Guild Wars 2 beta weekend: first impressions
Spoiler: I’m sold
This past weekend was the first open beta weekend for ArenaNet’s hotly anticipated MMORPG, Guild Wars 2. It was “open” to anyone with a registered pre-purchase or pre-order code.
Three of the five races were playable: Human, Charr and Norn. The Sylvari and Asura sat this one out with speculation being that their starter areas were still unfinished at the time.
As with any beta that opens itself up to its fans, the first event is always the most temperamental. Error codes 42 and 48 made their appearance. Frequent disconnections and hours staring at the login screen hampered access for many.
Nonetheless, I snuck in early and spent about 20-hours poking around at it this weekend hoping for a response. Good news: it twitched and I liked it.
The beta began approximately an hour earlier than we had expected, at about 20:10 SAST. I spent a fair bit of time toying around with the character customisation, keen to see exactly how bulbous, bizarre or sexy I could get characters to look.
Players expecting an elaborate customisation tool are going to be a bit disappointed. While character models are beautifully detailed, ArenaNet weren’t kidding when they said that they want all characters in the world to conform to a romantic ideal.
Deforming a character is pretty much impossible. There is also no option for players who want to play a hero of the rotund persuasion. Features such as noses, eyes and lips can be adjusted within limits.
Finally jumping into the game, it was difficult not to feel a bit overwhelmed at first. What seemed like hundreds of players flooded the horizon. The first objective was to get to a local inn, fighting off centaurs and helping villagers along the way.
About 20-minutes later, the starter area was completed after a glorious battle, together with all other players in the area, against a very large and very intimidating boss that never stood a chance. The starter areas are very similar across races: each culminates in a big fight, after which you find yourself doing favours for the locals (read: questing) or continuing your personal story.
Which brings me to the point where I address the hype this aspect of Guild Wars 2 has accrued. Don’t expect that all events will be meaningful or engaging or that they will have any tangible impact on the world. Whether or not they will ever really cause any long-lasting influence on the world, I don’t know and I’ll save answering that for a review.
What I can say, is that the events respawn every 10-to-15-minutes and become annoying after the first couple of times you encounter them. You will eventually just begin to ignore them. Events are also chaotic, as 30-odd players all run around trying to water Farmer John’s crops, slaughter the same spiders and escort the same wagon.
While it certainly makes escort quests easier, it takes a lot of the fun out of combat when ten other people are all attacking the same poor, defenceless spider and then, in unison, rush off to the next one.
You also have to wonder if bosses and events ever really run the risk of failing. Even the biggest and strongest of bosses are doomed as large numbers of players attack them, revive each other and press forth their attack. Do they ever really have a chance?
I’m sure it would be different upon release, when the population spreads out. For now, at least, combat feels as though there is no challenge to it and boss monsters are the victims of rent-a-mob justice.
It also raises the philosophical quandary: if the same general runs out into a horde of centaur and there is no one who will escort him, will he keep re-spawning and running into a horde of centaur every 15-minutes? Why yes, yes he will.
Much has been made of Guild Wars 2′s dodging mechanic and combat fluidity. While being able to move and fire off spells or attacks simultaneously is a wonderful implementation, the dodging mechanic is lacklustre and feels very gimmicky and almost entirely pointless.
I did not feel the story aspect of Guild Wars 2 was particularly endearing. While the characters involved are enjoyable and my heart skipped a beat when I realised that the male human’s familiar voice was none other than Nolan North, who also voiced my male Consular in Old Republic, I didn’t really feel any real attachment to the events. And, certainly, not that I had any influence over them after character creation. But, we’ll see how that plays out after release, when I can spend more time on it.
Another criticism cropped up with what ArenaNet have termed “the Overflow.” The Overflow is essentially a separate instance that players get thrown to when the main instance is full. So, while ArenaNet haven’t exactly lied about giving players a persistent world, they haven’t given players a unified world.
There are many “home servers” to choose from located in the European Union and in Northern America. All stock standard and what is to be expected. The fact then, that these individual servers are broken up into what original Guild Wars players might think of as “districts” is, I feel, a step backwards.
Annoyingly, during the beta, player parties would frequently end up split between different instances when entering a new area and often into more than one Overflow with no way to switch between them. ArenaNet have said that they will be fixing that for release but still, it’s difficult not to feel as though one server with many instances for the same location is a dramatic move backward for an MMO that attempts to be so progressive.
Crafting requires the use of a crafting bench for your particular profession. Salvaging is still an important part of the process, with further refinement of crafting resources possible. Crafting is done through a simple interface by selecting how many items you want to make and is a level-able skill.
Gathering of resources such as wood and ore can be done from resource nodes and without needing to learn to gather. Only the tools are required.
Levelling is an enjoyable process, with skill point quests and challenges across the world that can be done to earn additional skill points and unlock skills without needing to level first. Eventually, at level 11, players unlock traits which allow them to specialise their characters.
Guild Wars 2 is proving to be a wonderful reprieve from the generic MMO recipe many of us have become sick of. It has a phenomenal art direction, a great musical score courtesy of Jeremy Soule, and takes away almost all of the frustrating aspects of an MMO.
How it will turn out in the end, remains to be seen.
Look out for our review when Guild Wars 2 releases later this year.