As competition heats up for developers to try and create the best game of 2012, ArenaNet and NCSoft were eager to bring players in to their first open beta weekend for their big contender: Guild Wars 2! For many players, it was the first opportunity to try out the game, though many further weekend events will happen before the official launch. So, now that everyone has had a chance to get their hands on it, how does the game look?
Naturally, with any beta, you expect certain “rough edges”, and those were present – lag, framerate issues, buggy mobs, and so on. I only mention them now so we can get them out of the way, and focus on the game itself, and the developer response to problems that came up. For this weekend, I decided to try my hands on playing a Charr Elementalist, a ranged specialist class clearly meant to lull their enemies to a peaceful sleep…via violent explosions and horrible death!!
Now, during the TERA Beta Event I mentioned that combat had felt a little sluggish initially, before I adapted to the interesting control mechanics. It bears repeating, since Guild Wars 2 suffers (or benefits) from a similar learning curve. Players may find their health seemingly vanishing into nothingness before remembering that they can manually dodge attacks. In fact, every class is expected to avoid more damage than they take while possible, as every class fills every roll. That is to say they can all DPS, heal, and “tank” at a similar level, albeit using different tactics depending on the class.
This class mechanic is at the core of the Guild Wars experience, something ArenaNet wanted to both define the game, and to break the core understanding of how these types of games generally work. By forcing every class to take on every roll, a new playing field is created where every member of the team is able to contribute to an encounter…and more importantly, where success or failure is not dependent on a single player. Characters no longer have to worry if their tank is competent, or their healer has a good connection: everyone is responsible for filling numerous roles.
ArenaNet also included interesting group-based combat mechanics that, unfortunately, I did not get much chance to experiment with. Combination attacks can be made with proper planning, however. For instance, an Elementalist can lay down a Fire Wall attack, which will transform a whirlwind attack to make it shoot fireballs, or arrows to take on a fire effect. There are many possible combinations, and using them properly can change the battlefield instantly.
Also impressive is the system used for combat skills; each class has certain weapons (or combinations of weapons) available to use. As a player uses each weapon more, they begin to unlock more and more skills to use in combat. While this can turn into somewhat of a grind, it is a grind that takes only a few minutes (the unlocking is based seemingly off of kills, and I was able to complete my weapons quickly each time). The benefit is that each weapon offers a different playstyle, with a scepter and focus combination offering different spells than a two-handed staff, for instance. Characters are also given “utility skills” which are chosen by the player, and unlocked as they level. In combination, these allow players to build their characters to suit their style of play, and put in a certain amount of customization that works out well.
In playing the game, there are some interesting features that pop up: your character has a storyline that is generated based on questions you answer during generation, and all story content is instanced (similar to Old Republic) so you don’t have to worry about interference. To curb a tendency of some players to out-level content, zones also contain a built in level limit; going above that will temporarily lower your stats to conform to the level limit of the zone. I’m of two minds about the latter feature…it keeps content from becoming trivial in “old zones”, but may frustrate players who are simply moving through the area to harvest resources, or similar functions.
I will admit, however, that the most confusing things I encountered in the game were little details, and hopefully ones that will get smoothed over by the time the game launches later this year. Trying to enter the main Chaar city (Black Citadel), I thought the portal was broken when it would not let me in (on the contrary, the zone was simply too full, so I could not be ported in, but the game had no notification of this). I also went into the PVP areas for a few games, but realized after a few continuous rounds that I had no idea how to leave the warzone area, which took a few minutes to figure out. I was then moved to a completely different area, and had to find my way back to Black Citadel through a series of portals that took a few minutes to figure out.
However, the simple fact remains that, with some polishing details added in throughout the beta, ArenaNet has made a strong-looking title with a lot of promise. A mid-day patch on the first day vastly improved frame rates for a lot of people having issues, which is always a good thing to see done quickly. The level of attention that was being given to bugs during the weekend was a great indication that the developers are looking closely to find ways to improve the game before it goes live, which means that things are definitely looking good for them. The fact that the game will feature no monthly fee to play is also a big draw for gamers looking to enjoy an online game without having to pay an arm and a leg for it.
Guild Wars 2 is slated for a late-2012 release, but players have the option of pre-ordering the title for guaranteed access to the open beta events between now and then. While the weekends offer a mere tease, a few days of trying the game, playing them has already given good feedback, and it will be great to see what changes are made from here.
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