Guild Wars 2: First Impressions Part 1
By Jason Harper (Hhean), OnRPG Journalist
Guild Wars 2 is massively massive. It swells with gianty ginormitude. Its biggishness can only truly be expressed with made up words. It’s a game so huge I’ve had to break my first impressions, the shortest glimpse of the game made available to me, into two articles simply because of how much there is to write about. Not only is the world itself big, but so are the many interconnected systems at play within the bowels of its underlying mechanics. The sheer amount of things that a player is able to do dwarfs nearly all other titles on the market, and a player can simply switch between any of the game’s options at a whim. Very little in the game limits your actions, sidestepping or fixing many issues found in most modern MMOs. Hell, even your character can be massive.
Divinity's Reach, It's That Big
The biggest race out there is the Norn, a bunch of giant nordic barbarians with a love of adventure. Humans are tiny by comparison, but their city is anything but small. Divinity’s Reach is the closest thing to Minas Tirith I’ve ever encountered in a video game, dominating the landscape for miles around. The ferocious Charr are a race of cat-like industrialists so harsh and unforgiving they killed their own gods. Each of their areas have clear antagonists, with the Humans defending against Centaur incursions and bandit raids, Norn battling dragon worshipping traitors, and the Charr battling their former oppressors, along with the ghostly former inhabitants of their new land. The Charr areas in particular are so full of bombastic over the top nonsense that makes the small Conan wannabe in me jump for joy.
The game’s remaining two races, the Sylvari and Asura, aren’t available for public use yet. For completeness, I’ll mention that they’re the midget inventors and youthful plant people, respectively. They’re both small, so clearly weren’t worth putting into the beta.
Poor Little Fellas
Professions/Classes are very broad, not filling the tight pigeon holes found in other MMOs. While the list of professions isn’t large (Warrior, Guardian, Necromancer, Elementalist, Mesmer, Ranger, Engineer, and Thief), the list of options available to each profession certainly is. What weapons your character uses can completely change the way you fight, as the weapons you’re using determine what abilities your character can use. However, each class does keep to some broad themes, and can’t do everything. For example, a guardian can be a tank, melee damage dealer, healer or AoE nuker. They always are better at playing with (and against) groups of people rather than being great duelists, and are limited to close range attacks even when not outright wading into melee. In contrast, while the thief does have some ranged capabilities with the short bow, most of their weapon load outs are about getting in, murdering a single target and running off as quickly as possible.
Combat is a halfway house between the hotbar based combat of other MMORPGs and something more action orientated like that found in Tera. Movement and positioning are key to survival, with limited access to rolls that evade incoming attacks. Unlike Tera, you can attack and move at the same time, with few skills that root you in place. This swings the advantage in the game heavily in favour of ranged attackers, as they can constantly kite their foes while melee fighters can struggle to keep up. Melee combat is deadly at the moment, with death coming very swiftly if you don’t dodge or block incoming attacks effectively. One lag spike and your character is going face down in the dirt.
Death in GW2 draws more inspiration from shooters like Left 4 Dead than its peers. When you run out of health, rather than dying immediately you are given the ability to fight for your survival. If you can kill a nearby enemy using a limited suite of abilities specific to your class, you’ll get back to your feet with a third of your health, ready to fight. This is great in PvE, where you can kill something that just downed you to make a last minute comeback, or kill creatures your downed friends are attacking to help them up. In PvP though, enemy players can choose to finish you off, at the expense of leaving themselves vulnerable for a few seconds. This vulnerability can result in some very weird situations. You can down someone while on low health, they then finish you off in their downed state while you’re trying to finish them, get up with far more health than you had, and then execute you while you’re trying to get up yourself. Nothing is more frustrating than being punished for winning a close fight, and leads to a weird metagame when two people get extremely low, and try to get their enemy to kill them. The only upside to this is that the times when both players are near death is a rare occurrence, so you’re not likely to encounter this problem often.
Much Like with Fighting Zombies, in Guild Wars 2 Always Double-Tap
Another way of getting back on your feet is having someone else help you up, which will grant them a little bit of experience. This is time consuming and risky, but can be done by your fellow player even after you’re beyond the point of being able to use your abilities while downed. This isn’t class restricted at all, so anyone can help anyone else get back on their feet and back into the fight.
A good deal of Guild Wars 2 is built to encourage altruistic behaviour, in much the same way as Firefall. Players can help one another out freely, gaining an experience bonus when others contribute to a kill, rather than a minus, or only one person getting credit. Grouping isn’t necessary, being more of a tool for communication and coordination than a necessary requirement for all forms of cooperation. This is driven home even further by the open nature of the questing system, dubbed ‘dynamic events’.
Courtesy of PvPOnline.com
Dynamic events are an evolution on the public quests first pioneered by Warhammer Online. While other games have flirted with this idea, all others have had it as extra seasoning on the World of Warcraft quest structure. Guild Wars 2, on the other hand, uses them as a player’s primary means of advancement. Towns can come under attack, which can lead to someone needing to be rescued, which can then lead to an escort mission, which may then lead to a boss fight. Not all dynamic quests are linked, but all of them tie into the central themes of their respective areas, making the world feel both coherent and alive. The most impressive thing about the system is that the world really feels like it can go on without you; it’s a place that exists with or without your involvement. Failed events can lead to new events just as much as completed ones, so if you fail to defend a town from a bandit raid, a new dynamic event might appear to retake the town, or to defend the refugees as they flee from their former home.
When not on a dynamic event, there are smaller tasks that can be completed in an area, where you earn the loyalty of a person in a specific region. This is usually simpler stuff like killing some enemies, retrieving certain objects or interacting with placeables. All of these actions will feed into a loyalty bar for the NPC in question, and when filled will allow you to buy goods from them with Karma, the resource earned from completing the dynamic events. While it’s usually favourable to complete dynamic events near these NPCs so you can both earn and spend your Karma in the same place, these are good stopgap tasks to complete when no dynamic events are going on in the area.
The only traditional quests that you’ll receive in guild wars are those relating to your character’s personal story. At character creation, you can select from a variety of character defining traits. One of these will allow you to select one of three plotlines for your character. For example, for Charr you will choose your character’s Legion (Blood, Iron or Ash), which will tell how your character rises in power through the ranks of their respective clan, each with different themes and ideas. The entire story in these quests is handled with fully voiced dialogue, and feature important choices at key junctures that branch the story. These decisions are rarely “Be the nice guy” or “Be a dick”, but usually more grey things like “Do the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few?” While these story quests are nice, they can be a bit lonely, given that they are far more of a pain for others to get involved in compared to the rest of the game’s content.
Outside of these personal stories, you rarely feel like you’re being directed down a narrow corridor. No piece of a dynamic event chain requires you to have completed anything before it, so you can wander around the world and do whatever you like at your leisure. If you got an extra level or two from PvP, personal quests or crafting (yes, you can get experience from crafting, though it’s not fully implemented yet) you can simply skip over things you don’t want to do.
If you’re a completionist though, don’t worry. Guild Wars has level caps in its areas, so you’ll immediately be leveled down in an area you’re too high for. This lets you take a look at content you missed while leveling elsewhere, and still allow you to contribute experience to your ‘real’ level. You can also freely team up with your low level friends and help them out in their areas, without stomping everything around you, and still getting experience for assisting them. The game will still challenge you, regardless of where you decide to travel, and you never need to fear that the leveling system will get in the way of being with the people you want to spend time with.
Tune in for part 2 where I go into the game’s PvP, and a few of its problems.