by Anna Roberts
Today marks what is likely to be the last server stress test for ArenaNet’s upcoming massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG). Guild Wars 2 has become notorious for the huge amount of hype behind it, with fans salivating over every byte of released info since its announcement in 2007. So what’s all the fuss about?
Guild Wars 2 is a fantasy MMO set in Tyria, the same continent that the original game, Guild Wars, was set in. This time around it’s a true MMO – you can meet players everywhere, even outside of towns. At release on August 28, there will be five playable races: the humans, the charr (an aggressive feline race that featured as antagonists in GW1), the norn (giant humans based on Native American/Norse culture), the asura (brainy, arrogant big-eared gnome-type things) and the sylvari (the youngest race; tree/plant people in humanoid form).
All races can play as any of the eight professions. Returning Guild Wars professions are warriors (have wide choice of melee and ranged weapons, high armor rating), rangers (pet-based class with ranged and melee options), elementalists (can switch between fire, earth, air and water attunements, having the full power of the elements at their fingertips), necromancers (masters of death and blood magic, heavily condition based) and mesmers (use illusions and trickery and lots of pink butterflies). New professions to Tyria are guardians (holy warriors designed to fill the paladin archetype), thieves (stealthy types who can “steal” items from opponents to use against them) and engineers (have access to gadgets, guns and turrets).
Weapon choice determines the first five skills on your skillbar. All classes have a healing slot, three utility skills and an elite skill. For most classes, weapons can be swapped mid-combat (with a short cooldown) to give access to give extra abilities. Characters can move during combat and players need to make good use of the dodge ability.
The main storyline branches in several places, but the ultimate goal is to defeat Zhaitan, one of the Elder Dragons that have upset the balance of the world, to put it mildly.
Dynamic events and renown hearts
Much has been said (and not all of it accurate) about the dynamic event system in Guild Wars 2. In essence, dynamic events are replacements of the traditional method of questing we’ve seen in post-year 2000 MMOs and make up the bulk of player-versus-environment (PvE) content in the game. The Guild Wars 2 Wiki describes them well:
Dynamic events refer to any event that occurs in a persistent area as a result of players interacting with and exploring the world. They are called “dynamic” because there are multiple outcomes that also result in new events, creating a cascade effect. Once an event has triggered, it will develop whether or not a player attends it. Because of this, there is no real concept of failure or success – the result of any event will simply cause a change in the surrounding area. For example, if monsters are successful in raiding an area, they may become strong enough to occupy a fort, which could then be taken by players.
The difficulty scales with the number of actively contributing players, ensuring there is always a challenge no matter how many players turn up. Based on your efforts in the event, you receive either a bronze, silver or gold contribution reward. If you and the other players fail the event, you receive a reduced reward. Players receive experience equal to that which they would have gotten had they taken on the event solo.
Renown hearts were added in midway through development because traditional MMO players were not used to a directionless world. They are designed to draw players into areas where dynamic events often take place. Renown hearts are more like traditional quests: they are marked on the map and you need to carry out relatively repetitive tasks to complete them. You do, however, get a choice of what tasks to do to complete the hearts (collect eggs, slay bandits, talk to NPCs, etc.), and when you complete the heart, a vendor is unlocked, allowing you to buy items with the karma currency earned from events and hearts, provided that the NPC is alive and the area is not invaded via a failed dynamic event chain. Filling in the hearts is like completing quests – not always fun, but satisfying.
The second strand of the PvE experience comes from the personal story, which tells the main storyline of your character as they gain renown and strive to slay Zhaitan. Most of the personal story is instanced, but you can invite up to four friends to play alongside you. The storyline varies depending on your biography choices in character creation, your race and the dialogue choices you make along the way. The outcomes of your choices are reflected in your home instance – an area in your race’s capital city that changes as you play through.
It is important to note that the personal story of GW2 is not full of expensive cinematics or good vs. evil dialogue choices as in Star Wars: The Old Republic. You don’t get to play the bad guy. All characters are heroes, but there is so much choice along the way that it doesn’t feel too restrictive.
A living canvas
The art style in Guild Wars 2 is always described as painterly, and it’s evident in everything from paint splodges on the launcher to brush strokes on the UI, and enhanced by the phenomenal concept art on every loading screen. Tyria v.2 is beautiful, even on the lowest graphics settings.
Dotted around the maps are vistas: hard-to-reach areas that provide breathtaking views and reward you with a short cutscene of the camera panning through the environment. But you don’t have to venture far to get good views. Hop out of Divinity’s Reach, the human capital city, get to slightly higher ground and take a look behind you – the city looks fantastic: huge, detailed, epic. Screenshots do not do Guild Wars 2 justice. The art style, landscape variety, impressive soundtrack and sound effects combine to make Tyria feel real, or at least somewhere that is ridiculously fun and exciting to explore.
Player vs. player
The PvP in GW2 comes in two forms: structured PvP and World vs. World. Structured PvP is where two teams of five fight to control three capture points whilst also dealing with the map’s unique mechanic: a trebuchet, neutral monster camps or guild lords. So far, so standard.
World vs. World PvP is at a completely different scale. Three servers battle it out over two weeks and four huge maps to control keeps, supply camps and towers. These battles usually consist of hundreds of players on each side in each map – the larger skirmishes won’t be much more than slideshows if your PC is at the lower end of the system requirements, but there are always quieter areas which are still important to gain control of for your team to succeed.
Fresh, new and different
I am reluctant to use the term innovative here – that word usually results in the screaming of Tera, Warhammer Online and RIFT fans who argue that Guild Wars 2 contains elements that they pioneered. What Guild Wars 2 has done is implement these changes as an integral part of its gameplay, and so far the execution is near perfect.
ArenaNet believes that MMOs should enable you to play with friends, guildmates and strangers without any kill stealing, spawn camping or anything else that makes you annoyed when another player turns up. Instead, the presence of other players enhances your experience in Guild Wars 2. The lack of dedicated healing classes means that all professions can contribute in all situations. Every class can revive any fallen ally without having it take up a slot on your skill bar. Skill combos reward players for teaming up – a necromancer can lay down a poison field and when a ranger shoots through it, the arrows have a chance to poison the enemy.
An MMO for casual players as well as veterans
Guild Wars 2 has no subscription fee. Like most other games, you only need to buy it and then it’s free. The microtransactions are cosmetic and convenience items only, and all can be earned through in-game gold.
Importantly, Guild Wars 2 does not have a traditional raiding end game. The levelling experience is the bulk of the game, and is there to be enjoyed rather than to race through. Only able to play five hours a week? No problem. In structured PvP you’re given access to the best gear and all your skills. In WvW your level and stats are boosted to max, but you’ll still need to unlock your skills as you go along. In PvE, higher level players have their stats scaled down to match the recommended level in lower level areas. You can play with your higher level friends without them one-shotting everything.
If you’ve never picked up an MMO before, Guild Wars 2 is still worth trying out. It rewards teamwork and skill, not gear or time.
If you’ve pre-purchased the game you can play in the stress test this afternoon (August 2) from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. EDT, but expect connection or lag issues, as of course, it is a stress test. Your characters from the last beta weekend event will carry over to today’s stress test.
Guild Wars 2 releases on August 28. Pre-purchasers get a head start of three days.
Are you looking forward to Guild Wars 2?
Photos: ArenaNet and NCSoft.