This weekend saw almost every PC gamer clamouring for beta keys for ArenaNets’ hugely anticipated Guild Wars 2. Those lucky to get them roamed around on the many US and European servers and experienced what I feel may be, not only one of the best and refreshingly new massive multiplayer online games out there, but a great RPG to boot.
I have to admit, I have never been a huge fan of MMO’s, the static battles and heavy reliance of grinding really puts me off, spending more of my time with the likes of DC Universe Online that has a more action originated feel to it that sits well with my heavily console bias roots more than the recent Star Wars title or World of Warcraft. ArenaNet have set out to make Guild Wars 2 an introduction to a new generation of MMO’s and from what I have played over the past weekend, it has perfected the balance to create a core gameplay mechanic that will satisfy both hardened button clickers and newcomers.
Key to this is the fantastic world that Guild Wars 2 is set in, which you are introduced at a steady pace. With the main selection screen showing five species to choose from, the Beta catered for three, Charr, Human and Norn with all offering male and female versions. Not having enough time to go through each one I sided with the Humans, a race that have been under constant threat from the violent Centaurs. Each race has their own introduction story and initial campaign so already there is loads of scope of replayablilty, plus they all have the same group of classes with eight to choose from that will set your general gameplay style; with Elementalists, Warriors, Engineers and Necromancers to the rather cool Rangers who also have a deadly “pet” by their side. Standard character customisation tools are also available from the start with the ability to change appearance and colour styles on top of background story and a general personality that sets how other characters react to you. The first few hours I was just following the storyline along, getting used to the supporting cast and my role in the world.
As mentioned, each race starts with their own introduction, with the humans under siege and your character getting roped into a huge battle against an insanely huge elemental rock monster. The battle is over before you know it but your heroic deeds have garnered the attention of the Seraph, the local knights that guard the city and the surrounding lands. With some very helpful way-points the story then moves quickly along with well signposted level requirements to stop you from blindly entering too hard a level, leading me though a tale involving a group of bandits that are planning to overrun the castle grounds and shame the Seraph and lots of underhanded misdeeds.
Happily plugging away at the story it was only when switching to the world map that the real scope of the game came to realisation, with miles and miles of land just ready for you to investigate, many having tempting icons for you to investigate, be they side quests in battling Centaurs, favours to carry out for local farmers like ridding an orchard of venomous spiders to collecting apples to make a pie or protecting guards as they make a run across no-man’s land to gather weapons, there is a wide and varied selection. Apart from the missions on the map there is also a large amount of pop-up missions that can that randomly appear from time to time that can involve ridding bats from a water dam to protecting a farmers land from bandits. There is no doubt you will be very busy in this game, with some hard choices to make, stick to the story or just wander the lands to see what happens. My early quests only covered a slither of the map as lots of it is covered until you venture by foot, though there are plenty of hints as to what is out there with huge cities, swamps and mountainous to adventure to.
Just like any other RPG there are a couple of factors that are key to progress through the game, levelling up and currency. On the cash side there appears to be two types in Guild Wars 2, coins for shop purchases and Karma that allows you to purchase special items from specific characters. Where coins are littered all over the place, bags, fallen enemies, selling items and such, Karma is earned by completing the previously mentioned favour missions like putting out fires on a farm. Levelling up also occurs in a few ways, traits can be unlocked by locating and carrying out certain tasks, allowing you to purchase new and improves skills, like my engineer unlocked an ability to throw a sentry turret that can be upgraded from standard explosives to throwing nets or a personal battering ram that can be thrown forward at a fast rate. Skills on the other hand unlock through constant fighting, with new items constantly opening up as you use specific weapons. The humble pistol starts with a simple ranged attack, but with more use will unlock more powers like a lightning or poisonous attack. Items can also be used in your offhand, opening up even more moves that focus on defence like a pistol can then shoot glue to stop an enemy in their tracks or with a more standard shield in hand you can unlock deflection powers.
Though the execution of commands is similar to many MMO’s, a few boxes at the bottom that once clicked take a set amount of time to recharge, Guild Wars 2 allows full movement of your character whilst doing this, so something as simple as strafing an enemy really changes the way battles are fought. Add to this the very nature of the larger battles are not as set in stone, e.g. a tank, a controller and a healer, the fights take on a very different feel, with you focusing more on the local players around you rather than just spamming a button to repeat a health move or just acting as a back-up battery for the rest of the team.
Whilst the main missions are locked out as a solo campaign, everything else is open in the game world so you can go it alone or meet up with other players to tackle more difficult situations, with dynamic events and favours open for all to join in; it feels strange as many a time I wandered into the last moments of a huge battle to earn experience for doing very little, but you can always replay them later as they will re-spawn.
Within only a mere few hours into the game the world has already offered me so many memorable moments, I have seen sorcerers running around fighting white ghosts in a graveyard with their pet alligator/monster as backup, prevented blob creatures attacking a water supply, taken out caverns full of bandits, driven back a Centaur attack on a castle as archers drop hails of arrows on their heads, taken part in a “Great Critter Hunt” that involved killing anything that gets close like rabbits and a stray Minotaur, only to get killed by a rampaging pig and even swam to the deep and dark depths of a lake to kill a huge underwater beast.
Now that the weekend is over it fills me with both joy and sadness; I am happy that it is not long until release but concerned that those few weeks may be the last I will ever see of my consoles. Guild Wars 2 is set to become a monumental release when it finally arrives and will make other MMO’s take a serious look at how they produce their games, plus the icing on the cake is that you just pay for the game once, there is no monthly fee.
You can order the pre-purchase edition of Guild Wars 2 here. The game is expected to release before the of 2012.