I'll admit that I'm not the most ardent MMO player. I've checked out the big games on the block, but if I have to be honest, none of them have ever really drawn me in for long periods of time. After a while, the carrot-on-a-stick attraction begins to fade, the novelty of a huge world to explore wears off, and you're left with something that has become routine and uninteresting.
Guild Wars 2 has rightfully received a lot of attention in the months since its launch due to the way that it has challened MMO design conceits that have been in use since World of Warcraft first debuted. With the usual "text box with a quest accept button" model of delivering content shaken up in favor of dynamic events that take place across the game world as you explore, it's definitely something new in the MMO world. But like every gimmick, the additions do eventually wear thin, and ultimately Guild Wars 2 is still just another MMORPG - though a pretty good one all the same.
Story & Setting
Guild Wars 2 takes place in the same world of Tyria that the first game also took place in. Tyria is a very generic fantasy world, but it has a pretty wide amount of variety to it, featuring everything from ancient forests, to expansive deserts, to technological metropolises, to wide-open battle-plains. The game is populated by about a dozen major races, half of which are playable: asura, charr, norn, human and sylvari. These races fit roughly into archetypes familiar to almost any RPG fan, and especially fans of MMOs - norns are Vikings, sylvari are elves, charr are a beast race of cats, asura are goblins, and humans are, well, just plain old humans. Sure, there are aesthetic differences, but let's be honest, there's not much new here outside of new coats of paint on the same old stuff.
The storyline of Guild Wars 2 is equally generic. 250 years after the original game, elder dragons have awoken from deep beneath Tyria and have summoned an undead army that poses a threat to the entire world. Your destiny is to unite the five playable races into Destiny's Edge, a dispanded group of protectors of Tyria, and eventually defeat the dragon leader Zhaitan. The premise isn't exactly the most compelling, but it's not surprising for an MMO to play it safe in its story or game world.
Where Guild Wars 2 sets itself apart from other MMOs in this respect is the way that it presents its story. Depending on your racial background, you will enter into the world of Tyria in very different ways - for instance, as a sylvari, you will literally be birthed by your Mother Tree and have your destiny thrust upon you in a dream, while as a norn your story begins with an alpine hunting contest. This is further compounded by a series of choices referred to as "my story" that you'll make during the character creation stage of the game, and a number of sub-factions during your quest that you'll choose from, basically mages, fighters or thieves guilds. These decisions will all change the particular quests that you receive throughout the game.
Similar to Star Wars: The Old Republic, major story missions are presented using voice-acted sequences. These bits are not extensively animated and you don't get any dialogue options during them, but they give the game a lot of personality and help to sell what is ultimately a pretty uninteresting story through humor and light-hearted drama. From time to time you will also get the chance to choose which story missions you take on, which can often play fairly differently from one another. All of this goes a long way to making the campaign feel more personal and replayable.
Dynamic Quests & Events
The dynamic quest and event system in Guild Wars 2 is by far its most interesting feature, and the reason I dedicate a whole section of this review to it is because it's simply inseperable from the game. It's the biggest draw to it, and at least for me, defines almost everything about its gameplay. It goes a long way to make Guild Wars 2 stand out from most other MMOs, which is something that's crucial for success in what has become a pretty tired genre.
The easiest way to describe it is that, rather than receiving quests from NPCs with exclamation points above their heads, the game world simply has stuff going on in it at all times. Maybe there's an ongoing battle between two factions, with each of them taking and losing ground in an endless cycle. Maybe odd jobs around a town need doing. Maybe a hunting party is trying to make the world safer. Every region of the game world has at least 15-20 of these, and it's nearly impossible to avoid them. If you go without finding content too long, or pass by a certain location with an ongoing event, the game is friendly enough to even send an NPC to spread the word and take you to it.