Guild Wars 2 Beta Review (Part 1): Combat, PVE, Game Engine

After recently participating in the third and final Guild Wars 2 Beta Weekend, there are many things I would like to comment on.  Hopefully I’ll be able to fit most of my thoughts and discoveries into this review.

Combat

Similar to the first Guild Wars, ArenaNet designed Guild Wars 2 with skill and strategy in

A human guardian, ready to do battle.

mind.  Only ten skill slots are available to the player, however they can be swapped out easily when out of combat.

The first five skills are determined by weapon or weapons the player chooses to fight with.  The first three are main hand, the last two off-hand, and two-handed weapons determine the full set.  As far as I can tell there is no way to change these skills other than to exchange weapons.  This system makes players think a bit harder before they switch to a new weapon.  Is the shiny new sword with better stats really worth losing the skills that come from yielding a mace?  As a Guardian, equipping a shield allowed me to pop up a defensive bubble that protected my allies and sent enemies flying.  In Guild Wars 2, weapon type has a greater impact on play style than any other MMO I have played.

The sixth slot is reserved for a healing spell, presenting the player with a tough choice between group-heal and self-heal.  There is no designated healing class in Guild Wars 2, but players who choose to go with a support play style are likely to try and max out the group heals.

The seventh, eight, and ninth slots are reserved for “utility” skills.  These skills also vary greatly depending on the play style of the gamer, as a Guardian I could choose from a sword avatar following me around, various signets, buffs, group shields, and many other skills.  These skills are split into three “tiers,” each tier costing more skill points to unlock as well as 5 skills unlocked on the level below.

The final slot is the “elite” skill.  As the name suggests, these options are some of the most powerful in the player’s arsenal.  However, only one can be equipped at a time, bringing forth another tough decision in character development.

Different skills become available when the player goes underwater.

The combat system has also been designed to include combos, adrenaline, traits, a special underwater skill set, and quick switching between weapon sets.  The animations are beautiful and unlike other MMOs it actually looks like you are hitting your enemy – not a blatantly obvious collision box.

PVE

While Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning may have been seen largely as a disappointment to the MMO community, one feature that was well received was the public-quest system.  This idea of being able to simply walk into the environment and seamlessly become a part of the quest — without the need to join an established party — is the basis for the Guild Wars 2 quest system.  ArenaNet has gone as far as to ditch the traditional quest log and instead display all quests right on the world map.

These quests are no longer simply kill or collect, but rather a combination of many objectives.  The quest descriptions will often read something along the lines of ‘Help the town by killing monsters, collecting lost goods, and helping wounded citizens.”  The quest completion meter is advanced by completing any of these activities

I better not hear a single complaint about these graphics

There is also a “dynamic event” system which adds a bit more diversity into the questing experience of players.  These quests can be triggered randomly, by the actions of players, or the completion of other dynamic events.  They are set up in a similar fashion to the normal quest system, however all players share a quest meter and the challenge is scaled to the number of players participating.  After it is completed, players are awarded based upon their participation.

Dynamic events often tell a story and have a visible impact on the world.  For example, in the human start zone, there is a chain of dynamic events following the endless territory battle between humans and centaurs.  Successful completion of these events flips camps to the human side; failures flip camps to the centaur side.  These camps sometimes provide waypoints players can only use if the camp is held by their side and not under attack.  In another quest, players defend builders as a new watchtower is constructed over a river.  If this quest is successful, the tower actually appears and will stay there for a long period of time.

The game also features a strong story-driven questline.  Unlike the static storylines in the original Guild Wars Series, the new story offers many choices for the players which have significant impacts on their journey.  Each race has its own set of stories, influenced by choices the player makes during character creation.  These features all make the personal story a bit more personal.  On the downside, this means (as far as I know) no more big team missions.

The new “quest log” is visible in the top right in this screenshot. The green part is the personal story, the orange part a dynamic event.

The game also has a unique dungeon system.  While the vanilla release is only expected to have 8 dungeons, Guild Wars 2 will feature two ways of exploring dungeons: story mode and exploration mode.  The story mode must be completed first, but afterwards players are invited to check new corners and find new bosses.  These exploration-mode dungeons are influenced by random selection as well as dynamic events, creating at least 32 possible instances out of these eight dungeons.  These dungeons start at level 30 and continue all the way up to 80.  If a high-level player tries to return to a low-level dungeon, his or her stats are nerfed to match those of a player who would still be leveling in the dungeon.  This allows each dungeon to remain relevant during endgame.

ArenaNet has made it quite clear that they do not want the leveling system to be a grind.  According to an interview from the New York Post, the amount of experience needed to level up does not increase as the player levels up.  Each level is designed to take less than 90 minutes to achieve.  However, in beta I felt that the levels did get a bit longer each time.  It is possible that the necessary experience required to level increases up to level 10 and then remains flat.  Note that this is purely speculation and I do not have anything to back this up.

Complaints and Final Thoughts

There is little I have to complain about in this game.  Moreover, what I do have to complain about is the result of making the game more casual friendly – something I must admit is a good thing considering I will be starting college the week this game comes out.  First of all, I have very mixed feelings about the quest system.  I miss being able to cash in four or five quests at a time and getting a huge EXP boost.  Also, I feel that this system is very limited.  Dynamic events and the personal story are now the only quests that can tell a story.  In other MMOs I have played there have been some pretty exciting side stories, and I am sad that Guild Wars 2 will lack that.

The top of Divinity’s Reach, the human capital, as viewed from a vista.

ArenaNet has put in a few systems that “simplify” the gameplay without really improving it.  For example, instead of a tradition in-game mail system with mailboxes, ArenaNet has simply created a email system the player can access at any time.  In the middle of nowhere a player can send overflow items to their bank or to another player.  Rather than having to go to a stable or flight master for long-distance transport, in Guild Wars 2 the player simply pops open a map and clicks on a waypoint (think Skyrim.)  Once again, these systems require a lot less travel time and make the game easier to play for even just a few minutes.  ArenaNet appears to be omitting a mount system for vanilla release, but hopefully they will include that in an update.

Aside from these complaints, I feel that Guild Wars 2 is likely to become the best MMORPG I have ever played.  I will be publishing a second part to this review when I get around to it, in which I will discuss the PVP system, my relationship with ArenaNet, and thoughts about the Guild Wars continuity.  These thoughts will be just as, if not more, positive than the ones I shared in this first part.  I have high-hopes for this game and hopefully ArenaNet will live up to them.

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One thought on “Guild Wars 2 Beta Review (Part 1): Combat, PVE, Game Engine

  1. Pingback: Disappointment. « Cale's Corner

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