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Guild Wars 2 - Is it All That?

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So what's all this hype over Guild Wars 2 anyway? From hearing the developers talk about the game to the attention from the media to what the fans have been saying about the game it sounds to me like this game is supposed to change the way people play MMOGs.  It's to be the game to changes the industry. Sadly, after my first experiences with it during the Beta Weekend Event I not only felt disappointed but kind of ripped off that I had been led to believe that Guild Wars 2 was anything more than yet another standard and tired MMO formula.


Now before the World vs. World fans hunt me down in my sleep allow me to state plainly that I did not experience those aspects during my hands-on time with the game over the weekend. So the competitive player vs. player game may very well be the second coming but I didn't play it so I don't know. I don't enjoy PvP as much as I used to so I stay away from it now. I solely focused on the PvE game to see what it held. And I found the PvE game old-hat and frankly, mostly boring.

I was led to believe that the game would play out like an open sandbox filled with wild adventures and dynamic events that would keep the world in motion. There would be no linear path guiding us on rails from quest hub to quest hub to grind out needless quests in order to level up. This was what I was led to believe but this was wrong.

The world, from my experience up to level 15 anyway, is completely on rails. Sure there are no quest hubs but "events" replace them in exactly the same way any quest hub would be situated. You travel around the map going from event to event, of which the recommended level is clearly marked right on the map. Once you are done with an area you move onto the next, never having a need to return again. In fact, with the fast travel system, even if an area is already completed is directly in the path of going from point A to point B you can just skip over it by clicking on the waypoints and paying a small toll.

There may not be an actual quest journal but you still have your quest tracker at the top right indicating what the next step of your quest requires. There are no NPCs with exclamations over their heads, but there are NPCs with hearts over their heads--an empty heart if you haven't completed the event yet, a full heart if you have. Who's kidding who? Call it what you want but the progression is simply a string of Public Quests a la Warhammer Online, Champions Online, Rift, and whoever else is touting them nowadays. There's nothing new here.

With the possible exception of Rift, these Public Quests didn't work in other games so I'm not sure why anyone would think they'd work in Guild Wars 2. Don't get me wrong... I love the concept but the truth of the matter is that no matter how many players will be playing the game after launch there is likely rarely to be enough to create a critical mass of players for every event (or Public Quest) of every level of every area in the game at all times. In fact, I dare be so bold and say that most of these events will likely have to be done solo most of the time after the initial launch surge of new players. While that is certainly possible given the scaling technology employed with the events, many of these events would be just as boring and in some cases more frustrating than your average quest in other MMOs. A lot of these events took a good deal of time to collect ground spawns, fight off creatures, and return the items to NPCs, even with multiple players.  I would can't imagine the time it would take to do it solo, even if you only had to collect 10 rocks instead of 100.

Conversely some of the events seem rather ludicrous with a large amount of players, should there happen to be a lot of folks around. Some of the events are simple escort quests. One such event had me following a girl who was chasing a fluffy little friend. My goal was to make sure she didn't get hurt. I began to feel rather silly chasing this tart around with the 20 other adventurers who were doing the exact same thing. It felt like a swarm of paparazzi trying to get a sound bite from Dakota Fanning while she was chasing a puppy on some farm. It was ridiculous.

Now let's take a look at the combat. I will say this: I did enjoy the combat for the most part, mainly because the profession you choose plays completely differently based upon the weapon you're using. A staff-wielding mesmer plays very differently than one sporting a blade. However apart from that I didn't notice anything ground-breaking in terms of how combat played out. My standard attack was still an auto-attack and I had a few extra abilities I could use to mix it up a bit. I did not understand the reasoning behind locking all of my abilities until I used one enough to unlock the next. I found it took about 15 minutes of combat to unlock them all so I don't understand why there needed to be a lock at all.

I was told that there are some cool cross-class combos you can do for extra damage and effects. Sounds fun enough, but I never saw any being done. I never saw a need for them either, aside from the fact that they could be fun. Granted I only got up to level 15 or so, so it's entirely possible they come more into play later in the game. But this also isn't something new, nor is it something that has worked particularly well in the past. EverQuest 2 uses a Heroic Opportunity system to do the same thing. It's mostly used now as a little something extra to do if you're bored. Vanguard: Saga of Heroes used a weaken and exploit system that would allow cross-class combos. I don't know if anyone has ever bothered to use it.

The overflow system, while necessary, seems to be broken. This is where if an area is filled you'll be put on an overflow server. It's simply a different instance of the area, or more commonly known as a 'channel' in other MMOGs. However there was no way to switch channels. So my groupmates and I would have to log off and on repeatedly until the random system finally put us into the same channel. But, as soon as we went to another area or did an instance for one of our profession quests, we'd come back out and be in different channels again, forcing us to do the log and relog game again.

I do want to point out though that that problem is such a glaringly obvious one that I would be shocked if it's simply just not a matter of not having a channel-switching system in place yet during this stage of beta. I hope that's all it is.

I also hope there's some sort of new-player introduction incorporated into the game before launch. I've played a multitude of MMOs and never before have I felt at such a loss. It took me quite some time to figure out where my inventory and character sheet were located. It took me even longer to figure out what ability points were and how they worked. And I still don't think I quite understand upgrades. I also never did find out how to craft - is it even in game yet? My attempts to find answers to these questions by asking the community were quickly shot down by smart-ass remarks and recommendations to go back to World of Warcraft.

In conclusion I do feel Guild Wars 2 is shaping up to be a nicely polished, well-rounded MMO. But let's be clear about it: if you're looking for something completely new that will change the way you think about MMOs you'll be sorely disappointed. At least on the PvE side. Maybe next Beta Weekend I'll have to go bash some skulls with the World vs. World players to see if there's anything ground-breaking on that end.


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