Guild Wars 2 Beta Impressions

Play experience: level 14 Warrior

If the level of hype surrounding Guild Wars 2 hadn’t already been apparent to me, then playing in this weekend’s beta — which was open to customers who pre-purchased the game — would have made the message clear based solely on the degree of stress the login servers experienced.

To say people are excited about GW2 would be an understatement, and based on my impressions of the beta, the hype is justified.

Character Creation

Three of Guild Wars 2′s five races were playable in the beta: the hulking norn, a Viking-like race of giant humans; the charr, a race of anthropomorphized felines with a minotaur-like appearance; and your run of the mill humans. Race selection boils down to a cosmetic decision coupled with your first story-influencing choice — more on that later.

The beta provided access to all eight of the game’s classes — or “professions,” as GW2 calls them — which range from the familiar warrior, ranger, and thief, to the original mesmer, elementalist, and engineer.

I’m not a fan of having your class choices restricted by your race, or optimal builds requiring certain race/class combinations, and GW2′s freedom of choice delivered a good first impression. An impressive array of visual customization options are made available, as well as an accessible armor dye system that I love. Gone are the garish, mismatched colors common to so many MMOs — unless you choose to dye your armor that way, of course. I won’t judge.

Given the first thing I do when I get a hold of a new MMO is make some incarnation of Conan the Barbarian, I created a norn warrior, expecting to be able to wade into the thick of melee combat and slay groups of enemies.

As I loaded into the game, that illusion would soon shattered.

Combat

Combat in Guild Wars 2 is visceral, deadly, and much more fast-paced than standard MMOs. Even as a warrior, I could survive only a few hits before going down, and found myself having to rely on a bow to kite enemies from afar. I was initially off-put by the fragility of what I expected to be a melee tank, and frustration was quick to follow as my mighty warrior in heavy armor turned out to be made of glass.

After trying multiple weapons, the greatsword was the first which allowed me to deal enough damage to take on a couple opponents in melee at once. Every weapon type comes with its own combat skills, which are slowly unlocked as you use the weapon, giving you the opportunity to become acquainted with one skill at a time.

If you fall in battle — and you will — you are still able to perform some limited attacks as you bleed to death. Should you take down an opponent while you’re in this state, you’ll be back on your feet. While this makes combat a little more forgiving, I’d still be happy with beefier melee “tanks.”

Personal Story

Similar to SWTOR, GW2 has something of a singleplayer storyline that conveys a narrative centered on your character. While this story is a clear step above your standard MMO fare, it’s not quite up to par with SWTOR’s — although humorous “work in progress” signs posted during cut-scenes suggest nothing is set in stone.

There seems to be the implication that the choices you make will significantly affect the story, including a number of options you select at character creation, but I question how significant and how obvious the ramifications will be. Video games have taught us that most options we’re presented with are nothing more than the illusion of choice, and GW2 will have to work hard to prove that its choices actually matter.

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