So last weekend, Guild Wars 2 finally had a beta event without an NDA surrounding it. I’d been waiting for this since I got a key from PAX East, and I was quite excited to finally log in and play. The question is, how did it stack up against my expectations?
As far as basic MMO gameplay went, I had a very good time. The combat was fun, the leveling wasn’t too tedious, the story quests were both challenging and interesting, and the environments were fun to explore. When the game releases, reviewers will tell us that the combat is more action-oriented than WoW, that it’s less of a grind than your typical fantasy MMO (especially the Korean style), and that you’ll have quite a few “wow” moments as you explore – especially if you played the original Guild Wars and come across some familiar locations.
It’s impossible to talk about Guild Wars 2 without mentioning PvP, and what I played of it was both frantic and entertaining. I didn’t play basic PvP this weekend – I went straight into World vs World, and I had a blast. The basic concept of WvW is a huge 3-way battle between servers for control of 4 separate areas of the map – one “borderlands” area for each server and one main battleground. The landscape was constantly shifting, and assaulting a fort ended up being a lot more than “kill X npc guard with your overwhelming numbers” – the presence of siege engines for the attackers and various powerful defensive mechanisms (boiling oil, wall-mounted cannons, and the like) within the fort made for a varied and exciting experience overall. And yet, all of this isn’t what impressed me the most about GW2.
Yes, the combat was great – much better than the usual MMO in my opinion. Exploration was fun, there was plenty to do, and PvP was awesome. But what really stood out to me was how well ArenaNet has tweaked so many small aspects of the basic MMO feel in order to both remove the barrier to accessibility and to make you like running into other players, even if you’re on the same quest and (in a different MMO) would be competing to slaughter certain mobs as soon as they spawned so you could turn it in and move on.
The first thing they’ve done right is to remove the need to hunt for questgivers. As you move through the world, you’ll simply have notifications pop up informing you what you need to do to help the people around you. I played a Charr for this test, so many times I would head to a new area in the Plains of Ashford and find that someone needed help fending off either the Flame Legion or the Ascalonian Ghosts, two groups of people I was more than happy to shoot or stab until dead. Where other games may have had a “Kill 10 Flame Legion Axe Fiends, 5 Flame Legion Blademasters, and 8 Flame Legion Saboteurs” requirement, Guild Wars 2 simply said to me “Here’s a bar, do anything you can to hinder the Flame Legion in this area and it will fill. Once it’s full, you get your reward.” So not only did I not need to kill any specific combination of monsters, but I could also destroy their supplies, burn their totems, or do any number of different things to help out – it all counted. I didn’t need to seek out the single person on the map who would give me a quest. I also didn’t need to hunt down that one last Blademaster who I just couldn’t find in a sea of Axe Fiends. In addition, as long as I did damage to a certain enemy, it counted towards my goal – no need to worry about getting mobs stolen from you by other adventurers. Everyone’s on a team, and as you progress it really starts to feel that way.
While playing, I also came across a veritable host of different small world events – even though I only played through one zone (admittedly I hit 100% completion for it, so I spent a lot of time there), I can think of more than ten different random events I ran into while exploring. From harpies attacking a Charr mortar range, to ghosts attempting to rally and retake Ascalon City for good, to the Iron Legion’s newly developed submarine coming under attack by separatists – the events were varied, challenging, and fun. Some were standalone, with things simply going back to normal when they were finished. Others would have different followup events based on whether you succeeded or failed the first time – for instance, if the Iron Legion’s submarine is destroyed, players will be asked to gather parts for repair and to protect the engineer as she fixes it. After the repairs are complete, she’ll ask the local players to strike back at the Separatist camp and burn it to the ground. Again, the best part of this is that it encourages a cooperative atmosphere between players in the open world – these events are too much for a single player to handle, and the rewards you can earn if you work as a team are significant.
Past that, there are so many little things that foster a friendly and cooperative atmosphere among players. As long as you help to kill a monster, you’ll get the experience for it. Everyone can harvest the same resource nodes – I’m not sure what sort of a cooldown they’re on (I assume you can harvest them once per day), but this eliminates the ridiculous scramble present in most MMOs to get to that ore before anyone else does. Reviving other players gives you a bit of XP – and that little reward seems to make everyone more conscious of downed players in the area. I never had someone simply walk past me and leave me to respawn when I needed help – if they could get to me, they would pick me up, whether they’d been involved with the battle or not.
And finally, there are just so many little conveniences that prevent you from tearing your hair out over this game. You can teleport instantly to any discovered waypoint around the world for a nominal fee. You don’t need to learn specific skills to gather resources – anyone can gather any commodity as long as you have the proper tools, which are readily available at most merchants and each have their own individual equipment slots, meaning they won’t take up bag space or need to be switched around constantly. If you’ve already chosen your two crafting skills, you can change either one of them at any time – and you won’t lose your mastery of a skill just because you dropped it temporarily, leaving you free to experiment to your heart’s content. All of these things and more remove a lot of the frustration factor that other MMOs seem to have – and why would we want games to frustrate us?
Overall, the main thing I can say about GW2 is that it seems to be designed purely for the sake of fun – ArenaNet seems to believe that you should be able to log in, enjoy the game without obstacle, and log out when you need a break. So far, they’ve impressed me thoroughly. Sure, the game has problems – the frame rate gets quite choppy when there are more than a few players on the screen, even at minimum graphical settings. This caused some frustration in WvW, where we had constant large engagements going on, especially when assaulting or defending forts. Still, this is what stress tests are for, and I have faith in ArenaNet to hammer out the optimization issues. As it is, Guild Wars 2 looks to be more than just a promising game – it looks to be one that will help advance the MMORPG genre in a more entertaining and less tedious direction, and I can’t think of a single reason why that’s a bad thing.
(Image courtesy of guildwars2.com)
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