I’ve been looking forward to Guild Wars 2 for a couple of years now, ever since I read the earliest press releases from the developers. I was a big fan of the original game and the folks at ArenaNet were talking about a lot of exciting new stuff for the next iteration. As you can see here, I was so psyched by the release of the latest version I did something I have never done before, I bought the Collector’s Edition (pictures courtesy of my lovely wife, Radka).
The Collectors edition comes with a very fine statuette of the Char hero Rytlock, a collection of prints of some of the concept art and a frame for one of them, a CD of the games music, a book about the making of the game, the disks for the game, and the activation code needed to create your account.
All of this is contained in a very nice tin with a map of Tyria embossed on the lid.
You also get some exclusive in-game items such as a golem banker and some tomes. I don’t know what some of these do because I have not tried them yet. All of the physical stuff is of very high quality indeed.
I got the package on the 28th and when I finished work, I began the long process of installing the game. In this case, it consisted of sticking the game disks in the drive and waiting for it to install. Once that was done, some time around 8 pm, it began to download updates and content. This took something like 3 hours. I spent the time watching the Wire and flicking through the Making of Guild Wars 2 book, which contains some truly stunning concept art. There was one nasty surprise. I tried the email activation and was told the link was out of date and the game could not be activated. Checking on-line I discovered this was a known issue and all you needed to do was hit Play once the game was fully installed. It would run just fine. Phew!
Around 11 pm-ish, the game was finally read to roll and filled with excitement I began the character creation process. I had already decided I was going to play a Char warrior. I like the Char. They have that whole steampunk thing going for them. For the Warhammer fans among you not familiar with Guild Wars lore, think of a cross between a beastman and a Skaven. They are predatory cat-folk with lots of alpha male/female conflict going on, a military society organised into legions. They were the villains of the original Guild Wars game but now they are a PC race.
I chose to play warrior because it was supposedly the simplest of the classes to master and because I have never really played one all that much in other RPGs. They are the only class I have not levelled to at least 80 in World of Warcraft for instance.
The character creation process was streamlined and interesting and only took a few minutes including such things as customising the size and type of my characters horns. (Hey such things are important!) Character creation complete, I was ready to dive into the game.
Imagine my horror then when I get an error message telling me there was a problem connecting with the log-in server most likely caused by security software or firewall conflicts. Multiple attempts later and all my security and firewall setting checked, I still can’t get in. I do a quick internet search and discover I am not the only one having this problem. Around midnight, I call it a day, still not having played the game. To say I was disappointed is an understatement. Still such things are to be expected at launch.
Wednesday evening, I have no problem at all getting into the game but find I have another problem, although this one not of ArenaNet’s making. Frame rates are about 19 or less per second which gives everything a very jerky, unsettling appearance. My three year old Asus PC runs World of Warcraft just fine, never drops below 30 frames per second even in crowded capital cities like Stormwind. It appears that GW2 is not quite as well optimised for older machines as WoW.
I fight my way through the opening missions in a peculiar strobing jerky sort of way. The missions themselves are just great. I am on a war-front being yelled at by senior officers, thrown into a battle with angry human ghosts, and eventually facing a boss battle with an undead king and a sort of animated statue.
Here I first encounter what is one of the great differences between GW2 and most other MMOs I have played. I am surrounded by other players and we are all sort of fighting together, not exactly cooperating but its pretty clear we are all on the same side and in this together. There’s no kill or loot stealing because all the rewards are individually assigned. And there are a lot of other people around. It is kind of crazy and kind of cool, and all too quickly I am out the other side and into the Plains of Ashford.
At this point it finally occurs to me that I can resolve the frame rate issue by dropping my screen resolution way down so I do. Things speed up to a respectable 30 FPS at the cost of the graphics becoming coarse and slightly distorted. You know all those beautiful screenshots you see of Tyria? Well, that’s not how they look on my machine. For me, the graphics are not even as good as the original Guild Wars but, to tell the truth, that does matter because the gameplay is so good.
