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Guild Wars 2 beta: where old and new fuse for rarity

Friday, 4th May 2012 08:46 GMT By Lauren Wainwright

Lauren Wainwright battled mighty foes – technical issues – to brave Guild Wars 2′s public beta, uncovering an MMO with traditional mechanics that manages the rarest of things: making you feel special in a crowd.

Guild Wars 2 is a huge, impressive and fascinating MMORPG. It not only offers big budget quality without the monthly commitment, but also follows a new story-focused experience others have yet dared to tackle. At the same time, the themes and mechanics of every MMO are evident and Guild Wars 2 doesn’t exactly attempt to break the rules.

Guild Wars 2′s beta opened its doors to pre-order customers last weekend. It was one of the biggest MMORPG events of the year and, as is the nature of beta testing, it was riddled with problems.

There were crashes, server switches, random booting and general bugs, but failed log-ins were perhaps the most frustrating issue of all. From 6:00PM onwards, European users found it increasingly difficult to log into the server and after several hours of restarting the client, frantically checking forums and having a good moan on Twitter, most gave up for the night.

The next morning, when America was slowly tucking itself into bed, Europe managed to jump into the action. For most players, this was their first experience of Guild Wars 2, one of the most anticipated and hyped MMORPGs of the last five years – but what exactly would it offer gamers that TERA, RIFT and even the holy mother of all MMORPGs, World of Warcraft, didn’t already?

In some respects, not that much. In others, particularly story, so much more.

Guild Wars 2 is a huge, impressive and fascinating MMORPG. It not only offers big budget quality without the monthly commitment, but also follows a new story-focused experience most MMORPGs have yet dared to tackle. At the same time, the themes and mechanics common to almost every MMO are evident, and Guild Wars 2 doesn’t exactly attempt to break the rules.

Three of the five races were available to play during this beta. They included the two humanoid races, human and norn, as well as the charr, the brutal looking feline species. The whole character creation system was a real joy to use, giving players a whole host of sliders to abuse.

The most welcome addition was the customisable starter outfit, allowing players to choose mask or hat styles and outfit colours. Each transition was smooth and the new painted visual style is refreshing.

Another appeal, especially for those searching for a more story-focused MMO, is the personal story arcs. Here you can choose your background as you would in Mass Effect. For example, when playing a human, I could choose between nobility, commoner or street rat, and my origin directly affected the characters I would later interact with, the mission types and my character’s effect on the world itself.

This greater emphasis on story carries over into other areas of the game, with players treated to hundreds of short cut-scene-styled dialogue sections in which your avatar converses with an NPC and reacts as you’d expect. There’s a lot more focus on you as a player, and as a participant in the story, than other MMOs have offered.

Guild Wars 2 has epic scale PvP.

That focus continues onto the battlefield with combat and questing exhibiting some favourable innovations. Rather than tackle the majority of quests alone, players can automatically combine forces to tackle some of the more impressive missions. RIFT-style battle events routinely appear and players aren’t penalised when others join the fray. It would seem ArenaNet is trying to make kill-stealing a thing of the past. Every quest I took on allowed me to join in with other players in some form or another with anything private or story-focused locked away in instances.

This mix of social and personal means the conflicts at the heart of the plot now actually feel like a story. You still feel special, even when among the many, which is extremely rare in an MMO.

Character development is more customisable than simply choosing from a skill tree, which also contributes to make each character feel unique. Skills and spells are learned through repeated use, and weapons affect the spell set you have available. An Elementalist for example has a huge array of spells to choose from dependent on what weapon they have equipped and that introduces more focus on the items you’re using rather than just what level you’ve reached.

Another fantastic implementation is the checkpoint system, which allows you to explore the world without running back and forth for hours and hours between the actual gameplay. Once you hit a checkpoint on a map you can instantly warp to that location for a small fee from anywhere in the world. It makes meeting up with friends and completing quest objectives a dream, without removing the feeling of exploration or adventure players get from scouting the land.

As always with each new MMORPG that comes out, it’s the slight changes that make the biggest difference. While Guild Wars 2 isn’t revolutionising the MMORPG formula, it’s these small key differences that make it worth experiencing.

Guild Wars 2 releases this year.

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16 Comments

  1. GrimRita

    Nice write up. After having the aforementioned login issues(I gave up at 11pm Friday night) – woke up fresh Saturday and spent the best part of the day exploring.

