This past weekend I was lucky enough (read: pre-purchased) to be a part of the Guild Wars 2 Beta. Guild Wars 2, if you do not know, is one of the most highly anticipated upcoming games in the MMO genre. So how is it? Not bad at all.
After a long and exhausting weekend (still have the sunburn to prove it), I was able to log in and play for a few hours this past Sunday. I started out by rolling something I probably would never really play just because I knew the characters are going to be wiped and I wouldn’t feel like I lost much progress. I created a Norn Mesmer, a master of psychic manipulation and mental dominance, and a REALLY big guy, too.
The first thing I did once I got in game? Crank the settings WAY down to their bare minimum. Now, I don’t have the biggest and best machine. In fact, it’s probably getting time to replace a part or two, especially the 8 year old processor, and this game is a big indicator of how soon I should do it. Most other MMOs I have no problems with… LotRO and STO, for example, I can play on almost full settings. This? Yeah, not so much. However, if this is what it looks like on the lowest end, I’m really impressed. On high end machines, this game is going to be gorgeous.
So how is the gameplay? I’m going to try to avoid things that normally happen during betas. For instance, they don’t normally turn all their servers on and run them at full speed. Afterall, this was not a stress test. However that simply can’t be done. The lag was the biggest issue, and whether the lag was server side or client side, I really couldn’t tell. Get in a group of more than five other players and the number of frames per second bottomed out. So how many big events have only 5 players? None. They all have around 50 players all at once. I ended up having to find a decent range weapon just to be able to participate in larger battles (which for a Mesmer ended up being a two handed sword. Interesting choice, but there ya’ go).
When I was able to solo a bit or land in small groups gameplay was terrific. The game flowed very smoothly, from one area to the next. I would approach a “heart” and start completing tasks nearby to fill it up, once full a reward of experience and favor is received, which can then be traded for upgrades and other items. Filling up these hearts, which are pretty much everywhere, is a fun endeavor but its roots are still firmly felt in the quest hubs of other MMOs. Instead of picking up a quest to collect 10 snozzberries, instead you just start collecting them and then dump them off at an NPC. Instead of getting a quest to kill 12 mushbuggers, you just start killing and the heart starts filling up automatically. So, I wouldn’t say the “quest” is dead in Guild Wars 2, but I would say its a new approach to it.
Periodically you’d also get a notice that a new event is happening nearby. Awesome! Now, I haven’t played Warhammer so I can’t tell you how it’s similar/different there, but I have played Rift and can give a decent comparison to it’s public rifts. In Rift, it always felt like the rifts were getting in the way. You’d head to a quest hub, pick up a few quests, complete them, start heading back, and a rift has taken up residence right on top of the quest hub. Rats. Ah well, you have to clear out the rift to turn the quests in. Or you’d be travelling down the road, and a group escaping from a rift crosses your path, stomps all over you, and keeps on running to whatever destination they’re heading for. In other words, in Rift the rifts just got in the way. I couldn’t keep playing as I found myself time and again becoming frustrated with the things that were the star-title of the MMO! In Guild Wars 2, however, there are no static quests per se. There is an overall storyline, but there is no quest to really get in the way of. So when a public event is going on, theres nothing against just dropping everything that you’re doing and heading on over. Those hearts can be filled later, and are purely optional to proceed in the first place.
However, heading over isn’t necessarily the best option. Some public events reach quickly a sort of ‘critical mass’. Any more than 5 or 10 players, and not only does lag then become and issue, but the amount of fighting you’re actually doing becomes chaotic and frenzied. One of the true highlights I encountered during my play session was in a small out of the way part of the Norn starting area. I came across a Norn bragging about how he could have the inhabitants of a cave worship him, then asked you to escort him as he went ahead and did it. First, you clear out the cave a bit, then once that part of the chain was done, you had to find enough ice for the Norn to use to carve a huge statue of himself, and finally once that part of the chain was complete you had to watch his back while he carved it. Once done, the statue did as he predicted and amazed the cave inhabitants, turning them all peaceful. I’m sure after a period of time, the statue of ice melts, the creatures become hostile once more, and the cycle starts over. THIS is the beauty of Guild Wars 2. If I hadn’t been in that place at the right time, I would never have seen the event. It was all done in passing, and since I had no pressing “quests”, felt no qualms about joining in.
Something I noticed that drew a lot of attention from players was the leveling down mechanic. If you leveled to say, level 8, which wasn’t a hard thing to do with enough events around and you stayed in the Norn starting area then the highest effective level you could be was level 4. You stayed level 8, but were effectively leveled down to the content. A lot of players complained about this as they were hoping to be stronger, come back, and face-roll the early content. I can see that… have it make the early stuff much easier to accomplish with a stronger character. These people must not have played Guild Wars before. Guild Wars is one of the most difficult MMOs I have ever played. Their Halloween event I found to be the most difficult and challenging set of quests I’ve ever experienced. So why should ArenaNet turn around and trivialize some of their content? Right from the beginning, all content becomes a challenge to be overcome. If you’re at max level and come back to the starting area, you might still find it a challenge. Personally, I LOVE this feature. It basically says ‘Hey, we’re not going to let some higher level just walk around and trivialize your battles and we’re not going to necessarily make it easy for you, too. If you want the reward, you have to earn it.’ Yes! Finally! A game that has the stones to Not reward childish behavior, that makes All content a challenge. If you want to be successful at Guild Wars 2, then you better learn how to play it and play it well.
Overall, I can’t wait for the next beta event. Though the game is not perfect, it IS still just in beta and a lot of tech problems most likely will be solved by the time the game releases. The gameplay fits right into my style… solo if you want, but grouping is easy as cake. No pressure to join up if you don’t want to. Just play. Will the game be a hit? Most definitely. Will it be able to topple the biggest MMOs out there? Thats still on the fence. It’ll take a chunk out of their playerbases, but people really enjoy paying a subscription. I think ArenaNet, though, doesn’t realize how big of a hit it has on its hands and better start priming the servers for more and more people.
This game is going to be huge.