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 playersâ€”whether or not they are in my guild or groupâ€”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.
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.
The constant thread running through all my experiences was how truly impressed I remain with the very deliberate tactics ArenaNet has taken to try to break players of the habit of a personal, linear ladder that so many previous MMORPGs have instilled in us. Other games have taught me to view other players as competition, or as danger. If another player and I arrived on a dock in EverQuest II at the same time, we’d make a point of steering in opposite directions from each other as we ran into the zone, to avoid getting in each other’s way with harvests or kills. A recent foray into World of Warcraft has left me feeling that other players are something I have to wade through to get where I’m going. In these, and in nearly other multiplayer game I’ve ever tried, the existence of other players only helps me when I am intentionally in a group with them.