This is going to be a long post. This past weekend I had my first experience with Guild Wars 2. I had a blast playing, and while I loved the game, it wasn’t perfect, though that is to be expected.
Guild Wars 2 HAS changed the MMO design…for the better
Not once during the weekend did I see anyone spamming local for a particular class. This, of course, is far too common in traditional MMOs. There were not quests in the usual sense. The things to do came in three primary flavors, your personal story, a favor hub for specific people, and events.
The personal story is of course your character’s storyline. This storyline is determined by your choices in character creation. The only personal story I really dove into over the weekend was my Ranger’s story. She came from common folk, and never found her lost sister (presumed dead). The people you interact with are (initially) determined by where you came from, but start to generalize into interacting with human leadership (Thackery). Your story focus is determined by the scenario you select, in this case, the lost sister.
It seems like a good system…and when you play it, it plays well and is enjoyable. My problem is, it almost seems like an after-thought. That has more to do with the other two flavors I talked about, the favor quests and the events. They keep you occupied like no other quest series I’ve experienced so far. I had to remember to play my personal story. I actually found myself forgetting to play it. After level 4 or so I didn’t go back and play any story quests until level 10 or so. I guess this is no different from regular MMOs…your main focus is the story, and the side quests keep you busy. My problem is…the game is those side quests and events.
So onto the second item, the favor gaining quests. These show up as hearts on the map. They consist of tasks you have to complete to gain the favor of the person the heart is on. This ranges from kill creatures, feed farm animals, water plants…typical side quest fair. You do these for a while for the person until their bar fills up…then you’re done with them and you move on. The beauty of this is it leads to the event system. It gets a bunch of people together in one place, each working on similar tasks…then adds in a local event, and most people jump in, regardless if they are grouped with other people or not.
The event system is the shining jewel of the game. It is as little as defeating a particularly strong foe or group of foes, or as much as a series of events in a chain. When you play an event, you end up wanting to see the next series of events. So when you hold back a Centaur onslaught…you end up wanting to get revenge and go wipe out the source, and that sometimes leads to another event focused around that battle. After you take the source, you enter a sort of maintenance period…where occasional events require players to hold onto the base…and if they fail it gets taken over.
That force then starts building strength and striking out at other outposts. This can go all the way to your own base being captured. So when you enter new regions, there is usually a status of the local battle going on. In the human starting area it’s the Seraph versus the Centaurs and is primarily focused around the town of Beatletun. That doesn’t mean that’s the only events in the area, that is just the primary series of events for the area. Every heart has the potential to spawn events from it, which may or may not be related to the primary event series in the area.
This system worked very well, though the objectives of the events aren’t always obvious. I ran into this in one particularly vicious fight with some Centaurs at one of their bases. The primary objective was, of course, to kill Centaurs. However, the secondary objectives, which are required to establish control over the outpost, were to destroy Centaur supplies and weapon racks in that base.
The battle carried on for a while until some of use finally convinced a large portion o our forces to start attacking these objectives. When we started doing this, we started to progress towards victory. This battle was one hell of a battle. We had probably 30 or so players at one point…fighting who knows how many Centaurs. It was a blast to play. The beautiful thing about this was it grew out of a local favor quest hub.
The people participating in the event weren’t grouped…we just started attacking the centaur base…and event triggered. When the event triggered that lead to more people joining the battle. The events send out notices in the general area around the event, and that usually always draws more people in. Grouping isn’t required as everyone gets credit, there isn’t kill-stealing, it is truly a cooperative effort. You are all working toward a common objective. If someone falls in the middle of the battle someone is usually there within a few seconds to rez them. They do this because they want to see the event succeed. The more people who are up and fighting the easier the fight will go. It is a blast. Well done Anet.
I don’t really have any complaints about this Favor Hub/Event system they have in place. It works well so long as you are actively leveling because you will soon outgrow the area and move onto new higher level areas.
