Back in 2005, the year of the Xbox 360 and the start of the current generation, PC players were treated to a brand new MMORPG from the guys behind Richard Garriot’s latest revenue eating title; Guild Wars was it’s name. The latest challenger to the vastly increasing genre took a very difference approach the to almost static and traditional style of MMORPGs of the past offering bot party systems, fully instanced gameplay outside the allocated gathering hubs and, most daring of all, no subscription fee.
Just two years into its life, Guild Wars 2 was revealed by the staff of Arena.net and has only now entered a beta we were allowed to play. So yes, we’ve played it, people are looking forward to it, and we have the means to either attempt to crush their 5 years of anticipation and excitement or just to say “yeah, you’re safe”. We’ll leave it for the rest of the lengthy paragraphs to explain though.
MMORPGs have typically all followed the lines of war. World of Warcraft speaks for itself, as does Warhammer and Lord of the Rings, but they were all handily crafted from long established lore tomes and pages of the past while Guild Wars managed to stand out for itself on nothing more than good marketing. The war against the arc-backed Charr waged on with players heeding the front-lines of the human defenders of Ascalon before jumping ahead to the future to see the war’s devestating effects. Guild Wars 2 continues the story of the ravaging battles yet this time introduces new contenders to the fray while giving players the chance to engage themselves in a much more personal story.
Having access to all but two of the 5 races planned for launch, many will already be glad to hear that the Charr are amongst the playable species. The originals style of almost single-player like mission maps returns did a good job of immersing you into the war of the nation, but only with small groups, almost like body guards. Guild Wars 2 however excels in making the ‘Guild Wars’ feel as epic as it sounds. The cities are big, the overworld is full, and random break outs of menacing enemies spur from nowhere on a regular basis requiring bands of players to congregate together for some pretty large-scale and hectic battles during their walkabouts.
It’s easily all about the epic scale in Guild Wars 2. No longer do you feel tied to guard duty as you once wandered the battlefields in controlled covert operations or being the Ascalonian King’s personal bullet sponge. This time the war feels real. You’ll pick from a few traits and following when you create your character, choices personal to you in some form to create a character with more purpose, more reasons for it to rightfully be your avatar. Defining why you fight and who you fight for, your ventures of the land will feel true to the almost cataclysmic battles destined to shake it up. Even as you enter the first city you first batch of dialogue will come in face-to-face cutscenes with the people of the area, one acting like a commander to yourself will open your map and dot each specific area with jobs for you to do, people to help, and enemies to crush rather than expecting you to go out in the middle of so-called “war” only for you to pick herbs from a farmers garden on your own accord. Where other games just leave you to do what you will in the midst of a world breaking confrontation, Guild Wars 2 makes the war the forefront of the game, as it should be, and really lets you grasp just what is going on without you even realizing by throwing you into both the heafty consequences of battle and the minor inconviences behind-the-lines attacks can have on areas such as produce and livelihood.
We took both the Charr and Human starting campaigns for a spin, and while we grasp the fact that each race starts the game at the same point, it’s safe to say they both take very different approaces to the bombardments shattering the ground just outside the area. The Charr, for instance, are expected to take everything as it is and use their ruthlessness and brute force to face the problems head on. During the time of game’s start you’ll be fighting your way through the crypts of the Ascalonian ghosts and fending off Flame Legion troops. Fast forward a bit and you’ll have your commanding leader getting all up in your face after your own squad suffers near total losses under your watch. You’ll then be spending a bit of time standing up for yourself, evidently rejecting the Luitentant’s threats to murder you and eventually proving yourself able to take his job and come to a decision of either killing the whiny leader in the arena or letting him go. You’re a Charr, sure, but the decision still had us pondering the consequences – if there were any.
The Humans, on the other hand took a much more civilzed approach to the brawls taking place outside the city. The stormy weather screams disturbance and unease in the surrounding areas and nobody likes to fight on the front lines in the rain; so you won’t. Rather than charging into the frays of the battlefield or killing the man they once took orders from, the humans are ordered by their commanding officer’s to help the locals in any way they can. Farms are being pillaged and burned or their crops and some weird feathery animals are getting lost in random bushes – people need them for food too so you’d better get digging through to find them! You’ll be filling in the duties between stand-offs with a bulky individual who started a rather uncessecery bar fight and wounded a frail man. While the man was arrested he somehow broke lose and it’s then your job to hunt him down once more while figuring out who let the man go.
The jobs marked around the map are essentially the quests you’re used to in other MMO titles, but they’re considerably longer, usually more rewarding, and only come in small waves of 4-6 to tide you over and train you before you jump into the next story related mission objective. It’s a much more refreshing version of questing and really limits the amount of repetative gathering and grinding you do in other titles. The fact that they often explode into the multi-man missions World of Warcraft players are only used to from calander events makes them all the more sweeter; running around putting out fires, stomping on huge burrowing worms and fending off bandits together with people you didn’t even realize were around you left us with a certain back-shiver fondly reminiscent of long drawn-out boss battles in other games.
Combat on the whole will feel pretty familiar to those already accustomed to the Guild Wars formula. It isn’t built with multiple action bars in mind and instead focuses on offering even more skills than those other titles, albeit with only access to 8 at a time; meaning class rotations are all character unique rather and stick to a persons own preferred play-style rather than the best laid out before them on an internet spreadsheet. Your standard attack can be left on auto while you dish out the rest of the damage with your other keys. With the Mesmer and Warrior we trialed during the beta, the former reminded us of fire-spec mages for those who played them in World of Warcraft; very mobile, very flashy, and very fun to play while the Warrior seemed like that standard crazy hack n’ slash class of all the rest. A difference here however is the ability to use the enviorment to your advantage. Debris scattered around the area often opens up new paths for attack no matter what class you play. Throwing stray cannonballs at the enemy and hitting them with rusty metal poles from the ground gave us extra opportunities to stun them by surprise and work from there. Dodging mechanics like a roll are now implemented with double taps of the movement keys and, with the system being real-time, should be used to avoid more powerful attacks should you be able to notice them in time.
We’ve waffled on a lot and yet not nearly enough, with still no real release date for the game Guild Wars 2 is already shaping up to offer the superior storytelling experince its original brought the table with tasty changes made to already enjoyable combat system. Visually, however, the game isn’t quite the leap forward its predesscor was back in the day but does offer absolutely incredible environmental design work from what we saw. Fans of the original were already bound to fall in love with this game even before they saw it and our current verdict is that it was certainly deliver. We’ll be involved with the next round of beta tests and are planning to get some nice footage together with the other TGH staff members joining in on the action. You’ll be able to make your own verdict then without us breaking our fingers on the keyboard of a thousand words again during the middle of the night.