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Original Party Animal: Hands-on with Guild Wars 2

Wednesday, 29 June 2011 14:36 GMT By Stace Harman

Stace Harman takes a fresh look at ArenaNet’s next-gen MMO opus, trying out underwater sections and tackling a hard-ass dungeon encounter. Guild Wars 2 is shaping up just fine.

Guild Wars 2

PC-exclusive fantasy MMO, developed by ArenaNet.

Sequel to the 2005 original.

As with the first game, there’ll be no sub fee after the buying price.

No date yet – expect it to be announced at gamescom in August.

Beauty is but skin-deep and almost certainly to be found in the eye of the beholder. Happily, for a good few hours on a sunny afternoon in Hamburg, Germany this week, beauty was also found running around in front of me on a PC monitor; first as a Norn necromancer, then a Charr engineer and later a Human thief.

As you’ll have already seen from the video footage and screenshots, Guild Wars 2 is looking very fine indeed, but its greatest graphical triumph is to be found in its overall art direction. It’s the incidental details: the flourish of the blended lines and water-colour shading seen in the conceptual artwork that carry over, not only to the storyboard cinematics but also the skill icons that adorn the UI and the character biography portraits.

But whilst the art direction makes a very positive first impression, Guild Wars 2’s aesthetically pleasing outer layers alone couldn’t hope to keep the player entertained for the scores – if not hundreds – of hours that ArenaNet and NCSoft will be hoping you’ll invest across multiple playthroughs. No, there has to be something more than appearance to hold your attention, and at this most recent hands-on I took a look at some of the features that have been implemented to keep you engaged.

Along the way, I got my feet wet with some underwater combat and my group had its backside handed to it during a party-based dungeon romp. First though, was an introduction to the character creation process and choosing the meat to flesh out the bare-bones back-story of the Norn necromancer.

Origin of the species

“The Norn are a race of giant shape-changing barbarians from the far north,” explains Jeff Grubb, game designer and ArenaNet’s walking tome of Guild Wars lore. “They like to feast and to drink; to fight and to boast. They’re the original party animals.”

Judging by Grubb’s description, I wonder if it might be the Norn that my local town centre plays host to every Friday and Saturday night.

During the creation process I have to make a number of decisions about personality, character and background by picking one of three or four options at several stages of development. These encompass traits such as whether my character is to be ferocious, charming, dignified or proud and, that decided, I’m asked to pick a pick a personal history.

At first glance, the personal history appears to perform a similar function to the Origin stories in Dragon Age: Origins, by offering insight to where your character has come from and the life events that have shaped them. However, unlike the Origin stories, their impact looks set to extend beyond the opening few hours.

“[The background stories impact the experience] all the way to the end of the game,” Jonathan Sharp, an ArenaNet game designer tells me. “What’s more, throughout different chapters you’ll be faced with decisions that, once made, will put you on a path and mean that unless you come back and play the game again, you’re not going to get to make that choice a second time.

“So, you and I might be making decisions that mean ours stories branch [even though we’ve chosen the same race and the same profession].”

During the first few stages of the game we see some of the more traditional story quests that appear a handful at a time on the map and that, once completed, progress the narrative to the next story point. In this case, it’s a tutorial area that helps to explain the Norn’s peculiar shape-shifting abilities and teaches the basics of the four key Norn traditions: that of Snow Leopard, Wolf, Raven, and Bear.

Next-gen MMO in motion

NCsoft released a new story trailer and an extensive gameplay video of the sections described in this article on Monday.

A number of tasks are assigned to help you learn these traditions and you can choose to focus more on healing, protection, guidance or combat along the way. It’s unclear whether the aspects you choose at this stage have any longer term effects, but they do offer choices for how you set about the opening section of the game and present variety from the get go.

Taking a long walk off a short pier

Jumping ahead a few hours in gameplay time and to a different location, I create a new character: a Charr engineer who comes equipped with automated defence turrets, traps and a flamethrower. Speaking to a local NPC furnishes the map with a number of quest markers but, unfortunately for the troubled locals, my destination is firmly fixed and my mind made up – I’m heading for the shimmering blue expanse of a huge lake.

