The final screen of Guild Wars 2′s character creation made me sit up and pay attention by asking one simple question.
It wasn’t really a choice as there was only one answer I could possible choose:
I had recreated Rouf, my fat, balding, bearded, drunken alter-ego, as a Norn Engineer in this particular parallel universe and this time around, his actual, official, in-game backstory involved getting so horrendously drunk that he couldn’t remember what he’d done. Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant.
The opening moments of Guild Wars 2 are immediately familiar – an NPC gives you a straight-forward quest to kill 3 mobs and loot a trophy of each but that’s were the familarity ends. The lack of kill-stealing means there’s no hanging around waiting for spawns or to beat other people to tap the mob – all those who take part in the kill share the spoils and the quest items. There’s no frustration or competition and it speeds up the gameplay immensely and the tutorial instance introduces these dynamic events well. It also doesn’t take long to understand how the slot skill system works either; equip a weapon, use it, unlock more skills and abilities. Mix and match main-hand and off-hand weapons to learn more skills and abilities. It’s a nice touch and variation on how skills are usually acquired in most diku-derived MMOs.
Once out of the tutorial and into the world proper, I was surprised at how hectic I found the pace of the gameplay. Up pops a new notifcation “New Event Nearby” and a glance at the quest tracker shows exactly what needs to be done. There were some other tutorial messages too that kept popping up but such was the frantic nature of the action that I clicked through them and have no idea what they said or how helpful they actually were. Once an event was over and rewards assigned a group had invariably formed and together we headed to the next point and the next event, a band of marauding adventurers roaming the foothills, doing good. Like the A-Team but with more of us and more medieval. Except for me – I had guns.
I was suprised at how much I found myself enjoying Guild Wars 2. I had zero to no interest in the game prior to release and the only reason I ended up playing at all was because of the extremely generous generosity of a guild mate of mine who gifted me a copy of the game that he’d ended up with. The first couple of nights I played found me up until 1am, even on a school night. The last time that happened was back when SWTOR launched. There was so much to do in the game. On event would turn into a chain and the end of the event would coincide with another starting nearby. When that was over, I’d be near a Waypoint, a Point of Interest or a Vista or some other area to explore and then I’d have a little bit to go before I’d unlocked a new skill with a new weapon or needed a touch more XP until I hit the next level.
There are so many well designed features in the game: shared banks from the off (including a shared collectible bank for all crafting mats); ability to deposit all the crafting mats from the field; the mystic forge (combine four items of a similar type and get a new and improved one in return); crafting is simple but well done (I’ll talk about in more detail in another post); instant travel between waypoints and so on. Everything gives you XP – gathering, crafting, exploring, achievements, eating, breathing… well maybe not those last two – and killing mobs that haven’t been killed in a while gives you bonus XP.
The graphics are impressive – particularly the landscapes. One of aspects that I found disappointing in the original Guild Wars was that the beautiful backgrounds were just that – backgrounds and skyboxes. Here, it really does feel like it did in LOTRO – if you can see it, you can get to it. It’s not quite true and I noticed in places like Divinity’s Reach that there’s still some forced perspective going on but that doesn’t detract from the beauty of the world.
Then you have down-levelling: each area has an optimum level range and if your level is higher than that, it will be lowered to match. That means there’s never a point when mobs won’t award xp or that low level events and quests won’t provide XP. Every zone is viable for levelling even if you’re a much higher level. To complement this, loot drops match your real level rather than the mob level so you never feel like you shouldn’t go back to a low level zone.
But this leads to the first issue I have with the game and it’s a quest balance. Some of the personal story quests (the only quests that play out like you’d expect with respect to having a quest-giver and rewards etc) are tuned way above their level. In other MMOs, if you found a quest like this, you could go away and level some more and then come back and beat it but here that’s impossible because you will always be lowered to the same level. Granted, you may have access to better gear and have more skills unlocked but the scaling means some quests will be tough (and I know I’m not the only one who has only managed to beat a Norn story quest by corpse-running it). It’s a minor issue though, one that could be addressed by a balance patch.
