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Trade market maintenance mixed with beautifully controlled chaos and a revolution to a grind-fest genre

After five years of development and a collection of beta weekends and stress tests, ArenaNet have finally welcomed us back to the land where it all began; Tyria. ArenaNet was founded on the dream to create a new type of MMO which could deliver on the long forgotten promises of the genre. Guild Wars 2 represents their desire to create a living, changing and susceptive world, one in which each players’ actions may affect the world as a whole.

Guild Wars 2: a world re-lived

The three day head start access, provided to around 1 million pre-purchases began, just over a week ago, on the 25th of Aug. The release was not without a few hiccups, including login problems which plagued many users for the first few hours. And this was only the beginning of a series of bugs which would inhibit the experience for more than a week.

Though, you quickly forget about the problems as you start creating your first character. With five playable races, and eight professions you may have a tough time getting into the actual game. Choosing between the audacious Asuran, with their love of arcane energy and impressive floating cities such as Rata Sum, and the merciless Charr, with their industrial war city, the Black Citadel, was a challenge. However, the game does provide five character slots with more available through the game’s “real-money trading store” known as the Gem Store.

Story Telling – Personal Story, Dynamic Events and Dungeons

Guild Wars 2 implements three distinct story telling structures, each used to tell different stories of the world and its history. This is where the greatest amount of experience will be handed out to players, meaning participation is vital.

Personal Story

The moment you create your character you begin your personal story, the story of you; by answering a series of questions relating to your characters history. If you create a human you may choose to have been born on the streets or alternatively into the nobility. Each answer will alter the path you initially take on your personal story, thus creating unique stories for each character you create, even characters of the same race. Personal story events are similar to Guild Wars 1’s mission system; instanced story-telling allows for a controlled method to expose the games lore and create a relatively unique experience.

Traditional questing in Guild Wars 2 has been replaced with a more natural system. Instead of speaking to an NPC and receiving a dull set of tasks, Guild Wars 2 introduces Renowned Hearts and Dynamic Events.

Renowned Hearts are the first new questing system in Guild Wars 2 and can be found by exploring the locale and are indicated by an NPC with a heart symbol above them. A player can also locate new hearts by speaking to a scout. However, often you will simply walk into the effective area of one (indicated by a heart’s description along with a progress bar, in the top right corner of the games interface) which makes both finding and completing these tasks a hassle free experience. Not all quests are equally entertaining; some are simple such as, kill a few enemies or help bottling worms, though all the tasks seem to have been thought out so as to make logical sense to their environment and situation. Although completing these quests is not required the financial gain in doing so, both in-terms of experience and coin, are worth the effort and most quests are usually short lived and interesting enough to warrant the effort.

Guild Wars 2: a world re-lived

Though, ArenaNet have tried to state that questing is not part of Guild Wars 2, in an effort to increase fun and decrease grind. Rather, they have successfully managed to reinvent the traditional questing system into a more user friendly experience.

Dynamic Events

Dynamic Events are the second new questing system in Guild Wars 2. These are the actual highlights of the levelling content in the game. Events activate periodically around certain areas and everyone may join in. These can be as simple as guarding a trading wagon along its journey or significantly more difficult and serious such as dealing with an out of control flame elemental or preventing a catastrophic incident. The central concept to events is team work, but, not in a carefully choreographed and timed manner, but in a controlled chaotic one. Large events can attract almost, hundreds of players and can quickly turn into a “mosh-pit” intent on destroying absolutely anything in its way. However I found this only to make events more enjoyable and without the worry of stolen loot or experience, by other players I say, “the more the merrier.” As events are periodical activated they make an illusion that the world of Tyria is constantly alive with new adventure or dangers. This illusion however, can quickly be shattered when an event re-triggers for the fourth time. Nonetheless events are some of the most enjoyable aspect to the game and offer a certain level of “real-worldliness” to a game genre that has started to feel like a time capsule.

Dungeons

The final story telling method in the game is the dungeons, these are used to explain the stories behind the iconic heroes that are collectively referred to as Destiny’s Edge. (Their story pre-dates the setting of Guild Wars 2 and takes place just before the game begins. One can read about their story in the novel by J. Robert King, Edge of Destiny. ) The dungeons are only introduced to the player by level thirty and consist of a story mode level, followed by subsequent sub-levels where the incentives are for greater rewards. However, dungeons are a significantly harder part to the overall game and require a higher degree of teamwork, communication and strategy. I found that characters with ranged weapons were at a slight advantage over those equipped with melee-combat weapons. The dungeons can, however, only be entered in parties of five but due to initial party bugs it was difficult to enter a dungeon with your chosen party members. More hard-core fans of the genre will be interested in completing dungeons for the challenge; nevertheless they are still an exhilarating and worthwhile experience.

