While I understood the pejorative phrase "theme park" to describe some MMOs in theory, until Guild Wars 2 I've never quite locked on to the concept.
Matter of fact, I don't think I really understood what the phrase really meant until I was approaching the site of one of this game's dozen or so dungeons. This particular one is right in the middle of a little village and I was clued into something being not-quite-right when as I approached, a female voice welcomed me to Caudecus Manor and asked me to be polite and follow the rules.
And there was a line to get in.
It was at that moment I had the requisite epiphany and I really understood the term "theme park." I honestly felt like I was standing in line for Pirates of the Carribean at Disneyland in Los Angeles. Fortunately, the line was a lot shorter but the impression immediately put me into what turned out to be exactly the wrong frame of mind. At that moment, I was expecting an easy little side quest, amusing from a story perspective but not particulary dangerous.
The little group that was forming determined that I was playing a Guardian, immediately signed me up to their party, and then it was time to sit down in the little cart and watch the cardboard doors open before us. I managed to retain this smug little frame of mind for about four minutes, the length of time that the dungeon needed to set the atmosphere, tone, and stakes of the conflict that was about to be presented. Then the pain started.
Holy crap, dungeons in Guild Wars 2 are hard!
I've done some difficult quests/missions/whatever in the various multi-player games I've played. And I've been playing EVE for five years, which has made me more or less immune to the pain of death. But whomever designed the GW2 dungeons should be complimented on their ability to enforce player cooperation and teamwork. I've talked about how GW2 subtly encourages you down the correct path? This was encouragement of a different sort: a repeated bludgeon to the head. Adapt or die. A lot!
I wonder how many people stumble out of their first GW2 dungeon and silently promise themselves "never again!" I'll bet it's a significant number.
But as my little group enforced their will on this nasty little bit of PvE, I have to admit that the sense of growing accomplishment was palpable. The level design was great, the AI design was better, and the balancing of the opposition we were facing was nearly letter-perfect. As long as we pulled together and used our joint skills smartly, we advanced. If we didn't, we got steam-rollered. It's yet another impressive example of smart game design from a game that has no lack of smart game design.
However, the one problem of the "theme park" remains. Once you ride Pirates of the Carribean, it can't hold further surprises for you. Aside from slightly different parrot squawks, I can't see the point of exploring that particular dungeon a second time, even with another type of character. The game is more miserly with rewards from this type of PvE than EVE is (yes, it's possible). The reward of the GW2 dungeons is the sense of accomplishment you get from completing them, not the material rewards. So I can definitely see where the disparagement of this sort of content comes from.
Still, there's eleven or so rides I haven't ridden yet, so I don't think I'm going to get bored too soon...