Beta Weekend Date Played: April 27th-29th 2012
Forget everything you ever knew about MMORPGs. No, seriously, forget it. Guild Wars 2 has finally broken the mould of this gaming genre in a real and exciting way. Questing, levelling, skill acquisition: all different. Even character creation has an added level of background story and personality traits that I have not seen before in other MMOs, only RPGs.
It is no secret that I have been waiting for this game to come out since I heard about its inception years ago, and this past weekend I finally got a dose of what the game is and how it plays. Let me walk you through how something that I had such high expectations for still blew me away.
Once the client was downloaded and the initial bugs were sorted, I opened, well, ran, Guild Wars 2 on my 3 year old HP laptop while my husband logged on with his barely a year old beast of a gaming desktop pc. Even on my (now) low end machine, the game played well and looked great. It wasn’t flawless and you could tell it was meant to be better, but the bottom line is: it worked with very little issue. I could even tell the difference between physique options in the character creation, albeit after a minute of going back and forth between two options to figure out the only difference was muscle definition, which I did end up being able to see on my TV screen (well if my husband can have a big monitor, so can I). I later confirmed this with ease on his machine. This is a major selling point for this game, as not everyone wants/is able to upgrade their machine for a new game. That was one of the initial flaws of games like Age of Conan.
Being such a new game, you would expect the graphics to be outstanding, and they are. Even the log on screen looks good: simple and dynamic. Let’s be honest, the artwork from the original Guild Wars game (known hereon in as Guild Wars 1) was beautiful. They have brought across the painted style from Guild Wars 1, but enhanced it and given the world and character models even more texture. I feel it gives the game character and warmth. The audio was also nothing short of expectation. Those who bought the collectors editions of the various Guild Wars 1 games and listened to the soundtracks without the gameplay will tell you how much effort has always been put into the soundtracks for these games. The music in Guild Wars 2 is powerful, yet serene: brilliant and very fitting for its tone and genre.
Now, this next part, while brief is rather important: when picking a host server make sure it is the one that other people you will be playing with are also on, as you only get to pick one. You can request a transfer, but it will cost. Now, before people complain about having to pay to change servers and gain more character slots (you are given 5: there are 5 races but 8 classes), remember that once you purchase this game there is no subscription fee. They make their money on micro transactions like this. Besides, with the added level of World vs. World (the next level up from player vs. player and guild vs. guild), it would seem ridiculous to be able to switch sides so easily.
During this beta event, only 3 out of a possible 5 races were available: Charr, Human and Norn. I was a little disappointed since I really wanted to play Sylvari, but I saw some Sylvari NPCs and they looked awesome. One even had a plant based wolf. I can’t wait until they become available.
The customisation is at a good level I feel. There are ten steps to creating your character, from picking the race, to class, to four areas of appearance customisation, then a number of personal customisations, and then your name. An example of the balance in appearance customisation is the face: you can pick a general face from the pre-sets available, then you can tweak each feature a number of ways, even down to the size of the iris in the eye customisation. It is involved, but it is simple and systematic. I’ve seen games do something similar to this but all in the one step and with way too many options. It can be difficult to remember how you created a certain character’s look, but much less so with Guild Wars 2. Plus, I loved the level of personal story in character creation. It isn’t massive, but it affects your gameplay and story.
I noticed while playing around with creation that the females look significantly better than the males. The models are pretty, which doesn’t really work for a rugged male Norn. I found the faces to be too small and delicate to create rough characters, but the hair options, especially for the females, actually look like something you would do with your hair. The armour even looks better, with three tiers of colour, not one like in Guild Wars 1. (For a more comprehensive explanation of the character creation, see the link below or click here).
As I said in the intro, the gameplay to Guild Wars 2 is different to other MMOs. This is most apparent in the questing and skill areas of the game. Here, I want to outline some cool features I noticed about how you play the game and other notes.
