Guild Wars 2 Beta: Personal Story, Character Creation, PvP
Guild Wars 2 is something of a big deal for ArenaNet – the developer claims its upcoming MMORPG can evolve the genre into hitherto unknown areas, with talk of social communities, a new level of engaging combat, new mechanics, branching storylines based on player choices and dozens of other features new to massively multiplayer online gaming.
Character creation, player choice
The hero screen shows you how you can alter your character oncr they’re created.
We began by creating a beautiful female human character using Guild Wars 2’s extensive creation tools. Guild Wars 2 players will get to choose from five races in all, some of which return from Guild Wars – the Asura , Charr, Norn, Humans and Sylvari. Players then get to pick a gender, then one of eight professions – Guardian, Warrioir Engineer, Ranger, Thief, Elementalist, Mesmer or Necromancer, each with their own traits and abilities.
Amazingly, each choice you make during character creation will impact your personal story later in the world of Tyria (with over 7,000 combinations) so you’ll want to choose wisely. All the options you’d expect to control your appearance are there too, with numerous choices and sliders to alter your features, hair, size and more, but it’s the attention to detail that sets Guild Wars 2 apart, with players able to dye different areas of their costume different colours, choose their eye colour and the like.
Here’s one we made earlier.
Once you’re happy with your character’s appearance it’s back to more serious choice-making – a series of questions, which also determine what you’ll experience. The first is based on your profession and might be something like ‘my most useful tool is my…’ with a choice of three gadgets. Then you’ll get asked about how you overcome trouble (with either charm, dignity or ferocity). The final three questions stem from your race – in the case of humans where you were raised (in the streets, by common folk or as nobility), your biggest regret, and a choice from six gods that blessed you when you were young. Each decision affects your campaign in Guild Wars 2 – and the game hasn’t even started yet.
We chose a noble upbringing for our character, which we made a Ranger meaning she excels at long range combat and is the only profession to get an animal companion, so we chose a big cat.
World Map, Combat, Choices
Our next task was to go out into the world, starting at the human settlement of Shaemoor, just outside the grandiose human city of Divinity’s Reach. Make no mistake, Tyria is a huge place with various points of interest – towns, cities, forests, caves, plains and more – scattered across a vast map.
Tyria: not small.
We were immediately thrown into some sort of mini-crisis – the type that means there’s a blackened sky as well as a considerable NPC population telling us to go and shelter at an inn. The first thing that strikes you about Guild Wars 2 are the game’s lovingly crafted visuals; although colourful, they’re also exceptionally well-realised, displaying a rare cohesion in the design of buildings, costumes, enemies and artefacts to convey what feels like a living, breathing world. The feeling is enhanced by a seemingly endless horizon, the various bustling urban areas and the sheer volume of NPCs that walk around, chat and generally act in a manner befitting a realistic place – Tyria feels like it would exist whether you were in it or not. Small things add to the immersion too, with respawning centaurs having the common decency to appear from around corners or over hills rather than just magically appearing in front of your eyes.
‘Defending Shaemoor’ is an instanced mission and something of a tutorial for human characters, in which you’ll face raiding centaurs, before fighting the centaur champion Modniir High Sage, who summons huge rock hands from the ground – the first mini-boss you’ll face in Guild Wars 2’s campaign.
Combat is a fairly traditional hot-keyed affair, although the visual interface clearly relays to novices and veterans alike what’s going on in terms of effectiveness of hits, area of effect and the like. Fortunately, our low-level ranger liked to throw axes from a distance, leaving our leopard to get up close and personal with foes, so early encounters were fairly forgiving. In the case of our ranger, she could aid her pet to boost its health, while later skill unlocks reveal buffs and attacks which take both you and your sidekick into account. What sets Guild Wars 2’s combat apart from other MMOs is the immediacy of the action. We went straight in for dishing out damage, but other races rely on more divisive tactics with AoE attacks, or ways to slow or immobilise opponents. Meanwhile, the simplicity of the system – hit enemies and you’ll affect them, miss and you won’t – puts it more on par with a third-person action title, meaning console gamers should feel right at home.
