Guild Wars 2 Beta Impressions
Guild Wars 2 is massive. In fact, there were times in the beginning where I was just lost and confused on what to do. Luckily, once I started going it was hard to let go. Guild Wars 2 is an addictive game, and I would like to share with you my experience from the closed beta this past weekend!
I logged in and from the beginning I had the option to choose a race. As it was only a beta, the build only allowed me to choose Charr, Norn, or Human. I rolled out with a Charr Necromancer and began to start customizing my character. Boy, is the creation feature packed! I had the option to choose from the color of my skin/fur, eye color, body build, etc. Not only that, I could also customize how my snout was defined, how my eyes looked, and even my horn style. It’s overwhelming at first, but it’s great for those that want to really create a character with every detail to their liking.
I was thrown immediately into a battle after creating a character. At first I had no idea what was going on, yet a quick notice telling me what to do helped. I followed a green starburst on the map leading me to an objective. There were tons of ghosts that were rampaging the fields, and I quickly aided my Charr comrades with my spells. I didn’t even realize it at the time but there were actually other players assisting me, which I will go into later. After plowing through dozens of enemies, a large stone giant appeared in a cave and there were at least ten Charrs trying to smash it. It was thrilling, and all this happened in just the introduction.
Combat in Guild Wars 2 works like other MMOs and the previous Guild Wars games, albeit with some slight changes. There is a skillbar with 10 slots. The first 5 are designated by weapons, the sixth for healing, the next 3 for utility, and the last for Elite Skills. The utility skills were interesting. I had to unlock the slots by leveling up. However, obtaining them were done a bit differently than what I was used to. As I explored the world I interacted with objects marked with a blue icon. There I obtained skill points by completing a task. I used these points to buy skills for the utility slots though they weren’t cheap. Still, it was a unique way of unlocking them since it gave me an incentive to explore the world and hunt them down.
In addition there was a slight twist to how skills are unlocked for the weapons. My skills changed depending on the weapon I was holding. At first I only had one skill, and by using the weapon more l unlocked the remaining four. It created an interesting dynamic especially when I learned how to swap weapon sets. While it wasn’t available right away, I could switch weapons as much as I wanted to in combat - and the way it is balanced is that there is a small cooldown. This means that I can technically have up to 10 skills for each weapon.
I found myself swapping weapons in combat to suit my needs. Holding a staff gave me AoE (Area of Effect) skills while wielding an axe gave me stronger single-targeting skills. This came in handy for my typical battle strategy: when I approached a mob of enemies, I started out with a staff for a lot for group damage, before switching out weapon sets for stronger skills. The combat really kept me engaged through the idea of swapping.
I also had the ability to move around and cast. This means that there was practically no downtime and I was constantly active. Often times I also had to position myself in key spots to minimize the damage upon my person. While I have the standard maneuverability options such as strafing, Guild Wars 2 also has a dodging system. I couldn’t dodge infinitely since there’s a meter that dictates usage, however it did allow me to make the choice between dodging or not. This is critical against bosses or stronger enemies. There were times when I wasted my dodge meter and I had no way of defending myself from its charged attacks. It’s an interesting system that rewarded me for smart and correct use.
Underwater combat is something new. It wasn’t as simple as just using whatever skills I currently had. Far from it; the moment I was submerged in water the weapon changed and so do my weapon skills. There is a whole dedicated set of skills for combating underwater denizens. I was actually surprised at how different it was to ground combat.
Instead of using conventional ground weapons, I was forced to either use a spear or speargun. Just like unlocking weapon skills above ground, the same applies to underwater combat. These unique set of skills really changed the dynamic of how combat should be approached under water in MMOs. One allowed me to spin through enemies as I swim from place to place, zipping past them. Because underwater combat adds an extra layer of dimension - if you’re familiar with math, it would be the z-axis - the angle I chose to attack or use skills mattered, and I really enjoyed what if offered.
I mentioned earlier of the sheer scale of Guild Wars 2. The maps are huge, and it took a good chunk of time traveling from one end to the other. Mind you, this is only for levels 1 through 15. There are more areas for you to explore and they are said to be even bigger. Each area is filled with stuff to do, and it doesn’t clutter the map with icons like you would expect from a typical MMO.
Guild Wars 2 boasts a new questing system called Dynamic Events. As you explore the world there will be events happening and will notify you if you’re within the area. Clearing out a river of tar elementals, pushing back ghosts, or chasing down bandits are only a few of these events that I came across as I was traveling. It’s a very interesting system and approaches the idea of questing in a colorful and exciting way. Instead of going to a town and picking up all the quests and going out to do them, I was encouraged to explore the world and help people out as I came across them.
This new twist on an old feature is somewhat magical. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of just wandering around and suddenly coming upon a camp being overrun with literally dozens of ghosts. Of course, seeing the peril in front of me, I quickly hurried over to aid them. What I didn’t know was that not everyone fending off the ghosts were NPCs. In fact, many of them were other players.
There were multiple moments where I found myself in a band with other people tackling these events. There was one time where I was adventuring in a ruin, and I was suddenly mobbed by seven or so ghosts. I soon found myself dead, but I discovered that there were others whom were also attempting to complete the same dynamic quests as I was. They journeyed to where I was and casually revived me. In return, I helped them out and finished my quest in the process.
While there is a party feature in the game, this was a very fun way to randomally meet and group up with new assortments of people. To further encourage this, the developers implemented a system where monsters in an area become gradually stronger the more people there are in the vicinity. In order to defeat them, cooperation amongst other players is sometimes made necessary. Instead of a static world, here the game reads the situation and caters to it.
