[GW2] Paws-on at Comic Con

Starting with some admissions:

1. I very very very very rarely actually watch any pre-release videos or trailers these days, am a bit strung out on hype for MMOs

2. I’m in a massive MMO rut at the moment due to extended periods of back pain and 8 weeks of physio when I was told not to sit upright for more than 30m, this has made me as disinterested in games as I’ve ever been (thus the lack of blogging)

3. Have never played or seen Guild Wars, know very little about it. Knew GW2 was upcoming and lots of my friends were starting to get excited about it, but have been far too lazy to read ANYTHING about it.

4. Of course, I still told people I’d go to the Comic Con Guild Wars 2 panel, but it clashed with a TV show one I /really/ wanted to see, so I bailed on that promise, and just read Spinks’ live-tweets of the panel. Sounded pretty good.

When Spinks joined me, after whatever I’d been doing and told me about her Guild Wars 2 hands-on, I was intrigued. I still didn’t know much about the graphics or background to the game, but it was enough to colour me intrigued. And though I was fairly sure I wouldn’t get a chance to spend 40m playing the game, I kind of wanted to for the first time. I think the fact they gave you 40m to play, and I’d had a 5m look over people’s shoulders the first day was what really caught my attention.

Bex Sat 061

And on the final day of Comic Con, when the queues for the panels we wanted to see were heinously long, we decided to revisit the Exhibit Hall. First to see how crazy the SWTOR lines were first thing, and secondly to see if I could play some Guild Wars 2. SWTOR had a 2h wait, so we dashed over to Guild Wars 2 – which was actually a LONG WAY away. While Spinks was looking over some shoulders, I, with ninja-reflexes honed on the London Underground, spotted a free demo computer and scuttled in – then yelled at Spinks to come join me (after I’d created my char, ofc).

So I made a female norn, for mostly the same reasons as she did. The humans and charr all started at higher levels and I wanted to see if the new player experience was as cool as she’d said. Yeah, sisters – we’re suspicious of one another until proven otherwise. I can’t remember all the bits I picked for my character, except it involved being drunk, losing things and then.. I made her a ranger. No idea why, I’m totally not a ranged dps kind of gal, but of the options available I figured it’d be easy to get to grips with. I didn’t fancy a warrior and I don’t generally like casters much, and as I knew Spinks had tried the engineer. And so Nim the Norn was born. Best initial bit, they asked what animal companion I wanted between bear, wolf, and snow leopard. As anyone who knows me will attest, this was NO-CHOICE. There was a large cat, and it got picked. This pleased me right away (though honestly, I like wolves and bears too!).

I think honestly, that Spinks probably has more of a sense of what I did than I did. Which actually bodes really well for the game for me, and also backs up some of her comments. I know I intended to pick up a bunch of quests at the first hub and go do them. This got immediately derailed when I was handing in my first quest and one of the next questgivers asked me to help him guard some booze which he was transporting on massive cow-like-thing to a nearby town. Guarding booze? Right up my alley, and one of the options was ‘I’m ready to leave now’.. so without thinking about my original plans, I just set off. We killed stuff, I marvelled at the giant cow-like-thing, and as I killed stuff some ‘events’ got updated (to kill x number of bad faction people – yes, deal with it, I remembered NO names), but I didn’t even feel like I needed to stay and do the event – I was far too focussed on delivering booze safely. Which we did. Heroism = booze delivery!

GW2

Then, I explored a little randomly as I got a bit turned around and lost trying to find something on my map. I left the demo zone a couple of times and got warned to turn back, so once I got the hang of directions, I headed firmly back into the zone. And that’s when things got super cute. I found a hill with a Shaman of Snow Leopard on it, asking me to honour Snow Leopard.. I was very much in the ‘blah blah, skim read, do stuff as quickly as possible’ mode when I realised one of the text options was ‘transform me into a snow leopard’. And there were snow leopard cubs around me. Oh yes, I found a quest to be turned into a snow leopard and perform tasks which would honour my totem; by cuddling cubs, killing wildlife, or reviving injured snow leopards. This wasn’t a ranger quest, but available to all. It gave a kind of faction bar, which I could increase by doing any of the tasks mentioned. I, of course, cuddled LOTS of cubs. Spinks said at this point I actually just grinned at the screen. But more sensibly, I was really impressed I could mix and match the tasks to fill the bar, and it didn’t take very long at all either.

