When Guild Wars was released, it was thrust into a world of gamers enamoured with the open-ended, seemingly limitless environments of MMO games. Sadly for some, Guild Wars turned out to be a multiplayer action RPG carved into countless tiny instanced chunks like some kind of gaming Ham (albeit a very pretty one). That’s not to say it wasn’t all kinds of fun – because it was - but it serves to demonstrate how much of a departure Guild Wars 2 appears to be.
In essence, Guild Wars 2 is a sequel in name only. A pretty big call (and based, admittedly, on our hazy recollection of the first game) but we’re willing to stick by it. Sure, the two titles share lore and occupy the same fictional universe, but Guild Wars 2 is entirely new in engine and scope, serving to push the Guild Wars franchise firmly into solid MMORPG territory.
Hyped as a beautiful MMO with dynamically generated content, did the beta bode well for this departure from the original Guild Wars formula? We spent the closed Beta weekend taking ArenaNet’s newest creation out for a spin.
Guild Wars 2 paints a world where humanity is in decline thanks to war and natural disasters, where elder Dragons – asleep during the period of Guild Wars 1 – have awoken some 250 years later to lay waste to the world of Tyria. Of course, for the intrepid adventurer, the story starts with an all too familiar mechanic; the character creation screen. Only two of the four races were available in the beta, Humans or Norn (Norn are steroid infused humanoids, tall, burly and naturally blessed hunters). For our part, we decided on the safe bet of Humans, but are looking forward to trying out Sylvani ( who bear a striking similarity to Elves), Charr (who seem a lot like Catfolk) and Asura (short, subterranean, inventive dwarf types who – oh, you see the pattern too?). So originality in racial choices isn’t a strong point, but why disturb tried and true archetypes?
The same goes for classes. Guild Wars 2 gives you what we feel is a balanced and familiar spread of professions; Mesmer, Engineer, Thief, Guardian, Necromancer, Ranger, Warrior and Elementalist. It’s interesting to see Engineer touted as an entire class rather than just a skill or profession to be learnt along the way. In retrospect we probably should have given the Engineer a bit of air time in the Beta, but we went with the Guardian (aka Paladin) instead. Once you've got race and class nutted out, it's onto visual customisation, and no-one is going to be disappointed here. A full smattering of hairstyles, eye-shapes and brow furrows are on offer. Hell, you can even sport a giant fro if you're so included (one of several humorous touches ArenaNet has injected into the game, presenting respite from the usually ultra-serious RPG style).
What you can't do (and believe us, we tried) is make your guy or gal ugly. Irrespective of the combination, you come out with an underwear model character. It'd be nice to create a burly warrior type with a face like a bucket of smashed Murlocs, Just once.
The last part of creating your character is perhaps the most interesting. From a series of multiple choice questions, you build up a personal back-story. This tale is supposed to affect the way in which events happen for you in-game. If you select that you've grown up around nobility for instance, the over-arcing story might include NPCs of the princely and lordly variety with whom you interact throughout the game.
We look forward with some trepidation as to how Guild Wars 2 will weave the fact we "regret never performing in the Circus" into the main quest line.
(Yes, that really is an option)
After a short cinematic that can only be described as animated watercolour (and is surprisingly effective) you're dropped into the game-world. It's action from the get-go as you realise you've been deposited in a village under siege by marauding Centaurs. It's a bit disorienting to begin with, but we quickly became accustomed to the slick UI that leverages established MMO standards. Spells and actions on a bar along the bottom, key mappings that are almost instinctual, and a couple of clicks will open doors and loot corpses. In-between dodging Centaurs and running from building to burning building following the first quest, we had a chance to stop, breathe and take it all in.