Because of this single-minded act of selfishness, a local orchard owner’s request for help in fending off giant flying pests that are blighting his crops is ignored and the inhabitants of a local hamlet are left to fend for themselves against a band of pirates who are out for a spot of mid-afternoon pillaging. Tough luck; the sun’s out and it’s a perfect day for a swim.

Upon reaching the water’s edge, I wade right in and, once the water is deep enough, I dive down into the depths: doing so has a number of effects on my UI. First, a breathing apparatus is automatically equipped, alleviating the need for a restrictive breath meter.

Second, the flamethrower that would be entirely useless under water is replaced by a harpoon gun for ranged combat – other underwater options include a trident for magic wielders and a spear for melee combat – and third, and perhaps most important, my skill set switches to one better suited for underwater combat.

These considerations, whilst not seemingly revolutionary, suggest that underwater combat is more than just a headline feature. Speaking with Sharp later on confirms this.

“I’m not sure I can give you accurate percentage of how much of the map or questing is underwater, but what I can say is that in the same way that we have areas that are mostly land-based, there are other areas you can go where there is a vast amount of water – and that it’s both very deep and expansive, so you’re going to find a lot of stuff to do.”

Whilst I don’t get to see quite as much underwater action as I would like – there are no specific underwater quests or goals in this area, for example – the time spent splashing about is sufficient to establish that the combat and skills behave differently enough to their terra firma counterparts to feel like worthwhile additions.

“There’s also going to be personal stories and events that take you underwater,” elaborates Sharp. ”Some of the dungeons have underwater areas also, so it’s going to feature all throughout the game.”

Deeper underground

The final stop on this magical mystery tour is one of the game world’s eight dungeons, designed for higher-level group play and which Grubb describes as “massive, instanced adventure areas set in a wide range of settings above and below ground”.

What appears to be a relatively small number of dungeons for a large MMORPG world is bolstered by the modes in which you can play through them. Each dungeon has a ‘story mode’ element – that we see during our play through – and a separate ‘explorable mode’.

Unlocked by completing each dungeon’s story mode, explorable mode offers between 3-9 play states for each dungeon, which take into account the actions of players in the story mode and present the consequences of your actions whilst further ratcheting up the difficulty.

And so, our hardy group of five adventurers set out to slay the ghosts of Ascalon and their cursed king. We’d have asked for more details about why the ghosts are quite so angry but they seem intent on smashing us repeatedly in the face with spectral weapons and, truth be told, we get entirely owned for the first ten minutes as we each ran around independently of one another, blindly setting off traps, stumbling into ghost-guarded tombs and generally behaving like incompetents.

“There are other areas you can go where there is a vast amount of water that’s both very deep and expansive, so you’re going to find a lot of stuff to do.”

Fortunately, we finally pull it together and begin to work as a team – our motley crew consisting of an engineer, an elementalist, a necromancer and two thieves – slowly inching its way deeper into the dungeon. We learn the importance of establishing a perimeter with turrets and traps and of focusing our attacks on the enemy mages – who hang back to buff their own troops, debuff ours and occasionally lob flaming Armageddon our way.

There’s a lot going on as abilities, spells and traps are triggered in unison. In fact, there’s so much going on that, at times, the action is lost beneath the myriad effects inside the enclosed space of the dungeon. At these times it feels that an extra level of zoom would be useful to take you further from the action or even the option to tone down the effects when fighting in enclosed areas, else you may find yourself trigger traps or getting separated from your group because you can’t see what’s going on.

It feels relentless, but when the last area-of-effect-spell clears and my nimble thief has performed her last acrobatic manoeuvre with her twin daggers – that, unlike earlier attempts, didn’t see me plunging off the elevated fight arena and dashing myself against the stone staircase – it’s evident that we’ve prevailed and there’s a collective sigh of relief as we count up the booty.

This being a story-based dungeon it’s apparent that the explorable dungeon instances will most definitely be best tackled when you’ve got to grips with your character’s growing abilities and skill set, and are practised enough to read the telltale signs of adversaries’ spell casting and healing and are capable of interrupting them.

