Guild Wars 2 is a long awaited sequel to the Guild Wars multiplayer online role-playing game series, developed by ArenaNet and published by NCSoft, due for release later in the year. The developers kindly invited us to play a closed beta for the press and gather all the information possible to pass on to you. This game is set a few hundred years after the events of the Guild Wars Eye of the North expansion story, and remains in the world of Tyria.
There are several new and exciting elements which have been added to form Guild Wars 2 as a much stronger and open multiplayer role-playing experience. The level of customisation for character creation is the first thing that you will notice has changed when you begin to play the game. You can now pick from five different race for you character; Human, Norn, Charr, Azura or Sylvari. This is a nice change from the original game where you restricted to human characters. You can then choose you characters gender and profession. Some of the professions you can choose from have been carried over from the game’s predecessor; Warrior, Necromancer, Elementalist, Ranger and Mesmer. There are also three new professions that you can choose from; Engineers, Thieves and Guardians. All of the original professions have been greatly improved upon in terms of their individual abilities in-game. Your character can still be either male or female in game. The character creation system resembles closely the old system in design, however there are now more options and sliders for factors such as facial features so that a unique character can be made by each player. Some areas such as hair styles have around the same amount of options as the previous game, but with more colour options and sliders elsewhere it is much easier to have your own character, whereas previously it was more than likely that you would meet someone who looked exactly the same as you. When selecting the colours of your armour there are also a lot more choices than before, including the former sign of power in the game; black. Some players may well be upset that the black armour they spent days of playtime saving up to buy previously is now just a general option, but those who never could make it will no doubt be delighted! Each section of armour has three sections for colour customization. The armour still consists of head, chest, legs and feet sections. As a whole the customization of characters is a major improvement on the previous game, however it does not quite reach up to the standards of some other games today, so don’t expect stunningly in depth variety. It is however very good by comparison to Guild Wars.
The character creation does not now end when you have designed your unique look. You now are able to create a background story, or legacy, for your character so that they do not just appear to have come out of nowhere into this big adventure. The legacy you create is based on your character’s race and profession. There are around five different areas of the legacy to customize, each with three options that can be chosen. For example, the first part of the legacy could be three options for the way your character operates in their profession, for example a warrior may choose strength or a thief may choose stealth as an option. The other areas of the legacy include family, a life event and the god under which the character was said to be born, among others. Once you have chosen a name for your character you then get to see a video cut scene which follows your characters legacy thus far and sets the scene for the journey ahead. This is a very good idea for the game and adds to what has clearly been a key aim in its development; every player being unique.
A lot has changed in the game itself following Guild Wars. Guild Wars 2 is set many years after the events of the original game, and so the world has changed. One very clear difference is when starting as a Charr, they are no longer a primitive race, but have become very well developed with advanced technologies in their home land such as tank-like vehicles and massive metal structures. Depending on which race you choose to play as you will start in a different location in the world, which is another clever feature. In order to travel to locations for player vs player or world vs world activities you must find an Asura gate. For anyone unfamiliar with these they are big purple vortex-looking gateways which will transport the player from one location to another over great distances. This is common in some other games too, but is still a smart decision giving the impression of a more diversified and real world. The world also now has various weather conditions rather than a standard setting based on location. This means that rain or storms may start up at any time from a sunny setting. The transition between weathers is not perfect by any means but is as good as other games that try this and again adds to the realism of the world. The time also changes in game from night to day which is a new and pleasant addition to Guild Wars 2. Overall the look of the world can only really be described as beautiful. The water is stunning, the vegetation has been drawn excellently and the built landscape is realistic and looks accurately like what it is meant to be. No game is perfect, but the developers have done a truly excellent job here.
