By which I mean to say going in without looking up how things work or what any given class or race can do. Not that I tried to play with my eyes closed or without sight in the literal sense.
For any MMO I’m thinking about trying, this is my preferred method now. It isn’t enough to recapture the full essence of naïvety and innocence one possesses when entering an MMO for the very first time, but it’s about as close as you’re going to get.
I couldn’t help knowing some things about the game beforehand, I’d seen the odd video of course and heard a bit to piqué my interest in dropping down the dollars they’re asking, but there was still much that surprised me.
Three of the five possible races are available for the beta — Charr, Human and Norn, with the Asura and Sylvari remaining locked away for launch — and all 8 classes are available.
There doesn’t appear to be any race/class restrictions, which leads to some amusing combinations such as a hulking giant of a Norn flitting about in the shadows as a Thief.
I rolled three different characters for the beta — the aforementioned Norn Thief, a Charr Engineer and a Human Ranger. Of the three I think the Human Ranger wins out as my favourite; both for the starting zone and the class itself, but I am getting ahead of myself here.
The character creation process is more than just dying your clothes and setting your height and whisker density. There are life experiences and loyalties and conversation styles to be picked! Some of these have an obvious and significant difference to your characters story right from the outset. I don’t think that the character stories will go quite as far as SWTOR did with every class having its own story, but it’s a welcome touch nonetheless.
Combat and Character Development
The combat is quite satisfying, blows appear to connect and there even appears to be some basic collision detection between strikes and their target. If you unloose a volley of shots against something, and some other nasty wanders in front, they will take the brunt of the attacks rather than having them magically sail through.
On top of that, there is limited ability to dodge and roll while in combat and evade strikes. It is limited in that you have an Endurance bar which — in combat, anyway — replenishes slowly. You’re best off saving the ability to roll for bigger strikes made against you, although it can also be handy say, if you’ve just snared or trapped your target and you want to roll backwards for some quick distance.
Character development starts off feeling quite swift, as it comes independent of leveling as you learn new weapon abilities.
When you pickup a new weapon (or weapon combination) you may only know how to do one thing with it. Shoot it. Throw it. Stick pointy end in nasty thing. You know, that kind of thing.
As you do more of these actions, you’ll see the next skill on the bar begin to light up and before too long, you’ll get a mini-ding type message on screen telling you you’ve unlocked the next ability of killing-stuff-in-nifty-ways.
Those take up the first 5 of your action slots for two-handed weapons, or first three for main hand and next two for offhand. The Thief class particularly impressed me with the combinations available, as wielding a Pistol MH / Dagger OH was not the same as wielding Dagger MH / Pistol OH. One of the class ‘things’ for Thief actually is that their #3 weapon ability is decided on entirely by what weapon combination (and what order) you have equipped.
Once you have finished unlocking one full weapon set, you can begin work on another if you like. This carries you quite well through the earlier levels where each level-up is not — on their own — particularly significant.
From Level 7 you begin unlocking additional skill-slots on the right-hand side of the bar. You can then spend skill points on various abilities to put there. On my Engineer, I unlocked options such as a Machine Gun Turret and a Shrapnel Mine. Other options I saw — but haven’t as yet unlocked, but nonetheless took my interest — included things like Grenade Packs which replaced your main weapon bar with Grenade options while active, and a Healing Turret which you can actually unlock earlier now that I think about it. The Healing Turret slots into #6 which is actually ready from the start, but required 3 skill points to unlock, so I stuck with the default self-only heal for a fair while.
Sound and Visuals
The sounds of Guild Wars 2 are for the most part quite impressive. Where it falls over is the sometimes… well… awful voice acting that just makes you want to curl up into a little ball and rock back and forth until it stops.
Which is not to say all the voice acting is bad, in fact some of it is actually quite amazing and you may even recognise some familiar voices in the mix. I picked up some from Mass Effect in the Charr area for sure.
The Music however makes up for anything the odd voice may subtract. It will keep me from muting the game entirely for ages to come, I suspect. I heard blends of the original Guild Wars track here and there of course, but also strands reminiscent of the notes of Neverwinter Nights and perhaps even the odd Morrowind refrain.
These impressions came to me the strongest in the Charr lands, followed closely by those for the Human areas. The Norn area at times seemed oddly silent to me, although whether by intent or simply because the ‘Work in Progress’ banner which flies up at every opportunity is actually meaningful in some areas, the silence wasn’t without a music of its own while up high in the mountains.
The visual style of the game is reminiscent of the original Guild Wars with quite high colour saturation, very bright, very airy.
However where Guild Wars 1 seemed to be shouting, ‘Look at me, for are I not pretty!’, Guild Wars 2 seems to have become a little more refined. No less pretty to be sure, just much more quietly and self-assuredly so.
The painterly style of the game works very well in my opinion, for both the close-up detailed shots and for the distant vistas you are often privileged with.
I guess the ultimate question is — did I have fun? Or rather; was the fun I had enough to warrant the cost ArenaNet are asking for Guild Wars 2 and will it last.
Starting easy — yes, I had fun with the game.
However, I spent much of my time at work this weekend and while of course I pined to be back at home rather than there, I didn’t pine specifically for more Guild Wars 2 time.
Sure, I took it as I was able to, but there was no compulsion to play … of course, that may also be a symptom of having reigned in the more addictive aspects of my personality a little.
It could also be reflective of the fact that as much as I try to deny it and rail against it, that I might just be done with MMOs and their ilk.
I guess it comes down to the fact that I certainly did enjoy the time I spent with Guild Wars 2. I did. I’m not in any hurry to demand my money back and the distinct lack of any ongoing demands on my finances in the way of subscription fees certainly appeals to my need for a more casual style of play without feeling like I’m wasting my sub.
If you are still quite keen in the MMO style of play I think you’ll find plenty to be excited by in Guild Wars 2. Some of the battles are really quite epic, even from the outset, and the play is freshened by the ability to dive away from danger real-time.
I could see myself getting to max level on at least one character, beyond that, well, I guess we’ll see!