Editor-in-Chief Chris Tom sets down his thoughts on the Guild Wars 2 press beta, where he tries to look at where hype meets reality and if GW2 is really the MMORPG revolution it wants to be.
Ever since ArenaNet took to their blogs to discuss, at length, how they were going to challenge MMORPG stereotypes, Guild Wars 2 (GW2) has walked the path of an exponential hype machine, doubling and tripling its expected potential each time a new post appeared. Heck, even as a cynical MMO gamer who's heard the term "revolutionary" so many times that I just want to buy everyone a thesaurus, I'll admit that, deep in my heart, a cautious optimism was feeding on the alluring rhetoric of those developer posts. Ultimately, I went into the Guild Wars 2 press beta with the mind of a skeptic: I wanted to believe, but I really didn't know if ArenaNet could deliver on all those promises.
With so much Guild Wars 2 talk floating around the past two days, including a solid write-up from our new staff writer Gareth "Gazimoff" Harmer and Mike B.'s exceptional 20-minute preview video, I've decided that, for this preview, I'll focus more on my key experiences in Guild Wars 2 rather than a broad rundown of the game's features. Tomorrow we'll discuss, in depth, some of the core game mechanics of Guild Wars 2, so be sure to tune in then!
Getting Started With Your Personal Story
It's been said before, but I'd like to reiterate that Guild Wars 2 has the best character creation tools I've seen in quite some time. The variations and customization options were well balanced in offering the right amount of choice without forcing you to spend six hours tweaking sliders. Beyond the physical customization, however, I'll admit that I was a little confused with the personal story questions that followed character creation.
While these personal story answers will affect your character in some way or another, they stuck out as being rather underwhelming when placed alongside GW2's other robust personalization tools. For example, every Norn I created was faced with choosing from one of three shameful events happening in their past, with the choices being, "blacking out at a party," "losing a fight to a rival," and "losing a family heirloom." While this does offer a little more story differentiation when creating alternate characters of the same race, I wonder if ArenaNet was deliberately trying to make these questions innocuous, to prevent players from researching the best possible answer. Regardless, any human character I create on launch will always choose "I regret not joining the circus" as his or her personal story.
A Wide World of NPCs
The personal world of Guild Wars 2 is just not as immersive as I'd liked it to be and while the environment, the graphics and the character designs are truly gorgeous, every time I entered a cinematic conversation with an NPC, the lack of situational context (as each conversation takes place with characters standing against a painted backdrop) really affected my ability to get involved. Furthermore, whoever wrote the script for these NPC conversations clearly took a little too much care in keeping players on task, because everyone seems dead set on dumping as much exposition as possible at every corner.
Where Guild Wars 2 really shines, however, is in its side quests and implementation of dynamic events. I'm not entirely sure if dynamic events are spawned as a result of player actions or if they just occur randomly, but when they happen at just the right time, and with the right number of players nearby, they can be a lot of fun. In one dynamic event, for example, I stumbled upon some miners who were under attack. I quickly joined the five or six nearby players in defending the miners, and the challenge was just perfect, with some teammates being taken out, only to have others jumping to their defense to revive them. In more populated settings, however, when dynamic events would spawn, the whole thing could easily turn into a mosh pit of chaos, with players just trying to throw out as much damage as possible for event credit.
All side-quests are automatically given to you upon entering a certain zone, which is something you might not expect to be a big deal (and maybe it isn't), but it really helps the flow of the game. Rather than feeling like a glorified messenger, delivering messages from one quest giver to another, this little system tweak allowed me to feel more like wandering gun for hire, taking down my targets and then simply collecting the rewards thereafter. The side quests themselves are fairly standard fare, with players killing bandits or gathering supplies, but they are unique in that there are multiple ways to complete each one. One of the earliest side quests you can complete says that you can water the corn, feed the cows, or stomp out the tunnel worms to complete your task. I wonder if it would be possible to level up entirely through pacifistic means.