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March 29, 2012

Guild Wars 2 Beta Impressions

The beta was over before it even began. From the moment the server opened its virtual doors, I and many other intrepid adventurers peered through the looking glass to see what all the fuss was about. For those living under a rock, the title in question is the sequel to everyone’s favourite instanced MMO Guild Wars, with 2012 being the year this long awaited title is determined to finally be the true contender to take on the Blizzard Behemoth.

But two days is never enough time to really get a grasp of such an ambitious project. From the beginning, ArenaNet promised that GW2 would finally break the traditional cycle of what many define an MMO to be. You wouldn’t be defined by your class, the world would no longer be static and lifeless, and your abilities would naturally grow as you become more proficient in utilising them.

I have been lucky enough to take a peek behind the veil of this incredible game and found that, happily, Guild Wars 2 lives up to a lot of its hype. From the very beginning, the game wraps you up into an incredibly detailed story that begins with a dramatic prologue of your race’s history, trials and triumphs, lovingly portrayed with the beautiful watercolour illustrations that are everywhere within the title. You are thrown almost instantly into battle, where leveling is very organic, and your skills simply appear as you progress.

Combat is still a significant mainstay, like most traditional games, but the standard non-linearity where enemies are specifically targeted one by one for battle, is gone. Instead, your hotkeys provide instant gratification for attacks and skills, double tapping movement keys throws your avatar into a roll or dodge. Everything feels much more fluid and natural, being able to engage multiple enemies while utilising your reflexes, rather than a dice throw, to evade attack.

As you would think, this translates well into what I consider one of the strongest parts of GW2, the PVP. Much thought has gone into developing a unique experience, especially compared to games like WoW or WAR, by introducing strategic objectives into the mix. Capturing weapons, killing dragons, all alongside the ebb and flow of battle, is extraordinarily fun, especially since everyone plays on the same level.

No longer can people use the excuse that gear is the reason for unfair advantage. While many others (including my broseph Bajo from Good Game) are unsure of the level balancing system, it has been a particular bugbear of mine in other MMOs – no levels means no queues, no ridiculous nerfs, no twinks. Everything comes down to skill – lining up traps, dodging and weaving from incoming attacks, targeting those AOEs just right. I haven’t had as much fun in PVP since WAR.

It’s not all sunshine and roses, however. Many other players, including some other members of the press, had enormous issues with graphics and framerate. Even with a Radeon 6950 under my belt, the game practically died on even the lowest settings, heaving out a steady 20fps while I chugged through the cities and across the battlefields. Latency was also a factor, with my Australian ping putting me at a slight disadvantage against other players (and mobs).

Aside from the quest line, which was full of courage, honour, intrigue and all that good stuff, there was a dungeon to wander through. I had the luck of joining a crew of developers who were also inside a Vent (Ventrillo) channel, explaining the design decisions and laying down some smack. As I mentioned earlier, one of the things that has disappeared in GW2 is the traditional class mentality. What was originally something that grew out of WoW, is now shamelessly named in most class selection within modern MMOs.

Being a warrior, for example, no longer blesses you with the ability to withstand an onslaught of damage. Being a mage doesn’t mean you can stand still at the back, lobbing fireballs and being protected from aggro. Everyone needs to be constantly moving, anticipating attacks patterns and changing tactics depending on the situation. It does take some getting used to, especially if you are a traditional “tankspank” and aren’t used to playing a little more actively.

One of the major differences I found while playing Guild Wars 2 was the emphasis that ArenaNet have placed on creating a more dynamic world. NPCs will occasionally run up to you, begging you to help their village or town from being demolished, or offering you a chance to compete in some kind of event. The decisions you make do have an impact on the game; like Rift, ignoring villages that are under attack can mean they are nothing but smoking ruins moments later.

It was only a tiny taste, but it’s been enough to keep me waiting and wanting for the next beta weekend to roll around. The changes AN have made to the formula are great, although performance could definitely use some tweaking. But in this case, for once, the hype is staggeringly close to being realised.

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