling I'm being held prisoner by the Goldfish Attention Span Experimental Theater Ensemble, the extreme artificiality of the highly non-dynamic events is viciously laid bare every time you hang around in one place for more than a minute or two.
Doesn't stop them being extremely good fun. They are well-designed, amusing, exciting and there's a good deal of variety. In my experience a lot of events work whether you run into them alone or in a massive gang, although there are exceptions. At higher levels I've seen a lot of bugged events but these seem to be getting fixed. MMOs with old-school quest hubs are going to seem very stodgy after this.
World vs World: B+
I like it a lot. It's fast and easy to get to (assuming your server isn't one of the handful with massive queues) and there's plenty of choice in where you can go and what you can do once you get in. There's always a lot of skirmishing going on, which suits me down to the ground since I've never been all that interested in infrastructure repairs, logistics or any other aspect of quasi-medieval seige warfare. On the other hand I do love defending things, be it castles or big fat yaks, and I enjoy following a badly thought-out strategy shouted at me by a random stranger as much as the next leather-clad lone wolf.
The whole match-making thing and the server rewards for how your server is doing seem like tosh to me. Over the last month Yak's Bend has been Mighty Overlord of the Frontier and Crushed Underdog turn and turn about and blessed if I could tell the difference. Oh, I did notice I was harvesting four Ancient Logs instead of three for a while. That was about it.
It looks like the difficult balance between quick drop-in no-commitment fun fights and properly planned and implemented, committed Realm vs Realm siege-play has just about been struck.
The World Itself: A+
It would be greedy to ask for more than this. The art design is masterful, the aesthetic is gorgeous, the whole place reeks of worldiness. There are places I don't take to, especially in the deep south, but blame that on Zhaitan.The detail and complexity of the landscape there is no less phenomenal - it's just hard to appreciate with undead gnawing at your legs every step of the way.
VIstas are a somewhat artificial mechanic, but they certainly work to promote this breathtakingly lovely new world we've been gifted. I climb everything, whether it has a flag on or not, and there's always a sight worth seeing. It's a world that richly rewards exploration. Waypoints could trivialize travel if it wasn't for the fact that money is tight enough to prevent me from using them most of the time and the Point of Interest markers deserve to be roundly ignored - there are far more interesting places unmarked.
Most impressive of all are the cities, some of the best I have ever seen in an MMO. There's probably as much gameplay in just Tyria's cities alone as in some entire MMOs, and there's unlimited scope for gawping. I do like a good gawp.
Cash Shop: A
If Keen hadn't included this as a heading I probably wouldn't even have thought to mention it. It doesn't sell a single thing I would look at twice, let alone buy, other than the account and character services (vault and bag space, character slots). It certainly has nothing that affects gameplay negatively for anyone as far as I can tell.
The Gold-to-Gems-And-Back-Again Converter is weird. Haven't used it yet and can't quite get my head around it. Reserving comment for now.
Being able to do all crafts on a single character is excellent. All characters being able to harvest anything is excellent. Crafted gear being desirable both for looks and stats is double-plus excellent. Recipe discovery is fun and so is finding recipes on odd Karma dealers scattered hither and yon.
The crafting interface is about the best I have ever seen. Separate storage for mats and access to your bank from any craft station is genius. I have form for complaining that things are too convenient and I actively enjoy inventory management, but even I'm not going to pretend I'd rather be ferreting about in my bags for claws every time I want to make a new snout hankie.
The minus is for some poor balance in the mats required. I'm looking at you, cloth! It hardly seems fair that core mats like wood and metal appear in the world in reliable, easy-to-access nodes as well as from deconning gear and drops from monsters while cloth...doesn't. Would it have spoiled the game to put in a few cotton bushes or a silkworm farm?
Lasting Appeal: A+
Before GW2 had been out for a week, Mrs Bhagpuss and I each bought a second copy. It was obvious we'd be playing many characters and even at GW2's enhanced pace, taking eight classes to eighty is going to take a while. We both want to get Rift's "Storm Legion" expansion but November is far too soon for it; there's no chance we will be done even with the first run at GW2 this year.
More importantly, there's no way GW2 will only have one run. With no subscription it's a certainty that even after we move focus to another MMO, we will be back in Tyria whenever there's something to see or simply when the mood takes us. This game is going to be around for a long time.
I would add that I believe the days of playing one MMO all the time are dead and gone and very good riddance. Lasting Appeal means it goes into the rotation.
Personal Story: D-
The one thing I really don't like (and which Keen didn't even bother to mention) is the Personal Story. From what I have seen the scripting is weak, the voice acting poor, the cut-scenes remind me of those cardboard theaters for kids where you poke the flat actors onto the stage on sticks. Not the only thing about them that makes me think of cardboard, either. Added to that, combat in the Personal Story instances is often horribly badly tuned.
On the plus side, nothing in the Personal Story matters a jot, it's entirely skippable and comprises about 0.001% of the available gameplay.
Dungeons: No Grade
Haven't done one, can't comment.
Overall Grade: A-
It's hundreds, even thousands of hours of top-quality entertainment for the price of a pub lunch and a movie. Seriously, what more could you ask? How do they even make money doing this?
I reckon this is as good as we are likely to get, although I'd love to be proved wrong.