Guild Wars 2 Beta Impressions

Posted on 1 May, 2012


Lsst weekend was the first large-scale beta event for Guild Wars 2, and as usual with my favourite game genre, I was there.

Three races (Charr, Human and Norn) and all eight character classes were available to play.  The vast majority of my time was spent taking a human ranger through the opening story quest, area quests and events based in the human capital of Divinity’s Reach and the surrounding area of Queensdale, eventually reaching level 11.  I also spent much shorter periods of time playing a charr necromancer and a norn elementalist.

So what were the highs and lows from a first weekend of testing?

Whilst the immediate impression, given that you are thrown immediately in to combat, was one of a system that was easy to get in to, and fairly forgiving, it is the cities in Guild Wars 2 that are the first major feature to stand out and demand praise.  The environment artists have done a quite amazing job of realising Guild Wars relentlessly stunning concept art.  Divinity’s Reach is majestic and grand (and by grand I mean absolutely massive), but it did nothing to prepare me for just how amazing the Charr capital of the Black Citadel is.  Cities are an essential hub of activity in MMOs (often for levelling, crafting and trading), but in GW2 so much of this can be done without the need of a fixed physical space.  Consequently, there is a much greater need for the cities to define themselves in other ways.  Whilst they continue to hold bases for some of the aforementioned activities, they have been crafted to establish identity, purpose and character, and are supreme in all regards.

Next up on the ‘good’ list is the world map which is an absolute ‘best of breed’.  It zooms in and our beautifully, scaling the detail elegantly as it goes.  I can imagine other mmo’s (and indeed many rpgs) will be looking at this as the best mapping solution for future games.  Waypoints dovetail in to the map such that you can simply open it up, click on a waypoint and immediately teleport there.  Narratively, that might sound like an immersion breaker, but it succeeds in maintaining GW2 focus on one of it’s core goals – getting players to the action, fast.

Finally in my list of likes is the questing system.  The traditional quest log is gone, replaced by a nice introduction to the area by your local scout, informing you what you can do and where.  As you go around the map completing these quests (you never actually need to talk to an NPC either to start of complete them) you will also encounter area events.  These are the large-scale public quests of other mmos.  They are fast and furious and you can’t help (in a nice way) but be dragged in to them.  There are also mini-events to be completed in order to order skill points.  Again you can simply help out others already doing these to gain the reward.  The whole system feels light but sharp, and in no way a compromise on the more traditional systems.

Now on to the negative, and the biggest for me is the skill system.  Inevitably, having played only to level 11, there is much more to see.  However the initial experience revolves around gaining 5 basic attack skills through use of a weapon (each weapon having it’s own skill-set).  This set is completed within the first hour of play (perhaps less), and then that’s it until level 80!  As you go deeper in to the game there are class skills and traits, but these don’t appear to significantly change the way you play that character class.  For me a lot more variation is required in order to make the journey of character development – a central component to any great rpg – interesting and compelling all the way up to level 80.  The concern is that the current implementation is central to the design of GW2, and cannot be easily changed at this stage.

A more minor gripe is the lack of armour/clothing progression.  Items are changed too infrequently over the opening ten levels, and when they are there is often barely noticeable cosmetic difference, and only the tiniest of stat improvement.  It’s all very well conceptually streamlining systems so that the game has a broader appeal, but rpg players expect this kind of detail, and it just isn’t there at the moment.

The final negative to the weekends play-test was the performance.  Many people, including myself, had problems with lag and stuttering frame-rates on decent gaming pc’s.  Assuming that GW2 is still many months from launching, there should be plenty of time to sort this out.

Arenanet are aiming to hold a beta weekend each month until launch, and as promising as things are at this stage, it would appear they are many months from achieving full launch readiness.

Posted in: Gaming, MMO, RPG