The World – A distinctive “neo-romantic” environment

Rise of the Dragons

The dragons are old, older than the humans, older than even the gods who brought humans to Tyria, they have always been part of Tyria. The dragons cannot be reasoned with; in fact they are similar to a hurricane, a force which awakens from time to time to ravish the land. In the words of Continuity and Lore Designer Ree Soesbee,

…if a dragon wakes up and isn’t stopped, everyone is doomed.

The only hope for Tyria is for the bickering races to unite and confront this deadly force.

Guild Wars has a long history of storytelling and artistry with an art team that is almost unparalleled in the gaming industry, including artists such as Kekai Kotaki and Daniel Dociu. Guild Wars 1 was by no means a bad looking game, in fact it had a stunning environment, however the magnificence and verism of the concept art was never truly achieved in the actual game world. And the artworks were restricted to loading windows as a tantalizing reminder of the imagination behind the original game.

Guild Wars 2 introduces us to the same world but, reimagined as a; rich, interactive, and dynamic artwork, hand crafted and meticulously developed.

Guild Wars 2 introduces us to the same world but reimagined as a rich, interactive, and dynamic artwork, hand crafted and meticulously developed. The game feels layered with lore, culture, styles and politics all sculpted into a distinctive “neo-romantic” environment. Guild Wars 2 takes place 250 years after the events of the Eye of the North; though the game is still set in Tyria. The land has undergone catastrophic flooding and tectonic upheaval primarily due to the reawakening of the elder dragons, which can be best, described as forces akin to natural disasters. However, not all the changes are as a result of the dragons. The races of Tyria have progressed rapidly and directly affected their environments.

Exploration & Adventure – eXPerience everywhere

With a world as beautiful and detailed as this you will want to go everywhere and do everything and you shall be rewarded for doing so. It is challenging to find an activity in the game that does not provide experience, whether it’s foraging for turnips or bludgeoning another Hylek, the game will reward you for doing so. If one needs anymore incentive to explore Tyria, how about earning four levels just by wondering around the games big cities.

With a world as beautiful and detailed as this you will want to go everywhere and do everything and you shall be rewarded for doing so.

ArenaNet want to eradicate the grind; all the boring, tedious tasks from the genre. By rewarding players for everything, a player is unlikely to consider the time they spent collecting, say, crafting materials a waste of their time. Levelling in Guild Wars 2 is no longer a chore, it simply happens. Completing events is a fantastic way to accelerate the levelling process and within only a couple of days, I was almost at level thirty, and I was really taking my time.

By now many Guild Wars 2 players will have realized levelling is a relatively quick process and this is due to what is known as a flat levelling curve. This means the experience required to get to the next level only slightly increases compared to the previous. Compounded onto this is the dynamic scaling of a player’s level to suit the area. (Playing as a level thirty in a level twenty area will drop your level to match the area’s.) By doing so, levelling and a player’s level, in a sense become irrelevant and a player can enjoy the game no matter what their level is. This also means you won’t be one-hitting lower level enemies thus the game can still reward you experience for returning to low level regions and you will still face a challenge. This does not mean that higher level characters have no advantage over lower level players as they will have acquired stronger gear and started or finished their traits, giving them the edge in combat. Even so, I still found that when returning to starting areas as a level twenty five Asuran Mesmer, I had a surprisingly large advantage just due to my weapons, armour and traits, even with a scaled down level.

Combat – Simple, fluid and exciting

Guild Wars 2’s combat is the largest breakaway point this genre has seen in a while and personally, “thank god”. My biggest criticism of Guild Wars 1 was the enormous number of skills and ineffective skill combinations, to the point that without a particular build a certain quest, mission or dungeon became impossible. Yet with the right build the situation became ludicrously simple. Balance was never quite achieved and whilst one task was simple with say a ritualist, it was difficult, at best, with another profession.

Guild Wars 2: a world re-lived

The combat is now visceral; it’s almost as if the designers set out to build an action game.

Guild Wars 2’s combat continues the overall style of the game and its fluid motion plays a key role in determining the outcome of a battle: from dodging incoming missiles to evading the swing of a blade and quickly switching to a bow or a staff to make a counter attack, all in a matter of seconds. It’s a game where watching the action requires you to quickly adapt your strategy but allows you to do so on the fly and in intuitively.

Along with a new combat mechanic, no longer will you find the divine trinity role system of tank, healer, and dps, synonymous with the genre. This was a fairly controversial decision which seems to have worked quite well. The damage role now comes from all professions, meaning everybody is responsible for inflicting damage. The tank has been replaced by a support role which is the guardian; who amplifies others attacks whilst still layout damage. The healer as a role has been completely dropped. Staying alive is now up to each individual, by avoiding damage, negating damage and with the use of a dedicated heal skill. This has resulted in a system where each profession can swap on the fly between each role meaning players are not going to be spending hours looking for a specific role player. Everyone can jump into the action immediately, however overall team-work and adaption are now invaluable.