Gone is the Holy Trinity
This was the claim Anet made of Guild Wars 2. For the most part, this is true. There is no one class who specializes in healing or tanking. Everyone can do everything, it just depends on which skills you have active. I did find that some classes are more viable healers simply because their healing skills seem to do a better job. I noticed this between my Ranger and Elementalist. Both can do damage…but the Elementalist seems to favor damage over everything else. The Elementalist healing skills are not the greatest from what I saw. Ranger, on the other hand, has some powerful healing skills, making them very resilient. One in particular is an AOE healing spring that heals in a general area. I’m not exactly sure if this only affects your party, but I imagine it doesn’t, as the game seems to favor playing without having to group up.
The classes I tried include Ranger, Elementalist, Engineer, Necromancer, and Thief. The one I spent the most time with was of course my favorite (going in, based on my main from the original Guild Wars), Ranger. It seems like a well balanced class. It can survive through it’s healing and ability to evade combat. It can deal lots of damage with its skills and conditions. One thing in particular which I enjoyed, was the synergy of using a bow with some of the elemental aspects of the game. You fire your bow through a fire, and your arrows will catch fire, dealing additional damage. Your arrows will also pick up some ability to do water damage from a healing spring, your AOE heal. This means that it has a nice synergy with the Elementalist class (maybe others), in that when an Elementalist lays down a firewall or fire circle…you can use it to deal more damage. Getting these opportunities isn’t that frequent in non-group play though, so it helps to have Healing Spring, or some of your traps which do elemental damage.
Then of course there is the pet, which, unlike the original Guild Wars, is always available, since you don’t have to equip a pet skill…it’s just always there. My pets included the usual 4 legged variety, but also included birds, as well as fish. Yeah, there’s an entirely new world to explore under the water, now that we can actually dive in. I ended up getting a Blue Jellyfish as well as an Armor Fish. I never found the Shark though.
Elementalist was my next favorite. I’ll admit, I never played my elementalists in the original Guild Wars that much. I always favored playing my ranger for DPS…probably because they are much more resilient and able to stay alive easier (in my experience at least). I found I liked my Elementalist in GW2 a lot more though. They are powerful damage dealers no doubt, but they also have a bit more survivability now. You don’t have to rely on having a tank to take the damage for you…as you have healing and tanking skills at your disposal from very near the start (tanking comes a little later if you choose it, but only in short bursts enough to get healed up). Trying to assist Rangers with an Elementalist isn’t as easy as it looks. After I got my flame wall, I attempted to run about making Rangers more effective. but by the time I got the flame wall up…the target was usually dead. It probably just takes some practice though.
Next came the Engineer. For that I chose to play as a Charr. The class, at first, felt weak to me. I think though, that was due to some bugged events in the Charr starting area. A couple of them spawn enemies 3-4 levels higher than the event is designed for. This lead to roaming packs of NPC Charr running about slaughtering anyone who dared trying to participate in the event. After a bit though I managed to complete some objectives and move on to other areas, and it seemed to get easier too. After I got my first turret, I started liking the class a lot more, though that was only after I spent skillpoints to get that ability, as it is not given as a skill through leveling your weapons, or general progress.
The Others plus the Skill System
Then there was Necromancer and Thief, two classes I didn’t spend a lot of time with, so I can’t comment on them a lot. I hope to play them much more in upcoming betas. The Thief, though, highlighted one aspect of the game that stands out alongside of events, the skill system. It is not like the original Guild Wars, where you directly pick all of your skills for your bar. The weapons in the game determine your base skillset. Then you get a healing skill and several utility skills which you chose from what you spend your skillpoints on. Finally, at level 30 you can pick an elite skill. The combinations of weapons you can use determine what 5 skills are available first on your bar. So the combination of a dagger and a pistol results in having an ability to slice a foe up close, then jump back and take a shot at them with the pistol.
You start with a basic auto attack skill for each primary weapon. The more you use it the more skills you open up. If you have an offand weapon, that will open up two more abilities that you can unlock through the use of that combination. Of course, some weapons can only be used in two handed mode, and that results in all 5 of your skills being specialized for that weapon.
For Ranger, I found I loved using my longbow, but I also saw potential in other weapons. The Horn, allows you to call on nature to help you do your job, in addition to the pet you already have. The shortbow also looked good, as it has it’s own set of skills which are entirely different from the longbow, providing for some variety. One particular shortbow skill, which I wasn’t able to acquire yet, is Crippling Shot, a skill that directly references the popular “Arrow to the Knee” meme from Skyrim.
