Of the more than a dozen hours I spent playing in the Guild Wars 2 press beta event this past weekend, seven involved actively battling enemies, three and a half were spent exploring, and a half hour was dedicated to creating my four different characters.
The final hour involved trying to throw myself into a gigantic hole in the ground.
In the western district of the mighty human city of Divinity's Reach there lays a giant gaping chasm referred to as the Great Collapse. What looks like an extremely large sinkhole is surrounded by fences and spanned by a simple rope bridge. It's obviously been designed in such a way as to keep players from falling in.
So I decided to fall in. I made it my own personal quest. I hopped across rooftops, only to be met by invisible walls that robbed me of my prize. I climbed towering scaffolds, leaping gracefully to my death in a vain attempt to thwart the designers' safety measures.
Regaling the press guild's chat channel with my tales of daring don't, I was soon joined by Jon Peters, Guild Wars 2 combat designer. Together we bravely attempted to throw ourselves into the chasm, he using his engineer's explosive jumping backpack to try and propel himself past the barrier, me using my thief's combat leap.
After another half hour of futile attempts we called it quits.
"Looks like the map designers have this all sealed up," said Peters.
"No map designers are that good!" I replied, hoping to rally his spirits for another go.
"Ours are pretty damn good."
Panning my camera about the gaping chasm, its sides peppered with scaffolding, surrounded by ramshackle buildings that give way to majestic towers in the distance, I'm inclined to agree. Without a quest to guide me and without drawing a single weapon, one relatively small piece of Guild Wars 2 claimed an hour of my life. That wouldn't have happened if not for the first thing I learned during my time in the Guild Wars 2 press beta this weekend.
I don't regard the original Guild Wars as a true massively multiplayer online role-playing game. Connecting instanced adventuring areas together via persistent staging areas seems more like a standard online game with graphical meeting areas replacing text-based multiplayer lobbies. It's a great game, no doubt; it just didn't fit the formula.
Guild Wars 2 does. It's a large, persistent world with hundreds of characters running about all at once, killing things, fulfilling quest objects, and discovering what's happened to Tyria in the 250 years since the original game.
It's that open world structure from which great MMO stories are born. It's about being slaughtered by enemies only to have a stranger show up in the nick of time to save your bacon. It's about seeing a group of players fighting in the distance and wandering over to see what's going down. It's about doing something ridiculous, telling other people about it, and having them come join you.
It's about trying to toss your carefully crafted character into a chasm.
Guild Wars' instanced structure and limited player race selection made for some seriously gorgeous characters. Guild Wars 2 follows suit, managing to pack in a plethora of options for personalizing your in-game representation without sacrificing the beauty established in the first game. It's incredibly hard to make an unattractive human or Norn character in Guild Wars 2. As you can see I went with the feline Charr as my first choice, but I'd like to think she's the prettiest a female cat creature can get. I asked my cat. He licked himself.
My only issue is that amongst all of the options available for modifying body size, hair style and color, and mouth width there's no option to change the color of your character's eyes. I know it says I have blue eyes, but I wanted grey eyes.
Combat in Guild Wars 2 retains the same simple elegance as the original game, a welcome in a genre that tends to lean towards complicated mechanics involving multiple rows of confusing icons. Here your weapons determine the first five abilities in your single toolbar and skills and traits determine the final five. There's no need to rearrange your toolbar every time you switch weapon sets; those pre-defined skills populate automatically, leaving the player free to ponder which tools to use rather than how to use them.
They also free the player to look like a complete and utter bad-ass even if they've absolutely no idea what they are doing (hi!). The skills and abilities are designed to work together well, launching the player into complicated spells or astounding feats of agility at the press of a button. Sure, you might waste a great deal of initiative on your thief by spanning your area-effect spin on a single creature, but when it looks this good I doubt anyone
noticed me would notice.
Which leads me to...
Hitting the objective-based PVP battlegrounds (more on those later) in the Guild Wars 2 beta involved temporarily dynamically scaling your character from whatever level you might have been up to level 80. In any other MMO, taking a character from level seven to level 80 results in a highly confused player. Instead of three or four skills they suddenly have dozens to deal with, and it takes them a long time to develop the same skills as a player that's leveled on their own.