Guild Wars 2 is all about making the experience as intrinsic as possible. Dynamic Events and the informal grouping of players is a prime example of that. It crafts a world that wants me to experience it in the most immersive and realistic way possible - making it far from feeling like a typical game.
In addition to Dynamic Events there is a main questline called Personal Story. Once a quest from the Personal Story is initiated, it places you in an instance and you must solo it with NPCs. To be honest I thought this feature was quite odd since it ripped me from the world and put me in a very mechanical step-by-step series of quests. However, while the implementation is a bit unorthodox, the sentiment behind it makes sense. Rather than me playing a small role in the bigger picture, I played a large role in shaping the story. This is the important contrast between Dynamic Events and Personal Story.
The narrative on a whole is very engaging. All the Charr characters are very memorable despite them all sort of looking the same - at least to me they did. Rytlock Brimstone is a particular standout because of how awesome he is. If you’ve played Guild Wars you know that the Charr are a ruthless species and Rytlock is its personification.
While I didn’t reach the level cap offered in the beta, I made it far enough to see how the story progressed. There are multiple legions within the Charr species, and not all of them see eye to eye. The conflict is interacial mutiny and disruption. As the hero I had to find a way to settle all of this. It’s a clever narrative that doesn’t get overly complex. There were twists and turns and I met a lot of new characters, but I appreciated that Guild Wars 2 slowly immersed me into the world with simplicity rather than just dropping the ball.
There are also the usual crafting professions. You can only undertake two at a time, however you always have the option to change as long as you’re willing to give up the experience you’ve earned. Crafting works similarly to other MMOs but for some reason it’s a bit more frustrating in Guild Wars 2. I couldn’t find any crafting materials and it resulted in me having a bad experience. I barely leveled my crafting profession past 10 because of how few of these materials I picked up.
If I wasn’t crafting, exploring new areas, or fighting, I often found myself returning to old zones, and there are a couple of reasons why. First is due to obtaining new skills. When I found a new weapon, I wanted to test it out on some unlucky enemies. Lower level monsters are just the perfect test dummies! Another is because of Dynamic Events. I just loved going out to help and interact with random players! It really adds a level of social interaction that other MMOs haven’t been able to do before.
The art is stunning to say the least. The Charr capital is The Black Citadel and it is absolutely magnificent. The design of the city is filled with a mechanical steampunk feeling. Gears were turning everywhere, steam was rising, and there was that grim and gritty industrial feeling wherever I went. This resonates with the technological advances that the Charr are making and the city depicts that in the most beautiful way possible. The artistic design is only one side of the coin. If the technical graphics weren’t good then the beauty wouldn’t be fully realized.
Luckily, just liked the art of the city, the graphics are phenomenal as well. While it’s no technical powerhouse like The Witcher 2, the display of detail is amazing. There were glittering lights as I walked across the metal floor of the capital and reflections of light as I swam through waters. Suffice to say, there is a lot of detail that went into Guild Wars 2. For an MMO being this expansive and dense, it’s difficult to maintain a high level of technical prowess, but the game manages to pull it off very well.
When I played the game I had to play on the lowest settings on my modest computer build, but I did have the chance to play it on the highest. First off, the lowest settings of the game still keeps the game surprisingly good looking, putting it on par with a lot of the current console games. It's that good. I’m surprised that ArenaNet optimized the game to make it run so well but still look fantastic. I was running around at 30 frames per second on these settings. Having said that, the highest settings wowed me just as much. Shadows were sharper, details were much cleaner, and the lighting was more definitive.
While the world looks visually stunning, the most surprising aspect was how combat can be made to be so artistic. Each attack has a painterly brush stroke that pops up. It really gave my attack that sense of “umph.” Even more so, the optical appeal was great as it made me think I was doing some really cool moves. While I’m a sucker for flashy things, this is a fantastic way of approaching it. Instead of bright lights and sparks everywhere I go, there were dark streaks across the screen. If you’re familiar with Okami, the two visual styles are similar.
Never have I felt more enthralled about an engagement with a bear thanks to the great sound design. When I heard battle anthems booming from my speakers as I launched a plague of death on the creature, I felt extremely motivated to be really into it. The combat was impressive enough for me, but the music definitely added another layer of intensity and at times instantly reinvigorated me if I was feeling just a little bit worn out from extended playing sessions. Trumpets blowing, drums pounding, and the heavy beat of other instruments really sets the tone for the battles.
It’s not just the combat music either - the subtle tracks that play in the background are soothing, making the journey feel serene. At the same time, it instantly changes when a Dynamic Event occurs. The music not only knows when to play but it changes to fit the action on the screen. It’s as if the songs are catered to both the player and the world creating a portal of immersion. Honestly, there isn’t anything bad I can say so far about the direction that Guild Wars 2 is taking for sound. It’s really great stuff.
I can go on an on about how amazing Guild Wars 2 is and sharing how fun it was to experience this beta. Even as a beta, the game is filled with a lot of content. While I definitely couldn’t get to experience everything in the beta - such as PvP - I still got a pretty good idea. What Guild Wars 2 does is amazing. In fact, I’m surprised at how much fun I had with it and how addicting it was. Having been recently turned off by Star Wars: The Old Republic I was starting to lose hope in the MMORPG genre, yet this is beginning to change my mind. Stick with us for future coverage of Guild Wars 2!
Macbook Pro 2009
Intel Core 2 Duo 2.66GHz
4.00 GB DDR2 RAM
256MB Nvidia GeForce 9800M GT
250GB Hard Drive