For Elementalist, they get to attune to a particular element, all getting unlocked as you level. Depending on the element you are attuned to, and the weapons you select, your skills change. So using a scepter and a focus while attuned to fire will give you a different set of skills than if you’re attuned to water. Of course, using a different weapon, like a Staff, will also give you a different set of skills based on which element you are attuned to.
For Engineer, your choices on weapons is rather limited, but your skillset is augmented by your choice of kit to use. I didn’t get a chance to really play this a great deal, since I avoided playing my Engineer after getting slaughtered in a couple of events.
Graphics, Visual Styles, and Sounds
The game is a fantasy game, so it’s appropriate that the graphics are not based on reality. That said, the weapons and armor feel like they were modeled closer to real-life weapons than they were in the original Guild Wars. They have a very “blah” feel to them. In other words, the weapons just aren’t that flashy in the early low levels. I would have like to have seen some slightly better looking stuff in the time I played though.
The Art Style of the game perfectly matches the art style that has been presented in the media released so far. The art style seems to be sort of a painting with a broad brush of sorts. It looks good and dramatic. Overall I like it.
The effects in the game are a distinct step up from the original Guild Wars. Barrage has a quite satisfying barrage of arrows. The fire spike for Elementalist provides a nice satisfying crash to the ground. All the effects just look upgraded, and they look great.
The music and sounds are good as well, as has been standard for the Guild Wars series.
One area I feel they’ve taken a step back with is their cutscenes, or as I call them, convo-scenes. When speaking to someone in a convo-scene your presented with two figures who are speaking to each other…as more people get invovled one of the two are swapped out for the new speaker…this is all done on an artwork background. I don’t like it a lot, though I will admit it shows off the animations of the characters more. Combine that with the voice acting, and it’s ok…enough to be passable, though I really wish the background actually showed the environment you are in rather than a generic regional background.
As the picture, says, Anet considers this to be a “Work In Progress”. I certainly hope so…I hope this is just a placeholder for the time being and that we will get something a bit more fleshed out…otherwise this is a step backward.
I didn’t spend a lot of time on crafting, in fact, I crafted nothing at all, I just took on a couple of the professions. It seems like it will be a solid crafting system. One nice thing they added was the ability to send your crafting materials straight to storage wherever you are at…so you can clean up your inventory pretty easily.
Downed and the Death Penalty
I loved the downed aspect of the game. Giving me a second chance to defeat my foe is nice.
The death penalty wasn’t really explained well I felt. It is the same as GW1? I don’t know honestly, all I saw was that I occasionally had a death penalty. Not how much or how it was affecting me exactly, just that I had it. Nothing more.
I didn’t pay a lot of attention to this, but I looked at it long enough to know that they took what they did in the original, and expanded it massively. I really liked the titles and achievements in the original, so I’m happy they brought it back.
What didn’t I like?
Account logout only, no character logout (ie go to character select screen) – This is a step back Anet…please reintroduce this feature you put into the original GW.
Generic background on character select screen – I’d like to see backgrounds ideally based on where the character is at…or perhaps based on the character’s personal story (where they are from what kind of people they grew up with)
It is a little too easy to get in over your head – While I loved the events system, several times I found myself starting events which were a bit higher than my level. Most of the time this was ok, since I was with other people. Might be nice if a notice pops up upon entering an event area saying that you’re a little lower level than the event was designed for.
Generic Merchants – Can they be given a bit better description of what they carry? Some areas are just insane…such as Lion’s Arch. There was one area where there were literally 10 merchants and I had to visit each one to find out what they were carrying.
Generic background on “Cutscenes” – You can do better than that Anet…come on.
Overflow – What is the point? 98% of the time I joined the overflow immediately upon logging in…and stayed there for the majority of the time I was playing the game. Just give us the districts we had in the original Guild Wars. That was a good system and it worked quite well. And no ability to switch between overflow and the main world was just bad design…it splits up groups needlessly.
I’m really loving the game, it’s not perfect, to be sure, but I think it is already one of the most solid MMO’s our there. Really looking forward to launch and I’m glad I reserved a Collector’s Edition copy of the game.