Combat will inevitably lead to a few knock-outs and even some fatalities.

Before a player is killed they are knocked down. In this state you either have to kill your opponent to get back up or be revived by surrounding players. You will, however still receive a temporary downed penalty. If you don’t succeed in either you are killed and have to teleport to the nearest way-point, which will both cost you coin and slowly damage your armour requiring it to be repaired by an NPC.

In order to make the game more accessible, the design team at ArenaNet decided on another big upheaval to the MMO genre. The removal of a massive skills catalogue filled with hundreds of unused, unbalanced or ineffective skills was a substantial remodeling of the conventional MMO, but Guild Wars 2 is anything but a conventional MMO.

Guild Wars 2: a world re-lived

Combat in a fully three-dimensional world

The first five of ten skills slots are determined by the type of weapon your character carries, such as a giant two handed blade or a sceptre and a focus. But don’t imagine this reduces the level of skill required to master combat. Your character has the ability to swap between two weapons sets on the fly. Enter underwater combat and you have a further two weapons sets with alternative aquatic suited effects. This results in about twenty skills that one needs to understand. You will, however be using each and every one of them, unlike the traditional MMO skills system which usually has a very static build. Apart from weapon-based skills you are provided with another five utility skill slots acquired through levelling. If you are counting, this is now on about twenty five interchanging skills to keep track of.

There is further development of the combat mechanic for different professions such as the Elementalist and Mesmer. Where the Elementalist cannot swap through weapons they can swap through four attunements; fire, earth, water and air providing up to twenty unique weapon based skills. The Mesmer, whilst being able to change weapons sets also has the ability to create up to three illusions; replicas of themselves that attack their foes.

Whilst combat may now sound overly complicated and confusing the actual end result is a system which is intuitive and exiting facilitating all combinations of skills to be used, without the fear that the overall effect will be impractical. The variety between professions is certainly impressive, yet each profession seems to retain a sense of identity in relation to their skills. The Mesmer feels completely different to an Elementalist.

The Graphics – An interactive artwork

Tyria’s characteristics are captured superbly in the artistic style of the game’s graphics engine. There is very little that is static about the graphics of Guild Wars 2, from the fluid character animations to the intense and abundant particle effects. Even buildings from time to time burn down only to be rebuilt later. Eric Flannum, Lead Designer states, “In Guild Wars 2, we have a fairly unprecedented number of animations and spell effects compared to any other MMO.” However, none of this feels photorealistic but rather painterly (rich oil paint or maybe a soft watercolour.) This painterly feel is continued throughout the game’s UI and each window feels like a soft overlay. This is especially prevalent in the game’s map which feels like a painted artwork slowly being filled with greater levels of density and detail as you explore the world.

However, these graphic details do come with a catch. Many users have been struggling to attain an average of 60 frames per second, even with high-end hardware. Though, the game’s performance is a far cry from the initial betas, in low population areas such as the Eye of the North (A solo instance based area, used to access a player’s Hall of Monument items) I was able to attain over 90 frames per second with high graphics settings and a mid-ranged gtx560ti o.c. Only time will tell just how much more optimization the ArenaNet team will be able to accomplish. We can however, hope that updates to Nvidia’s and AMD’s drives will also improve performance.

Not all is doom and gloom. Even when running at 40 frames per second the game feels unbelievably smooth, to the point that I was continually checking if somehow the game had managed to reach that illusive, stable 60 frames.

Guild Wars 2: a world re-lived

World vs. World – Size always matters

For Guild Wars to be Guild Wars the game needs some element which places opposing guilds against one another. However Guild Wars 2 takes this concept one giant step forward by introducing World vs. World. Before character creation you will have chosen a world (a server to play on) possibly because that’s the server your guild plays on or because that server is for instance the official French or Dutch, world.

World vs. World was inspired by the realm vs. realm battles found in Dark Age of Camelot . As the name suggests World vs. World works by pitting three worlds against one another in an open world PvP type system, in an instance location known as The Mists. In this location all players are scaled to level 80, however, players who are in-fact of a higher level will always have an advantage due to better gear, unlocked traits and skills. By doing this ArenaNet have allowed every player, regardless of level to join World vs. World at any time simply by clicking a few menu buttons and entering The Mists. This menu also gives a summary of the current world situation including overall points, captured keeps, towers and supply camps.

By capturing keeps, towers and supply camps your world (server) is able to accumulate points and slowly push the enemy back. However, each world has hundreds of players striving to do the same. Naturally this mass scale warfare takes a bit of getting used to and on multiple occasions I found my team attempting to siege a keep without the use of a battering ram or any catapults: thus ensuing the quick slaughter of hundreds of players by the enemy team, which is safely behind its keep’s walls.

