Preview: Guild Wars 2Platforms: PC
My first real run-in with Guild Wars 2 came at San Diego Comic Con 2011, where visitors to the ArenaNet booth were able to score 45m of playtime. I chose to play the Norn starter area and the time flew by, leaving me with a very strong impression that this was an MMORPG I was going to get excited about. Having spent the past weekend playing in the Norn, Charr and Human lands, my overall opinion hasn't changed at all - but now I've been able to have a look at some of the game in more detail.
For those who've not heard of Guild Wars 2, it's a massively multiplayer online roleplaying game (MMORPG), set in a fantasy universe of multiple races from the fierce cat-like Charr to the plant-evolved Sylvari. Players choose race and class and set off into the world to fulfil their character's destiny and stop along the way to explore, craft, socialise and kill things!
The first impression of the game is how lush and beautiful the pre-renders are. Character selection menus offer a good level of customisation, being able to pick from body height and shape before picking eye, nose, chin and brow details. You can even dye your character's starting armour, which is a really appreciated customisation touch, and I had a lot of fun picking exactly how I wanted to go into the world. What it really means, on a fixed sized server, where everyone is choosing from the same five races and same eight character classes, you can still feel unique.
Once you're happy with how your character looks, you're then taken through a little questionnaire about important events in their life, important items to them - each choice will affect your personal story quests. For example, my first human character was of noble origin, and her story started at a posh neighbourhood party which got disrupted. My second human character was of lesser stock and spent a lot of time helping extricate her childhood friend from an unsavoury bunch of vagabonds. This had nothing to do with my class choice, which is often where games make these differences, but it was all down to choices I'd made in creation. Why is this important? Again, it gives players a way to feel connected and different from others of the same race and class, and also it's a great talking point, both in-character and in real life, depending on how much of a role-player you are within the game.
Every character starts with only one skill and through using it you unlock further skills, up to five, which is conveniently what you have space for on the skill bar. It sounds restrictive compared to MMORPGs with 3-4 bars' worth of skills, but actually it's a breath of fresh air, and also the skillset you have and that you're unlocking are dependent on the weapon you have in hand. My engineer started with a pistol and then two pistols, when I'd unlocked all five skills relating to those weapons, I quickly bought a rifle and had a lot of fun learning the more punchy skills that weapon afforded me. And when you go underwater, every character has breathing apparatus to let them just swim and get on with things, you also switch to a different weapon, such as a harpoon or even better, a harpoon gun! Did I have fun shooting barracudas? Of course I did!! Different skills via different weapons may not be entirely intuitive to regular MMORPG players, but it's something that was easy to get the hang of once I paused to read all the tooltips the game afforded. As you level up you also eventually acquire skill and trait points which you can use to further increase stats or skills and you can choose to buy a few cheap ones, or save up your points for the more expensive options.
Crafting is one of those things in an MMORPG that people tend to either love or avoid, and I definitely wanted to give it a go, even though in a short space of time I didn't get very far with the system. It reminded me somewhat of crafting in both Vanguard and Minecraft. First of all you can use salvage kits to gain components from items that drop (robes to cloth, bows to wood, for example). You refine the base components into planks, ingots, etc and then you can place up to four of these into boxes to try and learn a recipe and item from them. I successfully made an earring from a copper setting and an amber stone (gathered from wood-cutting activities) and was delighted with it. It's looking like a complex enough system to really excite hardened crafters, while not being too off-putting to those who usually avoid these skills. Wood, ore, plants are gatherable by anyone, regardless of craft skill - from what I could tell. I picked jeweller and certainly picked onions, cut down trees and mined ore myself. You also didn't need gathering or crafting tools which is another example of the slickness of the game.
The game has definitely drawn from some of the best ideas from recent MMORPGs. Like Warhammer Online and Rift, there are 'public quests' - or 'events' as they're referred to in Guild Wars 2. When roaming the countryside or on your way to a story quest that's marked on the map, you will often see the message come up on screen that 'an event has started', and on your quest bar at the right-hand side of the screen there will be a quest that's popped up to tell you what this event entails. I've helped farmers by feeding cows and watering corn, petted baby snow leopards while transformed into a snow leopard, fought bad guys, gathered eggs, fixed water pipes. What is special about these events is that they are carried out by anyone in the area, whether grouped or not, and by participating you receive experience and karma points, as well as cash. The Trading Post is awesome, you can search for items, it will automatically show you the most popular on the Trading Post. You can place orders for things, as well as searching for them, and when you're selling you can choose to 'meet highest bigger' or 'match lowest seller'. Again, it's a very slick implementation of something we're accustomed to in these kinds of games.
I briefly checked out the player vs player mechanics, though I didn't have as much time as I'd have liked with them. It was definitely simple to hop into a PvP match through my character menu. The matches I played were simple to understand - capture and defend objectives with your team (either red or blue). Instead of taking your actual character as it stands, you take a level 80 version of your character, with skills and gear to match. What this does is level the PvP playing field - no grinding for gear but relying on player and team skill. As it was a beta, the matches I was playing were all quite chaotically fun, and hey, I got to man a trebuchet! But from what I did see, and the PvP I've played in other MMORPGs, Guild Wars 2 is setting up an interesting system that could be used for competitive matches as well as casual dabbling. One thing to note is that there is a mechanic for entering 'the mists', where you can take a breather and examine your level 80 skills and traits, and test them out on targets, before you go into a 'live' match.
My over-riding take-out from playing a weekend of Guild Wars 2 as it currently stands is that ArenaNet have removed a lot of the little niggling annoyances that have become standard in MMORPGs. You can access mail from anywhere in the game by using your mail icon. You can buy and sell on the Trading Post (auction house) from anywhere also. You may run short of bag space, but you don't seem to need too many items that you just carry around for no reason. When my Norn character had a book written about her, I didn't have to carry it around, I could just read it and add it to my 'collections' - something I didn't get a chance to properly explore, but which reminded me a lot of systems in Everquest 2 and Rift. I didn't get to experience every aspect of Guild Wars 2. I couldn't even play non-stop for much of the weekend, but I did play several characters through starter zones and checked out every element of the game I thought warranted a look.
Guild Wars 2 is definitely a game of interest. The hype for it is building in intensity, and, on current form, I don't expect Guild Wars 2 will disappoint in delivering a solid, enjoyable and somewhat different MMORPG experience. If you want to read more about Guild Wars 2, I'd suggest starting with ArenaNet's FAQ and following up on the Guild Wars 2 Wiki.
Guild Wars 2 will be available for pre-purchase on April 10th. Any pre-purchase will include access to beta weekend events and a 3-day headstart when the game goes live. The game is subscription-free once purchased.