Guild Wars 2 also features a kind of ‘Last Stand’ mechanic; if you lose all your health, you’ll fall to the floor with only a few attacks available to you. Get as many hits on enemies as possible in your ‘downed’ state in an attempt to rally and get yourself on your feet. Alternatively, get someone in your party to try and revive you.
Dynamic events, Environmental objects, Personal story
After defeating the rock hands elemental boss we got to pick one of three weapons as a reward (the choices depend on your profession), while Shaemoor suddenly became a lot more lush and sunny, revealing rolling hills and green meadows, not dissimilar to those found in Hyrule. Guild Wars 2’s dynamic events system suddenly kicked in with our ranger now able to choose dynamic events from the various yellow icons on the mini-map leaving it up to us to decide what we want to do in Tyria. Dynamic events are open to all, rather than instanced, with Shaemoor’s early missions ranging from fighting bandits in fields to feeding cows and watering crops. The latter is achieved via dynamic objects which, when picked up, swap out your hot-keys for an action related to that object, which proves an accessible control system for those tasks which don’t require you to fight.
Dynamic events can range from combat or gathering items to protecting NPCs, and are entirely optional – complete one, and it will most likely open a path to another, as is the consistency of Guild Wars 2’s branching structure. Completing dynamic events can reward you with XP, karma and cash, but what impressed us most was the openness of such sections, effortlessly enabling players to help each other out – or not – without so much as a second thought. We did seem to stumble into someone else’s dynamic event at one point, thinking we’d complete it ourselves – but as we hadn’t been set the task by an NPC, the event remained on our mini-map. It’s a minor quibble however, as you still earn the usual XP and other bonuses for engaging with the world of Tyria.
One event – clearing a field of bandits – immediately led us into a previously unnoticed (and better defended) cave, which suddenly upped the challenge. Again, we were impressed by how organically this traversal came about, and the freedom with which we could have walked away.
Divinity’s Reach: large.
Choosing to make our character of noble upbringing also had its first impact on our personal story – after some interaction in Shaemoor we received a message from an old friend, Lord Faren, who insisted on throwing a welcome home party for us in a district of the imposing city of Divinty’s Reach. Like other personal story content, this is optional, instanced, and results in a unique plot twist.
Dungeons, Competitive PvP, World Vs. World
Guild Wars 2: Competitive PvP
Our final hours with the Guild Wars 2 beta were spent playing ArenaNet’s optional party-based PvE dungeons, and the frantic competitive PvP mode. Given it’s tough nature, the dungeon we entered required us to be boosted to a higher level; it didn’t disappoint as a challenge, featuring an onslaught of varied enemies and environmental traps that required a fair amount of teamwork, resulting in our more experienced party members buffing us with AoE skills, or reviving us – and our pet. Pushing onward through corridors was a little claustrophobic, with the action not always overtly clear, but the constant combat, and occasional puzzle were enjoyable nonetheless.
Our party takes on a challenging, instanced PvE dungeon.
Just as frantic, but with a clearer set of goals, was the team-based competitive PvP mode. Red and blue teams are automatically levelled up so that all players compete on a level playing field, then fight across rangy, outdoor maps over control points, which generate points when held. The first team to 500 points, as displayed on a clear indicator at the top of the screen, wins. Kills will also get you points, but it’s the three CPs you’ll want to concentrate on, with the action actually open to some great emergent moments, thanks in part to the diverse terrain, range of characters/professions/skills and other elements such as trebuchet each side can bombard the map with, or attempt to destroy the opposing teams.
Cause trouble with environmental weapons in PvP.
The format is streamlined, but engaging, with matches zipping along. With minimal adjustment we could imagine online shooter fans getting a kick out of Guild Wars 2’s PvP. Unfortunately we weren’t able to sample the touted World vs. World PvP mode – each match cycle lasts two weeks – but if you can imagine battles on a larger, deeper and longer scale, you might be somewhere to realising ArenaNet’s vision. Which, much like the rest of Guild Wars 2, appears destined to evolve the traditional MMO in some fundamentally significant, but also hugely entertaining, ways.