In part one I quickly mentioned that the human capital of Divinity’s Reach was a rather huge in-game location, but what is more impressive than the immense size are the little things that inhabit the city, bringing it to life. The small details that have been carefully put in by ArenaNet make it a population hub that no matter how many times I ran around it always brought something new to my attention. Conversations by the locals in the background as I moved my character by a crowd make it seem like a breathing community, and even the shameless rich man at the bank seemed slightly endearing (as he informed me, “I’m rich, don’t you know.”) There are book stalls dotted around the Commons that, while not physically allowing you pick up books, give you a brief overview of what is on offer and gives you details of the tomes in front of you (the one that sticks in my mind is the children’s book “No Moa!” which was described as being about a mischievous Moa and his exhausted owner.)
It’s not just in the population centres that exude this charm as the little details extend to every aspect of the game. The player character will make observations during battle that can be heard by anyone that is nearby, such as when I used a rage flask to boost my damage my engineer. It would result in an exclamation of how powerful he was feeling, or a well-used Simpsons quote (Nolan North, the voice of the male human, saying “Urge to kill, rising!” was a brilliant moment.) The audio cues are also helpful for when someone is near death, as they declare their incoming demise that alerts nearby players. Of course, the traditional indicators of health metres and buff icons still exist, but the subtle additions allow for a more organic experience.
The base mechanics of PvP remain largely unchanged from when I got to try it out at Eurogamer Expo last year (and you can read all about it here) so instead of repeating myself I will talk about the new features I got to see over the course of the beta weekend. PvP is accessible from any place at any time, boosting all characters to level 80 whilst taking part and, in the case of standard PvP matches, given access to all abilities for their chosen class without the need of unlocking them in PvE (which happened was the case in Guild Wars 1.) While players have the option of dropping into the first available game, players can travel to the Heart of the Mists which acts as the PvP staging grounds. Here players can customise their PvP skills, buy new weaponry and gear, and test out their new builds on test dummies. Along with being able to talk to an NPC that brings up a PvP match server browser, the Mists also provides access to two portals, one of which returns them to their capital and the other sends players off to the biggest addition to the PvP aspect of the game; World vs World Vs World.
Imagine, if you will, three servers full of players fighting for supremacy over a gigantic map, itself split into four traversable regions, attempting to capture supply depots and towers, whilst planning raids against colossal forts. It takes the PvP guild battles of Age of Conan and throws it into a territorial battle that was previously only seen PlanetSide and Dark Age of Camalot. Every captured building adds up to your world’s total score, and those scores translate into bonuses for everyone on your server, regardless of if they are taking part in PvP or not. That is what’s at stake in WvWvW (as well as bragging rights) and I can tell you now, the battles can get pretty intense. Unlike in PvP matches, players retain their PvE character in WvWvW, although their main stats are boosted to level 80. This means that XP is earned whilst in these battlegrounds, and allows progression whilst slaying that scum from another server.
As the fight goes on your buildings will take damage, and the only way to repair them is by using supplies from supply depots. These resources become the lifelines of the battleground as they are capable of building siege weaponry or repairing damaged walls and gates. Players have to pick up these supplies and take them to the sections in question to apply them, although this process also takes time and you could be using the manpower to drive the enemy back. While all of that is happening, another team could be gearing up to capture a much need supply depot from the enemy, but the most direct route contains a bunch of monsters that will surely slow them down. Do they charge straight through and hope for a faster assault on the real target, or do they detour around them to ensure they stay at full strength? It’s these choices that the players will have decide amongst themselves in the heat of battle, and is thanks to an excellent framework that ArenaNet have built for WvWvW.
Players can also spend their own currency to upgrade parts of their buildings; improving the strength of its defences should they wish to give themselves an extra hand in stopping aggressors. Personal upgrades are also available, such as being able to carry more supplies in a bid to increase the speed repairs and construction happen. These optional upgrades aren’t necessary to do, but could easily turn the tide of a war should they be used. Players won’t just be going toe-to-toe with their enemies either, as the main forts contain ranged weaponry on their battlements. Useable gun turrets and mortars are available to keep the enemy at length, but should that fail and the enemy gets too close you even have burning oil above the gates to cause havoc down below. Brilliant little touches such as this mean that sieges should be some of the most difficult and rewarding experiences in the game.
In one of the more memorable times I took part in WvWvW, I was with a group of players that had just taken a supply depot and were moving on to capture a tower, when we decided to take a shortcut over a lake. Unbeknownst to us, this lake had some rather devious amphibious monsters that swam to attack us. In a moment of self-sacrifice (because I’m that nice a guy) I started shooting any everything to distract them enough so the rest of my group could continue. The plan worked, but I was butchered trying to escape. This led me to respawn at a fort that was a far distance away from my group, but it turned out that at that same time a group of enemy players (from the side we hadn’t been attacking) had decided to do a sneak attack on my location. With only my pitiful self from my server inside the fort, I watched in horror as the huge group, complete with what looked like an Asuran Golem, bombarded the main gate and pushed their way into the courtyard. Needless to say, I was slaughtered in the process but this recap gives you an idea of the way battlegrounds can change all of a sudden, and create a sense of urgency in the conflict.
Interestingly enough, it was stated to the press that players will be able to communicate with each other across servers, so should you have friends playing in other worlds you will be able to chat with them (or mock them if you’ve just killed them in the battleground.)
With so much of this preview spent gushing about how enjoyable and pleasant everything is, you’re probably asking yourself if I consider Guild Wars 2 in its current state is the best MMO ever made. Not entirely, but with plenty of time to tweak things here and there ArenaNet could easily make it so. For example, I found my human engineer was beginning to be out-levelled by the content around level 13 or so, forcing me to kill random enemies and re-do dynamic events to be at the right level for the next area, when previously I had been able to flow through the personal story missions and reputation quests without issue. While I understand that doing WvWvW in between these would most likely improve this flow, the fact I went from not having a care in the world to noticing the feeling of a slight grind (that dirty word in MMO circles) may be something that needs looking at (I understand this isn’t a universal problem in GW2, and that the Charr area flows better in this regard, but that will be something I will have to confirm another time.)
On the whole though, Guild Wars 2 is building up to be something rather special. There is so much more to the game that I could have spoken about (such as the expansive crafting element) and even more that I didn’t even get to experience (such as the group dungeons) but with any luck NCsoft will let me back in for the next event, and I will be able to fill in more of the blanks. What I have taken away from the Beta Weekend event is that there always seems to be something to do in Guild Wars 2, be it taking part in PvP combat of a small or large scale, exploring the land taking part in dynamic events and reputation quests, or even just hanging out in the richly designed capital cities. All of this, and not a single subscription fee in sight. In my view, the re-opening of the world of Tyria simply cannot come soon enough.
If you're after more Guild Wars 2 goodness, be sure to check out our interview from last year's Gamescom with Lead Content Designer Eric Flannum here.