While playing Guild Wars 2 a feature which I found to be a particularly good idea was the use of an overflow area. In order to avoid major delays in the loading of the world and overcrowding now that the world is open and players are all in together on their adventures for the most part, an overflow system has been devised. This means that there is a limit on the number of people that the server will hold in a certain location and if this is reached, players are temporarily loaded into an identical and fully-working landscape. This allows them to continue playing, along with over players who are waiting to enter the mainstream world, so that they do not get trapped in a loading screen. This is a brilliant development, which should not only reduce the lag during gameplay due to overcrowded and overworked servers but will also not keep players waiting to continue their adventure. Another new system which has been included is the use of waypoint-like respawn points. If you die then you can choose where you want to come back to out of waypoints, or checkpoints I suppose, that you have reached in your travels. These consist simply as floating rocks with a blue glow as you walk around the world, usually in towns, and can also be used for fast travelling. This is a nice system as it can both speed up gameplay and improves the respawn system so that players will not find themselves popping up miles from their point of death during a quest. One further new feature which could be mentioned is conversations with key characters in the game. Described as work in progress during the beta testing weekend, when a player speaks to a key character the conversation may go into a dedicated cut scene which focuses on the conversation. It does not take the form of a traditional cut scene clip but rather shows the two people speaking on a more simple background setting to bring the conversation itself into focus. This has been done quite well and ensures the player is not distracted by the environment at key story moments. The only let down with the system is that the synchronisation of mouth movements with audio is not perfect but this is similar in most modern day games and may well be improved since the work on this feature is apparently incomplete so far. In some conversations a tactical map is also shown as a briefing for the quest to come. This is a good feature as it gives the player some idea of what they are looking for and where they might find it rather than throwing them in blind. This does not necessarily mean the quests are easier but it does make them more realistic; it is unlikely that in the real world someone would ask you to do something without informing you at least in part of how or where you might go about doing it.
Combat in Guild Wars 2 is now a much more exciting experience than in the original game. For a start, a whole new element has not been created, and one which has not often been done before in games. This is the underwater combat experience. When your character swims beneath the water in Guild Wars 2 they swap their equipment set to a new weapon and in some cases a underwater breathing mask. These weapons are ones such as harpoons, and the skill bar also allows for the use of things such as nets or poisons. This experience is pretty unique and has actually been done very well. Although the combat does not take into account underwater physics all too much it does allow the player to fight in a whole new way to what they are used to. It also means there are now more hostile creatures in the game which live under the water, as well as some classic opponents such as lizard-like scales. The standard, on-land combat works pretty much in the same way as in the previous game, where the payer activates skills from their skill bar in whatever combination they wish using their characters energy or adrenaline. The energy system, skills and the skill bar themselves however have gone through some major changes.
The energy systems for using skills are now more varied by class. Some characters still use simple energy, warriors still use adrenaline, and other classes use some other systems, for example the thief. This makes each classes combat system a more unique experience for the player on the up side, but the downside is a more complicated learning curve for players in terms of adaptability. The skills that a character uses and in turn the skill bar are now determined by many factors. The skill bar is now set out in a different way to the original game. The first five skills on the bar are determined by the weapon or weapons equipped to the character at that time. Ranged and melee weapons, or a combination of the two in cases, have their own skill set to be learned by the player. Learning the first skills for these is quick and easy meaning a player can focus on the other part of the skill bar which contains the skills selected by the player and determined by the character’s class. The first four skills on this side of the bar are standard skills, with a further space for an elite skill. This new system is very good as it means some skills are set to weapons allowing the player to find their preferred equipment, whereas others are chosen by the player to form a healthy and diverse build. Each character class comes with a more defined skill bar, some more complicated than others. For example, the elementalist can switch between the different elements on their skill bar rather than having to stick to just one or select only one skill from each. The engineer can attach different equipment sets at will to change the skill bar, for example a tool kit skill bar or a flamethrower one for more a damage-orientated build. This is a good strong system which allows more varied combat throughout play and makes every class unique in terms of combat among the other differences. This is all best understood at first by having a play in the player vs player mode with your character to experiment with different skills. Standard characters can be used in both the player vs player and standard worlds in Guild Wars 2. The skills and level of the character are changed depending on which world is being played in order to ensure fairness.
There is so much more to be said about Guild Wars 2 and it is simply impossible to write it all up in one preview as the length would cause death by information overload! Therefore I am going to be using a dedicated new section on the Invision Game Community website to give you guys as much information as I can in a series of smaller and more focussed previews. These will include information on things such as the new classes in the game and their skills among other exciting information. Hopefully I will also eventually be able to bring you video footage of the game from the beta weekend I took part in once the audio and size issues have been fixed. There should also be a question and answer section for you guys to ask anything that you may want to know about the game and I will do my best to answer. So if you are as excited about Guild Wars 2 as I am and want to know more be sure to keep an eye out for the Guild Wars 2 section on the Invision site when it goes live in the near future…