Wednesday, May 2, 2012

We Interrupt This Program To Bring You... GW2!

Friday April 27, through Sunday April 29... Days that will go down in history as the first time I stepped foot in Tyria, 250 years later!

Howdy all, this has been a long time coming. The first official public beta weekend event just concluded, and those of us who pre-purchased the game (go here), as well as those lucky to be selected by random draw, were invited to invade Tyria for the first time since the game was announced so many years ago! To say it has been exciting is a mere understatement, and a quick google search of the terms "guild wars 2 beta" will pull up a plethora of experiences; whether textual, visual, or otherwise. It is my intent to give my first impressions here, and later on I will get into some of the nuts and bolts of what I experienced, if anyone is interested.

First let me say, this has been a weekend that conspired against me; between my gaming computer dying (mad props to Crucial Computers in Pittsburgh for helping me fix it cheaply), work friends getting together most of Friday, to having to actually go to work, and then band practice on Sunday, I did not get nearly enough time to play the game as I would have liked. I did feel under the gun to get a broad experience, and pick out the key features that need more work before this game can become polished to perfection. What I will present here is no where close to being a compendium of all I found, but a little glimpse into why I feel this game will be THE game for 2012 and beyond. If you are still on the fence, stick around... Maybe I can stoke some of the (now unabashed) fanboy fire for you.

Guild Wars 2 is indeed everything I expected it to be. I have to admit when I first heard about the game and what they were planning, I was HIGHLY skeptical. You may remember my first blog about it many moons ago. ArenaNet quickly won me over, as I began to see what they were trying to accomplish, and while still carrying guarded optimism, being able to FEEL and SEE the world for myself has made a HUGE impact on my opinion of the game, for the better! So to start with, I decided to make my future main character... my trademark black norn engineer- Belenos.

Without any real tutorial per se, and very little handholding by the arenanet help system, I was able to get into the game with relative ease. Now I did spend about 45 minutes just in the character creator alone fine tuning Belenos' appearance. What can I say... the dude has to be representative of ME, so he may as well look like Silky™ da pimp... Ya know? Once I finally got through the character creator, and into the opening cutscene, I have to admit that there were tears of joy welling up in my eyes. Belenos said "This is MY story", and I did a fist pump into the night (scaring the cat- Luna, in the process).

I materialized in Wayfarer Foothills, the starting location for all norn characters (each of the 5 races gets their own starting area, racially based). The first thing you notice in the world is just how simply BREATHTAKING it actually is! With the norn living the rustic life, you awaken to a pristine, alpine region that at once feels like old Vinland, as well as a more stylized Pacific northwest motif. Now bear in mind I am still running an Nvidia 9600GT graphics card... definitely an older model, and I was able to get some really impressive detail without sacrificing a lot of FPS (some folks reported their FPS was in the crapper... I did not have this experience). Color me impressed, considering the game is NOT YET optimized, and was running on only ONE of my four chip cores.

Now in case you have not heard, how you learn your skills is both unique and interesting. You learn by DOING. Let's say you are an engineer with a pistol (all engineers start with a trusty pistol). As you use said pistol in fights, AND successfully kill an enemy, you gain a percentage to your next skill's unlock (in the case of the pistol you get three skills for your main hand, then 2 more skills if you have an offhand pistol). By the time you have explored the tutorial area of Wayfarer Foothills, and fought your first epic boss, you will most likely have all your pistol skills unlocked (not to mention probably have already looted that second pistol). I have to say that I like this system way more than "buying skills" from a skill vendor. It seems more natural to me. Once you unlock your skills for that weapon, you DO have to unlock skills for say a rifle (you always get skill 1 automatically unlocked, which also doubles as your default autoattack). In the case of the engineer, your weapon choices are limited to firearms (pistol/ rifle) and a shield. Underwater you automatically get a spear gun. What makes the engineer shine however are the utility skills you acquire through gaining skill points in the world.

Skill points are nothing new, a throwback to MMORPGs of old. However you spend skill points similar to purchasing the skill. You do NOT need a vendor, you do it all from your own menu window. As you adventure throughout Tyria, you will encounter various npcs that offer you "skill books" to read (often at little to no charge), or in the case of norns, sometimes you have to prove your mettle by fighting a fellow norn. Let's just say norns love to fight. As you collect skill points, you add utility skills that you can use in your battles later. Skill point holders are easily found on your map btw, and as you load into a zone, the loading screen will tell you how many there are on any given map (the maps btw are HUGE). My favorite thus far has been the rifle turret, and the flamethrower. The rifle turret is a thing of beauty that auto attacks anything that is attacking you (provided you plop it down in range). It does not have a LOT of durability, but I found that little thing saving my arse several times! The flamethrower however... ooooooh mama. The things you can do with that ought to be illegal in Tyria! It has to be seen to be believed. I cannot do it much justice in mere text.

