by Anna Roberts
It’s been a week since the three-day headstart began for Guild Wars 2, and it’s safe to say that we’ve put in enough hours to be able to give our first impressions of ArenaNet’s MMO.
The true test of an MMORPG is how it evolves over its lifetime, but here we discuss what Guild Wars 2 has done right and wrong so far, and how it might change in the future.
With a slew of beta testing weekends and several stress tests under my belt, I went into the headstart with a great deal of Guild Wars 2 experience. I am very familiar with the five races: the downtrodden humans, the bestial feline charr, the viking-like norn, the leafy sylvari, and the gnomey, big-eared asura. The professions (or classes) range from heavy armored types (warriors and guardians) to medium armored (rangers, thieves and engineers) to scholars (elementalists, mesmers, and necromancers). Each class can do a little bit of tanking, damage and healing – but focus on one role for too long and you’ll end up in trouble.
Guild Wars 2 does away with the trinity. Your character, although they can get support from others, is expected to look after themselves and not berate the healer or tank; two traditional roles which exist in a very different form in Guild Wars 2. Each player needs to master all three of these roles instead of relying on others to fulfill them. This key change, along with the abilities for characters to move while casting and dodge attacks, provide more of an output for skill-based play, rather than the constant mindless rotations we’ve seen in other MMOs. If you stand still for more than a second, it’s likely you’ll pay the price.
Furthermore, positioning in combat is key. Use point-blank shot to push enemies off cliffs. Dodge backwards and shoot through area-of-effect circles to pick up their conditions and apply them to your arrows; make the most of chokepoints, open ground and escape routes. All of these tactics apply in the more difficult PvE areas as well as in PvP. For further details of the changes to standard MMO gameplay that Guild Wars 2 brings, have a quick read of a column we wrote on the subject a few weeks ago.
For the full release of the game, beta characters were wiped. We made five new characters, got mildly depressed when our preferred names were already taken, and started off playing sylvari ranger. The sylvari tutorial is set in “The Dream,” where the sylvari stay until they are awoken to join the real world. My ranger started off with an axe and a cute little Fern Hound, and began batting away all the nightmarish horrors, with further axe skills unlocking as I did so.
My pet, Luna, was a little fragile but dealt out surprisingly decent amounts of damage. Pet controls in Guild Wars 2 are basic: call to target, retreat (or “heel” as we took to calling it) and a special skill that changes from species to species. Luna could howl, causing all allies to gain a regeneration buff for a few seconds. Jellyfish can spin to apply chill to enemies in the immediate area, ravens can blind foes, and so on. There is also an option to switch to another pet, if you have a second pet already charmed. Ideally, you should aim to switch your pet just before they die, but unfortunately this requires a great deal of UI watching, as their healthbar is tucked away above your skillbar.
Combat with the ranger felt as crisp and visceral as that of other classes I’d experienced during the beta. An axe/axe combination gave lots of mid-range area-of-effect (AoE) damage and some condition damage. Other options included a warhorn, to buff me and my allies; a shortbow, for rapid fire that is ideal for triggering combos with other players, and a greatsword, which enabled my delicate-looking sylvari to dish out a ton of close-up area damage whilst looking ridiculous. Every weapon combination tried was fun, so we found it best to keep switching weapon sets to keep things fresh. The shortbow and sword/torch combo was the most satisfying.
Away from combat, what else worked? Well, the dynamic event system seemed to cope with the post-launch onslaught of players. Map populations were restricted to a sensible level, spawning “overflow” servers where players could continue adventuring whilst queuing. This made sure that the scaling of dynamic events wasn’t often confounded by the sheer number of players. Only a few times in the sylvari starting area were we able to breeze through events due to the overwhelming numbers of players.
Guild Wars 2 is incredibly pretty. We were lucky enough to be able to run it on the highest settings at 30+ FPS (and yet we only played on a mid-range laptop with a dual-core processor), and it looked incredible. My screenshot folder is up to 265 items, and rising fast. I even found myself taking screenshots of all the loading screens, which show off the talent of ArenaNet’s concept artists. The cities provide some “wow” moments, too.
There is much to satisfy the perfectionist inside you, too. If you complete maps by visiting all the points of interest and waypoints, view all the vistas, obtain all the skill points and complete all the renown hearts, you get hefty rewards (money, crafting materials, armor, etc.). Plus, there are further unmarked jumping puzzles with more goodies at the end.
Also on the “great” list are the sound and music. Every little movement, emote and action in Guild Wars 2 has a sound attached to it. Shoot a bullet and you’ll hear the casing hit the ground. Jeremy Soule has produced another good soundtrack, with some stand-out tracks that approach the majesty of the Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind theme.
No MMO launch is perfect, but Guild Wars 2 had a particularly rough ride to begin with. Despite extensive beta testing and server stress tests, the log-in servers went down for nearly four hours during the first day of the headstart. A similar problem arose on the full launch day. Party functionality, the trading post and guilds were all broken to varying degrees. Overflow servers prevented us from playing with friends – there is an option to “Join in” when you right-click on others’ portraits, but that only worked intermittently during the first few days.
Seven days on, most of the problems were sorted, but the trading post is still down for maintenance, and some of the party issues remained. Every time a patch drops in primetime, many players would find themselves unable to log-in for up to an hour as hundreds of thousands of players attempted to get back playing simultaneously. There was also concern that ArenaNet was being too strict with character naming policy, dishing out 72-hour bans to players for their first offensive name. Further controversy arose when some Guild Wars 2 players were given permanent bans for taking advantage of an in-game exploit. Finally, the official forums are still not up.
It is a shame that these issues detract from what Guild Wars 2 really is: an extremely enjoyable, well-made MMO that blasts away the cobwebs that have plagued the genre in recent years. It has not just outgrown the first installment in the franchise, it has become something else entirely: a true MMO that has real power in the market and practically ends the subscription fee era of MMOs.
It will take time to see if Guild Wars 2 has staying power. What will happen when players reach 100% map completion? Will they want to play through it all again? Will PvP and dungeons be enough for us? Will players come back when expansion packs are released? We will try to answer all these questions, plus delve into Guild Wars 2’s PvP scene, in a further progress report in a few months’ time.
Guild Wars 2: a bumpy road at launch, but if these bumps can get smoothed out, it looks to have a smooth ride for the immediate future.
First week grade: A-
Have you been playing Guild Wars 2? What do you make of its launch?