First seven thoughts on: GW2 beta

gw2beta_castle

This weekend was the first time I’ve had a chance to play the Guild Wars 2 beta. This is still a beta, which means that things can change before launch (and afterwards, obviously), so I’m not going to sweat the details in favour of sharing some broad stroke impressions.

Short summary: Fun was had but I can’t say I felt hooked until I tried WvW with Arb. WvW is really good fun and looks to me like the heart of this game. PvE is fine also but the parts I saw weren’t as compelling. Mechanically, the game is quite fussy, bordering on complexity just for the sake of it. This probably depends a lot on which profession/class you pick. Not so much ‘easy to learn, hard to master’ as ‘easy to learn enough to play the thing and not realise you haven’t grasped your class’s core mechanics.’  While the game can be quite slow and peaceful if you are in a quiet zone or quiet time, if you are in a zone filled with players you may end up with sensory overload from stuff going on all over the place all of the time. The ‘heart’ style of PvE questing where you get some choices about how to make the local questgiver happy was pretty cool and I liked it a lot.

Oh, and I really liked the vistas (will explain below.) I cannot imagine how genuinely new players would stick with the game long enough to learn it though, and even experienced gamers may find things confusing.

Classes I tried were elementalist, warrior, and mesmer. Up to about level 8 on the highest. I will probably go with an Elementalist main, but I did like the Mesmer a lot even if I totally failed to pick up on the skill chains. I didn’t try any crafting.

Anyhow, here are some points:

1. The game world is large and bright, and interesting to explore.

Some zones do feel much more open than others, the Norn starting area is spacious for example. Asuras felt more boxed in. But Arenanet are comfortable with building huge structures for players to explore; the castle in the screenshot at the top for example. They’ve encouraged some exploration via exploring achievements (you get told how much of the zone you have discovered) and vistas, which are points marked with little floating maps that reward the player with a pretty, soaring, cut scene of the surrounding area if you can get to the vista point. Some have minor jumping puzzles associated with them.

We found them fun.

2. Tutorials are hit and miss. Skillbars get replaced a lot with no warning.

Some of the in game tutorials were great. The introduction to the mists (WvW) for example, was really well done. I did wonder why the guy was emphasising the need to carry supplies around, but we figured that one out fairly swiftly after actually getting into some keep take/defense action. The professions though don’t get much explanation at all. Best you can do is mouse over all your available icons, read the tooltips, and give it your best shot.

The game also loves to completely replace your skillbar icons when you pick up some usable item or get into a downed state (near death), typically without giving you any time at all to check what your new skill icons actually do before you have to use them. Cue random button hitting and hoping for the best. If you find this confusing, it is because it is confusing.

I now realise from comments on KTR that the reason I thought some of my abilities had flickering icons was because there was some kind of chain mechanism going on (where you hit the same skill button more than once and the skill that fires off changes). I have no idea how you were supposed to really figure that one out.

I don’t mind complexity as long as I’m not expected to grasp it all instantly, but it’s a good idea for devs to at least throw players a bone or two when it comes to figuring things out. Even if it’s just a link to a player-driven wiki.

3. Dynamic events are fun. Underwater is fun.

gw2beta_underwater

This is a bunch of Asura fighting a huge shark underwater – still not entirely sure how you can cast fireballs underwater but hey, magic!

One of the nice things about dynamic events is that you can just roll up and join in, no need to be part of a group or have a gear check, if you’re in the area then you’re in. After the event finishes, then medals are awarded for participation (ie. gold, silver, bronze) and you’ll get some xp, karma points (used to buy stuff from merchants) and in game cash. Since the xp is great compared to most of the other things you’d be doing, it’s pretty much always worth joining in. Also some of the dynamic quests have several stages and fun little stories.

I’m not entirely sure about how much they change the world (until the next time), because like most people, I probably wasn’t sticking around long afterwards unless I was already questing in the area.

Being underwater is similar to flying in that you have 3 dimensions in which to move. I enjoyed it a lot, albeit not really sure how badly I wanted to learn yet another tray of abilities.

4. Weapon switching is an interesting mechanic, but ultimately I preferred GW1 skill design

So, depending a bit on which profession you pick, you will have 5 skills that are determined by the weapon/offhand you are using, and 5 slots that are filled by skills earned using skill points, which are a bit more flexible. (It probably gets more complex than this at higher levels but bear with me, I only saw a few hours of beta.)

