This weekend, I had the most fun with an online experience than I’ve had in ages. You see, I got a most welcome e-mail in my inbox saying that I got a beta weekend invite for Guild Wars 2.
Now, I’m a huge fan of the first Guild Wars. Not being a hugely social person with online strangers, I always enjoyed the fact that it was the only MMO that made it viable to solo. Also, I hugely appreciated the effort that Arenanet took to convey the feeling that the largely cliched fantasy story was something that I was delving into by my lonesome self. Oh, and the lack of a subscription fee was pretty great too. However, I also had quite a few criticisms with the first Guild Wars. Namely that I’m not a fan of MMO combat in general, and as such I ended up quite frustrated with arbitrary mechanics that carried over from the mainstream combat model. I actively dodged, hoping against hope that my mobility would somehow beat the all-powerful imaginary dice roll that is hidden by the pretty explosions and cooldowns. I also hated the grouping system, the very few times I actually used it, and the fact that it was so easy to get separated from my intended group because of a hiccup in one of our connections. All in all, though, ArenaNet made me love an MMO. And I was more than a little curious if they could make me love another one even more.
I spent all day downloading the client, mostly due to my less than stellar internet speed and less to do with Anet’s launcher. After the successful download, I waited impatiently for the announcement of the beta weekend start. I was unabashedly excited, and I logged in within 5 minutes of the announcement. Immediately, I was struck with the amount of detail that was put into even the character creation. You had your standard character options (race, height, build, facial features, profession, etc.), but it was directly after the PHYSICAL character creation that really struck me as amazing. I had read extensively about the backstory creations of Guild Wars 2, but it really is something that needs to be experienced to get a full grasp of. I was asked everything from what Charr Legion I belonged to, to who my best Warband-mate was, to how I would describe my character’s father. And even MORE impressive is that every single backstory option I was given was expanded upon as a central plot point. I won’t go into any detail on HOW they were expanded on, just in case any of you share parts of my experience, but I will say Guild Wars 2 gets a glowing recommendation from me for story and immersion alone.
Now, onto the meat of the game, the world and gameplay. I was dropped into a full-blown battle as my tutorial area, fighting off a legion of ghosts. Immediately, I was struck by the scope of the battle. I was only working with NPCs in the tutorial area, but the entire area felt alive. The combat was satisfying, the effects of pushing the ghosts back was immediate, and most importantly it helped me understand the mechanics quickly and effectively. I was reintroduced to the familiar (but retooled) hotbar style combat, while also being briefed on the importance of mobility and dodging in this strange new land. I could strafe, dodge-roll in multiple directions, and dash in and out of combat ranges in real-time, AND have it actually have an effect. It took me a while to get used to, but once I did I really got an appreciation for the difference. It doesn’t change much in the way you actually attack (like I said before, the hotbar IS still present), but the advantages you gain from being able to strafe while firing into a crowd of enemies, or charging in with a two-handed claymore and hacking in all directions is satisfying and DEFINITELY a game changer. Simply put, ArenaNet has made some great strides in this area too. Gameplay gets a HUGE commendation from me.
Since this is supposed to be a personal experiences article, and not a full-on review, I’ll cut it short here. The long and short of it is, Guild Wars 2 is fantastic, and I can only see it getting better. With ArenaNet’s great track record for the first Guild Wars, and the fact that they seem to be keeping and building on the original in every way possible, I recommend it as strongly as I can. Oh, and since I didn’t mention it earlier in, it STILL won’t have a subscription fee. So, there’s really no reason to put off getting it compared to any other big name MMO on the market now.
— Brandon (Taso)