Why is this? Damned if I can put my finger on any one thing. Its a combination of factors. The first is ease of play. I never read the manual. I just wandered into the game with no real idea of what was going on just vague memories of the original Guild Wars, and it was a blast from the get-go. I started, as everyone does with only one weapon skill on my hotbar but these swiftly filled up as I progressed, adding new forms of attack with my trust sword. When I equipped my mighty hammer, looted from a downed foe, I got a whole new set of skills to develop.
Right there was one thing I liked. Different weapons give you different abilities and they feel different. The sword was one handed and fast. The hammer was two handed but slow. It took some time to swing and was thus easier to interupt but when it did the results were powerful and devastating. I was knocking folk over, throwing mobs back, inflicting heavy debuffs. When I finally got a shield equipped with my sword, I could block with it and interupt with it. Weapons feel different and they feel right, at least in the context of a high energy fantasy world. There is attention to detail here.
There is attention to detail in the world too. The Char opening missions convey beautifully the sense of their highly militarised and somewhat internally divided society. Char steamtech litters the landscape of Ashford and the Black Citadel, the capital city of the Char, does indeed resemble a steampunk version of the Death Star as more than one reviewer has pointed out.
Then there are the crowds. In a game like WoW, you don’t in general want to see crowds. It means competition for mobs and resources and the drawing out to great length of all those kill ten rats missions. In GW2 there are constant ongoing group missions, for you to take part in. They scale according to the number of people in the area and they are frantic, chaotic and fun. I’ve seen this before, most notably in Rifts, but it marks a major change in the way the GW series works.
The original GW was heavily instanced, meaning that when you and your party left the social areas for the adventure zones you went into your own individual version of the adventure. There was no one else around to help or hinder you, the world was empty of players and heavy with NPCs. It made for a realistic solo narrative but was pretty lonely once you were out adventuring. GW2 is the opposite. Most of the time, the world positively teems with other people, going about their business.
Instancing is not entirely gone, nor are the teams of helpful NPCs you could recruit in the original game. They make a return in story mode, which is, as the name suggests the personal narrative of your character. I am guessing story mode is somewhat influenced by those initial decisions you made in character creation. Certainly the person I mentioned as my best buddy during character creation showed up as the only surviving member of my wiped out unit once the storyline got under way. The story itself soon found me in conflict with my bullying but cowardly superior officer as he attempted to shift the blame for his own incompetence onto my guiltless shoulders. The voice acting was good and the story itself engrossing as it intermingled with my own adventures in greater Tyria. I don’t want to say more for fear of giving away spoilers. Sufficeth to say that I am recruiting my own warband in classic Dirty Dozen style.
Anyway, my first nine levels in Tyria have so far consisted of a lot of frantic group quests, high octane battles and a crash course in Char warrior culture. The world is beautifully detailed and has a real sense of place.
Don’t believe the hype about GW2 being the end of collect ten rats style questing. It has some nice new wrinkles and not so many NPC standing around with big icons over their heads but you still find yourself sent out to kill things or to fetch and carry for NPCs who seem incapable of walking the length of a city street for themselves. Supposedly one of the big differences is that actions have consequences. If you allow quest givers to be killed in a certain area or quests hubs to be over-run, the quests cease to be available until the interlopers are driven off. So far I have seen no evidence of this, possibly because any invading force foolish enough to try and eliminate the local quest givers is met with lethal force by a small army of player characters. Presumably, as the legion of newly arrived PCs spreads out throughout the world and the PC per square foot density thins out, this will change.
One thing I really like is that the world goes on around you. When you complete a group quest that forces a large enemy force to retreat, you don’t just fight on until the enemy are dead. They don’t simply disappear either. They run away! You can chase them. It’s a nice touch and the game is full of them.
There’s a lot more I could go on about, and I probably will, but right now I am approaching 2000 words on this post and I need to stop somewhere.
Conclusions? I am excited by GW2 in a way that I have not been by an MMO in a long time. I like the world and I like the game system a lot. There is no sense of having to grind through things. From the get go its been interesting and a ton of fun. There’s no monthly subscription either. You just buy the game and your good to go.
Would I recommend GW2? Hell, yeah.