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.
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.