More to come

Judging by my time with the game and plans laid out by the enthusiastic development team, Guild Wars 2 looks set to be engaging, fun to play and packed with content. But there’s yet more to be announced: the eighth playable class to go alongside the warrior, necromancer, thief, engineer, guardian, elementalist, and ranger, for example; details of how the micro-transactions will work that will be necessary to sustain the game after its one-off purchase price and; of course, an actual release date. Although nothing has been formally announced by developer ArenaNet or publisher NCSoft we’re expecting some, if not all, of the final details to be revealed in August at gamescom.

Until then you’ll just have to sit tight, maybe indulge in another peak of the story trailer and combat videos and a look at some screen grabs below, nabbed during my play session.

This is one to keep an eye on, then, regardless of whether you’re traditionally a MMO fan or not. The war for best crafted, most varied, polished and attractive MMO is far from over. In time, Guild Wars 2 could prove itself a worthy world-beater.

Guild Wars 2 is a PC exclusive. A release date is yet to be announced.

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4 Comments

  1. ExOAte

    Nonononono! Why am I looking at the pictures and specifically at the bland groundtextures and hope to god that it was played on lower settings ;<

    #1 4 years ago
  2. YoungZer0

    At the end of the day, it’s still another MMORPG.

    #2 4 years ago
  3. TheWulf

    @1

    It’s hardly bland. In fact, it’s artistic, and I say that as an artist. It’s got a very waterpaint aesthetic to everything. It doesn’t have the Crysis levels of hyperdetail that you may desire, but from an artistic perspective Crysis was merely a tech demo and completely shit. It had no artistic merit to speak of.

    Sometimes spamming graphical effects and high resomolutions at something can kill its art direction. This game is art direction > tech demoness.

    @2

    That strikes me as an amazingly ignorant comment. Reading that I can’t help but hear Ebert’s voice saying “Eh, it’s just another game.”

    It’s something that’ll shift paradigms in the MMORPG scene, it’s doing a lot of things very differently, and it’s scaring most of the more traditional MMORPGs out there, and their players. If nothing else, Guild Wars 2 after its release is going to be a standard by which all others are judged for years to come.

    Away from grind, away from the holy trinity, away from the staid and boring settings (Guild Wars 2 actually has real writers which have had previous novels to their name, unlike some other games I could name, which have hacks).

    So yeah, saying something like that puts you in the same boat as Ebert.

    Good luck with that, I guess.

    #3 4 years ago
  4. OlderGamer

    @2 You say that like it is a bad thing?

    I bet a lot of people that don’t go for MMOs would prolly play em if they packaged it differently, and of course droped the subs. But then again, thats exactly what GW2 is doing.

    Shaking things up and of course, like GWone no subs to play.

    This game can not get here fast enough for me.

    #4 4 years ago

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    Project Cars will contain many, many cars and if we are counting correctly, there will be 74 total at launch. The standard edition contains 65 total, and when factoring the free car as well as the Modified and Limited Edition cars packs, you can add an additional nine cars to the mix. Comb through the […]

  • Competitive matchmaking support is coming to Team Fortress 2

    Team Fortress 2 will soon feature support for competitive matchmaking, which Valve says is a “high priority” project for it at the moment. According to a report from TeamFortress.tv, which visited Valve headquarters recently, Valve is looking into the possibility of 6v6 or 9v9 matches 9v9, a possible quick play option and it is also […]

  • GTA 5 PC patch fixes garage, Job crashes – full notes here

    Rockstar has pushed out a 353 MB patch for GTA 5 on PC The patch fixes a number of annoying bugs related to vehicles and garages, some deathmatch issues and purchase errors. It should also fix various freezing and crashing bugs, as well as a little issue with Steam. Time will tell if the patch […]

  • Fire Emblem If will come in White Kingdom and Black Kingdom versions with amiibo support

