Guild Wars 2: First Impressions Part 2
By Jason Harper (Hhean), OnRPG Journalist
Sometimes bashing on computer controlled balls of experience simply isn’t entertaining, and you go out in search of the challenge only a real human mind can provide. Well, Guild Wars 2 provides handsomely in this area. The first game’s PvP was exceptional, and ArenaNet hasn’t forgotten its legacy.
The game’s PvP comes in two flavours: Structured PvP, and World vs World vs World (WvWvW). All characters in PvP are immediately powered up to the level cap of 80, and their gear is brought in line with equipment of that level as well, to provide as even a playing field as possible for everyone involved.
Structured PvP consists of standard point capture battlegrounds, but with each map having a small twist. On one map a trebuchet is usable by each team, ready to blow apart the small town that hosts the players’ conflict. On another, giant boss monsters offer rewards to those brave enough to challenge them, provided they don’t lose hold of the map’s central keep in the process. Players can freely select from a browser of Structured PvP matches at any time, giving it a ‘drop in, drop out’ feel. It’s good fun, but it isn’t anything remarkably different from what can be found elsewhere.
WvWvW PvP, on the other hand, is the game’s equivalent to the open world PvP found in other MMOs. Here you will find big castles, roaring siege engines and massive stretches of land to butcher your fellow man. Rather than fighting against another in-game faction though, you’re instead locked in a three way fight with players from other servers.
Most of the intense fighting takes place in the Endless Battlefield, a triangular map with a massive fortress in the centre. It has a variety of neutral towns in it that have inhabitants that can aid your cause by raiding nearby supply depots, provided you perform a dynamic event to help them. Each team also has their own homeworld, which contains their main fortress and an orb that gives their side some statistical bonuses if it remains in their possession. They’re frequently raided by enemy players hungry to steal that bonus away from their foes and give it to their own side. The war in WvWvW is, therefore, fought over four separate instances, with many battles going on in each, and all of them contributing to the larger war effort.
While a good deal of the game mode is about bashing on castle gates, it is nowhere near as simple as the dismal affair found in Warhammer Online. In order to make the siege equipment to defend or attack your castle, you’re going to need supplies. In order to get those supplies you’ll need to have control of supply depots dotted around the maps. Those depots, in turn, send out caravans with your supplies on them to your castles, where they can stockpile them for when a siege comes, or the supply depot is lost. Both the depots and the caravans can be very poorly defended unless players have invested in upgrading them, making them very prone for small groups of raiders to pick them off. This gives something for small groups of friends to do outside of the main hordes (Who always go for pounding on the nearest available castle), and also gives smaller, easier to achieve objectives for those who want to contribute to the war effort in a meaningful way without having to sink a massive amount of time into it.
While the movement-centric combat makes for some frantic and fun times, it does have some problems when dealing with other players and not NPCs. Due to a quirk in the game’s level adjustments for PvP, damage is extremely low right now. While the PvE combat is quick and deadly, the PvP feels like a pair of sumo wrestlers tapping one another with nerf bats. Killing another player in a straight duel can be very difficult, and you’ll usually need a group of people just to kill a single player, especially if you’re lacking in crowd control. Due to this low damage output, ranged characters feel far more powerful than melee, since a melee will risk it all for a few good hits, only to find their ‘squishy’ victim has been barely hurt. Cue the Benny Hill music while the ranged attacker simply kites the melee guy for a few minutes as their health bar is whittled away.
The game features a few issues at the moment, but most are balance or polish issues, not problems with the core product. The range/melee balance issue I’ve brought up needs to be addressed. There’s quite a few typos found all over the game, and quite a few points in the personal stories where a character will have the wrong voice, or won’t speak at all. The mesmer class is in dire need of some quality of life changes. Most of these aren’t core issues though, and can be tweaked when ArenaNet get to fixing them. There’s really only two main problems I have with the game as it is right now. One is likely going to be fixed when launch comes around, the other is... less likely to be fixed.
The game’s servers presented a real uphill battle during this first beta weekend. Servers became flooded with enthusiastic new players who wanted to catch their first glimpse of the game, and the servers didn’t take the strain very well. Most servers were running at maximum capacity, chugging under the weight of people making use of them, as people were shunted into overflow servers. The overflow system is a good idea to prevent the usual queues that can crop up during peak hours, but it did mean that grouping or finding friends was completely impossible as people were scattered to the four winds. Since server issues are so common in the early stages of a game’s life cycle, I suspect that we’ll be seeing improvements in this area before launch, but launch day itself might see some of these issues. The quickest way to make all this bouncing around less painful would be to allow the overflow system to keep groups of people together when they get bounced around, but currently that functionality doesn’t exist.
The only thing in the game that left a bad taste in my mouth was the ingame store. It’s shoved at players in a way that is as intrusive as many free to play titles. One way that this is done is with little boxes that drop from enemies, prompting you to buy keys for them from ArenaNet with your own money. This reminded me of the infuriating crates in Team Fortress 2, and remained a black mark on my experience with the game. I’m aware that the game needs some form of prolonged revenue stream to sustain it beyond the initial release, but come on. When a company is asking far more than the norm at retail, then immediately starts begging for handouts, it just reeks of greed.
(Editor's Note: Been brought to my attention that keys for these boxes also drop from monsters and aren't exclusively available through the cash shop)
Another example of this price gouging impacts a core part of the experience. You start with a mere five character slots across all servers, which won’t be enough to make a character of each profession, coming up three short. You can buy more of these slots using real money, of course, so this limitation feels deliberate rather than an oversight. If this was a nice extra on top of a good number of slots, charging older player who just love to make a stream of alternate characters, then sure, make them pay for luxury characters on their account. While I’m not opposed to this model, not giving players access to the bare minimum of one of each profession feels like a planned means of restricting the player’s options to force them to pony up more cash if they want to get the most out of a game they’ve already paid a premium for. I am really, really hoping Arena Net reconsider this design choice before launch, but this store system looks to have its greasy tendrils far too deep into the rest of the game right now for that to be likely.
Despite my grievances with the cash shop, the rest of the game is simply remarkable. This is such a good year for MMOs and yet Guild Wars 2 still stands tall against some of the fiercest competition since World of Warcraft’s launch. Many people seem to think this is the landmark title that will completely change the way we see MMOs, and I’m not really sure this is that mythical game. What it is though is a very good step forward for the genre as a whole. The whole industry isn’t going to change overnight as a result of its release, but it sure is something new, different and definitely worth your time and money.
It’s also big. Really, really big.