[GW2] Hands on with Guild Wars 2

In case you are reading this and somehow not aware, Guild Wars 2 is a highly anticipated fantasy based MMO which builds on the lore from Guild Wars but is otherwise a completely different game. Current thinking is that it is probably due out next year.

The first sight I had of the off-site Guild Wars 2/Alienware tent was on the preview night of Comic Con, when Arb and I were searching for the shuttle bus to the pre-registration pickup location. We had walked the length of the convention centre twice and then been sent back to the far end, over the road, across a bridge … you get the picture.

As we finally found the bus stop, I noticed an Alienware branded tent in the car park next door. “No one’s ever going to find that,” I thought. Let’s just say that the exterior location was not the greatest. This worked in Randomessa’s favour as she was able to test out the GW2 demo extensively.

Never mind that, what did you think?

Inside the convention centre, NCSoft had a stand in one corner, near some of the other computer games, where they were running demos for Guild Wars 2 and City of Heroes. The GW2 demo lasted 40 mins so I decided to try to get in as early in the morning as I could and be prepared to wait awhile.

Few words about the stand: It was never throughly crowded like the Bioware one, but that’s partly due to location and partly due to it not being about Star Wars. The NCSoft staff were awesome – I think as soon as I stopped to watch someone else play the game, one of them asked me politely if I was interested in playing the demo and when I said I was, showed me how to tell how long was left on the current player’s screen. I also like to see female gamers staffing the stall and answering people’s questions about the game, it may be sexist but it makes me feel more welcome as a female gamer even if I never speak to them myself.

OK, back to the demo. Soon enough the guys playing the console in front of me came to the end of their time and I was next in line. The demo offered options to play as three of the races: humans, norn, and charr. Charr started at a higher level for people who wanted to explore that side of the game, Norns started at level 1 in their starting area, and I didn’t bother checking Humans because by the time I got to them I’d already picked my Norn and moved on to the next screen. I swear I’ll get better at reviewing demos but I wanted to play this one.

Norns are a blonde, athletic, viking-type race who follow animal gods and have animal totems. They also drink a lot and live in a snowy mountain area. and the character generation gives the player is quick intro to all of these features.  You are able to pick your name, father’s profession, preferred totem, and some events that happened in your backstory (which relic did you inherit? what exactly did your character get up to at that last drunken revel, assuming you can remember it?). and in the live game there will be plenty of character customisation options too. It seems clearly signposted that all of these decisions will come back to haunt you later as you go through your personal questline.

And then you’re off.

Initial quests follow the familiar pattern of “questgiver marked with an arrow” but very quickly I found that the game has a much better flow than this would imply, even to a seasoned MMO gamer who can see behind the curtain and is already thinking in terms of, ”Where’s my next quest? How much more xp to level 2?”

Just wandering around will uncover goals, which may take the form of actual quests, or may be requirements marked on the map. Sometimes you wander into events, which are handily noted on screen with “An event has started!” Other times you can talk to a scout NPC who will take you to a quest area and help by marking out useful locations on your map. Sometimes you will wander past a world element such as  a shrub or tree that seems to be glowing and when you stop to interact, your character will do something appropriate or you’ll be advised if you need to find something and return.

This makes for a far more immersive experience than it has any right to be. I wandered around, things happened, I responded to them, I have no idea how many of those things were part of dynamically generated events and how many were just there anyway waiting for someone to discover them … and I don’t think I care. Other demo players were in the same game world, I saw some of them running around and stopped to help someone kill a larger mob on my way.

I think Arenanet are on to something very good here, because despite the impression of wandering around aimlessly, there was always a certain amount of direction offered. If I had been really stuck I could have gone back to the core quest and followed that. Similarly, the gameplay feels initially similar to WoW (and WoW-like games) – you have an action bar, you use WASD to get around, etc. This makes it very easy to pick up for a seasoned MMO player, but I feel that there’s a lot more to it, especially once you are able to use more abilities at higher level.

The core personal questline includes cut scenes which are more like stills of talking heads, and seems to be more about your personal legendary journey. I loved the graphics and didn’t feel that lack of animation in the cut scenes was any kind of hindrance. The landscapes are bright and colourful, and I noticed the charr player next to me was wandering through a field of bright flowers in his higher level zone. Also yes, you can jump (people tend to go on about this because characters can’t jump in Guild Wars 1.)

As far as the engineer goes, since I only played it to about level 3 I can’t offer much of an analysis on combat in general or the engineer in particular. My norn started with a blunderbuss which offered two main skills – a regular shot and a net/ root shot. When I later switched to dual pistols, the skill bar switched too, and looked as though it was more AE focussed. I felt very encouraged to move around during combat, not necessarily because I had to (this probably is more of a feature when you are out of the starting areas) but because my main shot was instant.

There will be cosmetic clothing, at least to some extent,  and the basic character screen, once you find it (icons are at the top left of the screen and quite small), offers a choice even to starting characters of wearing adventuring clothes or town clothes.

As you wander around the world you will also occasionally uncover teleportation sites, similar to the stable masters from regular MMOs. Towards the end of my demo, I decided to go check out the norn main city, which is available even to new characters from any teleport point. It looked very quiet and empty with just me and a few NPCs. This also led to one of the NPC conversations which most amused.

