Last week, I got the amazing opportunity to sit down with some developers and testers of Guild Wars 2 and participate in a live, hands-on demonstration of the long awaited sequel to Guild Wars. I played a lot of Guild Wars: Factions back in the day, and it has been the only MMORPG I have ever really invested a lot of time in. Therefore, I was really excited to see what they were going to bring with the next installment of the franchise. They did not disappoint.
“5 years ago, we were working on Guild Wars 1 and we wanted to do some really cool innovations to make the next campaign more exciting. We wanted to do a persistent world, branching story lines, we wanted the world to really be alive so its state was changing based on players decisions and….we couldn’t do it in Guild Wars 1. Fancy that.”
And fancy that I did.
No longer do you have to stand still to cast everything. You can shoot a fireball as you are running! There are dynamic quests that happen at random times, of which you can choose to take part in…or just walk on by. You can overhear NPC’s running around shouting about things that are happening and you can see groups of enemies actually ransacking villages – it’s not just an exclamation point over a head followed by a wall of text. Characters will actually run up to you and ask for help, instead of vice versa. They have continued to utilize personalized stories for each character, but have added substantially to this feature, making it feel even more unique and personal. I’m going to tell you about the progression of my demonstration as it happened, rather than just point out all the cool things I saw.
At launch, some of the familiar races are back: the Humans, Asura, and the Norn. We also now have the Charr as a playable race as well as a new race known as the Sylvari. Even though the Charr were the primary antagonists in the last game, the races have all come together in this game to take on a greater evil known as the Elder Dragons. This foe has awoken to wreak havoc and… you know the drill. The Sylvari seem like a really interesting race, too, as they’ve only been on Tyria for about twenty-five years. They are basically born from seed pods from a giant tree and while developing, they have a shared dream (assimilated) that kind of teaches them about how to survive. Things such fire burns and swords are pointy and they hurt, are among what they learn during incubation. However, they are a little naive about the world around them once they get out there, not knowing the concept of death and learning as they progress in their lives.
After informing me about the different professions that can be used, many of which return, they started up the game with an Asura, “because they’re awesome,” they informed me. One of the things that I immediately thought was really cool is that every race starts in its own area and stays there as they progress through early levels. There is also a storyline unique to each race. This really gives some replay-ability to the game and I’m already curious as to how each race’s starting areas progress. Especially that of the Charr and Sylvari. Plus, the dynamic branching plots makes me want to play through as multiple characters.
I really liked how GW2 seemed to feel when I was observing them walk around the Asura compound. There where NPCs running everywhere, talking to each other and speaking to the players. Also, the main story quests being presented with zoom-ins of characters while they actually use spoken dialog. The idea that random dynamic events can happen at any time while you are running around doing things, such as a boss fight that 100 people could join in if they chose to which will scale depending on how many people you have joining in the event. It felt more immersive and made me feel like I was part of something that was important, alive, and engaging.
The death system is a little different here too, which I like. If you lose all your health, you just go into a downed state where you can be revived by a teammate, giving them experience (nice little incentive), or if you kill something while downed you’ll get back up. Going down repeatedly in a short time causes you to start with less and less health. If you do completely ‘die’, you go to one of the near spawn points and can go back to where you were. Before, when everyone resurrected at a crystal (?) and then having to try the same fight with reduced health…until everyone gave up and returned to base…got a little tiresome. “Defeat in Guild Wars 2 is intended to be an experience, not a punishment.”
Basically, now there are different kinds of ‘currency’ as well. Apart from the standard gold, there is also Karma and Skill Points that can be spent on multitudes of other things. Karma being gained by participating events, and Skill Points being gained through quests and leveling up. These can be used to learn new skills but there are many more Skill Points in the game than you will need to learn all the skills. Thus, you spend the extra elsewhere on different items and whatnot. There are also Traits, however, that you can put points into to focus your character’s abilities to more of a tank, healer, etc.
One of the coolest new features, in my opinion, was the addition of the platforming elements. I grew up with platformers and they persist in being my favorite genre of video games, since I first picked up Sonic the Hedgehog till now. To make map exploration more entertaining, there exists new special Vistas to find in every map. These require little mini jumping puzzles to get to and are required to reach map completion. I was even told that there are special areas off to the side that players can get to that involve wind gusts and more difficult platforming/exploration where they can find secret chests to pilfer. So awesome.
I don’t think I’ve mentioned how the game even looks yet…
Crisp and beautiful.
After I saw the basics of the game and they showed me around the world a little, they then decided it was time to summon a giant Swamp Monster Shadow Behemoth with their magical Dev Powers. Here is when I learned that I sucked I learned that there is now an evade move! When full, you can evade two times in a row to negate any incoming damage. Definitely a welcome feature. Right about this time, I was running a little long on my lunch break but they offered me the chance to jump in with a higher level character and try fighting the boss with them. I had to try but I was not ready for what I was getting myself into.
As far as I knew, this was a later level boss fight that required a lot of steps just to get him appear. Here I was, haven’t played an MMO since Guild Wars: Factions, struggling with turning around correctly while the boss killed me over and over again, spawning minions and shooting out that damn purple gas, one hit KOing me every time. I was eventually getting the hang of it and after a lot of fighting and turmoil, we got it down to half health. Although a lot of the moves were telegraphed by giant red circles, I went down at least 30 times and even had the pleasure of dying once. My compatriot never fell. Kind of embarrassing…
All in all, I really think that Guild Wars 2 brings a lot more to the table than its predecessors and even some of its competitors, including voice over work by the wonderful Felicia Day. I am definitely looking forward to playing it some more in the near future and I encourage others pick it up on August 28th as well!
-Special thanks to Mike Zadorojny (Designer), Allie Murdock (QA Team/Driver), Emil Rodriguez (PR Manager) and Shelcie Takenouchi for setting this up and giving me this demonstration-