On an elementalist, for each weapon you can also unlock four different elemental attunements (ie. 4 whole bars of skills). This feels like a lot of skills to remember. Plus you have to unlock them by killing mobs/players while using that weapon. I had thought that needing to train up weapon skills had gone out of fashion but clearly that’s not the case here. The elementalist is a particular edge case because it’s crazy flexible and has a massive amount of abilities available at any time. I can’t actually think how other professions are balanced against it.

It is definitely interesting, particularly in the early game when you still have a lot of skills to unlock. I suspect later on things settle down and get less confusing as you get used to what is available.

But still, the weapons felt like a hindrance rather than cool themed sets of abilities. So I might have one cool ability to leap into combat and zap people and another that lets me leap backwards and leave a trail of fire … but they’re on different weapons and different elemental attunements so I can’t easily use one followed by the other. This is where I was missing GW1 and its more flexible skill set design.

GW2 (like GW1) is a bit fussy with its buffs and debuffs. There is a fairly complex game around applying and removing various buffs, conditions, and other variously named categories of buff/debuff. There are also combos in the game, which I know because the game told me I completed one during one dynamic event. Since it did not tell me anything more than this, I have no idea how that happened or how to repeat it. It is something to do with how abilities of different professions interact, presumably it’ll a) all be documented on websites somewhere and b) we’ll have more time to figure it out while playing with friends anyway.

5. If you hate miniskirts, avoid the Norn casters.

gw2_beta

This was the point where I decided my elementalist would not be a Norn. I don’t care how soon I am able to pick up a longer skirt so I don’t have to see her knickers when she runs, IT ISN’T SOON ENOUGH.

Asura costumes are fine though. The characters generally looked good, and I was sad about the knickers thing because I liked the Norn hairstyles (even though long hair clips horribly). Anet give some good long hairstyles for male characters also. I was also amused that I could create a human male mesmer who looked a bit like Littlefinger.

6. World vs World PvP is really good fun. We were reminded a lot of DaoC (which is good)

In our brief 2hr stint in WvW, Arb and I had a lot of fun. The zones are large, the keeps and castles are large also. There are siege engines. You can tote supplies around and help build siege engines or mend damaged walls/doors (and in fact you probably should.) It can all seem quite complex at first but if in doubt, you can just follow someone who looks as though they know what they are doing, or look for current battles marked on the map. People were quite good about yelling useful instructions (like ‘go to keep X everyone’) on the general chat.

The WvW zones have some vistas and skill challenges, which work the same as PvE zones. I’m not sure if they have dynamic events other than player driven ones.

gw2beta_siege

This is us with a zerg attacking a keep door (I think we are Team Blue in this zone). You can see fire being flung from the trebuchet behind us. The green door is where Team Green (ie. the team who held the keep currently) could slip inside, which is a similar mechanic to WAR and DaoC. The gate’s healthbar is shown in red, when the health is zero the gate breaks open. You can also attack sections of the walls. Defenders can stand on the ramparts and shoot at attackers, stand behind the gate and repair it with supplies, or use their own siege engines.

Basically, if you are involved a keep siege you WILL want a ranged attack otherwise you will be very bored. I think every profession has at least one ranged weapon

gw2-oil

Defenders have access to burning oil which they can throw on people attacking the gate also. I probably shouldn’t have been walking so close to the burning oil with a lit torch.

gw2beta_treb

Trebuchets have a pretty long range. I marked the treb with a red circle here, and you can see its been set up well out of reach of the defenders (unless they have a treb of their own) but can still attack the ramparts.

In our game, we ended up with a three way fight inside the big castle – there are three teams involved in every WvW zone, coded red, blue, and green, and players will also have a name label showing which their home server is. It was a bit mad and the lag with a lot of people involved was quite significant.

Arb said immediately, “Lets go upstairs, you always have to go upstairs in keeps. There is probably a keep lord.” And she was absolutely correct. To take a keep, your team kills the keep lord who is an NPC.

7. The Auction House has buy as well as sell orders.

You can buy or sell on the AH from anywhere in the world, but have to actually be in a trading post to pick up things you have bought. This all seemed to work very well. It is possible to set up buy orders, and when someone sells an item, they will see if anyone has buy orders out on it. If so, and you sell for that price, it sells instantly.

I would imagine the buy orders are generally lowball so you’ll probably make more by selling at a higher price and being patient. But this was beta so who cares, really?

I liked the functionality of it. By comparison, the mail is weaker. You can’t mail your own alts, so if you want to give them spare items, you will have to leave those things in your vault (which is shared between alts on that account/server). You can however, send and receive mail from anywhere.