My first experience with Guild Wars 2 occurred just over a year ago amid the hustle and bustle of the San Diego Comic-Con. As I walked up to the demo station where the game was playable in 45-minute-session form, just one of many games on display that year, I wasn’t aware of just how deeply the game would infest itself into my memory. My time in the land of Tyria passed quickly and before I knew it, I was back among the countless hordes of convention attendees, excited about what I had seen and eager to hear more about the game…but part of me just wanted to get right back in line and go for another round.
That’s the catch with Guild Wars 2: after spending nearly seven years invested in a singular MMO, I didn’t think I had it in me to really get interested in another one. Too many titles had thrown themselves at the heels of the monolith that is World of Warcraft, and I simply hadn’t seen enough of the game to judge for myself if it was worth the plunge. That changed a few weekends ago, when I was able to spend every waking moment of my free time with ArenaNet’s upcoming MMO. It’s safe to say that not only is my interest in what they’re bringing to the table satisfied, but I am more than ready to shout the praises of this game from the highest peaks.
Preview: Guild Wars 2 (Beta Weekend)
Release Date: “When it’s ready”…still
If there’s one thing that can safely be said about GW2, it’s that it is not a “revolution” in the traditional sense: you won’t be saying farewell to the idea of quests and their hubs, class-specific skills, or lots of abundant loot. Instead, these genre mainstays have evolved to be more palatable, more immersive and genuinely fun. As a whole, the game is such a joy to play that it kindles a spark that hasn’t resonated with me since the early days I spent in Azeroth.
The adventures of Toast Witjam, a bold human warrior and native of Divinity’s Reach, began with a crash and a bang as he was thrust into the middle of an exciting and dangerous centaur conflict, just seconds after the introductory cutscene. Minutes later? He’s toe-to-wrist with an enormous pair of hands constructed entirely of floating stone, evoking feelings of the biggest end-game raids at level one. While there were few quests that actively rose to quite that grand a scale in the first 20 levels of story content available to players in the Beta Weekend, there’s a clear sense that ArenaNet is all about making quests feel like part of the adventure, rather than a step-by-step list of sights to see.
This emphasis on a blend of style and substance is at the heart of what makes Guild Wars 2 feel so fresh. The dynamic questing system, in which events and combat scenarios happen around you rather than being handed out one at a time, is just one method of getting experience and making your mark on the world. You could instead choose to focus on the more standardized “renown”/heart-shaped quests, a specific set of Skill Challenges in every region that help unlock a range of mix-and-match abilities, or simply explore what the land of Tyria has to offer, pulling in experience by just locating different points of interest.
A range of options allows a person to approach the game in a way that seems rather unique to the genre: by not limiting a person to quests or a treadmill-esque grind, Tyria feels more lived-in, the beautiful landscapes and scenic vistas existing as more than just a means to an end. It’s easy to spend a considerable amount of time just adventuring, choosing to help citizens when the call arises but not feeling obligated about it.
When you do decide that there are people worth saving, it’s as easy as running into the fray and throwing your sword or spells around. That emphasis on player-friendliness shows its head again by not forcing you into completing any specific event on a time table: if you participate in an event during the time it’s active, you’ll receive a reward proportional to your efforts, laid out in the three obvious tiers of Gold/Silver/Bronze. From what I could tell throughout the many events that caught my eye, it’s almost always possible to show up late to the party and still get a hefty reward: no hero gets left behind.
Believe it or not, there are a handful of things that haven’t totally won me over yet with Guild Wars 2, but a lot of it is still perfectly capable of being fixed up and brought to the level of quality that most of the game is already sitting at.
This first one may be personal preference, but it feels as if there is a slight tendency to favor ranged combat when you’re in the thick of things. It’s not that melee-users are left in the dust or anything – in fact, there are plenty of rather diabolically powerful abilities that can change a battle’s outcome quickly – but it feels as if someone that prefers using ranged weapons is just going to have more flexibility on the battlefield. Maybe that’s intentional and melee players are supposed to have to deal with a little bit more of a challenge, but it still strikes me as a bit odd.
Apart from that, the real stinker of my weekend in Tyria had to be the chat system. It seems comparatively un-intuitive with regards to whisper chat and cycling through different chat channels, and I often found myself grumbling when my messages ended up broadcasting to the entire region I was in. In addition to that, there seems to be a lack of custom chat channel creation, something that seems inherently important with an MMO that lends itself so well to more in-depth role-playing, or in the case of what the chat channels I’ve seen end up getting used for, horrible commentary about life and the game itself.
Time will tell if we’ll see these minor nagging points improved upon. Either way, Guild Wars 2 has so much to offer that it’s hard to get bogged down about the little stuff like that: with one of the most elaborately-detailed and gorgeous landscapes in the genre and an attention to putting adventure first and nitty-gritty mechanics second, ArenaNet is bringing one hell of a contender to the fight for MMO supremacy.
I can’t wait to play again.