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First Impressions: Guild Wars 2

Let me begin by saying that my experience with Guild Wars 2 is limited to the beta weekend that took place between April 27, 2012 and April 29, 2012. Since it was a beta weekend, and the game has no official release date, I was obviously only able to experience a work in progress. The final game may be significantly different than the game I saw. The only class, or “profession” as the game refers to it, that I played was the Necromancer and I only reached level 15 before the beta weekend finished. My background in massive multiplayer online (MMO) games comes from playing World of Warcraft since July 2008. I never played the original Guild Wars game. With that in mind, let me tell you what I thought.

I guess the logical starting point is the character creation process. It offered what I always consider to be far too many choices in customizing the facial appearance of my character. It is not a bad thing, but the first time I really tried to make a character “my own” was in Oblivion and my character ended up looking like something crawling out of a radioactive sewer pipe. It is just not for me, but I can appreciate that other people would really like it.

Something I had not seen done before was the ability to choose a color scheme for armor. Anyone familiar with The Burning Crusade expansion in World of Warcraft knows that picking up pieces of gear here and there resulted in your character’s appearance being a rainbow of mismatched awkwardness. Guild Wars 2 fixes that problem by dying armor in accordance with whatever colors you choose so that each piece looks as though it belongs in the set. The only problem with this approach is the risk of characters becoming too stale but I am willing to bet there is a way to change the color scheme somewhere; I just did not look.

You can see how the outfit matches even though the pieces are different.

Once I entered the game world I came across a myriad of problems without stepping foot outside of the starting town. Just to mention a few, alt-tabbing caused the game to crash for myself and the two friends I was playing the game with. In the user interface (UI), the options to change the screen resolution gave no indication of ratio, like how 1920×1080 is 16:9 whereas 1920×1200 is 16:10. That might not sound like a big deal but one of my friends’ computers could not handle running the game at his monitor’s full resolution so he needed to scale down. He knew his monitor was 1680×1050 but when scrolling through the options of available resolutions he had to manually figure out which option matched his monitor’s ratio. Additionally, the keybind interface was not very intuitive, requiring users to create new keybinds altogether and assign them to abilities instead of modifying existing keybinds. I will give ArenaNet, the game’s developer, the benefit of the doubt and assume these problems are just part of the beta and will be fixed by release.

Once I began questing I discovered that Guild Wars 2 has a very cool way of telling a story. It is called cinematic conversations. The player will approach an NPC to obtain or complete a quest and a cutscene will play where the player’s character and the NPC have a dialogue. Here are a few examples:

I really enjoyed these cutscenes because it felt like my character was actually doing something significant in the game. In games like World of Warcraft, NPCs will often engage in conversations but it is out in the open world and there is a feeling of disconnection because you are surrounded by other people turning in the same quest. There are no cutscenes that feature the player’s character at all. In Guild Wars 2 it feels more personalized.

Guild Wars 2 v. World of Warcraft

Once I had gotten my feet wet and familiarized myself with gameplay, I began to realize that Guild Wars 2 was very different than World of Warcraft. There are two types of quests in the game: open world and dungeon. The open world quests automatically appear in your quest log if you walk close enough to an event, and there are events happening all over the place. Events will usually have multiple phases to them and they continuously loop over and over again. For example, the first phase may be to free certain trapped NPCs, and then the second event asks you to escort those NPCs to safety.

Everyone in the area shares credit towards the event, but the amount of experience gained is determined by participation. After each event, gold, silver, and bronze participation medals are awarded which reflect the amount of experience earned. If you happen to come into an area with an event half-way done, your quest progress will match everyone else’s. That also means that if you walk into an area on phase 2 of 4, you will have to wait until the entire thing finishes and starts again to see what you missed in phase 1.

Dungeon quests take place in instances where other random players cannot participate. The only way to get more players in your dungeon quest is to invite them to a group and enter together. The dungeon quests seem to be tied to a quest series called your Personal Story. During the character creation process questions were asked that had no discernible effect. Questions such as “Which of the following animals are you most similar to?” The answers to these questions shaped the kind of quests the player sees in the Personal Story. My friend and I both created Norn characters but answered the questions in different ways. The Personal Story quests were completely different.

Another aspect which makes Guild Wars 2 very different than World of Warcraft is that characters will automatically scale down in level depending on what area they go to. Look at the bottom left corner of this screenshot.

As you can see, my character was level 10, but I was in a level 3 zone so all of my stats scaled down to level 3.

Skills are also very different. Each class has its own set of spells and abilities, but those spells and abilities need to be leveled up and they are tied to specific weapons. You can play around with the Guild Wars 2 skill tool here (be sure to change the language to English at the top right).

As an example, on my Necromancer, if I equipped a staff my abilities would be Necrotic Grasp, Mark of Blood, Chillblains, Putrid Mark, and Reaper’s Mark. Equipping a dagger and war horn changes my abilities to Necrotic Slash, Life Siphon, Dark Pact, Wail of Doom, and Locust Swarm. In other words, the abilities you have access to depend completely on what weapon you are using at the time. Furthermore, skills need to be unlocked by using lower level skills first. On a fresh character, equipping a staff would give me access to Necrotic Grasp and nothing else. Only after using Necrotic Grasp continuously would I unlock Mark of Blood and so on. Once a skill is unlocked, you do not need to keep unlocking it if it is also available on another weapon.

The last major difference is that Guild Wars 2 is designed around having a server dedicated to hosting players when their normal server becomes full. It is referred to as the Overflow. Each zone has a capacity limit and if a player attempts to enter into a full zone they will instead be put into the Overflow server where players from several different servers play together.

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