After granting me access to the previous Beta weekend event, I was invited to an NCsoft event in Brighton to take another look at ArenaNet’s upcoming MMORPG Guild Wars 2. Considering the huge scope of the game, and the sheer amount of content I had left untouched, I jumped at the chance to find out more about the game. So, amongst a group of journalists in a basement filled with computers, I dove back in to the virtual world of Tyria.
To begin with I decided to compare the human start area, which I had previously experienced as an Engineer, with a Thief character to see what difference in play style there was between the two. So Winstone, named after the greatest Ray in the world, started his brief journey where I immediately felt a change in mechanics compared to my previous experience. Unlike other classes, Thief abilities do not use a cooldown per say, instead having their moves depending on an energy bar called Initiative. This allows players to chain together a series of moves to unleash powerful combos, but with each skill costing a certain amount of Initiative it means players must choose wisely to achieve the best results, even though the Initiative bar refills steadily.
The biggest change to the Engineer that I came across was the importance of dodging. While all classes are able to do so (depending on how much stamina you have) and all classes tend to be relatively mobile during encounters, being an up-close-and-personal sort that does not have the strongest armour, the Thief will have to be more concerned with not being hit compared to others. I found myself watching the animations of enemies closely, waiting for the clues as to when to dodge along with the AoE markers that also indicate incoming damage. The fact I was about to watch the action, and not focus on yet another GUI bar, shows that ArenaNet are taking steps in the right direction to avoiding the pitfalls that have plagued the MMO genre for a while.
It was towards the end of the starting section that I was informed of a rather interesting mechanic involving the bosses in the open world. The number of abilities that they use is scalable depending on how many players were nearby at the time. Compared to when I was playing on my engineer with two or three others, the large number of journalists with me caused the giant boss to mix things up slightly, although not by too much seeing as we each only had about two abilities at this point. However, seeing this in action, and paired up with the scaling functionality in the rest of game, proves that ArenaNet are making a game that will adapt to ensure the game is fun at any given time.
At this point we were given free reign of what we wanted to do, so I decided to explore a race I had yet to experience; the shamanistic Norn. The tallest of the playable races, their customisation was equally as impressive as their human counterparts, with an array of tattoos to paint on avatars along with various ways to customise appearance. Again, in an attempt to experience more of what is on offer, I chose to play as a Ranger this time. This led to the decision of which pet to have, each with their own play style; a bear, a snow leopard, or a wolf (which I ultimately chose.)
Also, if you read my previous hands-on preview you may remember me grumbling about the lack of decent beards for humans. Well, it’s quite clear now that the Norn got all the good facial hair designs. I’ll still be lobbying for grand facial hair for all races though. Even the Sylvari.
So, with my new Norn Hunter, McBain, I ran into battle with my pet wolf at my side. Throwing axes were my starting weapon so I began gleefully hurling my armaments at my foes, and ordered my pet to charge at the enemy (as to begin with he just stood there watching me get mauled by wild animals.) This is thanks to behavioural stances you can issue for the pet, although you won’t have direct control over which abilities they use, or at least I didn’t get to the point where I could as I only got to experience the starting area. Fans of cute things will appreciate the baby versions of the pets that inhabit the area so you can change your companion, and there is even ‘squee-ing’ opportunity in regards to the tiny Snow Leopards.
Unfortunately, at this point the battle horn has been sounded, and it was time for competitive PvP; Journalistic Style. Deciding I wanted something familiar with which to kill my peers, I quickly created another Engineer, this time called Stinson (High Five!) with whom to annoy my opponents. It’s important to note that I was able to do this with a fresh level 1 character; as soon as I jumped into the PvP matches I was boosted to level 80 (for as long as I was in there) and given access to all of the class abilities. With that, I charged into the battlegrounds.
The first battleground was one I was familiar with, The Battle of Khylo, which I had previously played in during my first PvP preview. Each map has a unique feature, for which Khylo’s is catapults. These artillery placements allow structures, such as the huge power in the centre of the map, to suffer damage, as well as unleash the hurt upon the opposing side. Previous PvP sessions had not always been with a full group, but this time it was an 8v8 battle, and it demonstrated the frantic action that is possible in GW2.
Using small paths as choke points, both teams were working together to gain the advantage whilst protecting their capture points. The different classes complimented each other well, with my Engineer laying down covering fire with his turrets and firing giant nets at enemies to trap them, whilst a warrior charged in and swung his sword in their general direction. At one point, I was stuck in a battle of wits with a Ranger on the top of the now damaged tower, running around its broken roof taking shots at each whilst trying to provide support for our troops below who were fighting to capture the location.
The second map on which we played, The Forest of Niflhel, was a new experience to me, and while it provided the same game mode as Khylo it did not include catapults, instead being home to powerful NPCs. These mini-bosses, when killed by a group of players, provide short-term buffs for that entire team that can turn the tide in a battle, but also run the risk of distracting you to the point of either being caught between a rock and hard place, or losing control points. Despite the fact we were ambushed every time we attempted to take down the NPCs, I found the whole mechanic to be a welcome variation to what would otherwise feel like the same match type in a different location.
After several matches in which both teams scored victories, and I made as much of a nuisance of myself as I possibly could, we were gathered up to experience another area I was unable to look at during the beta weekend; the Dungeons. Boosting us all to level 30, I was placed in a group of five and sent to an instanced area called the Ascalonian Catacombs, which provided a story relating to the overarching plot of the world that includes cutscenes. It was indicated at this point that dungeons, like most of the content, are optional parts of the game that the player can do or leave as they please, but that they are designed to be difficult and require for a full group of skilled players to overcome. This was made painfully obvious from the first group of mobs that we encountered which surprised us all at how challenging they were in comparison to the enemies in the open world. Thankfully, I had chosen abilities that allowed me to heal as well as damage, so I became the lifeline of the group as we progressed through the dungeon.
It wasn’t just the enemies that were bringing the hurt, as many of the rooms contained traps which were able to catch us all by surprise. Falling debris, spikes shooting out of the floor, and a room filled with flame turrets were some of the dastardly designs that attempted to take us down, and there were numerous times when one of us would fall into the downed state (similar to Borderlands.) However, reviving players can be sped up when multiple players are involved, encouraging players to look after one another and keep an eye out on their condition as they progress. We managed to make our way to the final boss in the instance, but unfortunately we ran out of time as the play session came to an end. Ultimately though, I felt that if the rest of the dungeons provide as interesting an experience as I had just had in the Catacombs, those looking for a true challenge in GW2 will get their wish. The thing is, that’s not even the end of it. What we experienced was just the “story version” of the dungeon. An explorable version with 3 different wings is unlocked once this story version is completed, providing even more variation on the content we saw, and I eagerly look forward to seeing the difference between the two modes for myself.
Again, much like after mytime in the Beta Weekend, I still have much more to see of Guild Wars 2, but ArenaNet continue to impress me the more I explore their game, and when you consider how an MMORPG needs to captivate an audience it surely bodes well for Guild Wars 2. However, this wasn’t the end of my day with the NCsoft staff, as we were invited to a Q&A video conference with the ArenaNet developers. Be sure to check it out at the link here.