    It struck me early on, just how easy it is to group up with these live events – you can earn medals and rewards depending on the amount of help you gave during that event(very much like WAR), move across the map with ease(once youve discovered travel points) and I simply loved how new skills unlock(no stupid trainer charging 100s/1000s of credits to ‘learn’ a skill.

    Character customisation was nice(not on the scale of Star Wars Galaxies for example but no where near as hollow as SWTOR’s shit limited offering)- with lots of options to select the colours you like/want.

    World v World was simply ‘holy shit!’. I havent seen large scale pvp like that since playing Star Wars Galaxies – it was totally refreshing. However I spent so much time just looking and testing my class of Thief that I didnt get too involved in any kind of pvp yet.

    Its still early days and I am looking forward to what changes Arena make prior to the next live beta event.

    #1 2 years ago
  2. SplatteredHouse

    oh, it’s only in beta? For all the fluster, one might be mistaken for thinking the game was actually available.

    #2 2 years ago
  3. Hybridpsycho

    I was playing GW2 CBT for a while and must say I was impressed by some of it’s elements that were really well made.

    However, after trying Tera I decided not to go through with buying GW2.
    I’d suggest that you peeps here on VG247 take a few looks at it :P
    The first look gives an impression that it doesn’t differ that much from many MMOs, but after playing it a bit it soon becomes clear that there’s so much more to it. :D

    #3 2 years ago
  4. heyvc

    In my case after playing swtor with the story and all I was very skeptical with others mmo’s.. Tera is said to give a different combat.. but when I played it I was not amazed at all.. the “dodge” was weird and not that nice and the attacks were not that action like for me.. the way quests are given are just.. like all the others.. texts and more texts… In guild wars.. they have story.. not as deep as swtor but cool conversations.. the way quests are given is wonderful and dynamic and you feel like you need to help the people cuz you SEE the quest happening.. It is very cool.. and the DODGE on guild wars is awesome.. any side.. back.. front.. you can even attack while jumping.. for me was WAY more action than TERA.

    #4 2 years ago
  5. GrimRita

    @4 agree!

    I havent and wont try Tera because I already forked out £65 for GW2 so will be waiting for this and playing beta will help me choose my class.

    Lots of people have spoken highly of Tera but coming from something like SWTOR, even the Sims is probably looking attractive to the majority of them right now.

    As I said earlier and in the forum, I just didnt feel like I was grinding in Guild Wars 2 and that, for me, is totally freshing and kind of takes me back to Star Wars Galaxies, despite it being a hard grind, you just didnt feel like(well I didnt!LOL)

    #5 2 years ago
  6. TheWulf

    Yup. TERA for all of its bluster is just the typical grind.

    Where Guild Wars 2 breaks away is that it is absolutely not the typical grind in any way, shape, or form. In TERA, you go to a ! guy, you do a quest (admittedly with spammy, ‘action’ combat like Vindictus, which I never really enjoyed because it’s just tapping a combo a lot with no real tactics involved), and then you go to a ? guy to turn it in.

    In Guild Wars 2, you set out and…

    That lake looks a bit odd.

    [NPC runs up to me, with no dialogues, and yells.] “Quick, a shaman is befouling the lake! Foul beasts are chasing off our fishermen!”

    Eh? Let’s have a look here, then.

    “They’ll soon understand the power of Baelfire!” [An NPC shaman yells, summoning up a bunch more tar elementals, blackening the lake.)

    A load of other players are already there battling the elementals, so I just join in and have fun. There’s no mob stealing, kill stealing, or quest objective stealing. In fact, for every extra person, the rewards increase for everyone. So another person turning up is a joyous event.

    We fight those tar elementals off, chase off the remnants of the Flame Legion in that area, and then we all get rewarded for it. Every person playing in that area is presented with a reward for participating. That’s fantastic.

    Not only that, but out in the world, loot is instanced to you. So if two people kill a mob, you BOTH get loot and experience. It doesn’t dick around with trying to make you hate other people like most MMOs do. Another thing? Resource nodes are instanced to the player rather than globally, too.

    Let me tell you a little story…

    The other day, a friend of mine told me something that made me just sigh. Her tauren druid friend was using flight and their ability to do herbalism faster than any other race in order to screw over this alliance guy. So this alliance guy would try to pick a flower for his alchemical needs, then the druid would swoop in, pick the flower before he could, and fly off. They were doing this just to fuck with him.