Weapon slot skills are another concern of mine. I maxed out my weapon skills in the first five slots by level 10 (rifle, shield, main/offhand pistol, underwater harpoon) which means that for the most part of the next 70 levels, I’ll be using the same skills. Okay, that’s a little bit of exaggeration because, as an Engineer, I can learn weapon kits but I’m now level 20 and I’ve already learned bomb, grenade, flamethrower and elixir gun. So another 60 levels of pretty much the same skills as I’ve got now. (Other classes may vary – warrior, for example, can learn 7 different types of weapon). I wonder how repetitive it’s going to get.
Then there’s the dynamic events themselves. These are great while there’s enough people around to take part but I’ve already had a few occasions where I’ve been the only one around and unable to complete an event or skill-point event. I’ve heard that even the events scale to the number of participants but it appears to me that there’s a minimum required number even so. I wonder how this will affect players in the future when the starter zones are less populated? It’s certainly something that allegedly hampered WAR’s public quest system (although as I could never actually get that game working, I never experienced that myself). Hopefully not and I hope my experiences are not representative.
My biggest issue, however, is the world. I’ve already mentioned that I had zero interest in the game before release and that’s true. I had no interest whatsoever – beyond a cursory curiosity about the innovative features heralded by ArenaNet. As also mentioned, I played Guild Wars for a bit a few years ago but despite enjoying the game, I one day found myself not logging in because, well, I don’t know. It just didn’t grab me. I wasn’t invested in the world, the “lore” (yeuchh! I hate that word. I’m sure I’ll rant about it one day) or the gameplay (or maybe because I was still playing SWG at the time). Fast forward another couple of years and Guild Wars 2 is announced and the only way I find out about it is because every time there’s a post on a news site about the MMO I am looking forward to (SWTOR, natch), some GW2 fanboi jumps in with a comment along the lines of “SWTOR is going to be a WoW clone, GW2 is the next MMO messiah!” Every. Single. Time. Yeah, well, sorry – not selling it to me.
Then the screenshots started coming out as well as announcements of classes and races and these are what put me right off. Well, not all of them, but these two in particular:
Pink butterflies and cutesy, anime-eyed little pixie things.
Something you should know about me – I don’t do cute. I once tried playing a Zelda game (Ocarina of Time perhaps?) and lasted about 10 minutes before I wanted to put the controller through the screen because of the fairies and pixies and wide-eyed wonderment and sheer overload of cuteness oozing out of the game.
Luckily, the game doesn’t give me a Legend of Zelda vibe and I’ll admit I was intrigued by the Asura capital city, even though I still don’t want to play one. Turns out they’re quite easy to ignore. However, as much as I’m enjoying the actual gameplay, I still find the setting uninspiring. It’s been two weeks and I’ve already lost the compulsion to log in. Perhaps part of that is knowing that I don’t need to rush as there’s no subscription fee but even with most of my guild playing and really enjoying it, I feel no urge to join them in their dungeon runs or in PvP (which I’ve only partially tried so can’t really comment on – although Keg Brawl! Hell yeah!) For whatever reason, I just don’t feel invested in the world.
I’ve no doubt I’ll carry on playing even on a very casual, 2nd MMO basis, because it’s easy to get into and there’s so much to like about the game and because, when I do log in, I do have fun and feel like I got stuff done (there’s so much more I haven’t discussed that I no doubt will). It’s early days and only time will tell.
Oh yeah, one last thing: that decision I made during character creation? Well, it turns out that affects my personal storyline series of quests and that each option determines the quest chains made available to a character – which is fantastic. In Rouf’s case, he got so drunk, he ended up in a GW2/Norn equivalent of “Dude, where’s my car?” Can’t wait to see how that pans out.
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