Thursday, 3 May 2012

Guild Wars 2: Beta Edition

Human Mesmer
I am a big nerd, from way back. From the moment I started reading Animorphs in 5th grade and subsequently bought every single Animorphs book ever published, my future was sealed. Even so, it wasn’t until just a few years ago that I started to play MMOs. I just couldn’t ever get into the idea of playing a video game for very long. I started with the big one, World of Warcraft and I really liked it. It took a while, but eventually the shiny newness of WoW disappeared and I was left with a game I didn’t really like all that much. So I stopped playing. Then along comes the weekend beta event for Guild Wars 2 last weekend and I again found myself absorbed by an MMO.

I’ve been looking forward to Guild Wars 2 for quite a while. I’d played the demo at Eurogamer in 2011, and I really liked it. It was sufficiently different enough from WoW that I wasn’t instantly bored, but it was familiar enough that I didn’t feel completely lost. As much fun as I had in the short demo, the beta was even better. That being said, the game isn’t perfect. So first we’ll start off with my criticisms, and then I’ll end on a happy note of what I loved about it.

The starting female cloth armour is skimpy. Now, I’m aware that there are all sorts of different armour sets in the game, and that some of them will be skimpy and some of them won’t. My problem is that, while playing a cloth-wearing character, I couldn’t find any. This suggests to me that there are only a few non-skimpy choices for female clothies, or at least that they aren’t available until many, many hours into the game. Now, don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with revealing armour in itself. It’s just so cliché to have cloth-wearing female characters wearing so little clothing. I mean, would it kill ArenaNet to provide armour that covers my character up early in the game? And, hey, while we’re at it, how about giving the male characters some of their own skimpy cloth armour? I know some straight women and gay/bi guys who’d appreciate it.

I was under-levelled for a lot of my personal story. I pretty much stuck with my human mesmer throughout the beta, and I know other people who played other races who had no trouble with their levelling. So, perhaps, this is just a problem with the human starting area. Even so, I feel it should be addressed. I finished the starting area and finished as much of my personal story as I could, and I was too low a level to continue on. I ended up going to the Norn starting area and doing some of their beginning quests to level up, and that was fine.

It’s great that the system allows me to go to a low level area and still get experience for completing quests. However, I still feel like this shouldn’t have been an issue in the first place. It was pretty jarring to have to stop anything related to my personal story and my race’s story to go do quests in a completely different area. I was really getting into the story of my character; he really had no narrative motivation to suddenly start helping out the Norn, or the Charr. Yet, in order to level up that’s exactly what I had to do. It took me out of the game, and suddenly reminded me that I was playing a game at all, not just experiencing a story.

The dynamic events weren’t quite dynamic enough. Alright, that’s actually not really true, but I needed something short to put in bold. The dynamic events were actually really amazing. The only problem I had was that too many of them didn’t seem to actually change much in the world. There were a lot that, once you completed it, didn’t actually start another one. Or, if it did start another event, I wasn’t made aware of it. Also, there were quite a few events that, once finished, reset too quickly. I’d have just finished escorting some guy into a town, and a few minutes later I’d see that he’s being escort again. Or a few minutes after killing some rampaging enemy, I’d see him pop up again to be killed. Part of the beauty of this system is that it’s okay if not everyone experiences all the content all the time. It’s alright if you miss one part of an event, because theoretically the next part is already happening. I’d really like just a little bit more time after an event is finished before it restarts. Of course, I only really explored the starting areas and the second human area, so it’s entirely possible that the dynamic events in later parts of the game chain together better.

And that’s it for the bad, from me. Yeah there were a few bugs, and yes the first few hours of the beta were completely unplayable. But beta is beta. So now for the awesome:

The dynamic events are so refreshing. I said I actually really loved the dynamic events, and here’s why. When they chained together and when they didn’t reset too quickly, they really made me feel like I was affecting the game world. I, and a horde of my fellow humans, norn and charr, could lead an offensive against an undead army or help defend a strategic position from the centaur, or any number of other heroic deeds. I wasn’t stuck fetching 10 rat tails for some lazy NPC; I was a hero saving the world!

The Mesmer. The mesmer is my favourite profession, by far. I didn’t get much beyond the first few levels of other professions, but in part that’s because I thought the mesmer was awesome from the get go. I didn’t play much PvP, but when I did the use of clones was absolutely indispensable. My opponent would often mistake my clone for me, and start wailing on it. Meanwhile, I’d be a relatively safe distance away, wailing on him/her. It was great. With the shatter spells, I always had multiple control spells, regardless of what weapon set I was using. And seeing as you can’t take too many hits in PvE either, having control spells was invaluable in PvE too. Plus, nothing beats poofing into a hail of purple and pink butterflies whenever you teleport.

The personal story was really engaging. I’d have liked to have a more interactive experience with the personal story, but even so the story was well told. The cut scenes didn’t drag on, and they provided a great sense of purpose. I wasn’t just out running an errand for an NPC; I was investigating what happened to my missing sister or protecting the queen, or something else equally personal and engaging. During character creation you are given various options about your background, and it’s pretty clear that those change your personal story in some really interesting ways.

The art design is stylistic but not cartoonish. I really love the art design in Guild Wars 2, in part because it’s so different. It’s one of the first games I’ve played where the difference between the concept art and the in-game art is nearly indistinguishable. A lot of the character models and particle effects are of a style pretty typical for MMOs, but mixed in there are what looks like hand-painted brush strokes. And this combination works really well. The map, for example, starts out as a blur of colourful brush strokes, and as you discover more and more places, the places on the map become better defined. Yet it still retains that hand-painted look. Even with my graphics turned down to “balanced,” it was stunning.

I could go on about other aspects of the game I enjoyed. The downed system is really the best way I’ve seen an MMO handle character death. The fact that any character can resurrect a dead character is a welcome change. The way that Guild Wars 2 encourages working together and discourages ninjaing and griefing made it so I was actually enjoying playing in groups with strangers. Pretty much there is a lot more I like about this game than I can really put here without turning it into some huge essay. And I just don’t have the time to write a huge essay; I’m too busy checking my inbox to see when the next beta event will take place.

No comments:

Post a Comment