Guild Wars 2
Rather big disclaimer up front: For one I have only participated in two beta weekends where I was somewhat busy, so this is really just first impressions. For two keep in mind the game is still in beta. Anything I praise or nitpick or complain about could be changed or fixed by the time release comes around.
With that out of the way, some thoughts on Guild Wars 2.
Since the beta isn’t currently up, and I forgot to take screenshots when it was (hopefully next beta weekend) I’ll do my best with google image search.
I guess I’ll note straight off the bat that it’s not a bad-looking game. The art style and direction are good, the animations flow smoothly, it’s bright and colourful and the detail work is pretty decent. I would say it’s one of the best-looking MMORPGs out there, if that stuff is important to you.
Character creation is your introduction to the game, as with all such games. You get to pick from five races, at least eventually. In the beta we have Humans, Charr and Norn unlocked, while Sylvari and Asura are locked. And there are eight classes, or professions as the game calls them, to choose from: Mesmer, Engineer, Thief, Guardian, Necromancer, Ranger, Warrior and Elementalist. Since I want to roll a Norn Elementalist as my main when the game hits release I have purposefully avoided trying that out in the beta.
So in the first beta I played a Charr Engineer and in the second I played a Human Mesmer.
Before I go into the classes however, I should go into how the weapons work in Guild Wars 2. Each weapon comes with its own skill bar. Two-handers have five skills, and one-handers have three for main hand and two for off-hand, allowing you to mix and match as befits the situation. The first time you use a weapon of a type you have to unlock the skills for it, so it’s not a bad idea to play around with all the weapon types you can use early on.
Alright then, the Charr. They are a very conflict-driven race, which seems to stem from their history of having to fight for everything they have gained and then fight to keep it as well. They look like they’re a mix of wolves, bears and cats, only twice as mean.
As for the Engineer class, I think I’d definitely call it a utility class. The number of weapons you can equip as abysmal. You can use a rifle as a twohander, or two pistols, or a pistol and a shield. This is because the Engineer can get and unlock a great number of kits that take the place of your weapons, be they weapon kits like the flamethrower or backpack kits like the bomb kit. You can also unlock several types of turrets, for healing, protection and firepower.
All in all, I found the Engineer to be a fun class in the beginning, but once I got over level 10 I kinda started getting bored of it. Even the flamethrower wasn’t enough to keep my interest since all in all fighting became more of a chore than fun. I felt like for all my supposed utility, I couldn’t really hold my own. I was reduced to backup roles, and if others weren’t around, I was pretty much screwed.
Which was the main reason I rolled up a new character for the next beta weekend, a Human Mesmer. Now the Humans in GW2 are a curious lot. Cast down from their seat of power by the Charr who came to reclaim their ancient lands, their gods have gone silent and they are no longer the dominant force of the land. In fact they’re struggling for survival and to remain relevant. In spite of this, they cling on, and remain pretty pious despite not having gotten any divine signs in quite some time. Some would say that’s true faith, I suppose.
The Mesmer is a peculiar class that relies on illusions and phantasms to confuse, distract and bring down enemies, and can employ a multitude of weapons to that effect. (Illusions look like you and have your nameplate above their heads, while phantasms are see-through and have their own names and usually more health) You can use a two-handed greatsword or staff, a sword or scepter as main hand weapon, and sword, pistol, torch or focus as off-hand weapon. My weapons of choice became sword+pistol for close-range and greatsword for long-range. (partially because it amused me)
I’ll try to do a rundown on all the weapons as best I remember them, though.
The main hand sword could slash for great effect, even make you temporarily invulnerable as you unleash a flurry of blows, and unleash an illusion that charges at the enemy, which you can then switch positions with to get up-close and personal.
The main hand scepter would fling bolts of energy at range, and automatically summon illusions that would do the same. Since you can only field three illusions and/or phantasms at a time, I assume this was to trigger the special detonation skills more often to improve your AoE. You could also fire a sustained beam of energy that I believe also summoned an illusion when it was complete.
The off-hand sword could summon a phantasmal swordsman, and… I forget. ^^;;
The off-hand focus I don’t remember at all, but the off-hand torch could summon a phantasmal mage and make you vanish for three seconds, and then causing you to burn anyone nearby when you reappeared.
The off-hand pistol would summon a phantasmal gunslinger and fire a bullet that could hit up to three enemies, applying at least one debilitating condition to each.
The staff focused on buffing you and your allies, debuffing enemies, summoning illusions that would help with more buffing and debuffing and conjuring up a phantasm that did more damage the more debuffs an enemy had on them.
The greatsword fires bolts of lightning from its tip, summons phantasmal berserkers to go nuts on enemies, throw an illusionary sword that bounces between enemies and allies, damaging the former and buffing the latter and finally casting a shockwave to knock enemies back. With the lightning you do more damage the further away you are. Not once do you actually hit anyone with the sword. That would be silly.
I had quite a lot more fun with the Mesmer as opposed to the Engineer, but even with the Mesmer I hit a bit of a lull around level 12. I couldn’t find anything new to do that was appropriate for my level, and had to go around and grind events I had already done over and over to get enough experience to be able to move on to the next area. The events were fun and all, but usually not after the third or fourth time.
See, questing works thusly in GW2. You have your main quest, which is your story, that is the only thing in your quest log. Apart from that you have area quests that are marked by an empty heart on the map where you have to help an NPC in order to be able to fill up the heart and you can then use the NPC as a vendor. Some of them even sell cool and useful stuff.
And finally there are the events. These happen whether you are there or not, so you can run across them at any time, and anyone can join in. You don’t need to join a group or a raid to participate and get credit, and you are rewarded based on how much you contributed. There are a number of events spread all around, triggering at various times, some based on how well people did on previous events. It makes the world feel more alive, at least at first… after seeing the same event several times it starts to get a little silly.
I hit an issue at level 12 where I had done all the heart quests in the area, my next story quest was level 14 (and I had learned from experience that being underlevelled for those was a bad idea) and I couldn’t really move on to anywhere without getting into trouble for being too low level. So I was left grinding events. I hope this won’t be an issue in the final game, or I might never get past level 15 with any character.
There were things I quite enjoyed though. The fast-travel system works well, you can dye your armour at any time (you get a certain number of colours to start with and unlock more via drops, and probably also vendors and crafting), crafting is quite interesting and the personal story is better crafted than I expected.
I even tried my hand at the World vs World vs World PvP arena for a bit, partially to see if it was a viable alternative to grinding events for levelling (which it wasn’t), and partially just out of simple curiousity. It’s hectic, clustered and pretty fun, even though we were losing ground slowly, but surely.
All in all it’s an interesting title with some good mechanics and fun classes, set in a vibrant world with beautiful visuals. While I doubt it will be my favourite thing ever, it is good to see that someone is trying to change things up a bit and not just copy World of Warcraft again. I won’t call the game a revolution of the genre, more an evolution. Taking things a step further. Perhaps even two steps. And I’m alright with that.