If there's one thing to be said for Guild Wars 2, it's among the prettiest of MMOs of recent years. It is bright, colourful, and full of bold artistic style, and lots of new takes on wellworn ideas. And, thankfully, there's more to the game than just good looks.
Full access to the game has now opened, after a successful pre-release phase, and we've taken three characters for a quick spin through the game's many starting areas.
For each race, there's a different prelude and area, and, impressively, a lot of the choices you make during the game's detailed and expressive character generation have immediate impact. GW2 takes a leaf out of the Mass Effect book, and gives each character some interesting background choices; humans, for instance, grow up either on the streets, as a commoner, or among the nobility. This effects early plot-lines and quests and NPC interactions, and other choices impact your voice and even some details of your appearance.
Speaking of appearance, there's a tonne of options here for folks who love handcrafting every aspect of their character's look, even down to the colour of their starting clothing.
The first part of the game is a simple noobie area, instanced off from the rest of the world, and each ends with you effectively getting knocked out, waking up somewhere else to start your proper questing. These starter areas give you an opportunity to master early skills, which are carefully metered out; this is a good thing, as even a lowbie like my level three Warrior pretty much starts with three attack options, a healing buff, and special attack with a long cool-down.
The starter portions are brief, but there's a lot to learn. There's a lot of pop-ups and tool-tips available, but given these starters are very combat heavy, it's easy to rush through. Thankfully, the game has a solid UI.
Once in the game proper, there's scads of choice, between exploring each questing area, and following your character's main plot.
The combat us fast and flashy, and - if you're a spell-caster - quite colourful. Even early spells are remarkably epic, too, with crashing giant dragon's teeth, fiery phoenixes and all manner of leapy, bloody weapon attacks. Basic attacks, such as a basic Warrior swing, can be chained to increase effectiveness, and also set to auto-attack, letting you focus on timing other abilities. It borrows from Age of Conan, a bit, with attacks hitting who or whatever is in their path.
While some kills need Skill Points to advance, which can be gathered by communing with sites around the world, weapon skills are end through use, and by each weapon. So you'll have some skills for a single-handed sword, different ones with a greatsword, and so on. My Warrior, for instance, is only an hour or so into the game but I've got him a Greatsword, and it plays very differently to other weapons.
We'll have a full review, and a discussion between John and I on what we're liking about the game, next week, but for now we're feeling like Guild Wars could be a breath of fresh air for gamers looking for a deep, rich MMO that isn't made by Blizzard. In the meantime, we'll get a gallery of the character creation process up tomorrow.