Guild Wars 2 [Preview] – Beta first impressions

20 Feb 2012  by   Paul Younger
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When ArenaNet revealed the first Guild Wars back at E3 in 2003 it was pretty rough around  the edges, but it was an Alpha build and they were simply testing the waters. Following the subsequent success of the MMO and its numerous expansion packs, it’s pretty safe to say that this sequel is highly anticipated… that’s an understatement.
Guild Wars 2 has been topping the ‘most anticipated MMORPG’ lists for a long time, and when we were invited into the closed beta we jumped at the chance.
With a limited weekend window with which to test Guild Wars 2, where do you start? So much to do, so little time. We last looked at the game during GamesCom in August of last year. It was the most exciting MMORPG at the show, promising some great PvP and classic MMO action. At first glance it doesn’t look like a lot has changed, the game is still incredibly stylish with a rather unique feel that’s hardly typical of the genre.
Right from the start the interface gives the impression that this MMO is going to be something a little different thanks to a sleek, minimal, uncluttered design – even the menu button is tucked away in the top left of the screen.
Heading into the game proper and a pretty standard character creation page; select race, customise the look, select the profession etc. Then things start to feel very different.

You are taken through a few more sections where you select your character traits, and this is where your personal journey begins. This personal ‘feel’ truly makes you feel unique, as opposed to simply another toon in a game world. That feeling carries right on through a starting section that almost plays like a single player game. It’s this personal story that gets you hooked right out the blocks.
ArenaNet wants you to feel like an integral part of the Guild Wars story and there’s no time to take in the scenery as you start your adventure. After selecting a Charr we were straight into the action and immediately thrown into battle… thankfully not against a bunch of rats. Right away you are asked to fight alongside your comrades so you need to get familiar with your skills fast.

The skill system is not quite what you’d expect from your standard MMO, as you level-up, more skills in your action bar become unlocked. The quicker you level, the more you’ll have access to. What is the most surprising though is the lack of any desire to keep your eyes glued to the level-up bar. ArenaNet keep you so damn busy and engrossed that leveling almost feels like by-product.
With skills assigned to the numbered action bar hotkeys, the controls are very familiar to anyone who has played an MMO in recent times so there’s no huge learning curve. ArenaNet also added a dodge mechanic to the game, so even though there is auto-targeting you can move out of the way if you are quick enough with the dodge key but it takes a little practice. Trick is not to dodge backwards into another pack of enemies, something that I did on more than one occasion.

What is striking about Guild Wars 2 is the game world itself, which has a genuine feeling of being ‘alive’. One minute you’re working your way through your ‘personal story’ quest line, then all of a sudden you find yourself roped into an event. These events are dotted all over the place and it’s up to you whether to take part or not. I won’t call these distractions, they are there to help you feel like part of the world and it’s future – plus, these events are incredibly fun if other players are joining in.
ArenaNet have realized that the concept of cigarette smoking NPCs is getting a little old hat You’ll see NPCs actually doing things, wandering, chucking a ball to each other or simply nattering away. Interacting with the NPCs either brings up a simple dialogue window, or for the personal story quest line, you’re presented with spoken dialogue in  a zoomed-in mini dialogue cutscene.
It’s a simple idea that makes the quests fell a little more involving. It also takes away the requirement  to read streams of text which you usually pay no attention to. Having these dialogue moments make you sit up and pay attention, which is just as well, it’s your story after all.
It’s not often in an MMO that you die early on, but as I wandered around and found myself getting stuck into the events, there were a few times were my Charr simply got overrun. Playing as an Elementalist, the idea is to stay back while unleashing some tasty skills. Sadly I discovered that the enemy was hell-bent on taking me down, even with other players around me. At level five I found myself lying on the floor like a pathetic fur ball begging for mercy on more than one occasion.

However, in Guild Wars 2 when you die, you have a chance to come back to life through the “downed mode”. When you die you’re presented with a number of downed skills which you can target the enemy with in a last-ditch attempt to survive. It’s not always successful though, and when you do really die, the map pops up and you select a previous waypoint to resurrect at. The “downed mode” works incredibly well and it keeps the action flowing, it also means that you can get yourself out of some nasty situations without an annoying hike back from a resurrection point.
All over the map waypoints can be discovered and when the map first pops up you soon realise just how big the game world is, with only a couple of days to test the game, we barely scratched the surface. Once again the amount of polish to even the world map is fantastic, great care and attention has obviously been taken to present the relevant information to players and to make finding your way around pretty straightforward. 

One aspect of mini-maps I am not a huge fan of is the direction indicator, but these days gamers expect to be shown exactly where they need to go, God forbid you get lost!
With only a couple of days to test out the beta, there really wasn’t enough time to get stuck into all of the eight professions, but with any luck, as the Beta progresses there will be ample opportunities. It’s been a while since a beta test session had me really engrossed and so far Guild Wars 2 is showing all the signs that it can live up to the hype.  It’s been a long time coming and we’ll be back with more on the game shortly.
Further IncGamers Guild Wars 2 Beta test reading and watching:

This is our Story – Beta Impressions Part 1
Second Impressions
Guilds and influence
Menu options up close [Video]
The Norn Engineer Creation Story [Video]
Charr Start Zone Gameplay
A closer look at Profession skills [Video]
GWOnline’s Beta test coverage trailer
New Screenshots
What I did on my GW2 Beta Trip
IncGamers Podcast Guild Wars 2 Beta discussed
Charr Elementalist Beta Gameplay

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