I just want to point out that Guild Wars 2, while it does have more traditional "quests", in the form of your personal story arc, is meant to be explored and experienced. I found myself outpacing my personal story ahead of time. The next installment being a couple levels higher than I was prepared for. This is where the beauty of the game comes in. You have random dynamic events in the world, and you also have the "reknown hearts" (think of it as gaining karma by helping people out). Between those, plus the random taking out your aggression on the odd flightless Moa, and you can find yourself leveling up well in no time. The world itself is littered with little easter eggs, and your exploration is greatly rewarded by the various things you can find and do. As an explorer type by nature, this game was tailor made for me. As a completionist... well I have my work cut out for me. Unfortunately one weekend barely scratched the surface. I am not going to lie here folks, I found very little to complain about. For sake of argument, I will attempt to list what I can and have found that has me scratching my head:

Chat- The local chat currently is anything but local. You chat with everyone on the server in your current zone. I think ArenaNet might be better off labeling it a general chat, as local is stretching it mightily. From what I heard, in WvW (world versus world versus world pvp), all three worlds see the same chat. I foresee bad planning issues with that. Imagine your enemy knowing your every move because some idiot on your team decided to announce in chat where you are. By the way, there are no chat bubbles over your head, though if grouped you do see a chat bubble next to the portrait of your group members, in addition to their words in the chat window. It is not far fetched for ArenaNet to add chat bubbles... I am sure they have enough feedback in favor of them. Perhaps that can be local chat.

Sitting- Non existent in chairs. You sit on the floor, and if you are crafty can sit on the couch... but for regular chairs... nope. I have noticed this trend of late with newer games. I hearken back to SWG where you could sit in any chair, and wish that ArenaNet will incorporate this feature...

Dancing- You heard it here first folks. Unless I missed it, there is NO /dance with the current build! I am sure it is a major oversight, and in my feedback I gave them this past Monday, I brought this up. I remember days in SWG with our "boy band", dancing in Theed in our stormtrooper gear. Come on ArenaNet, you just HAVE to institute dancing!

Drunkenness- Non existent. I was a bit disappointed there too, as I remember drinking MANY drinks in Guild Wars 1, and getting the title for being able to hold my liquor. Again, probably a minor oversight.

Home Instance- I used to be (and still am) big on having a "home" in game. When I played humans in Divinity's Reach, I was shocked to not be able to find where I actually live inside my home instance. I have heard that it is in the works, but I have no idea if it will be there come launch or afterwards.

Logging Out- In the original Guild Wars, when you logged out, you had the option of going to character select, then picking your next toon to log in. This is currently not so in GW2. When you log out... YOU LOG OUT! In addition to this, the current beta build really does not tell you what server you are on. This proved a problem Sunday night when I wanted to play with a friend, and told them I was on Augury Rock (what I thought I selected), but come to find out I was really on ANVIL Rock. I could group with my friend, though he was on a different server, but I could not see him till I physically transferred my character (thus transferring all of them) from Anvil to Augury. Methinks more improvement is needed there, especially since GW2 is touted as a social game. I kind of want to SEE my friends as I play with them. My bad for not paying attention to where I selected, but the fact that once you select a server, ALL 5 of your toons are there, with no option to create others on a different server, is a bit of a downer. Hopefully this will be rectified in the next beta build.

All in all however, I will say that the gameplay is sterling! I stated before that Guild Wars 2 is exactly what I expected it would be and MORE! The things I have nitpicked do make a difference, and again you must realize I am only scratching the surface of this gorgeous game. I am proud to have already pre-purchased the game, and can readily see it as my "home" for many years to come. The many lore references will have lorehounds smiling as they explore, and even if you have never even touched Guild Wars 1, you do not need to, in order to understand what is going on in the world around you. IT TELLS YOU! The first time a random npc runs up to you and tells you "Hey, one of those so called farmers just hit me in the face", you will know... ok it is clobbering time. You will feel better about yourself after once the npc thanks you for helping in the form of equipment you can use, and karma points you can bank to get items you normally would not find at the average vendor.

Is Guild Wars 2 ready for mass consumption? ALMOST! What they have done so far is far surpassing what I have played in the past, and with a little more tweaking, I can see this game eclipsing a lot of the MMORPGs out there... I dare say including the vaunted WoW.

Should you pre-purchase it? Well... to be able to get into all the forthcoming betas and give your own feedback, yes I say it is worth it. Remember there will never be a monthly subscription, and to me that is the biggest win of all. I personally cannot wait to get back into Tyria... It is going to be a looooooooong withdrawal filled month I imagine.

I think I have found my new home. I hope to see you there as well!

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