I've only begun dipping my toe into the Guild Wars 2 beta that's been running this weekend, and I'm already impressed with the design of the world. It takes a special sort of game to cause me to stop and admire my surroundings the way Guild Wars 2 has. In just a short amount of playtime, I've amassed a substantial number of screenshots.
I created a human thief, crafting a backstory and personality I found appropriate for my character. He's a commoner whose only regret is never joining the circus when he had a chance. He's chummy with the local tavernowner and his daughter, and up to his neck in charisma.
Guild Wars 2 has something called a 'home instance' that is a section of the starting city unique to your character. This area adapts and grows based on your actions and decisions. Buildings may be destroyed due to your characters ineptitude, such as my thief's plan to save the orphanage using a 'cat-a-pult'.
Inside the city walls are shrines to the whichever god you worship, whether it be Balthazar, the God of Fire and War (pictured above); Dwayna, the Goddess of Life and Air; Melandru, the Goddess of Nature and Earth; Grenth, the God of Death and Ice; Lyssa, Twin Goddess of Illusions and Beauty; or Kormir, the Goddess of Truth and Knowledge. Others may bend their knee to only the Queen.
There are many sights to see within the walls of Divinity's Reach, from the flying banners to the aquarium lined hallways.
The actual structure of the city is something of a mix between the circular pattern of the Imperial City of Oblivion and something out of a Miyazaki film. The city has shops and houses spilling out of the walls and reaching into the sky.
Outside the city walls is an agrarian paradise reminiscent of pre-searing Ascalon. Farmers need help feeding their cows and watering the corn (in addition to slaughtering dozens of wurms infesting their land), I assisted in a group event gathering apples for a pie, and many adventurers helped plug up the leaks in a giant dam that bordered a portion of the valley.
The dam first appeared to be something painted on to the background to make the environment seem large, but as I approached, I realized the entire area was fully explorable.
This whole valley was quite diverse with its large windmills that cycle slowly, deep pools of water to swim in (and do combat in), fields for the farms, the hilltop on which you can clearly see the vastness of Divinity's Reach, babbling brooks, waterfalls, rivers, and hidden caves.
At night, the graveyard comes alive with swarms of bats, which help demonstrate the beauty of the day-night cycle. This passage of time is not limited to the wild outdoors, but is also seen within the city itself.
As I continue to explore, I am continually fascinated by the effort placed in the design of each environment. Revisiting Lion's Arch was intriguing in its simultaneous familiarity and refreshing novelty. It has been many years since the Lion's Arch of Guild Wars, and much has changed. One thing that has remained the same is it's wondrous quality of being a hub for characters coming from all over.
One aspect of gaming I have always enjoyed is the sensation of exploration. I feel this is often lost on games, even those with fantastic level design. Often we feel herded towards our objectives in such a way that the setting is largely irrelevant. This is gladly not the case in Guild Wars 2, and I cannot wait to dive further into the world this game has to offer.