Guild Wars 2 preview

NCsoft prepares to assault WoW’s throne

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At one point in our demo of Guild Wars 2 we shot a ridiculously large screen-filling dragon with a mega-laser. That’s not an exaggeration either. That happens in Guild Wars 2. What’s more, this wasn’t even a raid boss, but rather a completely random encounter that warped into the main world like the titular rifts in Trion World’s Rift.

The random encounter pitted dozens of players against the enormous wyrm, but the battle wasn’t as simple as a regular fight (i.e. hack it until it dies). The dragon was the size of a small MMO town and the battle took place over a huge portion of the zone. Not only were people fighting the dragon, but there was another set of people defending turrets and the aforementioned mega-laser against the zombies that the dragon was spawning (did we forget to mention the zombies?)

After you’ve seen something like that happen in a gameplay demo, you tend to lose focus a little bit and forget all of the other things you’re being told. “Oh, so your character customization is ridiculously deep, huh? OK...so when’s the dragon coming back?”

We did manage to keep our wits about us long enough to glean a few interesting details about the experience though. We got to see the character customization process in full effect on humans, Charr (like a giant cheetah-bulls), and the Sylvari, all of which have an enormous amount of options for crafting a unique character.

Guild Wars 2 doesn’t stop at looks when it comes to building a character though. They told us that they want to really give the player a chance to define more of who the character actually is. To that end, they’re adopting a system not terribly unlike Mass Effect. When you create your character you’ll also be quizzed about their background. What have they done with their life? Who do they hold allegiance to? Are they gentle or wrathful? Who are their friends?

All of these questions will shape the opening of the game. Not just the quests, but the opening cinematic will actually branch into different paths depending on your choices. MMOs have always struggled with lack of player investment in their character. For the most part they’re just little toys you play with in front of you, hence the nickname “toon.” So we’re excited to see Guild Wars trying to make some strides in that area.

Another way Guild Wars 2 is trying to get you to feel more like a character in the world is in the talking segments. Normal MMOs would just roll out a big swath of text for a quest and wait there while you read it. In Guild Wars 2 it looks more like an old RPG. It cuts to a separate scene where you and the character you’re speaking to take up most of the screen as you speak to each other in fully voiced dialogue (everything in Guild Wars 2 is fully voiced.)

As far as classes are concerned, Guild Wars 2 is taking a very fluid approach. It’s not quite the no-classes system of The Secret World, but it’s less restrictive than World of Warcraft. There are no dedicated healers in GW2. Instead, everybody has some limited healing capabilities. There is also the ability to switch weapons instantly. So you can warp from a wand to a giant mace in moments.

All of that is just single-player content though. NCsoft is also putting a ton of focus on PvP as they’re aiming to be a major force in e-sports. To that end, in PvP they’re letting to automatically play as a fully-leveled character regardless of what level you are.

The game mode we saw was similar to Arathi Basin in World of Warcraft in which two teams vie to control 5-6 points on a map. Guild Wars 2 introduces so awesome new mechanics though. Chief among them: giant trebuchets. They’re not just for attacking though. You can also use them to collapse building and create new paths through the level for your team. There’s some other instances of destruction as well. You can knock out windows with attacks so you can leap directly into buildings.

Guild Wars 2 is without a doubt one of the most exciting MMOs in development today. With WoW’s subscription numbers starting to slip, it’s beginning to look like there will be a power vacuum in the MMO market in about two years. When that time comes it’s going to be an insane battle between the likes of Guild Wars 2, The Secret World, Firefall, and whatever Blizzard’s secret MMO is. There’s a really interesting age approaching in the MMO genre, and games like Guild Wars 2 are going to be leading the charge.

Sep 2, 2011

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