Trodamus

Thought I’d Never Say This: Thoughts on Playing Guild Wars 2!

In Video Games on April 30, 2012 at 8:05 pm

I don’t think I’ve looked forward to a beta this much since as long as I can remember. The whole beta concept is kinda new, yes, and I was only peripherally aware of previous big ticket betas, like World of Warcraft. I had vied (along with the rest of the internet) for the Starcraft II beta, and had I gotten a chance to play Diablo III when I was full of the hype for it I might not have lost interest.

But Guild Wars 2 was a chance to …almost prove to myself that the game existed, and maybe even that it was worth the heaps of expectations laid upon it, to deliver us from the MMOs of yesterday into the glorious world of tomorrow, or if I’d suffer a massive case of disappointment and buyer’s remorse.

With my scarce time and limited tolerance for MMOs, I actually tend to shy away from betas. The last thing I need is to play an MMO that I’m actually interested in, invest time in character development, levelling, or even basic game mechanics, only to have all of that wiped clean periodically (for new beta cycles, for release, for fun).

Arenanet feels similarly, if for different reasons. They’d shied away from parading Guild Wars 2 around the beta circuit too openly and publically, citing an awareness that most people just consider betas to be either free games or demos, when they aren’t actually supposed to definitively represent a finished product. I can understand that, especially from a studio whose modest claims and bold, yet quiet vision have whipped gamers into a frenzy at the prospect of salvation from World of Warcraft.  Big, public buggy open betas would probably be a mood killer.

Somewhat uniquely, all of their betas had been covered by strict non-disclosure agreements, threatening participants with — at the very least — denying them access to the rest of the beta and the live game once released. I partially believe they did this to control press coverage on this, not to squash negative previews, but to force everyone to talk about it at once.

So instead of a trickle of information, they lift the NDA and all you see for a week is Guild Wars 2 videos on youtube and blogs all over the place.

Some people had concerns about this or that in the game, but overwhelmingly, people were very positive and excited about the game. Gameplay is excellent, PVP compelling, story is fun, (fun story, in an MMO?), solid graphics, no one was popping up and calling it shit, no one had a dozen reasons not to buy it, it just looked like it was going to be good.

So I was thrilled to pre-buy it on their website, ensuring access to any upcoming Beta Weekend Events.

I will say this, though.

Advertising access to a beta for something like this is probably a mistake. This was more akin to a stress test, which is an unfun thing to put people through, especially if you’ve advertised it as a bonus to buying the game and giving them your money early.

There were struggles relating to everyone slamming online at the same time. Servers went down, lag was a constant companion, some events were zerged a bit more than is prudent, and I kept getting dumped into “overflow” areas.

I’m not sure if it’ll be like that in release, but instead of simply being told no to logging in, or queuing to gain access, each area has its own server, which if full will shunt players to an “overflow” server where they can play instead of waiting to log in.

Which normally I would extol the virtues of except it paid no heed to people in parties trying to quest together. If we went into another area — the grant city of Divinity’s Reach, for example — we stood a good chance of having to shuffle back and forth between loading screens to land on the same server.

But let me emphasize this. That wasn’t the worst thing that happened all weekend. That was the only bad thing about the weekend. Everything else is great.

It’s a series of small touches that bring this up to an admiration point for me. It’s the marriage of art direction, area design and graphical prowess causes distant objects to appear, very subtly, as a picture in a storybook. It’s that the design trends more towards realism than cartoony but still has a definitive style. It’s that the cities, Divinity’s Reach, seem huge and full and not the player-tailored theme parks of previous MMOs.

It’s that, after failing to repel bandits during a dynamic event, your next mission is to get rid of the bandit occupation. It’s that I can jump into a test area fully levelled to see what my level one character will be like one day. It’s in realizing they kept the nice degree of class customization from Guild Wars 1 in the form of weapon swapping. High level play will almost certainly rely on you choosing two sets of weapons with skills that compliment each other and switching between them on the fly, if my success in PvP is anything to go by.