Guild Wars 2: a world re-lived

In the words of Collin Johanson, Content Design Team Lead,

It’s literally like you’re inside of a giant RTS!

There is more to World vs. World than simply combat which means each player can assist in other ways such as helping to build siege weapons. Strategy and teamwork play a key role in World vs. World however, size always matters and this was made strikingly apparent when my mid-population world of Aurora Glade got dominated by two of the larger Dutch and French Worlds.

For the pride of the server.

The perpetual see-saw effect of each world battling out for total victory does not continue aimlessly into the future, like many previous attempts at a similar system. The game crowns a winning world once every two weeks which is based on the accumulated points achieved by each world. The winning world is granted a server-wide bonus named the Power of The Mists, which provides bonuses such as increased health, crafting experience, combat experience and more. This is not actually a world-altering effect, such as how ArenaNet described what the purpose of World vs. World would be however, it does provide good incentive to participate in World vs. World, and did I mention that you gain experience whilst battling in The Mists.

The actual World vs. World experience is similar to a player vs. player one, in that you still will fight in small teams and occasional one-on-one battles. However, the overall experience is of a much greater nature and even when failing to capture a keep the strengths of an open style Server vs. Server system are obvious. The experience finally stays true to the spirit of what an MMO should be, massive.

World vs. World was the first aspect of the game to not only give me a beating but also my system. It is difficult to say if it’s only my system struggling to keep up with the glorious havoc unfolding before me or if even ArenaNet’s servers struggle to keep track of this madness. Game play was no longer smooth and immediate but rather delayed. But even so it was one of the most intense and edge-of-my-seat game play experiences I have enjoyed in a while.

Now I begin the nit-picking of things I would like to have seen implemented, or maybe things which still can be. In any form of PvP a level of balance is essential, even in chaotic mass World vs. World battles. Not balance in terms of numbers but more so in-terms of power, perhaps it is just me just getting used to this new mechanic, but a standard gear set such as the one in structured PvP would have helped; there may however be a good reason that this is not the case. All in all there is not much else that I can complain about in World vs. World. Once you are fairly familiar with the mechanics and know your way around The Mists, which are absolutely massive by the way, the experience is worth every one of those minutes you spent learning the system.

A look to the Future

To be entirely honest with you I have only enjoyed this game for about a week, which is far too little, to give an accurate account of the game. There are a horde of features to the game I have not yet experienced or touched on in this article such as structured player vs. player, crafting and the economy. Today was also the first day I have managed to access the Trading Post which I am pleased to say is a bliss to use, now that it is finally operating. Placing buy orders was a painless experience and sorting through the items to buy is a pleasure. My only minor disappointment was the lack of any preview option when looking to a buy an item, which is almost universally available throughout the game’s merchant and karma NPCs.

…Never has a single game in this genre, or in many genres, been able to achieve so much that feels so familiar but is completely new.

Overall, Guild Wars 2 has been able to live up to most of my expectations and has not been an over hyped hot air balloon by any-means. The game is impressively large, aesthetically beautiful and will keep many players of the genre happy for months to come. There is a good balance between player vs. player content and actual game story, whilst still having plenty of end game activities outside of player vs. player such as dungeons, jumping puzzles and dynamic events. There is a descent amount of written lore in the game’s world but, I would like to have seen more such as written lore in the vistas (view-points, think Assassin’s Creed) explaining a little bit about the place. The personal story is relatively well thought out and at times can be anything from mildly amusing to incredibly challenging. However, I currently feel that the actual game-play is more captivating than the story behind it. This is not to say it’s not written well or voiced badly but simply not as deep and rich as some of the stories of the first game. There have been few characters that inspire some level of affection and if a character was to die in my personal story it would feel less disheartening than when for instance, Master Togo dies in Guild Wars Factions.

Were Guild Wars 2 shines is as a whole. Never has a single game in this genre, or in many genres, been able to achieve so much that feels so familiar but is completely new. It is a game that requires one to play it to understand and appreciate it.

From here it will be fascinating to see where the game progresses. Will it continue to grow and expand and what sorts of new content will be released? Will we head off to different continents such as the mystical East-Asian inspired land of Cantha and will we ever return the dessert-like African savannahs of Elona? Only time will tell.

Guild Wars 2: a world re-lived by Jeremy Paton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License .
Based on a work at www.guildwars2.com .
Image content is © ArenaNet, inc. All rights reserved Guild Wars 2. Images were edited by Jeremy Paton

About Jeremy "FugiTive" Paton

๏ BA (Hons) Architecture Graduate ๏ Gamer • Web-Designer • Artist • Forge Network Founder. Editor and Designer for Forge Gaming Network.

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