    You can do lots of things like that in World of Warcraft and MMOs like it. It’s almost like they teach you to hate other people. It’s depressing. However, again, this is something that can’t happen in Guild Wars 2. In GW2 all resource nodes are instanced to YOU. Therefore, if a person comes up and takes a resource node, it’s still there for you.

    It also means that if someone blows through an area resource gathering, then that doesn’t matter, because that field of resources is still there for you. It’s instanced to the player.

    It’s in this way that Guild Wars 2 is very anti-traditional.

    I’ve seen so many MMORPGs that just encourage inter-player hatred that it makes me sad. I’m so sick of that.

    But do you know what I see happening with GW2? I see big harvesting groups getting together to chat and gather at the same time. The leader who knows the way around will bring people to nodes, everyone will harvest that node, and then they’ll move on. This will be similar to how mining was in Ultima Online! Where you could chat and gather at the same time, and other people were not automatically some great evil out to smite you.

    But the awesome thing is that due to the design of the game, this gathering party will be able to stop off and do the odd dynamic event, because you don’t need to go to Mr. ! or Mrs. ? in order to pick up quests. You just participate in what you see going on in the world around you. And that’s fantastic, because it really pulls people together.

    And this all feels right for the charr, anyway, which I’m going to be playing as. The charr are all about the Legion being just as important as the person. That’s why I enjoyed the charr personal storylines so much – you were important, but you were also part of something bigger. Everything you did felt as though it meant something. And Rytlock Brimstone is one of the most fun characters I’ve encountered in a fantasy setting. He’s a badass, but he’s also funny and a total bro. I love seeing him turn up in my personal storyline stuff.

    But yeah, I mean, let me give you an example of how different the personal storyline stuff is. (This is obviously going to have spoilers.)

    At one point, you’ve invented this ghostbore musket which is designed to harm the Ascalonian ghosts in such a way that it takes them longer to reform. So there’s a test for this weapon, and the strategy is that the charr pull a bunch of ghosts away from one of their outposts, and you shoot at them. It lampshades the old player mob train beautifully.

    Especially with one charr yelling: “Woohoo! Look out, ghost train coming through!”

    That mission was just a blast, because you’re working with NPCs. And you work with cleverly coded NPCs in a lot of your personal storyline stuff. What I didn’t like about the Bioware approach was that it was too much about you alone, whereas in the charr storyline of GW2, it’s always you and your legion. So you always have someone or a group of someones that you’re familiar with.

    It really does go out of its way to make you feel like you are part of a big, organised thing.

    That really motivated me, and I had more fun with the charr personal storyline than I’ve had with a lot of things, lately. I saw people on forums saying the same thing, too. It’s just that the charr story was seriously compelling. Basically, the charr work in a meritocracy, and your storyline is doing all you can to rise through that meritocracy. And the higher-ups always take an interest in those who’re making an effort to do so.

    But yeah, I’m very happy that Rytlock Brimstone features so much in the personal storyline stuff. Oh, and he’s voiced by Steve Blum, who did Spike in Cowboy Bebop. So he has just the right amount of rumble to his voice.

    I suppose what I feel at the end of my GW2 play is that everything is so… organic. Going back to other MMOs, I find that things feel… stilted. Even old favourites like Champions Online. I think I’ve just learned to hate the “Go to !, pick up quest, do quest, turn in to ?.” system. A system that Guild Wars 2 brilliantly eschews.

    I really haven’t had so much fun with anything in a long time.

    It was great playing an MMORPG with PEOPLE, instead of everyone trying to avoid everyone else because they were all doing their quests and worrying about kill steals. The feel of camaraderie was second to none.

    One last thing I’ll note to finish this up with is that that sense of camaraderie is really encouraged. Where other MMORPGs seem to encourage people to hate each other, GW2 encourages people to help each other. As I said, if another person comes into an event, then the rewards improve. Another example is that you can revive anyone. In fact, any player can revive any other player or friendly NPC. And it’s fun! I was reviving people in combat and I’m sure they appreciated it. I felt good about that.

    Furthermore though, there’s a title track for player resurrections, so it actively encourages you to do it for that. Completionists will be rezzing others a lot, and those who’re just friendly will do it anyway. I was running around the field purposefully trying to keep people up.

    It was just a really great experience.

    It was the first massively multiplayer MMORPG I’ve ever played.

    #6 2 years ago
  7. OlderGamer

    Damn that just looks fantastic.

    I can get into this game next winter I think. Might be time enough to smooth things out.

