Posted by: markfender | July 24, 2012

Guild Wars 2 Beta

I scrapped up a beta key for the last Guild Wars 2 beta weekend and I’ve got some impressions.

I was a fan of Guild Wars 1. No monthly fee, maximum level 20, and two classes made it stand out from the normal MMO games of the time. It was focused much more on collecting skills and combining those skills into a useful build. It was all the fun of deckbuilding in a CCG with the enjoyment of an action RPG. Guild Wars 2, however, is seemingly going more MMO-like. With five races, 80 levels, and less freedom in coming up with a build, it seems to be cutting the difference between the radical change of GW1 and a standard MMO.

So, over the weekend I played two characters, a human Necromancer and a Norn Mesmer to about level 12. This meant unlocking all the weapon skills and just starting to accumulate trait points. So, you could hazard that I’d not seen much of the game at that point and I’d probably agree. However, I think it gave me a good feel for the game and where it’s gonna be come launch.

My overall impression is that Guild Wars 2 is not a traditional MMO, but with the look and feel of an MMO. That’s somewhat confusing, even in game. For instance, there are no quests (other than personal story quests). Instead, you wander into an area and various events pop up. You can ignore them, or run off and start accomplishing them with everyone else. Complete an event and you’ll get a new merchant that sells Karma items (I never really did figure out what these are good for. They were mostly consumables. I wasn’t quite getting it.) as well as XP and all that stuff. Some of those events lead into other events which then start in the area and some of them expand into boss battles and other epic sorta stuff. They were slightly frustrating, however. With no quest record, it was annoying my overly-focused need to complete everything…except that if you left the immediate area, the event would disappear from your bar. Also annoying, if you hovered over the event text, the minimap would highlight the event giver and not where the actual event was. Talking to them was sometimes less than helpful (“Go kill dudes in the mine.” “Okay, where is that?”). Some more guidance from Arenanet would be good here.

Additionally, I found that in both areas I was dramatically underlevelled. I was at around 80-90% completion in both areas and yet was still three-four levels under where the game was pointing me towards. And the game wasn’t great at telling you where you should be at your level. For instance, in the Norn area I walked into a town with a lvl 10 event – clear the road from here to the next town. I’m level 8 at the time, but no big deal – I clear the road to the next town. Problem is, the next town was a level 13 event (that spawned level 16 badguys), which immediately owned my level 8 ass. So, with explicit instructions to go to the next town, the game dramatically outpaced me. Was I supposed to gain 3 levels on the way? Now, maybe the game wanted me to craft or go do some World vs. World to make up that XP difference, but it wasn’t bothering to tell me that. Some more helpful pointers towards other sources of XP would be useful. I had a similar problem in the human area where I’d explored the entirety of the 1-15 map, but was still level 12 and couldn’t quite cut the 16-25 zone next door.

That being said, the events are cool. You think it’s an MMO because there are things that you are supposed to go do, but the game honestly doesn’t care what you go do. It’s just happy that you’re doing something. So, there’s an odd level of freedom there that you just don’t find in an MMO. Something else that’s odd is that everyone gets their own experience and loot drops. I wandered into a skill challenge where a big group was already downing the boss. I got one shot in before he died, but I still got credit and loot. It’s odd that it took MMOs this long to figure this out, but it works quite well. If I and another person were performing a “Kill 6 specific dudes” quest in a normal MMO, we’d be competing against each other for kills and drops. But here, the more the merrier. I found it more fun to tag along with someone in this game than in most other games without being in a group together, just because having someone else around was handy. It brought out the friendliness in people a lot more than I’ve seen in other games. The only reason I have to join in a fight in another MMO is out of basic human decency when I see the other player’s health dropping. But with Guild Wars, altruism is rewarded to both parties at all times. So why not be a decent human all the time? (That being said: in the mega event I participated in I spent most of my time rezzing people (as the bad guy was pretty ridiculous). When we finally dropped him I got a “Bronze” for completion, even though I’d been there the entire time and not died once. The next time that event triggered, I ignored my fallen companions and concentrated on damage. One “Gold” later, I’m thinking Arenanet should maybe provide some incentive for Reviving folks.)

Of course, the other half of that coin is that Guild Wars 2 has abolished the holy trinity. Everyone gets a heal, everyone can revive, and everyone gets support. The weapons you choose determine how you’re focused, but everyone is equally capable at every role. This makes it easier and funner to group with whoever. Combine this with the fact that higher-level people visiting a lower level zone get their level adjusted to the zone’s level and I foresee a lot more happier grouping in this game.

I spent most of my time just unlocking the weapon skills. This is another area where Guild Wars 2 differs from its MMO brethren. Basically, you get five abilities tied to your weapon choice, with the option of a weapon swap to unlock five other abilities in combat. Those five abilities are locked in, depending on the class and the weapon so you’re really just looking for class-specific abilities that complement those predetermined choices. The skill and strategy of the game comes into actually playing the game in-world. Despite the fact that combat looks and feels like an MMO, it really isn’t. For instance, you need to keep moving. You have a dodge bar that governs how often you can move quickly out of the way.  I found my survivability shot dramatically up once I started circle-strafing in combat instead of just practicing my rotations while standing still. This is another case of the game looking like an MMO but playing differently than you’d expect. If you’re expecting MMO combat, you’re not going to get it – even though it looks exactly like MMO combat.

I think there’s some tweaking to be done to the Mesmer, as my phantasms/clones died ridiculously fast…so much so that I don’t think I even had the opportunity to use my “sacrifice them for extra effects” abilities. But, I think I had more fun with the Mesmer than the Necromancer. Necromancer is a pet class and I was just concentrating on seeing how big I could make my horde. With Mesmer, I was enjoying the ranged DPS Broadsword (you read that right) and the Sword/pistol combo the most, even if my survivability was suffering a bit. Melee is definitely harder to pull off in this game because of the aforementioned dodging/movement requirements but it was pretty fun.

So, yeah, Guild Wars 2. I was looking forward to this one because I was a fan of the first one. It looks like they’ve done a lot of smart things to remove so many of the common MMO problems (Did you know you can just click on a “Send all collectibles to the bank” button right inside your inventory? How simple and how less annoying inventory management instantly becomes.). I’ll definitely be picking this one up when it launches at the end of August. It’s not quite perfect, but all I see left are some tweaks to be made. Honestly, the biggest problem I think it’s going to have is that it doesn’t do enough in-game to tell you that it’s not like other MMOs and I think that’s going to upset some MMO fans who are getting the experience of MMOing but not having fun because the game is fighting against their preconceptions of MMO game play. A more guided tour to the fundamentals seems like it wouldn’t be out of line.

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