But again, Guild Wars 2 characters only have ten skills and abilities to juggle, so being level 80 doesn't make too much of a difference. Jon Peters told me the general idea was to make everyone able to hop into a PVP match and feel like they were making a difference regardless of their level of experience.
Now I've been all around these great big MMOs and I've seen all kinds of cities, but I just can't wait to get back to Tyria's city-states, back to the sweetest cities in any virtual world. You know, I wish they all could be Guild Wars 2 cities.
Why? Because they are massive, sprawling, and filled with detail. Because they feel like actual cities, and not just hubs for player meet-ups or commerce. They are places to explore, filled with opportunities to climb onto rooftops, slip between buildings, or, in some cases, fall to your death. They're an adventure unto themselves.
Oh of course there'll still be clicking, don't worry. It's just that there's so much more out there than simply finding the person with the quest indicator over their head.
As you explore the world of Tyria on your quest to unravel your character's personal story you'll constantly be stumbling across world events, special situations that might be worth your while getting involved in. Maybe there's a scrapyard that needs a little cleaning up. Perhaps a band of harpies is attacking an outpost and they need help breaking the creatures' moral. There's no one to click on, and you aren't obligated to participate; they're just adventures waiting for an adventurer.
Completing these events earns you coin, experience points, and special currency used to purchase unique items from special vendors, but more importantly they grant the feeling that Guild Wars 2's Tyria is a world that isn't sitting around waiting for you to kill a couple of creatures. It's a living thing, and you can be a part of that life if you so choose.
Here we are in the lovely Ascalon Catacombs, enjoying a mission that combines characters and settings from the two currently published Guild Wars 2 novels, Ghosts of Ascalon and Edge of Destiny. Our task is to defeat four of the mad ghost King Adelbern's champions and then take out the man himself. As you can see from the video, we're having a bad time of it.
That doesn't mean we weren't having fun.
Despite dying so many times that armor degradation left me completely naked, my introductory Guild Wars 2 dungeon run was an entertaining romp through the catacombs beneath what's left of one of Tyria's greatest cities. The story is rich and compelling, key characters from the game's fiction accompany us on our quest (and die by our side), and well-placed waypoints mean running back into the fray from death isn't a big deal. Unless of course you like armor.
We wound up finally defeating the pair of baddies in the video. I like to think we buried them under a pile of our corpses. The same tactic didn't work so well on the bad king himself, but we had a blast trying.
Guild Wars 2's World versus World player-versus-player system is bound to draw the attention of players that never joined a PVP queue in their lives. Every two weeks three game servers are linked together in mortal combat, fighting for control of resources and control points in a battle that means big rewards for both the victors and their respective server.
Taking place on one giant map split up into four sub-sections, one for each of the three teams and a neutral zone called the Eternal Battlegrounds, World versus World involves hundreds of players at a time swarming from point to point, vying for control. Players new to PVP combat will revel in the safety-in-numbers aspect of the game mode, while seasoned battlers can seize the opportunity to coordinate and command their newbie forces to victory.
Dominate the maps and you'll not only win personal rewards, but boons for everyone on your particular server, such as increased experience gain or faster health regen. You could be personally responsible for leveling up an entire server.
Or you could just hide in the back and enjoy the show. Your choice.
Yes, this is something I learned while playing Guild Wars 2. I also learned that Amazon.com has spear guns, which are close enough.
As much as I would love to be able to plunge right back into the world of Tyria, ArenaNet still has plenty of work ahead of them before Guild Wars 2 is ready for launch.
Specifically they need to iron out the game's performance issues. I played on my powerful desktop PC and a capable gaming laptop, both of which struggled with the game on anything other than the lowest graphics settings. Cranking up the quality resulted in horrid frame rates, and massive world versus world battles between dozens of characters caused both systems to slow to a crawl. ArenaNet just needs to fine tune the game's engine, finding the right balance between beauty and playability.
Once they get that taken care of and iron out the sort of tiny bugs and glitches that plague any MMO beta, they'll be on the path to releasing what could be one of the greatest massively multiplayer online role-playing games the genre's ever seen. It's got the looks, it's got the mechanics, and most importantly, it's got the giant gaping hole in the ground I've learned to love.