Friday, May 4, 2012

My Guild Wars 2 Beta Weekend Experience

I picked up the original Guild Wars on a whim about four years ago - I'm almost certain I purchased it from Target. And when I first dived into the MMO - my first - I wasn't entirely sure what to expect. As much as the game is catered toward community involvement, I have always been a solo kind of guy, so when Guild Wars allowed me to take NPCs with me on my adventures through the world of Tyria, I did so in lieu of calling on the support of real people.

And that made my gaming experience pleasurable in some areas, and not so much in others. The not so much was mainly in dungeons, where it required a lot of thinking, strategy and skill to pass through the hours of gameplay to get through a particular dungeon or even just to pass one of the game's many missions. I've never really had the patience to customize NPCs so that I have a specific group built with specific skills and specific armor in order to get through a specific I failed in certain areas of the game.

But other areas were more solo friendly, like most exploration areas, certain missions, and game festivals and events, which let me do my thing without having to call on other people - a portion of which are immature teeny boppers who don't really know what teamwork is. So overall, I was able to enjoy Guild Wars to a certain point. And when I heard about Guild Wars 2 being in production, I was ecstatic. I wondered if they would simply improve upon the areas of the game that I didn't care for, or if they would make the game even more difficult and community reliant to the point where I wouldn't want to play it at all.

Well, after playing the Guild Wars 2 beta this last weekend, I am more than happy to say they have, quite possibly, built one of the best games I have ever dived into. Not just the best MMO, but one of the best games in general.

My computer falls under the minimum system requirements for the game - so certain areas were extremely laggy, although some of that can be attributed to the fact that it was a beta and that there were sooooo many people online at one time, testing ArenaNet's servers - which is one of the points of a beta. Because of that, I didn't bother taking any game capture video. But I did take a slew of screenshots which will hopefully detail some of my experience in the world of Guild Wars 2.

When you first start the game, you are brought to the character creation screen. And for purposes of the beta, we were only allowed to pick between human, Charr, or Norn. And as much as I love the Norn and wanted to check out their storyline, I always start my games as human to see where the storyline is going to go.

So, I picked human and then I was brought to the screen where you choose your profession. I almost always - at least in Guild Wars - enjoy being the elementalist, so that's the one I picked. Then you go through the screens where you choose what your character is going to look like, questions are asked regarding what kind of background you want your character to have - which will in turn help form the storyline you will follow in the game.

After all that, here is my character. (This is after I found some armor dropped from enemies, dyed it with the color Autumn, and obtained an awesome looking magical staff through mission objectives.)
Velvet Rio

In the beginning of the game, I was thrown into the city of Queensdale where Centaurs were attacking the town. This is where I learned to use my magic skills which are connected to the weapon that I have, as opposed to strictly being connected to the character I have created. Although in this game, I don't have to specialize in any one elemental power - I can specialize in all of them: Earth, Water, Fire, Air. And I can switch between them at will, making it very easy to structure my attack strategy according to the type of enemy I am fighting.
Fighting Centaurs with fire.

Once I helped defend the land, I decided to explore, which is by far my favorite thing to do in any game I play, especially RPGs. The neat thing about Guild Wars 2 is that when you explore, you are doing so with others, where as the original Guild Wars had you in your own instance of the game, cordoned off from others except the party you brought with you. I didn't think I'd like this change at first, but it quickly grew on me. The world just feels so alive with the other players, the environments, and the NPCs. The game does have instances where it's just you and the NPCs, but those are the tailored story lines relevant to your character. Even when there wasn't any real players on screen, I still didn't feel like I was alone - I felt like I was in a living, breathing world. And when you and countless other random strangers are all banding together to destroy a large spider wreaking havoc on some poor farmer's crops - that's epic.
Killing the giant spider is a community effort!

Now I'll dive into the areas I felt Guild Wars 2 really excels in:

Battle -
The game's battle system is pretty easy to understand. You click or press a key to activate skills, fight enemies in real time, and loot the heck out of them. Your armor can be damaged in this game - unlike the original GW - but I like the addition of that because it forces you to be strategic.

