Guild Wars 2 - Hands-On with the Engineer at SDCC 2011

At SDCC 2011 we took the engineer profession for a romp through the norn starting area to see how the early level combat stacks up

GW2 Engineer Impressions

Ever since the Engineer was revealed as the seventh profession for Guild Wars 2, IÂ’ve been itching to get some hands-on time with it. At a very basic level, the engineer represents much more in the world of Tyria than simply adding another combat style into the mix. It gives us a very real sense of how much has changed over the course of time since the Elder Dragons awoke and made a mess of things for humanity and the other dominant races in the game.

Even though the charr are an awesome playable race, I opted to get a feel for the engineer as a norn during my demo time

Speaking of the other dominant races, the engineer also helps represent the charr influence on the modern culture of GW2. Unlike the asura who have contributed a great deal of magical technology to the other inhabitants of the world, the charrÂ’s technological contributions are primarily mechanical.

With that said, it would have seemed a somewhat fitting choice to play the demo as a charr engineer, however, I opted to play as a norn instead during my hands-on time with the GW2 demo at San Diego Comic-Con 2011 for a couple of very important reasons.

The first, and most important, is that charr characters in the current demo start at level 28, while selecting the norn allowed you to start fresh from level one. You may be thinking it would give me a much better feel for the intricacies of the engineer and its unique combat style if I dove right into some near-mid level content and had more skills to play around with.

But if thereÂ’s one thing IÂ’ve learned over the years in games media itÂ’s that, when it comes to MMO professions or classes, first impressions are king. Most players can decide within the first few levels if theyÂ’ll like a particular combat style and want to stick with it, and I personally prefer experiencing starter zone content with a new profession first when given the option to.

It’s a tricky thing to balance, because you don’t want to overwhelm new players (or those new to playing a given class or even MMOs in general) with too many skills, or tactical options when first logging in. But if you give them too few you run the very serious risk of having them quit in frustration later on if they’ve invested larger amounts of time in a character only to have the flow of combat – one of the most dominant gameplay activities in most MMOs, GW2 included – radically change on them.

Crazy plot twists in the third reel might make for amazing cinema, but when it comes to MMOs, the last thing you want to do is pull a bait-n-switch on players, regardless of the gameplay mechanic involved. This is as true of combat as it is for other areas of gameplay, such as presenting a 100% soloable leveling experience only to funnel players into a 100% group oriented endgame. That’s one of the biggest failings of the current generation of MMOs, at least those that are based on “the template”.

Thankfully, ArenaNet is not building Guild Wars 2 as just another MMO based on that aging template, and that's yet another significant aspect of what the inclusion of the engineer in the game represents.

Eager fans lined up to play the GW2 demo in the NCsoft booth from the very beginning of Preview Night, and throughout the duration of the event

To a certain degree, the engineer plays almost like a very imaginative melting pot of signature skills from various original Guild Wars professions. Even though youÂ’ll start out with some basic weapons and associated skills, switching sets between a rifle or two pistols gave me a tangible sense of an old world rangerÂ’s divergent path based on the influence of technology.

While a ranger is still firmly rooted in the natural world and the beasts that dwell within it, the engineer eschews nature for the sake of befriending a single of its elements, namely fire. That sure sounds like how the charr would advance tech to me. That's not to say that fire-based attacks are the only tools in the engineer's arsenal, but they are fairly dominant. The GW1 ranger as a point of reference can be most easily seen in the skill Explosive Shot that fires a projectile that explodes on impact. This will be one of the first weapon skills you begin the game with when using a pistol as your primary weapon.

Switching to the rifle youÂ’ll be able to use Net Shot, a ranged attack that causes the immobilize condition which hinders movement and prevents dodging. This can help you keep some distance from your target, and then using the ability to right click a skill to set it as an auto-attack also helps you stay focused on mobility, which is key with most professions in GW2's combat.

This will perhaps be one of the biggest initial differences in combat mechanics for players who are used to traditional PvE MMO combat where you stand in one spot and spam a skill rotation. Skill rotations are still a vital part of combat, but as you progress that rotation can become far more interesting and complex since each utility skill, weapon swap, and unique profession mechanic factors in.

A way of thinking about the role movement plays in combat – and this extends to the other professions as well, not just the engineer – is that you could liken it more to how you might approach PvP combat rather than the boring PvE most of us have grown accustomed to over the years. That’s not to say you can’t approach combat the way you’re used to from other games, but it does become infinitely more satisfying once you get into the more fluid, and dare I say graceful, combat style of GW2.

Adding another layer of depth to the engineer, the various weapon kits you will be able to slot as utility skills greatly expand the potential of the professions available builds since the kits will replace your current weapon skills with a set corresponding to the selected kit.

New engineers are gradually introduced to this aspect of combat, and the pacing of progression in the early levels felt fairly natural during my demo run. In fact, I was enjoying some of the dynamic event content in the area so much that I had to force myself to run back and purchase new skills when they became available.

As noted above, making a class fun to play straight out of the gates can be critical to the long term success of an MMO, and so far it seems that ArenaNet has squarely hit that mark with the engineer. As they progress, the engineer will definitely be one of the more challenging professions in the game, but itÂ’s also one that helps illustrate exactly how much choice players will have when it comes to adopting different roles or styles of combat.

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