I liked that, after completing a 10-minute introductory area, I had access to every other race’s starting zone. In minutes I could be playing with my brother and friends. I like that the Norn are twice the height of humans, who were the predominant race in this beta. This meant that my Norn engineer looked absolutely awesome and intimidating in PvP, standing atop a hill with a flamethrower, seeming like a huge unstoppable obstacle to opposing players.

I liked that I could blow apart some of the buildings in PvP with a catapult.

But then, if there’s one area that Arenanet will excel among all of its strengths, it will be PvP. Guild Wars 1 persists on this strength, while Guild Wars 2 benefits from the experience.

The first ten levels of this game are far different than the first ten levels of other MMOs. Where you might finish that with the very basics of the class under your belt, Guild Wars 2 has you unlocking most of your class abilities at that point — easily, all of your weapon skills as well as a smattering of utility skills. And in those first ten levels your character has built a reputation of being a larger than life figure, due to the personal story (that everyone else is sharing, but still).

Overall, I’m very excited about the game. My brother gives it a heavy comparison to World of Warcraft, which I tend to disagree with for a number of reasons (like tone, gameplay, art style, classes, scope, and so on), but it does feel familiar enough if you’ve played that or any other MMO in the past ten years.

And, there are worse things to receive comparison to, than a game that came out swinging in 2006 and has been polished constantly ever since. I like Guild Wars 2 better than the game with four expansions and innumerable content and overhaul patches.

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  1. Your inexperience with betas is showing in this blog post. It is normal for there to be non-disclosure agreements in place for early phases. Guild Wars 2 is in no way unusual in this regard.

    The majority of people pre-purchasing understand what a Beta is for, or are such big Guild Wars (the original) fans that they simply want in no matter what state the game is in. Anyone capable of doing a little math knew that this was going to be a huge test with all the lag and downtime that entails. It’s hardly like Arenanet said “come play our completely polished game” . . .

    The WoW comparison is made because it’s the easiest for people to make. In reality the game is a lot more similar to things like Age of Conan, Warhammer Online, Dark Age of Camelot and . . . what a shock . .. Guild Wars.

  2. Oh yeah, also, not everyone will have all their weapon skills by 10. If you did I suspect you played a class with not a lot of combos. (Warrior, Guardian and Ranger certainly take way more than 10 levels.)

  3. I don’t actually find GW2 to be similar to GW1 in anything other than spirit and tone, but the comparison is fair enough to Warhammer Online (for, among other things, “public quests”), and I know there’s a few DAoC refugees working at Anet. So… yeah. Not exactly a shabby pedigree.

    And you’re right that it’s not unusual for NDAs to be issued for early phase betas, but there were NDAs in place for the beta that too place two weeks ago, this for a game that will probably (hopefully) release in two months. WoW’s beta runup to release (pre-stress test) did not have an NDA, for example.

    This isn’t a bad thing, I’m not saying they’re hiding something. I think it just goes along with their quiet dedication to making the best game they can. Even in the past two years GW2 has undergone a number of extensive sweeping overhauls. They probably wanted to keep a lid on some of that until they felt it at least resembled the game they’d be releasing.

    As for weapon skills: I unlocked every elementalist skill by level 6 or 7, totaling something near 60 skills — a few more than the warrior’s 39, the guardian’s 34 or the ranger’s 31 (not counting aquatic skills for anyone).

  4. A common misunderstanding people have of a Beta is that the term Beta justifies everything.

    It doesn’t.

    Especially when, as pointed out by Trodamus, the Beta weekend event is advertised as a “reward” for pre-ordering the game early. Insert pre-order, receive weekend pass for GW2. It’s understandable that people grew frustrated with what became a weekend stress-test.

    This is probably why ArenaNet has been cautious about releasing an open beta; half of the community communication for WoW, for example, revolves around addressing beta issues.

    GW2 being under NDA isn’t unusual, What’s unusual is the length of the NDA, extending far beyond the “early phases” of the game.

    +1 on the “unlock all weapon skills by level 6” thing too. It wasn’t at all that hard. I don’t think it’s meant to be, either.

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