    We’ve finally got some juicy details on the next Fire Emblem game, but the most interesting aspect is that there will be two versions of the game. According to Siliconera, who translated an interview between Intelligent Systems and 4Gamer, there will a White Kingdom and a Black Kingdom version that offer different aspects of the […]

  • Deception 4: The Nightmare Princess heads west with “Golden Toilet” pre-order bonus

    Deception 4: The Nightmare Princess will debut on western PlayStation 4 systems this summer, Koei Tecmo has announced. It is also coming to PS3 and Vita. The game was produced by Keisuke Kikuchi of Fatal Frame fame and takes up where Deception 4: Blood Ties left off allowing players to relive Laegrinna’s pursuit to free […]

  • Nintendo US eShop update: Puzzle & Dragons Super Mario demo, Paper Mario, more

    Nintendo has updated the North American end of the eShop with a demo of Puzzle & Dragons Super Mario Bros. Edition, Paper Mario on Virtual Console, and amiibo Tap. The full update is below. eShop update amiibo Tap – free – Wii U Star Wars Pinball DLC – Wii U Paper Mario – Wii U […]

  • Deus Ex: Mankind Divided PC port handed off to Nixxes

    The PC port of the new Deus Ex has been handed over to Netherlands based studio, Nixxes software. After the initial reveal trailer at the beginning of April, we’ve only had a few morsels in the way of additional news. The most intriguing tidbit to date has got to be the fact that you’ll be […]

  • First-ever PC Gaming Show to take place at E3 2015 in June

    PC gaming will finally have its very own E3 press conference this year, thanks to PC Gamer and AMD. The PC Gaming Show will take place on June 16 at the Belasco Theater in Los Angeles and it will be livestreamed on Twitch. PC Gamer said speakers at the presentation will include representatives from Blizzard, […]

  • Majora’s Mask light available now on Club Nintendo for 6000 stars

    Club Nintendo shuts up shop on September 30 and members are being encouraged to spend accumulated stars before then. And what better to spend them on, than this adorable Majora’s Mask light? If you’re a member based in Europe you can nab it for 6000 stars. If you’re in Australia or New Zealand, it’ll only […]

  • Unity support announced for HoloLens, will work with Windows universal apps

    Microsoft is partnering with game engine developers Unity in order to make HoloLens compatible with apps and games which use the cross-platform engine. The partnership was announced yesterday during its Build Developer Conference. Universal apps for Windows 10 systems will also be available on Xbox One later this year, suggesting possible HoloLens functionality with the […]

  • Splatoon Nintendo Direct airs Thursday, May 7

    A Nintendo Direct focused on Splatoon, the Wii U multiplayer title, on May 7. It will kick off at 7am PDT/10am EDT/3pm UK and it can be watched via the Nintendo Direct website. You can also have a look at the game through Nintendo’s Twitch channel. The last game-specific presentation took place last week and […]

  • GTA 5 PC: clean up the streets as a member of the San Andreas PD with this new mod

    Remember the awesome mods for GTA 4 and San Andreas that let you run amok online as a member of the po-po? Well, dust off your taser and load up your gun, because it’s coming to GTA 5. The new mod for GTA 5 is currently in alpha and can be downloaded at palmbeachgames.com. You […]

  • Indie shoot ‘em up Project Root comes to Xbox One, PS4 and PSVita

    Project Root is a self-proclaimed rejig of the shoot ‘em up genre that was released on PC last year, and it’s finally coming to consoles. Combining free-roaming elements with the usual business of shooting things, Project Root was released this week for Xbox One, PS4 and the PSVita.

  • You can now bet on eSports online, starting with League of Legends

    If you’re getting bored with sticking a pony on the races, you can expand your gambling horizons at Unikrn where you can watch esports streams and get a little action on the side. The new platform was set up by Rahul Sood – previously the general manager of Microsoft Ventures. At the moment, customers are […]

  • Has Watch Dogs 2 been leaked?

