Guild Wars 2 preview
Evening, minions. Been looking forward to the ArenaNet’s upcoming attempt to upset the MMO applecart, otherwise known as Guild Wars 2?
If the answer to that question was anything other than a resounding chorus in the affirmative, you’re all going to have to stay after class to read my list of reasons why you should be very excited about what could be just the shake-up the online RPG market needs after years of bloated Blizzard monopoly.
Playing the recent closed beta event, as some of us privileged types were invited to do, it’s easy to be carried away by the thematic similarities that GW2 carries over from both the original game and the standard practice in modern-day RPGs. ArenaNet aren’t re-inventing the wheel here: you’ll still be completing quests, gaining experience and levels and ganging up with other players to take down challenges beyond your individual capacity to overcome.
Still there are a few things that stick out in the mind, that separate Guild Wars from the crop of challengers that seek to knock the cash cow of online gaming out of its comfortable rut.
Once you’re finished reading about what I think about the game, head over to our major developer interview to find out what the guys who designed the game think you should be looking forward to.
Let’s face it — the way your character is going to relate to most of the creatures and objects that stand in their way is by stabbing, bludgeoning, shooting or generally blasting them into submission. Combat is such a large part of any RPG experience, especially the traditionally grind-focused online segment, that failing to address it first would be foolish.
Combat in Guild Wars 2 is an interesting mix of tactical thought, statistics and dice rolls, along with a sprinkling of skill-based manoeuvring. Although each character chooses a class at creation (standard warrior, mage and thief archetypes, along with more interesting choices such as the Engineer or illusionist Mesmer), the devs have gone to great lengths to ensure that each player can take up multiple roles in battle.
Each profession has several primary skills, determined by the main weapon used. In the case of classes like the Elementalist, attuning to a different type of magic offers a new range of possibilities, so transforming from a dedicated blaster (with Fire attunement) into an off-healer (with Water) is a viable strategy mid-fight. This flexibility makes PvE fights a more fluid, if sometimes more confusing, affair. In PvP, keeping an eye on opponents’ tactics becomes as important as managing your own strategy.
While it seems likely that the scourge of standard play styles and skill rotations will visit GW2 at some point, ArenaNet’s tweaks to the formula should at least provide some extended possibilities — and hopefully no classes should be left without some utility in groups. The addition of dodge mechanics and the greater emphasis on position and teamwork should help alleviate the mechanical nature of many Warcraft-style engagements.
The quirky, odd style of Guild Wars’ universe was a consistent draw for players bored with the Tolkienesque tropes of most other attempts at epic fantasy, and it’s good to see the designers plowing the same rich furrow in the sequel. Who wouldn’t rather be a militaristic beastman or non-gender-specific tree spirit, rather than the tired cliché of beer-swilling dwarf or arcane-wielding elf?
The world of Tyria, setting for GW2, also boasts a feature that most other developers would do well to take a long hard look at: the team is not afraid to admit that time passes. While most other universes seem to be stuck in some kind of wormhole, where societies, technology and geography barely alters, Tyria has been irrevocably altered by the passage of the intervening 250 years, introducing new races, like the Sylvari, and new means of waging war, like the invention of firearms by the Charr.
While much of the expansive world of the original game has been cut off, ostensibly by the rise of the Elder Dragons (the new game’s Big Bad Guys), it would be most surprising if the devs were not planning to expand the world beyond its impressive opening size.
While Guild Wars does follow the tradition of most RPGs by adopting the quest system, that most simple of ways to lead the player around by the nose while ensuring that they see all the content you’ve created for them, it does introduce a couple of welcome innovations to the base formula.
Some quests will be given to you by important characters, but will usually be of the type: “Get your ass over to this town.” The bulk of the actions you’ll be performing in the game will be what the team call Dynamic Events — you see something in the world that needs doing, and do it. So for instance, a group of hunters may be trying to collect giant spider eggs, but need you to hold off the mother spiders for long enough to do their job. Or a group of peasants may need you defend them from the bandits currently trying to burn down their houses.
The joy with this kind of system is that it is up to you, and your style of play, what content you see. Keen to whizz through to the next area, and forget about cleaning up all the corners of this map? You can do that, and the game won’t penalise you for having a log full of unfinished quests. On the other hand, if you’re the type who won’t be satisfied with patches of the map still covered, you can chip away at the mountain of content on offer to your heart’s content.
The developers promise the quest chains will have permanent effects on the areas you travel through, and that multiple playthroughs will offer different content every time. Also, soloing up to the maximum level cap is apparently an option. We’re unable to confirm any of that, but the fact that they’re taking seriously elements of the online RPG system that players have been complaining about is an encouraging sign.
In short, there won’t be any. While you’ll still have to purchase the game to play it, ArenaNet have promised that like the original, there will be no monthly fee to play online.
While that might sound odd for a game that costs the publisher in hardware, bandwidth and staff time to run, we expect that Guild Wars 2 will follow the same path to profitability that the first game did — that is, producing multiple addons and content packs that hooked players will want to continue pumping money into.