After this excitement, I only had around 10m left and decided more random quests were in order, though I started off doing the next one I was given by the Shaman.. which triggered more events, and which I was idly doing just to test out my skills. My pet died a few times, but I blame it much more on my actual skills and not paying attention than anything else, since I actually had a self+pet heal ability! While exploring some caves for this event (another kill x thingies quest), I saw I was down to 5m and also found some water. Knowing only that underwater was a whole ‘cool’ thing about GW2, I readily dove in. Yes, I got a face mask immediately, which let me breath underwater. Loved it. Got new skills too, relevant to underwater, and a quest to pick some underwater flowers. Now, I’ve played a fair few MMOs, and I found the swimming very easy to get a hang of. I didn’t have anything to fight, so unfortunately didn’t get to test out any skills, but we did get to see some swimming at least, so I was quite proud of myself for that.

Overall, I came away with a kind of glowing feeling. The 40m sped by, and I’m excited that in a live game I’d have time to really build my character and learn a lot more about it and its skills. It’s a very pretty game and plays nicely, it felt extremely intuitive – which is what I need while in gaming doldrums. From being remotely interested in the game, it’s become a must-buy for me. Of course, there’s no guarantees I’ll love more than the low level game, but what the hell, I’ll take that right now. I know Spinks commented that for her it was like the WoW beta, for me I felt a twinge of Dark Age of Camelot. No idea why, but I guess that was the fierce loyalty I felt almost immediately and for no tangible reason.

The specs we played on, for reference:

Bex Sat 059

[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 ….

SWTOR, GW2: A game trailer is not a film trailer

You know that you have seen a really good piece of game hype when your reaction is not, “Ooo, pretty,” “I want to see more of that,” “great music, I’ll be humming that all night,” or even “I wonder how they’ll balance that?” but instead, “I want to PLAY that!”

It’s a very visceral reaction. It can be illogical. It can be unexpected. But to me that’s how a game trailer should be different from any other kind of trailer. Sure, interest me in the world, the background, the story, and the mechanics. But if I don’t end up thinking, “Yeah! I want to play that!” then it hasn’t hit the spot.

Bioware released a new trailer for Star Wars: The Old Republic last week to show off some of the combat moves in the game. I think it’s a fascinating trailer to watch because the graphics are not exceptional. There’s nothing unexpected in there and no real indication of how the game will play. Very likely it’ll be a minor adaptation of current MMO mechanics. You’ll press buttons and use cooldowns. Even the fights they they showed were fairly predictable: jedi with a lightsaber, some cool acrobatics, dual wielding, a cool bit with a big gun, someone casting lightning bolts like the emperor in return of the jedi, some flashy tech gadgets and yet … when that trailer came to an end I thought “Hell yeah! That looked fun! I want to play that.”

The current MMO player is exactly who they are trying to attract with this trailer. They’re showing that their game will offer your favourite current combat type. You like dual wielding? How about dual wielding lightsabers? You like ranged? How about a massive gun? Whatever you like right now do not fret because the SWTOR team thought of YOU.

The only curious exception so far is the lack of any pet class. I wonder if a more active use of NPC sidekicks will just mean that everyone effectively has pets.

The Guild Wars Manifesto

We are still mid-election rush over here, so it’s certainly the right season for a manifesto. Arena.net have opened the floodgates on the Guild Wars 2 information with a new blog and a new design manifesto.

This is another document that is aimed at current MMO players. Read it with the thought, “like your current MMO but better” in the back of your mind and you will get the full hype effect.

Main points:

  • It’s an enormous, persistent, living, social world
  • You fill out a biography at character creation time that defines your background and your place within the world.
  • GW2 tells story by allowing the player < to >adventure with key characters, by presenting him with moral dilemmas <…> and by having him live through world-changing events
  • With GW2 <…> you can just naturally play with all the people around you
  • When someone kills a monster, not just that player’s party but everyone who was seriously involved in the fight gets 100% of the XP and loot for the kill.
  • worlds can compete against each other, through the mists that separate them, for scarce resources that benefit an entire world. ((I think this means some kind of server vs server competition))
  • So much of traditional MMO combat is rote and repetitive. <…> we’ve put a huge focus on strengthening our combat, giving the player limitless choices, and providing the thrill and joy of being in combat.

The combat discussion isn’t easy to sum up in bullet points. One of the great strengths of Guild Wars is the combat system. Each character has a large selection of abilities, but must select only 8 before leaving town and going out to adventure. You can freely change which 8 you want any time you are in a town. So players are encouraged to adapt their skills towards each encounter. There is a lot of choice. And this is something arena.net plans to build on for GW2.

There is more on the combat system and skills, if you are curious to delve more deeply into the design.

Again, reading through the documents leaves me keen to actually play the game myself and try it out. I wonder if I am some kind of easy sell with these things … and I’m staying tuned to the GW2 blog to hear more about their plans.

If this talk of Guild Wars mechanics has intrigued you, Steam is having a sale on GW at the moment. You could either get the whole trilogy and start from the beginning, or do what was recommended to me and just grab Nightfall.