Guild Wars 2 Beta Review

So the first Guild Wars 2 beta weekend has ended and it is time for me to share my thoughts. Well, there is a lot of them.

First and most important - does Guild Wars 2 live up to the hype? To cut the long story short, yes it does and manages to exceed all expectations by far. This is not a WoW killer and let's get this out of the way now. WoW is not in the same league with Guild Wars 2, it is not the same sport. WoW is an old game based on obsolete concepts and pale, dead world. I don't mean to diss. These are facts. And some are hard to understand before you have played Guild Wars 2. Things Guild Wars 2 does, will be copied and used in MMOs in decades to come, we will see competitors adopt them and, hopefully, evolve them. Regardless of sales results, Guild Wars 2 is one of the most important moments in the MMO genre history.

Needless to say, the game does not try to be the WoW killer either. Rather it keeps to what it does best - being the one odd MMO that never asked you to pay monthly fees, yet has managed to be epic, great looking and most importantly, fun to the bone.

I spent more then 14 hours with the game and will definitely spend countlessly more in the months to come. Mind, my PC is pretty low spec (first dual core series Intel Pentium D), but the game ran quite good on medium settings. Thus, the screenshots DO NOT REFLECT the true quality of visuals. For the more curious, I also tried playing on Intel HD 3000 equipped Lenovo t420s where the game ran fluently on low settings. Thus, unless you strive to play on the highest visual settings, it is not likely that you would have to upgrade your rig in order to explore the world of Guild Wars 2.

Character selection

3 races were available in the first beta weekend. These were Charr, Norn and Human. Charr, the nemesis from the first game were by far the most attractive choice. So I chose to roll a Charr warrior first.

When selection your character, you will be asked to make a number of traditional choices such as race, gender, class, looks, but also some less familiar ones, such as faction allegiance, background information and overall life attitude. These serves as a basis on which your main story plot - your personal story unfolds.

My Charr is a warrior who hardly knew his father (who neglected him severely) and chose to serve with the Iron Legion. Charr society is divided into 3 major factions, each of them so backed up with lore that the game could have been about Charr alone and no would be able to object. The Blood Legion is the soldiers faction, its members aggresive, strong, unrelenting and down to the point. The Ash Legion is a delicate faction of diplomats, spies, assassins, messengers, individuals or small teams tend to operate where Blood Legion would have sent armies. And then there is the Iron Legion. Engineers, tinkerers, nomads, scumbags. Iron Legion is a decidedly steampunk faction that produces most things char use - weapons, machinery, tools. Of course, there is also the treacherous Flame Legion, albeit it is not playable and hostile to your player factions.

The choice of legion in no way limits the choice of profession so you can make some pretty intriguing combination. You can have Iron Warrior (as I have), Blood Legion thief or even Ash Legion engineer. On the contrary, the less fitting choice you will make, the richer your gameplay experience will be.

Later on I created another character - a Norn Guardian. I paid much less attention to his personal story this time around, since I created him just for kicks. The character creation really gives you all but unlimited options in shaping your toons. So I made a bear of a man as you can see below.

Gameplay - Combat Mechanics

Combat has been completely remade and is now more akin to traditional FPS controls, rather than point and click. Fear not, all still feels very close to how it has always felt, only much much more polished.

Guild Wars 2 reserves the first five skill slots to whatever weapons you have in your possession. Correct, whatever skills you have at your disposal for the first, say, ten levels is fully governed by the weapons you equip. In the beginning, you will only be able to use 1 skill for each weapon, additional skills get unlocked with use. Not only is this a damn clever concept that has you jumping with joy whenever you come across a new weapon, it is also utterly enjoyable. At around level 8 your character will unlock the ability to switch weapons during combat, which in other words means you are able to switch skills on the fly, which is, simply put, absolutely stunning and endorses experiments on your side. On top of that, from the five weapon skills, first three are governed by your primary weapon and the latter two by your off-hand weapon. For a long time I took it for granted that the off-hand weapon can only be a shield or a warhorn (gives you and surrounding allies bonuses when blown), but at the very end of the beta I found out that you can actually dual wield, which unlocks two special dual skills for each weapon. (I am aware that this part may sound very complex. The execution is quite easy to grasp, though.)

With respect to the above mentioned, the combat system in Guild Wars 2 is very deep and there are many possible combinations you can employ, each equally good a solution in given circumstances. Oh and don't even get me started on how warrior can equip and use ranged weaponry should you choose to...

The combat in Guild Wars 2 is very satisfying and epic from the first moment on. When playing a Norn I switched from the default mace weapon to a staff I found, which completely changed my available skills from a paladin-like supporter/healer to badass smiter. At level 2 I was seriousy kicking ass by snaring and frying tens of enemies at the same time. AT LEVEL 2!!! No other MMO currently available feels this epic. In WoW, I was at a very high level and still felt quite sucky...

If you would forget the game comes from the very same people who made Diablo 2 such a great ride, you will be quickly reminded of the fact by seing some Barbarian signature moves attached to certain weapons. A sword/axe combo will let you perform whirlwind, you will be able to spin greatwords, wreaking havoc and the axe/hammer will let you combat jump your enemies. All perfectly animated and brutally efficient.

Despite what was said, the combat in Guild Wars 2 is definitely not on the easy side. Guild Wars 2 is a skill based game and you have to use your reflexes, cunning and clever tactics to survive. Dodging, a new, Unreal Tournament-like mechanic is crucial for getting out of combat once the going gets tough. There is a certain flow to combat in Guild Wars 2 that you have to learn to respect, especially in raid situations. Rushing a boss with the intention to heroically button mash him is a sure way to die. You have to play it clever. Close in, deal heavy damage, go into shield stance, withdraw, heal, dodge attack, close in...

The combat in Guild Wars 2 is extremely satisfying and well designed.

The World

The world of Guild Wars 2 is a living, breathing place and even though you read this about various games a couple of times, with Guild Wars 2 it's the cold truth. Various events keep popping up on almost every step and it's solely your decision whether you will take part in these world-changing events or not.

During my time with the game I had some pretty cinematic moments. At one point I was fighting a giant fire elemental with a couple of others. With one or two attacks the beast has set our hides on fire and brought our health dangerously low. The fight took place on a cliff above a large lake. Choosing between a fiery death or a cowardly escape, I decided to jump the cliff. Doing so has doused the flames, but has put me face to face with some angered underwater mobs and I had a hard time outswimming those to the safety of the beach. By the way, underwater combat is fantastic.

Old Places Revisited

Among the best moments I have had with the beta are those I spent backtracking to Ashford Abbey and Ascalon - to where the Guild Wars adventure had started so many years ago. It was all there. Changed, charred, half destroyed, but lined with perfectly recognizable sights, familiar places. Little touches, yes, but it is them what makes Guild Wars 2 such a treat to play.