Firstly, movement is possibly the only factor that is the same to traditional MMORPGs. Like in Guild Wars 1 you can play one handed when needed, using only the keyboard or only the mouse to both move and execute moves, and like other MMOs you can now use the space bar to jump and fall, and hurt yourself, etc. on the (now) open map. My favourite addition to this is the action button brought over from regular offline single player RPGs. While yes you can right click on a person to talk to them, or on a corpse to loot it, or an item to interact with it, once you are close enough to do this you also have the option to press ‘F’. So convenient! I found myself using it all the time as it really sped up gameplay. I also like how you can right click an item in your inventory to bring up a list of options of what to do with it. It is like in EverQuest2 but with many more options, e.g. you can choose to equip a dagger to your main hand slot or off-hand slot. An oldie but a goodie that I’ve only ever seen in Guild Wars 1 before was the use of the Ctrl and Alt keys to highlight NPCs and enemies in your view. I always miss that in other games so I’m glad they brought it across.
I picked a ‘low’ population server to play on, as I always get annoyed when someone comes along and takes my kill, or my treasure/resource that I am killing the mob to get to, but this is something you need never worry about in Guild Wars 2. While yes the server still had a considerable amount of people on it, I found myself thankful, as the dynamic events would be far too difficult without backup. Due to the contribution style of quest, you don’t have to worry about the above issues happening either. As long as you are in the area, you get credit and loot. The point is to work together, and this style of questing fosters that environment really well, even better than in Rift, which only used it for the rift events.
I had limited time to play over the weekend as I didn’t have the luxury of a completely free weekend, and since I wanted to play each class and race while I tested it out, I didn’t get very far with any character. In fact I didn’t get much further than level 5 for each of them, but in that time I was exposed to a good deal of story. Obviously you progress further in your story if you just do your main quest, but you cannot get to each step in that quest too early, so it’s lucky there is always something to do in the open world to help you level. You also get to your race’s major city pretty much straight away, which makes sense in terms of story. It is easy to see the potential for the story and I look forward to playing through it.
The first thing you will notice is the difference between your main story quest and the dynamic events which replace side quests. Your main story quest is the only one that is constantly tracked and has quest markers. Other requests are discussed when you talk to named NPCs and go through the correct conversation path, where they will tell you about someone that needs help in a particular area or ask you to gather items for them or someone else, but unless you are in the correct area it won’t come up in your quest tracker. Scouts also give information on Points of Interest and people who may need help. Other, dynamic events happen and if you are in the area it comes up in your tracker, like in Rift. Depending on the type of quest it is, your contribution is also tracked, but ultimately everyone works together. There are also different ways of helping people, e.g. picking apples and/or killing spiders in the orchard and/or squashing egg sacks, all go towards filling the bar used to measure how much you have helped a person. The other difference between the main story quest and everything else is that the story is played out in instances away from everyone else (unless you are in a party of course).
Combat & Levelling
Combat in Guild Wars 2 still has you selecting moves from the limited range of the 1-8 top number keys, but there are some awesome additions.
You can dodge (what other MMO has that simple mechanic?). You can move while casting or preparing an attack (finally). When you first get knocked down you can Fight To Survive to try and get back up yourself. All players start with a self healing skill and anyone can revive a fallen character (PC or NPC), and the more people reviving someone, the quicker they get back up. Defeated players are handily shown on the mini map. Lastly, each class has a different variable that affects gameplay.
Levelling and skills are different too. You have a set of skills available to you based on your equipped weapons, which can be changed at will and come in different combinations. You start with your main attack and unlock others by using those weapons, or affinities (e.g. elementalist changing out elements). Even spell casters have skills for melee weapons as each class has a certain set of weapons available to them. There is even a set of underwater skills too. You can also, however, unlock and purchase other class skills by levelling and gaining skill points from specific NPCs. One last thing about skills: having a pet doesn’t take up a ranger’s skill slot! All of the classes have been better balanced to allow for things like this as each class has something different to their benefit.
So, can I wait until its release later this year? Hell no! Once it comes out I won’t be renewing any of my subscription games (thankfully I have a while to get as far as I am happy with each of them first). But why would I when a game has come along that has full story and has broken the mould of traditional MMORPGs? We are in the next generation of online gaming. Other games may still hold onto their following, for nostalgic or dedication reasons, but I can definitely see Guild Wars 2 being the next big thing. It looks good, it sounds good, it plays well and it is different. You can also block players, which will be good for phasing out the obnoxious rubble from the community, since it is the community that makes a game an MMO, and not just an RPG.
Game Play 9
Ease of Play 9