Guild Wars 2 In-Depth Impressions – Believe the Hype

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After hearing nothing but good things about this game, and seeing tons of gameplay videos and interviews with the developers, I knew I had good reason to be excited. None of this, however, can truly capture what makes Guild Wars 2 so special. Whether it be the enchanting visuals on display, the enthralling score by the legendary Jeremy Soule, the engaging atmosphere ArenaNet has created, or the tight and responsive fast-paced gameplay; Guild Wars 2 is the revolution of MMO gaming.

[quote-left]Guild Wars 2 is the revolution of MMO gaming[/quote-left]This first beta event (BE1) ran from Friday, April 27th at 12:00PM PDT until Sunday, April 29th at 12:00AM. During this time I got to explore the three starting areas on display, try out most of the classes, and engage with a massive group of people in the land of Tyria. Now it’s time for my in-depth recap and analysis of Guild Wars 2 BE1.

Stability, Bugs, and Other Performance Topics
This was not just a gameplay demo, or a chance for pre-purchasers to play the game early. First and foremost – this was a beta. With that being said, as far as betas go in general, this one went fairly well. During my time with the game, I did not come across any broken quests, or anything very big in the department of bugs at all. There were some collision issues with the environment, and some dialogue strings seemed to be designed with more conversation in mind, but overall, this was a surprisingly polished package even in its first open beta event.

The stability of the server, however, was something else entirely. Since it was a beta, of course there are going to be some issues, and all of that is perfectly fine and to be expected. However, it did seem that there were quite a few instances of server issues. Whether it be inability to login for hours, transferring worlds taking far longer than expected, or being randomly disconnected a few times; there were definitely some problems.

Once again though, this was just a beta. ArenaNet should have enough time to assess the issues from their side, and get all of that stuff straightened out before release.

Graphically, however, the game is beautiful. Unless I was in massive PvP battles, I was able to run the game at full settings, and even record/stream gameplay with little hiccups or slowdowns at all. The character models, especially, are quite nice to look at it. Let it be known: all images and videos were taken during my time with the game this weekend.

Revolutionizing MMO Game Design
This is what separates Guild Wars 2 from the pack in terms of what it offers. Sure: there are technically “quests” in this game, there is technically a “hotkey bar” in the User Interface that lets you activate your skills, and yes, there are races and professions you choose to create your character. While all of these things exist in Guild Wars 2, they are nothing like what you are used to.

Quests are not started and completed by seeking out NPCs with floating exclamation marks or question marks over their heads. Instead, if you talk to the Guide in a new zone, they will map out the region for you, explaining areas of interest, and giving you a bit of direction, if you want it. After this, you are free to adventure and explore on your own. Most of the quests are generated dynamically in the game world. I’ll explain this further.

[quote-right]Instead of forcing you to seek out experiences like a chore, the game generates experiences around you[/quote-right]Let’s say you are in a new region, and you need to gain their support. Instead of talking to each individual farmer and watering crops, you could be travelling and see someone in need of help. Instead of ambiguously assisting them in a way where you never really saw any true danger, everyone in the area gets notified: there is a bandit invasion.

Then, anyone in that area can jump in and participate. Instead of fetch quests or “kill x bandits for me, kind hero” quests, you do something real and tangible. Maybe the bandits are stealing certain supplies? Maybe they are just raiding? Whatever the case, these events happen dynamically in the game world. It changes the way you approach the game; instead of forcing you to seek out experiences like a chore, the game generates experiences around you.

The hotkey bar is another piece of game design ArenaNet has decided to totally revamp. If you have ever played an MMO before, you understand that the hotkey bar is fundamental to playing the game. All of your skills and abilities are mapped in an easily accessible way: you can press the corresponding key on the keyboard, or click it to activate it. This is still true in Guild Wars 2, but just about everything else is changed.

As you can see in the image above, the hotbar area is split into multiple regions. In this image, I am playing as a Human Elementalist. The side of the bar to the left of my health orb are my weapon skills. If you are dual-wielding items, the first three are the skills associated with your main-hand weapon, while the last two are for you off-hand weapon. If you are using a two-handed weapon then all five are assigned. The first time you equip that type of weapon, only the first skill is available. The more you use it, the more skills you unlock!

The area to the right functions a bit differently. These skills are unlocked by spending “Skill Points” that you unlocked either by leveling up, or completing skill challenge events in the game. The first spot is for your heal skill, of which there are multiple that you can unlock, but you start the game with one unlocked already.

[quote-left]Gameplay elements will be familiar to MMO veterans, but even more fresh and unique[/quote-left]The next three are “utility” skills. They can be changed out when not in combat by picking from a large pool of unlockables and spending your skill points. The last slot is for your “Elite Skill” of which there are only a few to pick from, and require a high level to even access. An example: the elementalist can take a skill that lets him/her transform into a massive tornado wreaking havoc. These skills are extremely powerful. Gameplay elements will be familiar to MMO veterans, but even more fresh and unique.

Finally, the game changes the way you will view classes, or “professions” as they are called in Guild Wars 2. Everyone that plays MMORPGs, or just RPGs of any type, are familiar with the primary character roles. You should have your Tank (someone that can take damage and keep enemies focused on them,) your DPS (damage-per-second, someone that can dish out lots of damage quickly,) and your healer (the member that makes sure the tank, as well as the rest of the party, don’t die.) Well, ArenaNet decided this framework was dated and scrapped it entirely.

There are 8 total professions: Warrior, Guardian, Ranger, Thief, Elementalist, Mesmer, Necromancer, and Engineer. Each class has its own healing abilities, and depending on what role you want to play, they all are capable of performing various tasks. As an Elementalist, you have access to mutliple spells for all four elements: fire, water, air, and earth. Do you want to focus on big areas of damage-over-time to groups of enemies? Then fire is probably a good route. What about slowing down enemies, imbuing status effects, and supporting allies? Water sounds perfect for you.