    Ubisoft employee, Julien Risse, may have inadvertently confirmed Watch Dogs 2, thanks to his online CV over at LinkedIn. Videogamer.com spotted the slip up, in which Risse lists Watch Dogs, the DLC Bad Blood, and Watch Dogs 2 on his profile. Creative Director Jonathan Morin has already talked about his ideas for improvements for the […]

  • GTA 5′s Trevor makes his Jackass debut, complete with leopard-print knickers

    YouTuber Abstract Mode has shared his vision of what Trevor Philips’ life might have been like, had he not been completely batshit crazy. Watch Trevor get mauled, run over, and hit by a train, before taking a majestic swan-dive into someone else’s pool at the climax. Thanks, Kotaku.

  • Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 season pass will cost you £35

    Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 isn’t released until November 6, but you can already hand over your cash for the Season Pass. The Season Pass is available for pre-purchase on Steam for £34.99, and will cover four DLC packs – although the details we have on the content are limited to ‘exciting’ at this […]

  • GTA Online’s cheating assholes are no match for this player’s vengeance

    Think you’re smart for using invisibility and infinite ammo glitches? You need to be taught a lesson, sucker. You can have all the hacks you want but if your GTA Online game is weak, you’ll still get your ass handed to you. As this fool discovered when attempting to hassle another player. There’s a fair […]

  • PS4 sales help Sony’s games division swing to profit

    Sony’s PlayStation business has made an operating profit of 48.1 billion yen ($404m / £261.5m) in the past 12 months. That’s thanks to stellar sales of the PlayStation 4 and PS Plus, even as sales of the PS3 have stalled and the company wrote off costs for the PSTV and PS Vita. The profit puts […]

  • New patch for Dirt Rally gives co-driver’s attitude a tune-up

    Dirt Rally gets a new patch three days after release on Steam. On Monday, we reported that the newest Dirt game has popped up on Steam’s Early Access and is available to pick up for £24.99, as well as giving you an eyeful of tasty screenshots. The patch – released yesterday – fixes some issues […]

  • New The Witcher 3 screenshots show combat, exploration and general carousing

    New screenshots released on the official facebook page for The Witcher 3 show Geralt annihilating a winged beast, out and about in the world exploring, and living the life of Reily amidst a bustling feast. We were already treated to some glorious screenshots a few days ago, but these new ones are in-game and give […]

  • Destiny: 14 things you might have missed during House of Wolves intel drops

    Destiny: House of Wolves does a great deal more than just slap some new content on the existing game structure. House of Wolves changes Destiny in a lot of interesting and very welcome ways. Bungie showed off many of these changes in its livestream, and let both me and Arekkz come and have a look […]

  • Scratch that cyberpunk itch with Technobabylon on May 21 – new trailer

    Technobabylon more like Wrecked-yo-babbling with my smooth flow about how good Wadjet Eye games are. I don’t know y’all, it’s clock off time and everything feels like a reach. Wadjet Eye makes pretty good adventure games – award winning, in fact. The latest project to spring forth from the benevolent, sheltering hand of the label […]

  • Skullgirls 2nd Encore brings exclusive new features to PS4, Vita in northern summer

    Skullgirls, the little indie fighter that could, is getting another crack at it. Skullgirls 2nd Encore is the second re-release of the one-time troubled 2D versus fighter from lab Zero Games. Having survived the shut down of its developer and collapse of its publishing contrast, Skullgirls re-emerged as Skullgirls: Encore, adding in a ton of […]

  • Danganronpa series generates “impressive” sales for Vita exclusive

    Danganronpa is selling quite nicely, thank you, says NIS America. Danganronpa is a series of murder mystery visual novel puzzlers in a similar vein to games like 999. Two of these have been released for Vita in the west – Trigger Happy Havoc and Goodbye Despair. Speaking to MCV, NIS America CEO and president Takuro […]

  • I have no idea what is going on in J-Stars Victory VS+ but I kind of like it

    In this J-Stars Victory VS+ trailer, we see – uhh. Well. We certainly see some things. Look y’all, I was a massive weaboo in high school, but that was back in the dark ages when we had to take out Manga Entertainment VHS tapes from dingy little specialist rental joints that were literally underground, and […]

