As the final beta weekend closes, staff writer Gareth Harmer asks if this upcoming MMO is ready for prime time.
Guild Wars 2 has come a long way since we first got our hands on it back in February. Since then we’ve admired the world that the team at ArenaNet has built, and dissected the elements that make this an incredibly strong social MMO. From those initial Beta Weekend Events, we’ve gradually seen the world grow, both in the size available to explore and the depth of stories to be found within.
We’ve also examined how ArenaNet hopes to reinvent the traditional MMO, as well as some of the arguments against these plans. Our analysis wouldn’t be complete without also weighing the potential for Guild Wars 2 as an eSport.
As we close the book on the Guild Wars 2 beta, I’m left with a single question: is this MMO ready for launch? My first reaction would be an emphatic yes – everything, from renown questing to dungeon crawling - works. It’s fun to play, with a strong undercurrent of charm and wonder seeping into every aspect of the game.
But is this enough, or does a radical shift in MMO design require an equally strong change in gamers themselves? Are we ready as a player base, or do we still need convincing? On this, I’d argue the jury’s still out.
Before we get into the upcoming launch, it’s worth taking a closer look at the major new content for this final beta weekend event. After staring forlornly at their greyed out silhouettes during previous betas, this weekend’s event introduced the final two playable races, bringing the total to five.
The Sylvari, Guild Wars 2’s closest thing to elves, are tall, lithe, plant-based humanoids grown inside a giant tree. Rather than being born, they grow to adulthood inside their wooden sanctum, learning language and history from a shared consciousness. Once they reach full maturity, the Sylvari are awakened, marking the start of their adventure in the world.
The Asuran couldn’t be a stronger contrast to the Sylvari. There’s a certain mouse-like quality in their short, grey bodies and large round eyes, right up until their broad smile reveals rows of sharp, pointed teeth. The race is also highly adept at technomancy – the fusion of technology and magic – using it to power everything from the many golem servants to the entire floating city of Rata Sum.
Although the Sylvari have an almost druidic mystery to them, it was the Asuran that eventually won me over. The Norn have intrigued me with their shamanistic spirituality, and the Charr have made me grin with their military applications of gritty industrialism. But it’s the Asuran, from the way their arms windmill when jumping, to their determination to prove their strength through knowledge, which charmed me into playing one.
Character creation is largely the same as before, with backstory choices impacting the path your character’s personal story will take. As a test, I wanted to see how well this held up when leveling alongside a friend – if we’d be able to help each other out, or if we’d be forced to split up periodically. Pleasingly, although our stories diverged at particular points, we were still able to join each other’s story instances and lend a hand. We were also placed in the same Overflow server when the world server was full and, crucially, invited back to the main world server at the same time.