In regards to the examples I discussed above and earlier about how skills function, keep in mind: this was all in reference to one class. Each class has its own differences that make it unique. The Warrior builds up adrenaline that allows the use of additional skills, Rangers get pets from the very beginning, Mesmers can create and manipulate illusions, Necromancers summon pets and other creatures, the list goes on and on. Every profession plays differently – you should try them all before placing judgement!

[quote-right]The game allows you to make the character you want, and play the game anyway that you want[/quote-right]Every class has the ability to perform different roles, and it all just depends on your playstyle. Now, instead of waiting an hour for a good tank to come along before you go adventure, you could set out with a group of 4 elementalists and be able to sustain yourselves. Each class performs effectively alone, but can easily be incorporated with any combination of other classes and perform its best in a group. The game allows you to make the character you want, and play the game anyway that you want.

What About PvP?
While there is plenty of content on the PvE side of things in this game, players could theoretically spend all of their time in PvP if they so desired. The game is divided into two unique “modes” of PvP content, if you will: The Eternal Battlegrounds, which are where the gigantic World v. World v. World battles take place across huge maps, and the more traditional structured PvP.

[quote-left]Expect to spend plenty of time in PvP without ever running out of unique things to experience[/quote-left]First, the massive World PvP. In this mode, your level is “scaled” up to max level (80) but you keep the same skills, items, etc. This means you will be able to play like you do in PvE, but be more effective. These maps pit three different groups of players (each from different servers) against one another. You are tasked with capturing and keeping strongholds, completing objectives, and so on. These battles can involve hundreds of players on screen at once (the other teams have names removed,) and are extremely intense. You haven’t experienced anything like this before in modern MMOs, but it is definitely remniscent of Dark Age of Camelot, and other PvP focused MMOs from years past. You can even get loot from players, as well as gain a decent amount of XP.

Secondly, is the structured PvP mode. This mode lets you retain your profession and race, but you are upgraded to max level and unlock all of the skills so you can create the exact build you want. This mode is much more competitive since everyone is on an equal playing field, with much more specific objectives: like capturing and holding strong-points to garner a higher score.

Overall, if PvP is what you’re after, then this game definitely has enough to occupy you. Combined with the hefty dose of PvE content, expect to spend plenty of time in this game without ever running out of unique things to experience.

Fast-Paced Action Combat – Nothing Else Compares
Do you remember that feeling you got the first time you played Super Mario 64? Yeah, the 2D Mario games were great, and they still are in their own right, but there was just something fresh, yet familiar, about that revolution. It took concepts you were familiar with, and expanded on them in ways you didn’t realize they were lacking. While Guild Wars 2 isn’t as huge a leap forward as Super Mario World – Super Mario 64, it has a similar feeling.

[quote-right]The battlefield is constantly evolving based on the dynamic situations around you in Guild Wars 2 – nothing else even compares[/quote-right]Traditional MMOs have you engaging in battles in a very simple turn-based manner: you target your enemy, you press skills, and you wait. Your enemy does the same, and you duke out a game of juggling cooldowns until someone dies. Guild Wars 2 features some elements similar to this, but turns that idea on its head. Instead of just targeting stuff, you have to also hit it. If I shoot a spell, an enemy can dodge roll outside of its radius, or hide behind a wall as the projectile is in the air. My sword swings have an arc that actually hits enemies around me – these aren’t dated mechanics, this is the revolution of MMO combat.

These upgrades carry over into PvP as well. Maybe you are tasked with defending a castle from the attacking faction, so you could station Guardians near the entrance erecting spirit walls to prevent the other teams advancements. With the bottle-neck passage, you could have your elementalist rain down death on top of the group of enemies. But maybe they have a support Guardian as well, and he erects a barrier to protect them. The battlefield is constantly evolving based on the dynamic situations around you. Not one second is the same as another second – Guild Wars 2 has that excitement, nothing else even compares.

Beta-Ending Event!
Instead of just sending out a server announcement that it would be closing down in X minutes, ArenaNet arranged an epic conclusion to BE1. Everyone on each server gathered in the same town, and when there was just an hour left, they opened the gates to the northern-most area of the zone that was originally off-limits. The entire group of players charged up the snowy mountain (as can be seen in one of my pictures near the top of this article) and proceeded to massacre every NPC enemy for miles. Once we reached the end of our travels, there were various giant Chocobo-like birds, evil rats, and much more for us to attempt to defeat. Most of the time, however, these enemies proved too powerful. It was an exciting and exhilarating conclusion to the weekend!

[quote-left]This game is a testament to the MMO genre, and should be viewed as ArenaNet’s lovenote to all fans[/quote-left]There was even a wee rabbit! This was undoubtedly a reference to the classic Monty Python film, and was much appreciated by everyone. Overall, this beta solidified the fact, for me, that this is the game I have always wanted to play. It encourages teamwork, creates content as you play, and rewards exploration and sportsmanship. This game is a testament to the MMO genre, and should be viewed as ArenaNet’s lovenote to all fans. If you have an interest in MMOs, RPGs, or multiplayer games in general – you owe it to yourself to keep an eye on this one. Get on the train early, because the Gaming Revolution Express will be leaving the station at high-speed!

Guild Wars 2 will be available for PC sometime this year, no specific release date has been announced. After purchasing the game there are no subscription fees. Once you own it, you can play it as much as you want, whenever you want. Keep an eye on The Koalition and Turn Based for any details about the game in the coming months!

Below you will find a gallery of additional screenshots from my experiences this weekend, as well as a gameplay compilation above that I made! Enjoy!

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