Updated Wed, Feb 22, 2012 by Sardu
Following the press beta event for Guild Wars 2, it occurred to me that there is absolutely no way that I would be able to encapsulate the entirety of my experiences in a single article. The game is just too different from anything you think you know about what an MMO can be, and far more awesome than any other title currently on the market or in development.
While I realize that’s a pretty bold statement, I have absolutely no doubts that once you get the chance to play GW2 you’ll be nodding your head in agreement and exclaiming, “You know, Sardu was spot on in his assessments about Guild Wars 2 being the MMO equivalent of the creation of sliced bread.” True story.
Realizing full well that it would be a challenge to properly convey just how monumental an impact GW2 is going to have on the online gaming industry, I created the handy reference below chart below. I thoroughly encourage you to take full advantage of your right mouse button, select “Save Image As…” and post this chart anywhere and everywhere you can think of as you traverse the web in the coming weeks.
Graphical representations of how awesome Guild Wars 2 is can be a handy means of spreading the word about why people need to drop what they’re doing and pay attention to this game, but I know that people are eager to learn why that's the case.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, the handy chart to Everything You Need to Know About MMOs is easily worth ten times that amount. When it comes to GW2 I could write that much and more, but for now I'll kick things off by giving you some of my initial impressions from the beta event.
One of the first things you need to know about Guild Wars 2 is that no matter what level your character is, all content in the game is meaningful. While there is still an XP bar that helps mark your progress towards accessing more challenging content, you never have to worry about running out of things to do even at the level cap.
On the first day of the beta event I was fortunate enough to spend the day grouped with Colin Johanson, and joined at various points by Bobby Stein, Jon Peters and other members of the AreanNet development team. In the span of 6 or 7 hours we managed to advance our charr characters to around level 15 or 16 before opting to dive into the Eternal Battlegrounds to check out some world PvP.
As we ran around the low level charr areas it was readily apparent that we could pick any direction or objective to complete and there was always something incredibly cool and interesting at every turn along the way. Each time we’d pick an area of the map to check out, before we were half way there an event would kick off and keep us occupied and entertained for the next 20 minutes. And there are a LOT of events to check out, each one having the potential to branch in different directions every time you’re in the area.
One of my favorite parts of the game is that you will automatically be sidekicked down to a level appropriate for the area you’re in, so you can always go back to check out events you may have missed the first time through. For example, as our group made our way through the charr starting area we would double back and hit some of the events we hadn’t yet completed. Even though we were level 15, the content in level 5 areas was still just as fun and rewarding as if we were playing it for the first time at level 5.
It’s a brilliant system and one that means you’ll never have to worry about out leveling content, or being able to group up with your friends regardless of any level differences between you. The net result is that you will never get the feeling that you’re playing GW2 “on rails” or being forced through annoyingly linear gamplay just to hit the level cap like you do in basically ever other MMO currently on the market.
So even though GW2 does have a leveling system, you'll never feel like you're logging in to grind XP. In GW2 you log in to do one thing: have fun no matter what level you are, no matter which direction you choose to explore that day. Speaking of exploration...
The dynamic events system in Guild Wars 2 isn’t the only reason for players to go out and explore. Opening up your map you will see various skill challenges that offer the chance to earn additional skill points. Players unlock 1 skill point per level, but you’ll really want to go out and complete some of the available challenges so that you can unlock more healing, utility, or elite skills to use in your PvE and world PvP builds.
Some of the challenges we completed on the first day of the event were as simple as engaging an NPC in combat, but others were placed in hard to reach locations that required a fairly coordinated group to obtain. A number of these challenges will also give you collectable books that can be placed in your bank vault, and provide some additional lore based on the particular skill challenge you completed to obtain it. There are currently a total of 45 of these that can be placed in your vault, along with numerous other collectables you’ll earn through different aspects of gameplay.
Another incredibly cool thing that Colin showed me was one of the exploration challenges that can be found all over the game. In the recent Beta Development Update on the AnreaNet blog, these are described as:
“Our amazing environment artists have carved out a variety of caves, cliffs, and structures in the world. We’ve been stretching our imaginations to fill these spaces with content that should provide an exciting change of pace. Some areas will test your platforming abilities, requiring you to make a series of difficult jumps before you find your treasure at the end, while others contain dangerous foes that will stop at nothing to see you dead.”
Rather than attempt to explain just how challenging but utterly cool these areas can be, I’ve put together a short teaser video of one such area found in the Ascalon Basin area of the charr starting zones. To avoid too many major spoilers, the following video only shows the first part of the area up to the point where you start running into various traps.
The traps in this particular puzzle ranged from the spike traps you can see represented by red circles on the ground closer to the end of the video, to a corridor filled with flame traps that you have to dodge roll through, and a seemingly straight forward run up some stairs that can end in a quick dirt nap if you don’t dodge falling boulders fast enough.
Here’s a tip for anyone who seeks out this particular challenge: bring some friends along. That way, if you get zapped by the traps you’ll have an easier time keeping one another alive as you ascend this particular jumping puzzle.
While we were only able to progress our personal stories up to level 20 during the beta event, it was still more than enough to make an extremely positive impression. As early as level 3 or 4 you’ll get to experience the direct results of the biography choices you make during character creation, and the choices you make at each step along the way continue to branch out in interesting new directions.
In the interest of avoiding any major spoilers I won’t detail the exact story progressions I was able to experience. However, it’s worth noting that on two different human characters I created over the course of the weekend, both had 100% unique personal stories based purely on the choices I had made. The storylines are extremely well written and thoroughly engaging, and were easily one of the highlights of my beta experiences.
Before I wrap things up on my initial impressions from the beta event, I have to draw some attention to the excellent armor dye system in GW2. Players will start out with an assortment of different dyes that can be applied to each piece of armor, and while that aspect of the system is pretty awesome in and of itself, one thing I was really impressed with is how new dyes are obtained.
As you’re out adventuring, defeated enemies have a chance to drop seeds that you can take back to an NPC in your character’s personal instance. The seeds take a little time to grow, so you’re given a ticket that you can take back and exchange for a random dye on the following day. Once you do, the new dye will be placed in your inventory so that you can either double-click it to add to your personal collection, mail it to your friends, or even place it on the market to sell to other players.
The available color combos I was able to mess around with during the event could radically alter my character’s appearance, letting me create the exact overall look I was after, especially when used in conjunction with the transmutation stones available for karma points on the event vendors.
For example, I really enjoyed the design of the crafted armor set I made for my necro, but I also didn’t want to be just a carbon copy of anyone else wearing light armor who took some time to experiment with the crafting discovery system. Not only that, but as I was out saving the locals from bandits, centaurs and krait I kept finding more masterwork quality armors. With enough karma points I was able to transfer the stats of the dropped armor to the look of my crafted gear, and then using the dye system I was able to radically alter the base look of the armor set to fit my personal preferences.
While something like the dye system in GW2 could easily be overlooked in favor of some of the flashier gameplay systems, I felt it was absolutely worth mentioning as one of the highlights of my beta experiences.
In my initial impressions I’ve really only scratched the surface on a few of the highlights from the event. Over the next couple of weeks I’ll be taking a closer look at some of the major aspects of gamplay I experienced, including structured and world PvP, crafting, combat mechanics, and a whole lot more.
For the necromancer fans out there, don’t forget to keep an eye on my GW2 necro fan site, NecroBator.com where I’ll be posting more info specific to that profession, such as the detailed look at the trait system published earlier this week.