I was talking to an NPC and noticed a typo in her response. “Ahah,” I thought, “I’ve found a spelling mistake in the beta, my task here is done!” But as I continued with the in game conversation, it turned out that she was actually ICly mispronouncing the word, which was turned into a source of humour.  It’s a trap for overly keen beta testers!

My overall impression was very good, 40 minutes passed very quickly and I would have happily played for longer. What is harder to put across in writing is that the game has a certain charm to it. In fact, what I’m most reminded of (and don’t hate me for saying this) is how I felt the first time I played the WoW beta ….

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13 thoughts on “[GW2] Hands on with Guild Wars 2

  1. “what I’m most reminded of (and don’t hate me for saying this) is how I felt the first time I played the WoW beta ” That sure is high praise ! All of a sudden this game came on my radar (albeit as an ‘if swtor is horrible’ -game)

    OT “…may be sexist” It isn’t, both sexes prefer to see female staffers/faces. Think about that the next time you walk past a news-stand and look at magazine covers. If you see more than one male face, I’ll be surprised.

  2. Thank you.
    No, I won’t blame you for comparing it to WoW beta. ;)
    Though it really makes me wonder if this is more WoW or GW or whatever. Apparently people like it, which can’t be a bad thing per se.

    Have you noticed the male norns? They look rather odd, in GW1 they looked like walking tons with a helmet, in GW2 they still do and rather remind me more of a bear than a man. Viking extreme. Doh, I actually want to play a male char again and blame artists Katy Hargrove and Kristen Perry for seducing me to play female chars. Maybe even charrs… :)=

    I found it most interesting to read how the “event” system of dynamic content and quests were apparently going together nicely.

    The 10 skill ability bar with rez and self-heal for everyone is also interesting. GW1 has 1319 skills and you pick 8 for yourself and 8 for each of your heroes. Skills tied to class and weapon type makes for skill bar swapping without taking up the usual 3-5 hotkeybars of skills we are used to in most MMOs.

    I won’t go to gamescom where the revamped sylvari and the asura will be revealed. P.S. both are now officially written in small letters, just like humans. But I will link you the blogs/reports of friends who are going, most will post their impressions in English.

    It will be interesting if GW2 can sway people who might have been playing SWTOR for a while when it finally releases. Or if they really manage to play both. GW2 will have the advantage of the no sub model, but I am afraid it will have a lot more shopification than GW1.

    I don’t play MMOs a lot these days, STO just doesn’t work for longish gaming sessions and rather play interesting single player games now and then.
    I don’t know what you do, but you can unlock fancy fluff in Guild Wars for Guild Wars 2 just by playing through.

    http://hom.guildwars2.com/en/#page=main&details=AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA

    Dunno, Icelord’s Diadem sounds so WoW… ;) But a Stygian Reaver, Red Servitor Golem or Black Widow Spider are for sure nice rewards. And you get the first 3-10 points already for just logging into the game and travelling to the Hall of Monuments.

    • “Though it really makes me wonder if this is more WoW or GW or whatever. ”

      That’s a valid question so hold that thought. But like I said, this is a quick 40 min hands on with one of the very initial starting areas.

  3. I keep hoping to find posts like this about gw2 from bloggers who aren’t huge fanboys like me or ravious. I’ve played a few mmos but Guild Wars has been one of my favourites so its fun to read first impressions from someone who is more attuned to say WoW or whatever.

    From your description it sounds like everything was working pretty smoothly despite that they seem to be changing up how you encounter content, engage in it, etc.

    Can’t wait to play it myself.

  4. Just remembered that I forgot to mention the dye system — yes I wasted valuable minutes messing around with changing the colours of my character’s clothes. You could make three different colour choices for each piece (eg. main colour, off colour, piping/ seams), it’s probably the most extensive dying system I’ve seen.

    • As an addition to the dye system, dyes are not items you find or buy. You unlock colors (and I imagine there will end up being colors in the cash store as well). Once a color is unlocked, I believe it’s supposed to be unlocked for the whole account, meaning your alts will have access to those colors immediately. Each piece of armor has the colors tuned to it, so you can’t end up with colors that will end up looking very strange on some of the armors, like you could with the dye mixing system in Guild Wars. It’s really amazing the effort they’ve put into the sartorial choices players can make for their characters.

  5. My most anticipated MMO by very far (I don’t intend to play SWTOR)…and now, you just managed to make me even more excited than I already was!
    I loved the solo background story parts in AoC and the way you’re describing the dynamic questing and random events, I am reminded of beloved classic RPGs. Add to that how awesome the game already looks, the class/role-approach – and then you mention WoW 1.0. – I am SO sold!!!

  6. Like Hunter, I really appreciate reading the impressions of someone who has a bit of a different background and didn’t necessarily go in expecting it to be the bee’s knees, so thanks for writing this up. Thanks also for the pingback! I look forward to arbitrary’s thoughts as well.

  7. Pingback: [GW2] Paws-on at Comic Con « Welcome to Spinksville!

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