    #7 2 years ago
  8. TheWulf

    It is fantastic. It’s everything I’ve ever wanted from an MMORPG.

    In the past, I’ve often complained about how MMORPGs since Final Fantasy XI just made everyone antisocial. I mean, think about it… in Ultima Online, you often had people working together in big groups. But FF XI introduced the idea that people should work in teams of no bigger than six, and that resource nodes should be instanced globally (making everyone fight over them).

    Ever since FF XI, it’s all gone to shit. This includes WoW and so many that followed in its footsteps. Embracing this idea that kill stealing, rare stealing, node stealing, quest objective stealing, and so on is all okay. Even the only MMORPG I’ve ever really enjoyed prior to this, Champions Online, had some of these problems. (Quest objective stealing especially.)

    It just feels so amazingly refreshing to head into a game and to know that every other player is a potential ally. Sure, you’ll have some jerks, but ArenaNet has said that they’ll be taking a no tolerance approach with griefing and that they’ll be dealing with it as they come to it. And you can tell that they’re dedicated to this, because the game is designed from the ground up to take tools away from the griefers.

    The goonswarm and groups like them would have a really hard time screwing things up for people in this game, because it just takes their toys away from them. They’re not allowed to screw it up for anyone else. The game mechanics just don’t allow it. And I think that any holes in that will be patched up by ArenaNet quick sharpish.

    Some may call this a ‘carebear’ game, but I think that anyone who wants to engender constant strife between people is a bit of a sociopath anyway, to be honest. Why would any well-adjusted person even want that? In past MMOs, I’ve seen people who’re new to MMOs quickly leave because of this problem, because they hated how other people were griefing them with node stealing, or quest objective stealing, and so on. (See above for the tauren example.)

    But after playing Guild Wars 2 all weekend, I really understand now how they’re taking all that griefing away. And it’s exhilarating! I’ve overjoyed. I’m really, really looking forward to playing more of it, just because I’ll actually be able to play alongside other people. It won’t be a Massively Isolationist Online Roleplaying Game, which so many others have been.

    In something like WoW, you need to get away from other people if you want to quest or gather. But GW2 is anti-WoW, you head toward other people. You follow the crowd and benefit from doing so.

    It’s like nothing else I’ve ever played.

    And frankly I’m already pining for it. No other MMORPG will ever stand up to it, really. This is a game-changer. Please, please let this be the standard for future MMORPGs, because like I said, I’m tired of games like WoW forcing me to be a virtual hermit. I don’t want that. I want to just be able to have fun with other people. You know… massively multiplayer.

    It’s funny, because the goonswarm did turn up for the BWE, and… they tried to grief. What did they do? Spell effects in a certain area. And everyone was like “That’s it? That’s all you’ve got? That’s all the griefing you can do?” and it was… gratifying.

    This probably won’t suit the usual, traditional MMORPG gamer who’s used to being an isolationist, but for those who’re sick of that, for those who want massively multiplayer to be massively multiplayer… you’re in for a real treat.

    #8 2 years ago
  9. absolutezero

    Jesus Christ.

    #9 2 years ago
  10. TheWulf

    :P

    Yes, I can talk about something I like. I should do it more, you say? OKAY!

    (Yes, terribly amused by this.)

    So, there was one point in the BWE where I was swept up in a crowd. We managed to actually smite the heck out of that shaman (you know which one), and then we proceeded rapidly south. We completed a bunch of events on the way and we all stuck together! It wasn’t before we got to that town where the submarine was before we all dispersed.

    And I was like…

    Haha, I don’t know where I am!

    And that was fantastic. I got my arse kicked trying an event in that area, and had fun. Then I went exploring, because I hadn’t gotten quite that far by myself due to the higher level stuff out there. I took part in a few higher level events and got two gold and one silver. Finally though I decided to go back to the Black Citadel as my bags were full and it was time to deal with that.

    But that’s never happened before, that’s what the amazing thing is. I’ve never been swept up in a group like that in an MMORPG. It was as entertaining as it was amusing, it was just out and out fun. I still can’t believe how many of us, and how we dispatched that shaman. Also, we were all on the ball, since people in the group seemed to know about cross-profession combinations. I had loads of fun shooting stuff through an elementalist’s lightning-wall.

    I can only hope that that sort of thing is going to happen a lot, because it’s a blast. It actually made it feel as though there are platoons of well-organised soldiers in that world who’re patrolling and keeping everything safe. And we sure gave those separatists at the submarine what for, too.

