Incoming wall of text:
Nearly two months after launch, I finally hit lv80 and I haven’t felt this way about a game in a long ass time. What a blast it was. I don’t even know where to begin. The experience was unreal.
Despite the fact that I had little to no interaction with anyone from lv1 to 80 (ALL of my guildies went back to WoW once MoP came out), the experience was indescribable. It was the best leveling experience I’ve ever had and I wish it didn’t end so soon. I can’t recall the last time I was actually looking forward to log on to level my character. Yeah, to level. As I moved from MMO to MMO, leveling increasingly became more of a chore. It has become a pre-requisite for anyone that wants to enjoy the game.
A definitive example of this is Aion. You had to endure through the worst grind of your life and drag yourself through the levels. Simply, leveling SUCKED. Eventually, I said ‘fuck this’ and gave up somewhere in the 30s. That all changed in GW2. Having gone through several MMOs, I thought I had come across every possible leveling mechanic that nothing else would seem innovative or ground-breaking. Boy was I wrong.
Ironically, there wasn't much to look forward to every time I leveled up. You don’t get any cool spells like you normally do in other games. And I could've cared less about the talent point that I got each level. But exploration and dynamic events were unreal. Many of the zones presented some of the most aesthetically pleasing sceneries I have seen. I often found myself trying to find ways to climb up a hill or a cliff just to get a better view. And I could just stand there and stare at it for minutes. I felt like I was in Tyria.
I was never a fan of achievements. Never cared about it in WoW aside from arena titles. But the map completion achievements were a nice bonus to my fervor for expedition. In every MMO that I’ve played, if I saw a cave or a camp full of ogres or goblins, I avoided them like a plague. But here, I barged in like a champ. Many of these unattractive camps had events or hidden treasures in them that gave incentives to invade. Even if I didn’t find either of those, it was well worth it for daily kill achievements, which gave considerable amount of xp. Every corner of the world had something to offer. Whether it's a hidden treasure, figuring out how to get to that vista, or a veteran guarding a chest, there was always something to be explored or discovered.
One of my favorite things to do was making my way to each dungeon (for the first time to acquire WPs). Traveling in MMO is often regarded as a ‘waste of time’. I’ve complained about it. Others have done the same. And that never ending public outcry has led, for example, Blizzard to make 90% of its content accessible from major cities. When I turned casual, I absolutely loved this change. I thought I’d never want to travel again, ever. But man, I just can’t stop my chicken legs from running around in GW2. While on my way to a destination, I’d get side-tracked so easily and start discovering new areas. All the way up to 80, I’ve spent a considerable amount of time just purely exploring areas, but I still feel like I haven’t even scratched the surface. At level 80, I have less than 40% of the zones completed.
Regarding dungeons, I do think that they are poorly designed. But oh wells, they can’t be perfect with everything I guess. Mobs hit like a truck and they have a shit ton of HP. Honestly, they can cut their HP by half and it would still take us 10 min. to down a boss. The final boss in TA up path took us longer than 15 min. and all we did was auto-range it down. The encounters aren’t captivating in the slightest. And this extends further to people that are still stuck in the trinity (tank/healer/dps) mode. Unsurprisingly, I had difficulty adapting to this new way of grouping. And even now, two months after release, I still see people struggling to adjust to this change. But once you start grasping the depth of the skills and utilities, the meta game evolves dramatically. At that point, even the most mundane fights spew breath of fresh air. What used to be a basic tank and spank (with lots of deaths and running back) suddenly turns into a battle full of skillchain combos and synergy of utilities. It’s entirely up to the players to make the fight interesting and fun. Because there's no set way of killing a boss, players can be infinitely creative with the encounters. But, as this is a mechanic that most are experiencing for the first time, I’ve had very few occasions that left me in awe.
I also think GW2’s quest mechanic is the best thing that has happened to an MMO. It promoted players to explore the world, kill mobs, and take part in world events all at the same time. At a certain point, quests stopped seeming like a way to gain xp. They naturally got adsorbed into play as I progressed through the plot. It defied conventional logic about quests. I never had to follow a specific order of zones (eg Hellfire > Zangarmarsh > Terrokar etc). I would be in a zone, and before I was done with all of its quests, either a world event or plot would lead me to a different zone (sometimes, to the other side of the world) that had plethora of other things to do.
Sooner or later, I will reach that moment where I have nothing left to do. There's definitely a lack of real progression at lv80. But I really do feel like the people that are unhappy with the game rushed to level cap and went through the content (including endgame) within a matter of few weeks. Maybe they had different expectations about the game. Quite frankly, so did I. I thought GW2 would be a 'better WoW'. And such expectation has caused me to find GW2 to be unappealing, initially. But once I got rid of such narrow mindset, I started enjoying the game and it turned out to be the best MMO that I've ever played. Just the experience and fun that I had from leveling alone is enough for me to say that.
I understand that this is purely my personal take on the game and my thoughts may not relate to every gamer out there. But GW2 is the best MMO that I had the pleasure of playing. It exceeded my expectations in every way possible.