Hands-On With the Guild Wars 2 Beta

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The Guild Wars 2 beta had a lot going for it, but there are still some problems that need to be worked out.

The art style is very reminiscent of the early concept art; Arena Net has chosen to go with an art style that is neither super realistic nor very cartoony. It looks almost like a painting at times.  This art style was undermined by the often low framerates—about 20 fps while questing, around 40 fps in less populated outposts, and sometimes 5-10 fps during some of the enormous fights.  

Some of the loading screen art.

Character creation in Guild Wars 2 is far more in-depth than in the original game.  In addition to customizing character appearance, gender, race, and class, the creation screen asks a handful of questions that help you better define your character.  My first Norn character was an adherent of the Wolf spirit.  My second Norn, who followed the path of the Raven, had a separate storyline to follow.  Another question asked what my character’s biggest regret was.  Thinking this was little more than filler that would have no impact on the story, I answered that I regretted getting drunk and losing a fight.  By the time I reached level 11, my questline took me to a brawl where I had an opportunity to regain my lost honor.  It seems that the opening questions of character creation are in fact somewhat important to one’s own story.  The voice acting varies between cheesy for the Norn and actually quite good for the Human characters.

This conversation is the result of my choices at character creation.

Skills work a bit differently than in many other MMOs.  The first five slots on your skill bar are dictated by your main and off-hand weapons.  As you kill enemies with the first skill, the second skill unlocks, and so forth.  All of the classes start out with the sixth slot on their skill bar being a self-healing ability.  The function keys control passive abilities or buffs.  An Elementalist can hit F2 to instantly switch from fire spells to air spells, for example. Skills in slots 7-9, known as utility skills, are unlocked at level milestones of 5, 10, and 20, with the final, elite skill slot unlocked at level 30.  Each class has about twenty utility skills to choose from.  Every time a character levels up, they get one skill point.  At level eleven and every level thereafter, players also gain trait points.  Traits go into passive bonuses, such as more vitality or stronger attacks.












Here is the skill tree for my Guardian.  Guardians fill a role somewhere between warriors and monks.


Skills can be swapped out on the fly, no longer requiring travel to cities or outposts like the first Guild Wars. A Guardian can switch between a mace and shield build to buff teammates to a great-sword build for solo questing in a matter of seconds.  I personally like the focus on a smaller set of skills mostly determined by the equipped weapons, as one of the issues I had with the original game was the glut of skills that were almost never used.  The skill effects are colorful, flashy, and fun to watch.

When a character loses all of their health, they are thrown into a Borderlands-like fight for survival.  A new set of skills pops up, and using these skills to kill your current target will result in climbing back to your feet rather than respawning at a waypoint.  Other players can also come to your aid by kneeling down and speeding up the revival process.












Fight to survive!

Aside from storyline characters, there are no traditional quest givers in Guild Wars 2.  All of the side missions are repeatable world events reminiscent of those from Rift. Any number of players can participate in these quests, and rewards of experience, gold, and karma (another form of currency) are given depending on each person’s contribution to the overall success of the quest.  One of the interesting aspects of this system is that players can actually fail these quests.  Much of the time the failures have no adverse consequences on the world.  Sometimes, though, it can result in some rather interesting scenarios.

Enemy NPCs can capture friendly outposts.

This started as a quest to defend a small NPC outpost from an attack.  Unfortunately, not enough players participated so the evil-sounding Sons of Svanir took this outpost, and the quest changed from defending the area to retaking it.  People who wanted to use that outpost’s waypoint to travel to were simply out of luck. In another quest, we had to gather bits of armor so a little boy could make a snowman army to scare away a marauding tribe.  Successful completion of the mission yielded this view of his snowman militia before the quest reset.

While some of the quests can be interesting and entertaining, there are a couple of related problems:  there are not nearly enough of them, and it is impossible to level up so much that earlier quests are easier and faster to do. Each story mission has a recommended level, and trying to complete that mission at the recommended level, or even a level or two higher, is often quite difficult.  In other MMOs, it would be a simple matter of leveling up a bit and then tackling the quest.  The problem is that in Guild Wars 2, the game automatically sets your level to represent the area you are in.  So a level 12 character attempting a level 10 quest will have all of their health and stats reduced to that of a level 10 character. While this “effective level” system does not alter the amount of skills or the stats on the armor your character has, it can be rather disadvantageous to a person’s efforts to out-level some difficult content.  In effect, the game uses a system that reminds me of the worst aspect of Oblivion.  After completing my level 11 storyline quest, my next quest had a recommended level of 14.  I could either venture into the next area and deal with enemies that were several levels higher than me (the effective level system only works one way), or I could run around the area I was in, doing the same quests I had been doing with reduced stats.  If I have to grind in an MMO, I’d rather it not happen during the first 20 levels.

Despite the heavy difficulty spikes and a flawed level-reducing system, Guild Wars 2 does have promise.  The world, art style, characters, and skill systems are a lot of fun.  Hopefully some of the more annoying issues will be worked out as ArenaNet continues to beta test the long-awaited sequel to its debut MMO.

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