Over the weekend, ArenaNet held a closed beta for the upcoming title Guild Wars 2, sequel to the widely-acclaimed MMORPG Guild Wars. The demo featured heavy elements of character customisation, a chunk of the plot and some easily-accessible player-versus-player battling. While one weekend is not enough to fully gauge how deep or fluent the final experience will be, there's no doubt that those who participated can have full confidence in the fact that Guild Wars 2 will not disappoint.
Upon opening the game for the first time, a comprehensive character customisation system allows users to create their online persona in great detail. Everything from detailed visual experimentation to behavioural patterns can be meddled with, allowing an incredible, near-infinite amount of characters to be created. In several hours of online play, I did not experience a single character who looked similar to mine. While there is a slight similarity in the facial structure of all characters across the board, the variation seen helps to create a diverse set of characters. In the story, faces are memorable, and emotional connections to the characters are easily established.
Ultimately, this is one of the elements which will stand Guild Wars 2 out from the crowd. Establishing a connection between the player, his or her protagonist and all of the NPCs is key in producing a plot where players care about what happens. This is what will draw players back to the game for thousands of hours worth of game time -- it is already evident that this title will be able to hold its own against other giants within the MMORPG genre.
The quality of the storytelling itself is also worth nothing - at some stages in the game, the plot unravels through amazing 3D cutscenes, which are incredibly fluent when taking into account the quality of the visuals on display. At other times, a near-still background will play host to some character interaction, with some subtle visual effects being introduced every now and then to spice things up. While it's not as outstanding visually as the 3D cutscenes, the simplicity of it all gives these cutscenes their own beauty, and allows the journey to be incredibly easy to follow.
But the main reason you're reading this article is to see how the game handles. Thanks to the new engine on show, only one word is required to sum up the gameplay of Guild Wars 2: beautiful! The action handles fluently, even when several instances of advanced combat occur at once. New combat options make fighting more exciting - in particular, the rolling dodge manoeuvres add a new element of timing and skill into combat, and the Borderlands-esque second-wind system -- which allows players a second chance if they kill an enemy after being brought to their knees -- makes combat a little more forgiving for newer players.
The fluency of the action is evident in all areas of play. Missions are fast-paced and exciting and allow players to test every element of their character's power. They do not rely on grinding to offer hours of play, and instead offer rewards for unique and interesting passages of play. PVP action is great fun, however, lag does become a factor, as it does in other areas of play. The lag was one of the few things which left a sour taste in my mouth throughout the beta, and has all Australian and Asian players begging for Oceanic servers come the game's full release.
Overall, there was very little not to love throughout the beta. There are too many neat little touches to mention, but every detail of the game seems to have been seriously considered before implementation. It is clear that the development team has a love for their work in progress and will do anything and everything to ensure it pleases fans. Everything from advancing your character and its equipment, to exploring the lands to battling it out against other players simply feels right, and contributes to what will surely be one of the most-loved MMORPGs of this generation.
By Harry Hughes
What are you most looking forward to in Guild Wars 2?