    But what a ride. Geez.

    That’s what the most memorable thing was, really. And it left such an impact. That I could get caught up in a group like that and really benefit from going with the flow in very positive ways. I hope I’ll get to know people in these groups, too. It’ll be nice to see familiar names around, whom I can help out when they’re around.

    #10 2 years ago
  11. viralshag

    Pretty average experience for me, seems to be a lot of the usual pre-MMO hype going on before the next big thing.

    I found the “quests” quite repetitive and a grind. I guess it is innovation in that it simply removes the need to talk to a quest giver that tells you to go to location A and instead just points out location A on the map and you go there of your own accord.

    And although it is still “kill X things” I do like that there is a variety of things you can do to complete the quests. The world is impressive but occasionally felt a little busy, other than that it is designed beautifully.

    #11 2 years ago
  12. shogoz

    There was a guildwars 1?

    #12 2 years ago
  13. GrimRita

    @12 yes – the original GWs came out around 2005(I think) with the last expansion in 2007(or 09) – its free to play and you pay for the updates. However, I was tempted to play GW 1 but according to Arena net – GW 1 and GW2 are two different games in terms of classes, game play etc.

    #13 2 years ago
  14. vee

    @11 That is pretty common gripe on the game and usually the reason is people play the game like any other MMO, running around to the hearts (closest thing you have to quests) in their map. Around these hearts you have the heart quest which usually fairly basic thing and some fairly quickly repeating dynamic events. And if you stick around and do these events, hell yeah it will get grindy.

    I recommend you wander off a bit and check out some of the things going on around you. There ain’t any map markers that will direct you, at most NPC pleading for help will run to you.

    And saying that that events are just quests with quest giver removed is just plain wrong. Events are usually chains and outcome of the event phase will affect what happens next. So if you fail to defend the village from centaur horde, they will come and burn the village. And give every NPC there making a whole village of merchants and other activities unavailable to players. The village will stay captured until players come and recapture it, which is whole new event. After they manage that, they might need to help NPC’s collect resources to rebuild the village and to various tasks to get things running again, another bunch of events, and then the village will be in operation again. There might also be event to attack those centaurs that burned the village.

    Now take traditional ! / ? questing style and imagine how interesting that whole process is there. Yeaaah, not so much. :)

    I think this video just shows so well why these are not ‘quests’. The world lives around you, regardless if you or any other player is there to do these things, you just react to stuff happening around you. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6CyqGJHTjes

    #14 2 years ago
  15. DSB

    @14 It’s cool and all, but saying that the random events (even events with multiple phases) make it totally different, just reminds me of all the guys who felt like all the dialogue and cutscenes would make SWTOR totally different.

    Personally I knew it wasn’t, but people really want that to be true.

    At the end of the day, you’re looking at mostly the same systems, even if they’ve been tweaked and improved to be more appealing.

    I think it’s going to make for a good MMO, it’s certainly the only one that really appeals to me since WoW, but I also think it’s going to take a lot more than that to really qualify for the next big thing.

    #15 2 years ago
  16. vee

    @15 That is actually true, if you mean that after all everything that we are doing is killing stuff, collecting stuff, activating stuff, protecting stuff or destroying stuff. Maybe forgot something, but those are basically the basic, mechanic things you do in any MMO. GW2 doesn’t change any of that, but what it changes is the presentation of these tasks: while more traditional games refer to ‘level grind’ and ‘quest grind’, I’ve heard very few who played GW2 saying that. And that is because it is fun, none of it feels like grinding! I’m doing the fun stuff right out of the gate and actually enjoying the game straight from level 1! That alone is an amazing feat that not single MMO can match. While this is down to everyones personal preference, almost everyone seemed to agree with me in this one. The game definitively innovates with the basic mechanics!

    Lets compare to something like TERA for example. I’ve never played it but I’ve read lots about it. Everyone keeps saying ‘oh just wait until you get to level 20+, then the REAL game starts..’ and I keep asking why? Why do I need to play for 20 levels before the game starts? Same with WOW: Get to the max level and start doing endgame dungeons, thats where the TRUE game is. Why can’t I just have fun.. now? GW2 accomplishes that, it is fun from level 1.

    The whole ‘next big thing’, ‘WoW killer’, whatever does not catch my fancy. It is fun, I’ll play it. :)

    #16 2 years ago

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