The final beta weekend event that took place on July 20th through July 22nd, gave pre-order customers and a few lucky beta key holders, access to a near-release build of the upcoming ArenaNet MMORPG, Guild Wars 2. Players were able to adjust those facial sliders and back story options one last time before the final release on August 28th. As a pre-order customer, I decided to give the game a shot for an opportunity to do a write up for the readers who can’t seem to find impressions on this new breed of online role playing game.
The world of Guild Wars 2 is a place where high concept game design doubles down and dares to be noticed in a sea of imitators and subscription whores. To set the record straight, Guild Wars 2 is a persistent online role playing game that requires no subscription to play. It’s clear that ArenaNet has gone through a lot of trouble to be different. The conventions of the genre are noticeably overhauled the second a player spawns in the starting area of the game. Hit hard and hit fast is the general theme of these introduction grounds. As a human Guardian, I was thrown into a town defense scenario where urgency is compounded by the NPCs’ need to defend against a raging centaur invasion. Aggressive enemies littered the screen and forced me into one deceptively easy encounter to another, giving me ample amounts of time to learn the ins and outs of movement and combat. The design of the introduction area is a brief taste of what is to be the heart of Guild Wars 2’s Player vs. Environment gameplay.
Events and landscape play a large role in GW2. Open fields of exploration are not simply vast; they are elaborate by design. Certain quests encourage the discovery of less than traveled paths, while Dynamic Group Events entice players into interacting with their surroundings. For the uninitiated, Dynamic Group Events are quests that spring up in the environment at random intervals. These situations happen whether anyone is nearby or not, and will fail if no one is around to complete them. Everyone nearby is notified when one occurs and is able to participate as long as they’re within the event area. These sporadic quests usually require a decent amount of people to complete, inspiring other players to join in regardless of level. Dynamic Group Events keep the action flowing in Guild Wars 2, and can make a simple trek from one village to another, exciting. Take for example an instance where my friend and I were required to travel to an unexplored region on the map to continue our quest. On the way there, we helped a band of players defend an aqueduct from invading centaurs. The moment my friend and I stepped into the quest area, we were involved. Once we killed a few baddies, we were contributing. Then, when the last enemy was plowed through by an Elementalist’s falling boulder, everyone was rewarded with money, experience and karma points. The end result was a fun reason for a group of random people to fight, loot, and level together. Words were said, friends were made, and rewards were handed out accordingly. This is only one of the many ways that Guild Wars uses the environment to naturally bring players together, whether it is through the creation of universal goals, or the shared lament of a difficult task.
The combat doesn’t escape the eyes of innovation either, as certain aspects of it share similarities with today’s action games. Most people know that ArenaNet set out to destroy the holy trinity of tank/healer/dps, by giving everyone the ability to heal and resurrect players. The result is the most temporal sensation of battle allowed in an MMO. Conflicts no longer focus on a few hardy meat shields trying to maintain ‘aggro’ while healers and damagers try not to draw too much attention. Instead, players must adjust to the distance and position of their characters in relation to enemies and allies. In this manner, the difference in class is determined by the manipulation of space. During the beta, I chose to experiment with two different professions to provide a contrast for gameplay comparisons. One was a caster, (Mesmer) and one was a melee fighter (Guardian). However, as I played each character according to their classic troupes of “in your face Guardian” and “distance loving Mesmer”, I started to notice I could learn more skills by equipping different weapons. The more skills I learned, the less convinced I became that Pajamicus, my aptly named Guardian, needed to get into anyone’s grill. Give him a two handed broadsword, and Pajamicus becomes a swirling, circular blade of AoE death. Slap a wand and a shield on him, and he’s crowd controlling fleeing enemies, pummeling others from a distance, and forcing a seperate group of attackers back with a projectile absorbing force field. Both methods lead to victory, yet neither supersedes the other in effectiveness. In this case, combat and class choice cater to a player’s play style instead of forcing them into a specific role.
The Guild Wars 2 beta gave many players a glimpse of a genre’s future. World Vs. World Vs. World pits players together in an all out war, automatically boosting them to the maximum level cap and giving everyone an opportunity to duke it out with another server by using skills acquired through PvE without all the leveling. Hell, you can start from scratch and fight your way to a complete character strictly through the Player vs Player portion of the game. Movement between discovered towns and previously visited areas is mitigated by making instant travel available immediately. The game world is fast paced, dynamic and community centered; it’s like ArenaNet took the all the fun found in massively multiplayer online role playing games and trimmed enough fat to make one of the most promising games this side of World of Warcraft.