The other addition I enjoyed was the fact that you get another chance to live if you end up getting slaughtered - you can either fight back, and if you kill an enemy, you come back to life with low health; or another player can come by and heal you back to life; or you can heal yourself back to life if you can do it before you're completely slaughtered by the enemies you are fighting. (This reminded me of the system used in Left 4 Dead, but that's not a bad thing.)
Fight to survive!

You also have backpacks and bags in this game - just like the original - where you can keep the goodies you loot and find throughout the world. You can obtain/craft a certain number of bags (inventory space) throughout the game, which is always something I make as a high priority in RPGs, mainly because I am a lootaholic!
The # of inventory slots you can have can be increased as you travel through the game.

Customization -
The game is brilliant when it comes to customizing your character. In the original guild wars, you couldn't find armor as drops from enemies - you had to craft/buy it. In Guild Wars 2, enemies drop armor, and the variety is very nice. It actually makes me want to keep slaughtering those enemies just to see what goodies are going to drop into my possession.

Also, in the first Guild Wars, you could only change the color of your armor after initially designing your character if you purchased/found/traded vials of dye - some of which were rare, like the black or white. In Guild Wars 2, they give you preset colors you can choose from on a constant basis to change the color of your armor. And then you can find dye seeds and turn them into random dye - some rare, some uncommon. (I wasn't able to find where to take my dye seeds in the beta, but I hope to approach that issue once again in the next beta.) What's nice about the dye too, is that it seems some of them are themed. You'll notice the screenshot of my lone character in the beginning of this post - I dyed her with a color named Autumn and it gave her outfit an orangish, yellowish, reddish tone. Very nice!

I only happened to stumble on this by accident, but apparently you are also given an outfit you can customize and wear in town. This is really nice if you just want to putt around and talk to NPCs or actual people but want to look a bit more classy.
Rockin' the hat!

Weapons are customizable just as they were in the original Guild Wars. You can attach runes and other magical artifacts to them to make them more powerful or give them special attributes. You can also carry a greater number of accessories to raise your attributes or harness certain effects.

Crafting - 
In the original Guild Wars, you could craft armor if you had the right materials, but then the variety of armor was limited and some of the armor took a ridiculously long amount of time and hassle to get the money and materials for. Guild Wars 2 fixes that by actually allowing you to salvage materials from the environment. You can mine for metal, chop wood, or harvest plants/herbs - all which can be used in the game's extensive crafting system.
Chopping me a tree!

GW2 allows you to pick two crafting professions at a time. You can choose between weaponsmith, jewelery maker, armorer, cooking, and a slew of others. When you have enough supplies to craft something - which the game keeps record of in your character's profile screen - you can go to the station relevant to your crafting profession and craft the item. You can even find recipes - at least I could with the cooking profession.

This opens up a whole new world of discovery and exploration for the Guild Wars franchise. After playing Skyrim, which is one of the few games I thought did weapon crafting well, it's nice to see GW2 incorporating it into their already massive world.

Exploration - 
I don't really have the time to get into the massive amount of exploration this game has. I'm not sure how many hours I actually played during the beta weekend, but I know I didn't even scratch the surface of this iceberg. The original GW was huge, but this game is MASSIVE.
This isn't even the whole world map. O_O

Even the town settlements are huge.

GW2 added underwater exploration, which is a very nice addition and seems to run pretty smoothly - at least more smoothly than other games which allow for underwater exploration.

And you never really know who you're going to run into.
What is that?!

Economy - 
The economy setup in GW2 is beyond brilliant. They have trading posts set up where people can post their items into the game's economy for others to purchase or they can purchase items others have put up for sale. It's all based on supply and demand, just as in the original GW. It did take me a while to figure out how to use GW2's system - I ended up ordering 23 Mystic Chests as opposed to the 2 I wanted because I kept clicking the BUY button not realizing the items I purchased could be found under the PICK UP tab.

There are three types of currency in the game: gold, karma, and gems. You gain gold as drops from enemies, from chests, from selling items, etc. The norm. You get karma by doing favors for NPCs around the world. You can trade this karma for certain items/armor/weapons. There are also gems - an item which can be purchased with real world money or traded with in-game gold. That is really nice because it means I can get gems just by putting more time into the game if I don't really care to dig into my wallet. Or, if I want convenience, I can just purchase gems. It's nice that I have the option to do one or the other.

