Previews

Guild Wars 2 Demo Highlights from PAX Prime

By Reuben Waters -

I was nothing short of impressed by what I experienced in the Guild Wars 2 demo when it was first made public last year at gamescom. Being fortunate enough to attend most major industry events in the time since, itÂ’s been an even more impressive experience to witness firsthand just how much meaningful iteration has gone into the game over the past year. This iterative approach to game design is one of the core philosophies at ArenaNet, and it is readily apparent just how much effort has been put into making GW2 the absolute best MMO experience it possibly can be.

The latest iteration on the event demo for Guild Wars 2 packed a pretty massive punch, and it came as no surprise that the moment attendees were able to enter the expo hall on the first day of PAX, there were fans literally sprinting to the GW2 booth to be first in line to play the latest demo build. Over the course of the three day event, not only was the main booth a veritable mecca for legions of gamers, but an impressive amount of people also lined up in the Logitech booth for a chance to play the game, and swarmed the Alienware booth to witness the Guild Wars 2 PvP matches.

The Guild Wars 2 booth at PAX Prime

The Guild Wars 2 booth as packed with fans for all three days of the event

While IÂ’ve already weighed in on how PvP is shaping up in my initial impressions earlier this week, the Guild Wars 2 demo at PAX Prime included a ton of new gameplay features on the PvE front as well. WeÂ’ll take a look at some of the biggest highlights from the new demo based on my hands-on experiences below, and offer some insights as to how they factor into the overall GW2 experience.

Character Appearance Customization

The character design in Guild Wars 2 is some of the best IÂ’ve seen in the industry and, like many hardcore fans, IÂ’ve been itching to see what kind of appearance options weÂ’ll have the chance to tweak in the live game. While the current customization system isnÂ’t yet complete, it did offer enough options to get a feel for how much depth it will offer for each of the five playable races.

I was pleased to discover that you can not only create “pretty” characters, but you’ll also be able to whip up some pretty gnarly looking combos of body type, facial appearance, and racial specifics such as what kind of hair monster you’d like your charr character to be as well.

Guild Wars 2 Character Creation

Meet Sardu, the sylvari necromancer

ItÂ’s also a nice touch that players will have access to a cross-section of dyes from Kristen PerryÂ’s excellent system to use during character creation. That way you can have a highly unique character even in the starting zones where, in most MMOs, you would normally suffer from the doppelganger effect.

During my meeting room presentation with Eric Flannum and Colin Johanson, I asked whether players will be able to save their initial dye selections as one of the custom sets players will be able to create in-game. Eric explained that, while the system will currently apply your initial selections to any armor you equip, itÂ’s not considered one of your custom setsÂ… yet. I say yet here because both Eric and Colin liked the suggestion and said that itÂ’s something they would definitely consider adding as part of the iterative process with appearance customization. Hard to say if it will make it into the live game, but it would certainly be a nice option if it does.

Sylvari and Asura as Playable Race Options

Due to time constraints I was only able to play the PvE demo on one of the five available races, so I opted to go with a sylvari necromancer. I did alternate between each of the races in PvP, however, yet found myself gravitating back to the sylvari time and again. Beyond the intriguing lore of the sylvari race, their body frame hits that sweet spot of being obviously humanoid but wholly unique in the MMO space. The redesign was just what the doctor ordered here, and while the sylvari had fewer customization options available than some of the other races in the demo, the newest race on the Tyrian block left a very solid first impression.

That said, the character animations for the asura were a constant source of amusement for me, and I dug seeing the little guys and gals rip other players in two in Battle of Kyhlo matches. There is also something to be said about the fact that the asura donÂ’t have that aura of annoyance that gnomes or other similar races evoke in more traditional fantasy MMOs.

Of the two, sylvari are my clear favorite though. So much so that IÂ’m already plotting out which of the possible biography options IÂ’ll want to go with for my sylvari necro in the live game. Be sure to weigh in on which race is your favorite so far in the comments below!

The Sparkfly Fen Boss Battle

The moment my demo began, I made a point of traveling to the waypoint for the giant dragon fight in Sparkfly Fen. Since the dynamic event wasnÂ’t running just yet, I scampered around the area to get a feel for what other kinds of trouble I could get myself into. Given my affinity for necromancy, I really enjoyed the fact that there were plenty of Orrian undead to be found, further enhancing the very eerie overall vibe of the area.

It wasnÂ’t long until the demo alert popped up on screen informing me that the battle against Tequatl the Sunless was about to begin. From the very outset, the battle is a massive, beautiful bundle of controlled chaos and provided players plenty of options for how they wanted to participate. To give you a better idea of the massive scale of the fight, be sure to watch the video of the event below from our friends over at gw2.revgaming.net, home to an excellent GW2 build creation tool.

Eric Flannum also gave us some additional insights into events of this scale, for example when asked about the broadcast radius for the Tequati event Eric noted:

“Every event has a different broadcast radius that it shows. This won’t show up across the entire map, because we really don’t want to encourage the entire world to come to this one spot. One of the reasons we don’t broadcast them really, really broadly is because we’d done that earlier in development and we found that led to a lot more people having the experience where you’d see that an event was happening and run towards it only to get there right when it ends and that feels really bad.

So we try to only broadcast to an area where we’re pretty sure you can make it here in time. Also, to keep people from bunching up, we try to have lots of stuff going on in the world at any given time so it’s not like this is the one cool thing happening in the world.”

For the sake of the event demo, players are currently alerted to the Tequati the Sunless event, but I was also curious as to how an event on this scale would be triggered in the live game. Colin helped shed some light on how this particular boss event will kick off due to player actions in the area:

“Down here there’s a whole line of sylvari towns along where that area was, and there is a whole event chain that involves the undead lashing out and attacking all of those towns. If you drive them all the way back to the ocean, that’s when the dragon lands. So it’s actually part of a big chain.”

Energy as a Dodge Resource

As noted above, the latest event demo for Guild Wars 2 helps illustrate just how much iteration has gone into the game over the past year. One of the best examples of this is how energy is no longer a skill activation resource, and is now tethered directly to the dodge mechanic. The benefits of this single change in combat are enormous, and it also helps chip away some of the balancing issues that were caused by linking energy to skills.

Between my numerous demo runs during SDCC and PAX Prime, the difference this made was instantly apparent and I found that it improves the combat experience in a significant way. This was doubly the case in PvP where combat is extremely action-oriented, and makes the use of dodging a much more fluid element of combat without forcing players to resort to stuffing their bags full of energy potions.

Overall Impressions of Guild Wars 2 at PAX Prime

As eager as I am to see Guild Wars 2 launch, I’m also nothing short of impressed by the amount of effort being put into making sure that each aspect of gameplay feels right and provides the best possible experience for players in the meantime. Many MMOs launch “content complete” but few ever launch “completely awesome”, but as we’ve watched development progress over the past year, Guild Wars 2 continues to push towards the latter in a big way.

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