In Part I of our hands-on with GW2, Staff Writer Gareth "Gazimoff" Harmer dove into the Guild Wars 2 press beta to bring you his initial impressions with ArenaNet's ambitious game.
As part of our Guild Wars 2 coverage week, we'll be leading off with some initial impressions from ZAM Staff Writer Gareth "Gazimoff" Harmer and Editor-in-Chief Chris "Pwyff" Tom. Following that, we'll lead into more in-depth pieces on the game mechanics of GW2, as well as instanced PvP, World vs. World PvP, and GW2's first dungeon: The Ascalon Catacombs!
When Chris asked me if I'd write about the Guild Wars 2 press event I was dumb struck. I'd never played the original Guild Wars and only managed to snatch some limited time with the game back at the Eurogamer Expo, and here he was offering me the MMO equivalent of the Golden Ticket.
I thought it was all a cruel joke to get my hopes up before dashing them on the ground.
Luckily for me it wasn't, otherwise I'd be unable to write about possibly the most intense weekend of MMO gaming I've ever experienced. We've been working round the clock to bring you everything we've unearthed about the weekend beta, and here's a quick taste of what we'll have for you over the next week.
Kicking off are our first impressions - what we think of the beta and the state of the game. I'll be following this up with a detailed look at the Mechanics that make up the gameplay of Guild Wars 2 and a quick review of GW2's crafting system. Chris will be throwing out his first thoughts as well, along with his opinion of instanced PvP, World vs. World PvP, and his experiences in GW2's first dungeon: The Ascalon Catacombs
First impressions are always a difficult thing to write, especially for a game the size of Guild Wars 2. Where do I start? Do I describe the facets of character creation or the radical approach to quest design? How about the Professions and Combat? What about the world of Tyria and what can be found there?
I'll start here: Guild Wars 2 is possibly the most significant MMO development of recent years. Every single aspect of the traditional approach to MMOs has been redeveloped, refined or removed, in order to create a game that is truly a unique and fresh experience unlike anything I've played before.
Creating a character in Guild Wars 2 is much more than just picking a role, a race and a name. When creating my Norn Elementalist I chose his appearance and the colors of the armor he wears. I chose how he sees the world and what his background is, which element he is closest to and which spirit animal he follows. He has a story and identity - a thread that would gradually weave its way through the game.
An inescapable part of MMOs is the questing. Good questing helps to bring the story to life and reveal more about the world, while bad questing is clicked through in seconds. Guild Wars 2 changes the concept further by using Tasks and Events. Tasks might be picked up as part of the story, but they can also be given by NPCs. By contrast, Events can spawn dynamically at any time.
One renown task in the snow-covered Norn mountains had my Elementalist playing child-minder to a group of kids. There were some angry bees nearby that I could kill to make the village safer, but I also had the option of playing with the kids in a snowball fight. While either would earn me the renown of the village, I could do as much of both as I wanted.
One of the children later ran off, only to be chased back by an army of angry bears determined to hold a party in the village. This created a new Event, where anyone nearby could lend a hand and deal with the bears before the villagers were all eaten.
Tyria is filled with these dynamic Events, each of them relevant to the surroundings and many involving nearby NPCs. From the smithy who wants to make a trophy from a brood mother ice drake, to the hunter heading off to investigate the grawl cave, there's a strong impression of a living, changing world. Those changes also extend into the time of day. Once darkness falls different creatures can spawn and different events may occur, particularly around graveyards. There are also items that have different effects at night, such as a weapon set with a ghostly glow.
The world of Tyria itself is a massive landscape, containing cities and starting areas for each race as well as ample levelling areas. Each city is packed with incredible detail, from the streets and alleyways of Divinity's Reach to the grimy factories of the Black Citadel. Even the World versus World battlefield is monstrous, comprising four zone-sized maps with each one aiming to support 500 players.
My continual gripe about playing spell casters in MMOs is managing mana, so you could imagine my joy when I discovered that all resource types - mana, rage, energy - are gone! My immediate response was to start spamming abilities but there's no point - one of my spells was on a repeating loop anyway and the rest only help if you're clever with when and how you use them. Raw damage has a role to play, but controlling the fight and knowing what abilities to use for each fight are just as important.
This is where weapon choices come into play, as these control the main way in which you'll deal damage. Play an Elementalist with Fire attunement active using twin daggers and there's a range of short-range fire spreads and cone attacks available. Switch to a staff and long range fireballs and ranged AoE attacks are available instead. There are also Boons (buffs) and Conditions (debuffs) to consider, with some Professions specializing in managing these instead of direct damage.
The final touch to combat that surprised me was the introduction of a "downed" state. Instead of instantly dying as soon as your health orb is empty you can Fight To Survive! You're lying on your back, clutching your side as you try to make one final stand. Will you defeat your foe, pull yourself away or try to bandage yourself? Will your friends help revive you? It's this kind of last stand stuff that made me feel like I was playing a hero even when he was on the deck.
Wrapping up my first impressions, I'm reminded of how my three days in Guild Wars 2 was shaped by people working together. There're the World versus World objectives to improve our realm score and unlock bonuses to all characters. There're completing events, dungeons and PvP with the guild, in order to earn Guild Influence and buy the guild a bank. There're people just forming up to complete nearby group events and recapture contested areas.
It's almost mirrored by the way Guild Wars 2 has been built from the ground up, as a single cohesive creation instead of a random basket of disjointed ideas. Everything, from the cities to the world, from the creatures to the stories, makes sense. The user interface is tight, intuitive and uniformly designed with the same rough-brushstroke art style running throughout. The map forms the basis for the waypoint travel system and even has a breadcrumb trail to show when you're walking in circles.
There is work still to be done: we've only seen three of the five races and not progressed beyond level 30 content. Dungeons are still being finished and polished. Optimization needs to be completed and professions still need to be balanced. But the solid foundation built by the team in Washington has clearly shown that the core of Guild Wars 2 is ready.
ArenaNet has taken every known convention in the MMO rulebook and either improved upon it or thrown it away. In doing so it's built a game that's innovative, flowing and fun to play in all its forms. With a release planned for some time later this year only one question remains: will you be heading to Tyria too?