  • Please just watch this terrific trailer for Toren

    Toren is the kind of game I dream about when I drift off to sleep at night. This indie puzzle adventure strikes a spark in my little soul in the same way as Ico and Tequila Works’ Rime do. Mysterious, almost ethereal fantasy setting – check. Chance to actually walk around in that setting – […]

  • Play classic MS-DOS games on your own tweets

    In today’s episode of “what will they think of next”, someone’s figured out how to post playable versions of classic games in tweets. For some time now, Twitter has allowed you to embed various forms of media in tweets, most noticeably YouTube videos, simply by pasting a URL into the compose field. Turns out this […]

  • VR: Unreal Engine to add HTC Vive support

    The biggest digital PC game distributor and the most popular game development engine have both backed VR. It’s going to happen. An upcoming Unreal Engine 4 update will expand the development suite’s support to the HTC Vive, Valve’s VR headset. In this glorious new future where work on one of the most important engines in […]

  • WWE 2K15 PC supports modding

    WWE 2K15 may be the series’ PC debut, but it’s already getting into the spirit of the platform. WWE 2K15 does indeed support mods on PC, 2K’s Marcus Stephenson has confirmed. @ElementGamesTV you can. Now buy. — Marcus Stephenson (@stephensonmc) April 28, 2015 As Destructoid points out, this opens the door to all sorts of […]

  • Overkill’s The Walking Dead coming to PC, PS4 and Xbox One in 2016

    Overkill’s The Walking Dead is one step closer to your grasping little paws. Overkill’s The Walking Dead will be published by 505 Games, Overkill parent Starbreeze has announced. 505 also published Payday 2, Overkill’s previous title, so the two companies have established a working relationship. In a press release, the publisher said the co-op title […]

  • Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 pre-orders net Advanced Warfare DLC

    Buy Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 for later, enjoy bonus Advanced Warfare content now. Blacks Ops 3 is being supported by a rather cunning pre-order incentive even more likely to get you to lay your cash down sooner than you might otherwise. Gamespot reports a Black Ops 3 pre-order will receive a couple of […]

  • Steam Game Ban system lets developers determine who to block

    Steam users can now be blocked from individual games by their developers. Steam has always supported multiplayer bans for disruptive users, but a newly-implemented system allows developers to ban users from individual games using their own anti-cheat systems. Game Bans are enforced by Valve, but are enacted at the developer’s request and discretion. This change […]

  • Far Cry 4 devs matching Red Cross donations up to $100K to aid Nepal earthquake victims

    Far Cry 4 developer Ubisoft Montreal will match any pledges made to The Red Cross up to $100,000 to aid Nepal after the 7.8 earthquake struck the area in and around Kathmandu in Nepal. According to Ubisoft: “Having spent the last few years working on Far Cry 4, a game heavily inspired by Nepal and […]

  • Tales of Zestiria retail listing notes September release date, PS4 version

    Tales of Zestiria is coming west in northern autumn, and while it’s confirmed as a PlayStation 3 release, a Dutch retailer has it listed as coming to PS4 as well. Of course, listing it for PS4 could also be a typo, not that I would personally know about that sort of thing, really. However, according […]

  • Official mod tools for Total War: Attila are now available

    Official mod tools for Total War: Attila are now available and you can grab the new Assembly Kit as a beta through the tools menu via your Steam library. The Creative Assembly said the tools will be “immediately familiar” to modders of Rome 2 and Shogun 2, but the new version is the most “extensive” […]

  • How to get level 34 Ascended Raid gear in Destiny: House of Wolves

    Watch: two videos showing you how to get level 34 raid gear and a shopping list of what you need. One of the big changes that House of Wolves is bringing to Destiny is the chance to upgrade your weapons and gear to level 34. In these videos Arekkz Gaming shows you how to use […]

  • Destiny: House of Wolves puts PvP back in the spotlight

    Destiny PvP players, your time has come to shine. New Crucible maps. New Crucible rewards. And the glorious wonder of Elimination mode. Destiny: House of Wolves puts PvP front and centre. When Destiny was first detailed, one of the things Bungie stressed was that there’d be something for everyone. If you wanted to play solo […]