Guild Wars 2 is a title I’ve been looking forward to for a very long time, and now that the beta events are underway, I thought I’d spend a little time talking about my impressions. Unfortunately, I was out of town during the first full beta weekend. However, earlier this week I got several hours in during the stress test ArenaNet held, and was able to get a firm picture in my mind of how the game plays and how it feels.
If you’re looking for your “average” MMO, you will probably want to look in another direction. While the original Guild Wars was lacking a lot of features of a full-featured MMO, Guild Wars 2 does add them in to create the entire experience. However, that experience may be different than most other games in the genre as of late.
My initial thoughts during character creation were: “Wow, there really isn’t a whole lot of customization options.” But, as you delve more into it, you realize that customization runs deeper than just aesthetic qualities. You basically design your character’s backstory (and, by extension, the way the main story plays out) by answering a series of questions. You can mix and match questions in a way that leads to almost infinite replayability of the game, because, even if you choose the same race and class, your main story could be different if you choose different answers to the questions.
Once you get in-game, though, you get much more variety when it comes to both aesthetic and character customization. Each race has a set of dyes that you get from the start of the game, which you can use to color your armor to your liking. Although, throughout the game there are ways to get more unique dyes, to the point of having over 400 in the finished game at launch. That really impressed me, and I was glad the dying system is less cumbersome time around. It was simplified so it doesn’t clog up your inventory. They also removed dye mixing, which, to some, was a fun exercise. However, again, it could be a burden on your inventory in the original Guild Wars, so it was removed in favor of dye palates that are always available and separate from your inventory.
While, at its heart, Guild Wars 2 doesn’t do a whole lot new with questing and progression – we’ve seen similar questing ideas in the past in other MMOs – what it does do is make everything feel more organic. For those who haven’t been following the game, there are no “quest hubs”, like in other games, where you visit, pick up a dozen quests, then go out and complete them. Guild Wars 2 rewards you for exploration and diversity in your play styles. There are dynamic quests and events that pop up on a fairly constant basis across the zones. While some events are static, probably a good 75% of my experience in the first 10 levels or so came from the dynamic events.
The static quests are interesting in themselves, as you can usually do any number of things to complete them. For example, one of the early quests is to help a farmer clear his fields of these huge worm monsters that pop up out of the ground. What can you do to help and, ultimately, complete the quest? You can kill worms that pop up, smash worm mounds, water his corn or feed the cows. Any combination of the above will work, too, and it all goes toward completion of the quest.
There were also two dynamic events I experienced while working in his fields. During one, a huge worm erupted from the field that everyone in the area had to help bring down. The second involved a bunch of bandits coming to burn the fields. When they are over, you’re rewarded based on your participation in the event, whatever that may be. This also goes to show that the dynamic events in each location aren’t always the same, so if you stick around you may see quite a variety.
While you can make all the static quests show up on your map, and generally where these are there will be dynamic events involved, you will also come across dynamic events in the craziest corners of the map. Because the bulk of your experience comes from the more “difficult” dynamic events, you’re greatly rewarded for exploration and discovery, and I absolutely love how organic everything feels.
The other thing relating to questing that I really enjoy is the group nature of many quests without the requirement of actually being in a group. When someone helps you kill a mob, they aren’t doing it for nothing, as they get the same experience and loot that you do (and vice versa). The majority of healing spells can heal players nearby, whether in your group or out, so doing something like the giant worm fight I mentioned above, no one has to be in a group to get things accomplished. Spells and abilities you use also have effects on various spells and abilities other players may use, such as the over-hyped flaming arrows that you see in so many promotional devices for Guild Wars 2. It all does really work together quite well.
Another thing I will say is that the production design of the game is amazing. While I only visited two large cities (Divinity’s Reach and Lion’s Arch), whoever designed these awesome set pieces is a genius, and that makes exploration and discovery even more rewarding for players like me, who are eager to see the artwork and design of the various zones.
There are some downsides, however. I should point out a couple things, just to reiterate – this is still very much a beta, and early in beta at that, so things could very well change drastically between now and release; also, I absolutely adore this game from the few hours I got with it, and what I’m about to say doesn’t change that.
Unfortunately, the visual acuity of the title leaves a lot to be desired. It reminds me a lot of, well, the original Guild Wars, in the fidelity that the visuals bring to the table. That was great half a decade ago, but not so much now. There are very rough, blurry and bland textures just about everywhere you look. Also, the animations of the characters doesn’t seem like they’re up to their full potential. Many of the movements your character makes seem over-exaggerated and don’t fit in with the world they’re making them in. Running speed, for example – I swear your character covers about 10 feet for each step they take, and it looks unnatural.
I hold out hope for a high-res texture pack, as a way of improving Guild Wars 2 immensely. However, the world is so alive and organic that it’s hard to not play or like the game simply because the visuals may not be up to the standard of other MMOs in recent months.
I have a lot of hope that Guild Wars 2 will be a great addition to this year’s MMO lineup. It’s also a free-to-play title after the initial game purchase, which may make it more attractive to those who don’t wish to be tied to a monthly fee. (It comes with an “item shop”, but the promise is that anything you can get in the shop, you can get in the game with a little time and effort.) When it’s all said and done, these few hours spent with the title definitely solidified my desire to make it my primary MMO once it’s released to the masses, and I certainly look forward to delving more into it come future beta weekend events.