Guild Wars 2 – The Headstart Impressions
Developer: ArenaNet / Publisher: NCsoft / Release Date: August 28, 2012 / Price: $59.99 / Platforms: PC / ESRB: Teen [Blood, Mild Language, Use of Alcohol, Violence]
Three days before today’s official public launch of the highly anticipated MMO, Guild Wars 2, pre-orderers were afforded the opportunity to get a headstart on the general gamer masses. This reward for supporting and pre-ordering also afforded a limited land and loot rush to the servers, off-setting the congestion and login issues that so infamously impacted the last most recent online-required PC game (that’d be Diablo III if your memory is fading.)
Many of these early adopters were also in the extensive beta testing phase that will have provided a significant leg-up on learning the systems, locations, class and race intricacies, of a world so deep Guild Wars 2 already stands out as an incredibly impressive achievement. That depth is why we’re not ready to apply a traditional review score at this time. There’s so much to see and do across the five races and eight professions before you even get to the social elements, grouping, and the dynamics of a myriad crafting opportunities that it’s impossible to get a sense of what truly works and what might not in this abbreviated time period.
So instead, here are the first impressions after spending time in this Headstart environment.
If you’re not aware, the original Guild Wars released with a unique premise in the MMO space at the time. Rather than go for the familiar monthly subscription model, Guild Wars was a retail purchase, and once you bought the game, you could play forever. Supported by expansion packs and a cool world dynamic of combat and social interaction with other players, it was a significant success in a difficult marketplace. Guild Wars 2 has taken its sweet time in arriving (an original 2010 release was pushed to 2011, and finally summer 2012), but it doesn’t take long in this world to realize why.
Much like other MMOs you start a character, pick a profession, then join the world, receiving tips and quick quests from local characters barking orders. But a significant stand-out in the early-game is the concept of your own story. Played out in stylized confrontations with NPCs, you make choices before the story starts that shape your unique game world view. Depending how you answer some eclectic questions shapes your characters motivations for its main goals. How this plays out over the long-run, and whether you’ll remember what you set up in the first place is to be seen, but a very handy rundown of ‘My Story’ means that you can get back on that main track whenever you choose.
I picked a Charr ranger to start, though I suspect many GW veterans will go for the all-new Sylvari. It’s worth noting that during the opening few hours the focus on a personal story meant that it didn’t seem to matter that I hadn’t played the original game since its first few months of release. Though set in a continuum 250 years after the end of the last expansion—Eye of the North—don’t let the sequel make you feel like you’ve missed out. In fact, these early missions felt way more important than the FedEx-types you get in most early hours, like it was established I was going to be a significant player in this world. That also meant there’s much less explicit hand-holding through the early-game than you’d get today in, say, World of Warcraft. Pop-ups appear regularly to point to menu or interface items worth your attention, but don’t go into very deep detail on what they’re showing. And the NPCs are more interested in pushing your story and their motivations than they are teaching you how to navigate the world.
Any MMO veteran won’t find it hard to figure out, since many of the standard key commands are used (NumLock for running, for example). But how the skill system progresses, and particularly how you start your crafting career (from what seems to be a multitude of options) won’t be clear until quite a few levels in. In fact, you don’t earn your first Trait skill until Level 11. That’s a good few hours of commitment just to get to the point where you’re opening more of Guild Wars 2’s beautiful kimono.
Earning experience in Guild Wars 2 is focused on participating in world events. Rather than following the whims of random NPCs, dynamic world events will appear, and you can choose to go join, or keep doing your own thing. Anyone in that vicinity can join in, and that can mean your own party of friends, or a random bunch of early levelers. But if you’re nearby they are worth attending as the rewards, just for being in the area, are more significant than slaughtering the indigenous wildlife for hours on end. I ran into one world event, right as it was being concluded by the other players, and though I contributed not a damn thing, was still given a Bronze award, a bunch of experience, karma, and copper. The more effective you are in executing the requirements of the event, the more XP you earn, but the great part is that you don’t need to do anything but stay close.
The randomness of those events (most of which will require other player assistance, as if you find yourself on your own, the challenges can often be very tricky in this early part of the game) is balanced by the personalized structure of your story instances. Following your main story, you will enter instances where those riff-raff of your server seamlessly disappear and you’re focused on your own goals, often with allies helping at your side. The level progression requirements for you to be successful on your story quests does mean you have to spend time just exploring (that also earns better XP than monster slaughter)—that is to say, when the suggested level is eight to complete an instance, it really does mean 8… seven is likely to end in frustration (but could be possible), and six is not a chance. Then, your next quest is likely to require level 10, meaning you spend time exploring, performing world events, and starting to get a feel for the crafting skills.
It should also be noted that it’s not straight story grind. I found a box of fireworks that I could set off (even choose the color). Objects dotted around some areas may be related to quests, but picking up a wine bottle and chucking it at a random enemy (or rat, raccoon, hawk, whatever) shows a level of interaction that should keep each new area fresh.
Navigating the world is aided by teleport waypoints fairly liberally dotted across the landscape. While you pay for the privilege of quick travel like this, it’s a quick load, not a laborious flight route. The map handily points out where crafting resources may be located, where dead allies are waiting to be revived, where a special view vantage point can be accessed (often requiring a form of jumping puzzle), and where your events and story quests are located.
Of course, combat is critical, and the skill progression is intriguing. Pick up a profession-suitable weapon and you will have one skill option. Keep using that and you steadily unlock five slots of different attack (or defend) types with that weapon. Personally, my game changed significantly as I went from dual-wielding a sword and hatchet (with their effects varying depending if they were in my main- or off-hand) to a two-handed greatsword, to a longbow. You can swap between two weapon loadouts pretty quickly in combat, but between seemingly well-balanced (and varied) skill sets and nifty moves, spins and swirls, and charges and swoops, combat is consistently varied. It can also be massively cluttered when ten players are pounding on one event boss. The flurry of effects can be disorienting, but that’s also likely due to fairly crowded player areas.
Even pushing past level 10 I know I haven’t touched on so many elements of the game world and gameplay crammed into Guild Wars 2. The Trading Post opportunities (auction house) look intriguing, but currently are offline. PvP? Haven’t even considered going there yet, but it’s an option.
That’s why this is a first impression: There’s simply way too much still to see to get any kind of rounded perspective on various mechanics’ relative strengths or weaknesses. And updates are ongoing. In one play session I had six “server is closing in [3 minutes or 2 minutes or 1 hour] for a game update” interruptions. Not major, but it’s part of keeping these servers alive.
So, first impressions are very positive. The surface has barely been scratched, and the level cap of 80 looks a very, very long way away. But my legionnaire Charr is off and running on the path to glory, so I’ll update the progress as I go.