This weekend marked the final beta session for ArenaNet’s upcoming MMO Guild Wars 2 before its official release on August 28th and I was lucky enough to snag an invite. As a longtime fan and player of the original Guild Wars, I was excited to dive head-first back into the world of Tyria and to see for myself how Guild Wars 2 is shaping up. Read on for my thoughts and opinions and feel free to share your own in the comments.
Since it was the last official beta weekend for Guild Wars 2, this final beta test allowed players to pick from all five different playable races and all eight character classes when making their characters. The character creation interface is very robust and allows players to tweak pretty much every detail of their character’s physical attributes from the color of their hair all the way down to how long their nose is or how much their jaw juts out.
Creating a character in Guild Wars 2 is much more than just picking a race and class and fiddling around with the physical traits sliders however. Each new character is also taken through a brief segment called “This is my story.” In this segment, the player gets to define certain elements of their character’s life and personality by choosing from a variety of different options. These elements vary from race to race and can involve choosing where your character was raised, what sort of equipment they wear into battle, or even their preferred method of problem-solving.
Once the player is finished making their choices, a short narrative that reflects those choices appears on a scroll with an image of their character next to it. The player then gets to “sign” the scroll (picking their character’s name) thus taking the first step in their character’s story. ArenaNet had previously revealed that the choices the player makes in the “This is my story” segment can drastically alter the events that take place during the character’s progression, meaning that each race can have several different narrative paths to explore.
For my first character, I chose a Human Warrior (the same combo I played in the original Guild Wars) and, after I finished creating my character, I was treated to a breathtaking opening cinematic in which my character narrated the events that had shaped his nation up to this point against a backdrop of beautifully rendered and stylized images. The cinematic does a good job of bringing Guild Wars vets up to speed on the game’s story and I immediately felt immersed in the world before I’d even gotten a chance to play!
Once in the game proper, I found the interface and controls very easy to aquatint myself with and it wasn’t long before I was assisting both NPC soldiers and fellow players in driving back a horde of Centaur raiders who were assaulting my village. The game’s opening combat sequences were gripping and epic, mainly because they often pitted me and a few other players against whole groups of Centaur and topped it off with a fight against a massive Earth Elemental.
Another thing I was impressed with was how the interactions between your character and NPC’s is handled. Whenever you talk to an important NPC, a sort of “dialogue interface” comes up and both your character and the NPC actually converse using fully voiced dialogue. While there doesn’t seem to be any sorts of branching conversation paths like in Star Wars: The Old Republic, having fully voiced dialogue went a long way in making me feel constantly immersed in what my character was doing and how his actions affected the world and people around him.
Combat in Guild Wars 2 works a bit differently than in most MMO’s. While it is true that you will be pressing skill buttons and using hotkeys, the ability to use combat rolls and evasive maneuvers and to string together certain skills into combo strikes is far more engaging than what most other MMO’s can offer.
Each class has their own resource management that is used to perform signature attacks and actions, Warriors for instance build up adrenaline that can be unleashed in a massive flurry attack while Thieves build up “initiative” through skill use to slip into the shadows and steal from their enemies. I didn’t get to try the game’s other classes but I’m sure they have their own unique forms of resource management as well.
The exact combat skills a character uses are actually tied to whatever weapon or pair of weapons they happen to be wielding, meaning a character wielding a sword and dagger will have a different skill set than one who is wielding twin daggers or a sword and pistol. Sticking with one or two styles is encouraged however as skills from a particular style must be “unlocked” through combat and other tasks before they can be used.
As your character levels up, they unlock skill points which can be used to unlock utility skills for their class. For my Warrior, these utility skills included signets, banners, and shouts that could either buff his and his allies’ combat prowess or degrade those of his enemies. Early on only one utility skill can be equipped at a time but as a character progresses they eventually gain access to two other utility slots.
I also enjoyed the game’s approach to questing. Rather than embarking on countless “go get me ten wolf tongues” or “go kill fifteen of this certain kind of bandit” type quests, players get to participate in all sorts of random “events” in which they must work together to complete various objectives. One event had me and other players defending an NPC’s farm against bandits who were trying to burn his crops.
We could either go fight the bandits as they stormed across his fields, grab buckets of water and douse any hay bails that the bandits torched, stamp out the worm-holes of giant cave worms trying to tunnel in, or all of the above. Another event had players defending a large system of water-supply pipes against bandit saboteurs and roving bands of harpies while yet another tasked players with hunting down water drakes and scaled lizards in the village’s river bed.
Each event was triggered at regular intervals so if a player liked a certain event or wanted to focus on a different objective they could repeat them as desired. Each area had so many different events (both combat and non-combat) going on that I never felt like I was being funneled down one linear questing path as I had in previous MMO’s and a handy “waypoint” system made traversing around the various environments a breeze. When combined with the instanced portions of my character’s personal quest-line, questing in Guild Wars 2 felt fresh and engaging, something that I certainly wouldn’t mind playing through multiple times over.
While my time spent with Guild Wars 2 was brief, I can already tell that ArenaNet has a smash hit on their hands. A freeform, non-linear questing style combined with engaging combat, breathtaking visuals, immersive dialogue, and a whole multitude of different character options have more than convinced me that Guild Wars 2 will be making quite a splash come August.