Although I was unable to experience the one before it, I managed to find some time to take part in last weekend’s beta event for Guild Wars 2, which allowed me yet another opportunity to get back into the boots of my Engineer McGarnagle. I decided to use the opportunity to experience more of the World Vs World Vs World PvP by unleashing some Engineer-esque fire upon my foes, but before we get into that I want to quickly discuss some of the changes I came across since my last time in Tyria.
If you need to get up to speed on my previous excursion, you can find all the gory details here.
First off, optimisation has been improved right across the board. My aging Alienware M17 (which will be stepping down from its position as “main gaming rig” this week) was finding performance a lot more agreeable this time round. In fact, I even decided to push the system as far as it could go and set the graphic settings to maximum, and my word, I apologise for using the word “beautiful” with gleeful abandon but there isn’t any other way to describe the art direction when it is given a chance to truly shine. It was honestly breath-taking to see in full swing.
It wasn’t just optimisation that caught my eye. ArenaNet have clearly been listing to the fanbase and provided options to customise the user interface to a certain degree. The chat box can now be moved to a different location, and players can alter the scale of the UI as they see fit. Clearer tooltips to help players start their journey into Tyria should allow even the greenest of MMO players to ease into the game, and the inclusion of a path guide on the mini map to indicate the optimal route to the next objective of a player’s story quest is a welcome one when trying to navigate the busy streets of cities such as Divinity’s Reach.
After re-familiarising myself with the abilities of the Engineer by doing a few quests from the personal story, I went on my merry way to the Heart Of The Mists; the hub for Player Vs Player action. This area has gone through a bit of an overhaul since the last time I was here, removing the easy transport hub that previously existed for beta testers in favour of something more appropriate for the full release. Perhaps most notably was the inclusion of training areas to learn about the difference aspects of the PvP mechanics. NPCs provide tooltips for things such as underwater fighting, finishing off downed players, and firing siege weaponry. The last one is a key part of the WvWvW gameplay, as enemy-held forts won’t just lay out the red carpet for your arrival.
Two forms of weaponry are at your disposal, the offensive trebuchets, and defensive cannons. Trebuchets require a bit of finesse in their operation, with exact aim and charging up key to getting those direct hits. By using the 1 & 3 keys to go left and right, the 2 key charges up the power of the shot. Pressing it for a short amount of time will have the impact zone be fairly close, while holding it down for full power will send the impact zone off into the distance. Cannons don’t have the range of their larger counterparts, but allow for manual aiming of the impact zone with the mouse. Simple select from four or so different abilities and then click for the desired result. It’s easy and effective, which is exactly what you want when you have enemy troops on your doorstep. Using the target range in the mists I was able to get to grips with these ranged weapons before making use of the nearby Asura Gate, which acts as fast transport, to make my way to a place called Lion’s Arch.
Lion’s Arch is now the location players must venture to gain access to the Eternal Battlegrounds, with each of the Borderlands accessible to choose from. I had previously written about my experiences in the WvWvW warzones when the player population was much smaller. However, now that the pre-order folk were involved with the beta I was about to see the large scale battlegrounds for what they were; a vicious, unrelenting, and addictive way to enjoy Guild Wars 2. When entering the borderlands, players have their health and damage scaled to that of a level 80 equivalent, but still have the ability to level up as normal. This meant that McGarnagle, still level 9 at this point, was able to continue his overall progression without having to miss out on PvP, which is usually the case when it comes to MMOs. While I did find levelling up to be a little slower that doing so in PvE with the personal story, chances are you won’t care as you find yourself fighting off players from another server. Even Skill Points, both in the form of item pick-ups and mini-bosses, can now be found within the Battlegrounds to help unlock more abilities for players.
In short, what ArenaNet have expertly done with WvWvW is blur the lines between PvE and PvP, giving more freedom for players to decide how they want to play.
But enough of me rambling about how it all works, let’s get to the important question; how does it play with many players on each side of the conflict? Incredibly well, I’m glad to report. I found myself engrossed in the action as I was desperately trying to take supply depots and defend forts, enjoying myself even when our forces were being pushed back at one point. Because of the way ArenaNet have forged the core gameplay to encourage players to help each other, it creates a natural sense of teamwork even when you are playing with people you have never seen before. I found myself frantically trying to revive someone else who had fallen beside me as we pushed forward, with the two of us pairing up for the remainder of the fight. We never said a word until after the battle, but I think that added to the moment; two players teaming up and working together for the glory of their server (and some beneficial buffs, probably more importantly.)
Sadly, my session didn’t end on the offensive, as my side found one of its forts under siege. This is where I found an example of Guild Wars 2 still needing some fine tuning before release. The enemy managed to place a trebuchet in an area of map that was inaccessible to anyone but themselves, and while my side attempted valiantly to hold them off, it was only a matter of time before the fort fell. I have full confidence that ArenaNet will address little things such of this before the next beta event to provide a fairer battle for everyone. However, once the enemy were pressing upon our main Garrison in the area they didn’t have the same advantage as before, and a stalemate began on our doorstep. Many virtual lives were lost, with cannon fire raining from our battlements as if there were no tomorrow, but unfortunately my time experiencing the beta was up before I could see a resolution to the battle.
What is important to realise is that the recallection I just described takes place over a small section of just one of three borderlands battlegrounds for WvWvW, and will skirmishes and raids taking place everywhere else at the same time. The scale is absolutely huge, and it is almost certain to create lasting rivalries between servers, but as I have hopefully explained over the course of my hands-on impressions so far, this in itself if just a part of what you can do in Guild Wars 2. Next month’s Beta Weekend cannot come soon enough as I plan to explore even more of this MMORPG.