Gems can be used to purchase items that allow for game convenience or character appearance. Nothing that can be bought with gems has anything to do with making your character more powerful - which is nice because it bars someone from taking advantage of the system.

The game also has a mail system that allows you to send in-game mail attached with items to other people in the game. It is also the system used to gain certain rewards from NPCs for helping them with certain objectives.
You've got mail...

I also found that GW2 has a greater variety of items you can purchase from merchants.
Wurm Poppers?

Achievements - 
The most impressive addition to GW2 are achievements.

There are daily achievements - which give you a reason to pick up the game every day.

There are monthly achievements, which give you something to strive for each month.

And there are overall achievements.

I think you gain rewards for achieving specific requirements - the reason for the treasure chest up on the daily and monthly page - but I didn't receive anything for accomplishing the daily achievement in the game, so I'm not sure what the reward is. (Something I reported as a bug.)

And although it was disabled during the beta, they have the Hall of Monuments achievements up which connects to the titles and trophies you earned in the Hall of Monuments in the original game and carry over as awards in GW2.

Level Up -
One of my biggest complaints of GW was that once my character hit Level 20, that was it. I couldn't really get more powerful or level up anymore. In GW2, I'm not sure what the level cap is - although I've read somewhere that it's 80 - but you can earn skill points and trait points as you level up, both of which you can spend towards unlocking new skills and traits. Although I wasn't able to unlock the traits before end of beta because I didn't realize you have to purchase a book to unlock the Traits bars.

Your weapons level up as well - the more you use certain weapon skills, the more other skills unlock. It's  nice, because you can level up the skills that you want instead of feeling like you're forced to stay with certain ones. At least this was the case with my elementalist and the four elements I was destroying everything with. (Although I always lean more toward fire.)

Artwork - 
My final category of praise for GW2 is the artwork. There were areas in the original GW that I really didn't care to traverse - most of Nightfall comes to mind. It just looked dreary to me, which I understand was the point, but it didn't make me want to play through most of the environments. But the new paint style and environments and character design in GW2 - it's all just absolutely phenomenal.

Loading screens have never looked so good!

All in all, I was extremely pleased with the beta weekend. I didn't take time out to try out Player Vs Player or World Vs World, nor did I really get around to trying out Charr or Norn races, but I'm sure I'll have plenty of time to check them out in future betas.

Yeah, there were issues, but it was a beta, and none of those issues looked to be issues that are going to stay with the game. I did feel lost at times when it came to using certain mechanics of the game, but I'm certain that came with it being a beta and with lack of game manual. ArenaNet did a great job crafting surveys that I would find along the way to give back my input on the game. And after you sift through the minor errors and whatnot, you have a game that is going to, beyond the shadow of a doubt, dominate the MMO community when it releases.


Cavernshark said...

Good write-up, especially with all the screenshots showing the various interfaces.

I think it's awesome for you that this was your first MMO. I've been playing them for years and the ArenaNet team really has gone out of there way to re-imagine almost every annoying mechanic of the genre.

Unknown said...

Thanks, Cavernshark. I agree - I think ArenaNet did a great job making GW2 much better than the original GW. Now I just need to spend some more time in GW1 amassing more rewards in the Hall of Monuments before GW2 is officially released.

Anonymous said...

The review makes me miss my old MMO days. I tried GW for a bit, but honestly I don't remember much from it. Very nice write up though.

I do remember the frustration of having to try to team up with random idiots to accomplish things all too well, luckily I had a group of about 10 friends who played and could be counted on for a helping hand.

Unknown said...

Scott, that's probably the biggest downfall of MMOs, that you have to rely on others to do certain things in them. It can get really frustrating. It seems to me though that GW2, at least what I played of it in the beta weekend, has solved that issue of having to deal with people who don't want to cooperate. That gets me excited to actually start playing online with others instead of trying to do the whole game solo. Although it's nice to be able to choose one or the other.