Guild Wars 2 is an upcoming dynamic fantasy MMORPG from ArenaNet which aims to redefine the genre and the business models behind it. Recently, MMOGames writers’ Cody Hargreaves and Daniel Owens participated in a GW2 beta weekend. After extensive play-sessions, in-depth game analysis and unhealthy levels of fluid leakage from the corners of our mouths, MMOGames is ready to present another roundtable discussion on what is considered by many to be the most highly-anticipated MMORPG of 2012.
Cody: And so a new year emerges, and with it, a new AAA fantasy MMORPG that promises to break the mold, redefine the genre and change the way we play fantasy role-playing games on the Internet. Been there, done that, I thought as I booted up the client and broke into character creation. That about as far as my passive, unenthused attitude made it.
I promised myself that this time would be different; that this time, I’d hold off from running around the office screaming ‘OMG THIS GAME ROCKS’ to everyone within earshot; that this time, I’d see this ‘new’ game for what it really is: a rehashed, reskinned remake of WoW, like the 5 million before it. Thing is, Guild Wars 2 is about as similar to WoW as WoW was to Everquest on release. It a genuinely ‘new game’ within an already established genre. And I knew as much before I’d finished creating my character.
A charr patrols the countryside outside the Black Citadel, a massive fortified city built among the ruins of a long-conquered human kingdom.
Dan: It remarkable how ArenaNet have managed to sustain familiarity with the foundation of what a fantasy MMORPG should be, while providing much needed improvements to traditional gameplay and systems. From the moment I entered character creation I had the same feeling as Cody: this is new, this is fresh. Not only is the player presented with a breathtaking character creation system in terms of customizing appearances, they must also choose a background story for their character by answering a short string of questions.
These aren’t just meaningless choices on a character sheet either, the storyline changes and adapts to these choices on the fly. Starting from the initial string of questions in character creation, players are progressively presented with options during their storyline that can alter the course or path that is being taken. Truly personal storylines, an in-depth character creation system and you haven’t even walked out the front door yet.
A female centaur stands watch outside of a crude fortified camp. The proud, savage centaur tribes continually raid human settlements in the Krytan countryside.
Cody: Speaking of the front door (and for the purposes of this analogy, the front door is the tutorial), Guild Wars 2 begins with a triumphant combination of sleek presentation and overwhelming style. Each race begins in a unique starting zone with a cutscene specific to their choices during character customisation, and each of these zones begin in conflict.
As a Human, your village is under siege from a Centaur invasion, and with limited resources available, you volunteer to join the fight and fend off the enemy. A simple quest chain seamlessly navigates you through multiple basic combat scenarios, ending with a group boss encounter that, depending on how many players are currently in your area, can range in radness awesome to epic. This tutorial is short and concise; it doesn’t try to teach you everything in 5 minutes, but instead, gives you access to some basic skills, and lets you experience a new dimension of MMORPG combat at your own pace.
An asura thief fires at a charging skelk, aggressive lizard creatures that lurk in the forests of Tyria.
Dan: A new dimension of MMORPG combat. That probably the most accurate summary of the skills and combat system in Guild Wars 2. Each weapon in GW2 features its own unique skill set, and to further expand on this system, each combination of weapon types unlocks its own skill set, too – using two daggers would find you with a rogue-esque skill set, whereas using a dagger in one hand and a pistol in the other would give you a combination of ranged and close combat skills, each completely unique to the specific type of weapon equipped.
This skill system, combined then with a hybrid combat system that merges both traditional MMORPG combat and action-based combat, offers a genuinely unique combat system that we’ve never seen before. You still click a target and then bash a hotkey to perform an action, but you can also dodge attacks by double-tapping a direction, or hide behind a group of enemies or objects to avoid the incoming attack. Moreover, you don’t need to target your enemy to attack: railing off a skill in any direction will devastate all opponents in your path.
Skills and combat in Guild Wars 2 are active and engaging, and complement the dynamic event and quest mechanics perfectly.
A group of female engineers assemble outside a stronghold on the World vs World map. Pictured is a norn engineer with flamethrower kit, a human engineer, an asura engineer, and a charr engineer with a rifle.
Cody: Oh, they do. To be honest, I’d have been blown away by the event and quest systems in GW2 without their amazing synergy with the combat and skill mechanics, but together, they create a symphony of gorgeously rendered violence and teamwork-oriented gameplay in a way we’ve never seen before.
Traditionally, MMORPG players are asked to find an NPC, accept a quest, complete a quest, and ‘turn-in’ a quest. This process has been recycled a thousand times, but only now have we seen some true innovation. In GW2, players need only be in the ‘area’ in which a quest takes place; this qualifies them as having accepted the quest, and thanks to some impressive new UI features, can be tracked and completed without the involvement of an NPC. That said, there is an NPC who can be interacted with at will, to learn more about the lore and story, and upon completion, offering unique services.
Now, this alone, again, would be an outstanding achievement for the fantasy MMORPG, but GW2 doesn’t stop there. The ‘world event’ system, first seen in Warhammer Online and reused many times since, makes a comeback in GW2 with outstanding style. Like the quest system, events can appear anywhere at any time, but unlike quests, all players in the area will receive it simultaneously, and must work together to achieve the goal. These events are scaled to the amount of players in the area, so that they always provide an adequate challenge, and too, NPC characters will often roam the surrounding areas informing other players that help is required. Totally, fricken, awesome.
A hail of deadly trebuchet shots rain down on a stronghold under siege in World vs World, a game mode that pits armies of hundreds of players against each other on vast maps.
Dan: Engaging combat, dynamic events, innovation oozing out from every system, and this is just the first 10 levels of gameplay. PvE in Guild Wars 2 feels natural; the world around you is changing all the time and requires you to look after it. There was never a moment when I had nothing to do, there is always something begging for my attention, and that exactly what I’ve been looking for in an MMORPG. What about PvP fans though? Luckily ArenaNet has put an equal amount of attention into breathing new life into that, too.
Players can participate in two types of PvP in Guild Wars 2. The first is the traditional battleground scenario, in which players fight over territory and kill each other until one team reaches a pre-determined amount of points. The innovation here really lies within the environments: there are catapults located around the map that can be used to destroy buildings – yes, destructible environments that work just like ArenaNet promised – and there World Versus World PvP in which up to 1200 players fight over a large persistent map for honor and resources. And the resources can be used to benefit a player’s entire server. Epic? Epic.
Golden light in the forest outside the Black Citadel.
The recent Guild Wars 2 beta weekend was enough to put our minds at ease. Given what we have seen and experienced over the past few days, it an easy prediction for us to say that GW2 will be the top fantasy MMORPG of 2012, and very possibly beyond. We might even go as far as saying that this is the first title to come through our office that shows true promise in putting a dent on World of Warcraft mammoth subscriber base – but we won’t say that. Yet.
Visit the official Guild Wars 2 site to find out more!