SteadiestShark Gaming

Reviewing videogames and posting gaming articles since 2012.

Archive for May 2012

Guild Wars 2 Beta Review/First Impressions

with 2 comments

Platform: PC (Medium-high grade) – played on maximum settings.
Genre: MMORPG
Time Spent: Around 15 hours or so.
Completion: My character reached level 12 and explored a lot.
Review Spoilers: None.

GW2 Logo

Game background:

Guild Wars 2 is an upcoming sequel to the previously well-received MMO – Guild Wars. The original Guild Wars (released in 2005) set a precedent for this genre in that it chose not to force gamers into paying a monthly fee, all whilst frequently updating the game and evolving the experience over time. Guild Wars also had several expansions released until 2007’s Eye of the North pack. Guild Wars was also specifically revered for its Player vs Player (PvP) gameplay.

Seven years later and here we have the open beta test for Guild Wars 2, which anybody who has pre-ordered the final game is able to experience.

Story:

From what I understand, Guild Wars 2’s story continues on from the previous Guild Wars – however this time you now have a pseudo-unique story depending on how you customise your character upon creation, compared to other characters of the same race. On top of this aspect, there are also vastly different stories and starting locations depending on which race you pick regardless of customisation. For example, my Human female Guardian that was raised in nobility and doesn’t know her real parents will have a very different story arc to the average “Charr” or “Norn” characters – and a slightly different story arc when compared to fellow Human characters.

From what little I experienced of the story, I was instantly seeing my character’s customised past come into play – which certainly kept me intrigued. Due to this, I’m really looking forward to continuing the adventure when Guild Wars 2 is finally released.

Character classes and races can be read about on the official Guild Wars 2 website, found here: http://www.guildwars2.com/en/

Gameplay:

The first change in Guild Wars 2 that you’ll notice is how movement and combat works. No longer do you click on or target an enemy and become unable to freely move whilst you attack them. You are now completely in control of your character as you can now dive to dodge attacks, jump, and above all – you can now move whilst you’re attacking, unless you need to “channel” the special skill anyway. Naturally, I’m all for this extra focus on control as it gives the player more options and yet another dimension to become skilled at.

GW2 Combat

It is also rather interesting to find that character death/dying system is completely different to the original. Now, instead of dying and then being forced to either wait for a revival in the form of a friendly spell or by an area checkpoint (both of which brought huge death penalties that can make continuing onwards extremely difficult), you are instead forced into a “last stand” mode – where you are able to slightly defend yourself and call for assistance from nearby players. Whilst it is possible to “fully” die when in this mode, you are still able to be revived in either state – it’s just a lot faster if you’re still in your “last stand” mode. To my surprise, you can be revived faster if multiple people attempt to do so at the same time. Instead of having large death penalties like in the original Guild Wars, Guild Wars 2 hands out minor death penalties – alongside armour damage. Die enough times and damaged armour can eventually become unable to be equipped and must be repaired in a town/city. Personally, I like this change as it suits the scope of this game – however I didn’t have too many issues with the original game’s system either.

GW2 Revive

Another change from the original Guild Wars is that towns and cities are no longer the only places where you’re able to be around hundreds of other players. Mass-populated areas now make up the gross majority of the game and above all – combat manoeuvres are also enabled at all times, allowing hordes of players to co-operate in taking down swarms of enemies… Or to needlessly create visual-based chaos in big city areas. Speaking of which, the cities are absolutely HUGE in this game and are buzzing with both real and non-player-characters (NPCs) alike. Furthermore, they are an overall joy to explore – which is made a lot less tedious by the very frequent placement of “teleportation points”. These teleportation points are found throughout the entire game and make both mass-traversal and dying very minor annoyances. I absolutely love this new enormous scale that successfully immerses me in a believable and active fantasy world. Also, being able to show off your character’s traits and abilities to more people is also pretty fun.

GW2 Squad

Whilst you may have your own missions and standard quests to accomplish, the world around you will also create random events that demand the attention of all nearby players in order to be completed. Anybody that takes part in these events will be awarded a handsome sum of exp points and coins upon completion – which is determined by how quickly/efficiently the active world quest is resolved (rated as Gold, Silver and Bronze). These quests are generally rather quick and easy to complete with a large group of combatants and are usually centred around killing specified enemies, gathering items whilst under attack, or defending a specified NPC.

GW2 Quest

A further change is how weapons and skills seem to work. In Guild Wars, you used to unlock skills as rewards for quests or by buying them in shops throughout the game – and you were also limited to being able to use eight skills at a time. In Guild Wars 2 however, you have a maximum of ten skills and how you unlock them is completely different. The first five skill slots are unique to whatever weapon(s) you are holding and are unlocked one at a time by using the same weapon(s) repeatedly in combat. The other five skill slots are unlocked via skill points – which are rewarded for completing certain quests or by levelling up. I should probably mention here that the first weapon-based skill is ALWAYS just a simple basic attack, that can be used with very high frequency – depending on the weapon. It is also worth noting that you are once again able to switch weapon combinations on the fly, however you can only have two combinations prepared for this feature instead of the four in the original Guild Wars. Aside from these skills, there are also several class-exclusive skills that seem to be unlocked whilst levelling up. From what I could tell these class-exclusive skills all have both a passive/constant positive effect, which can also be activated to receive much greater effects for a temporary time period. Juggling all of these 10+ skills effectively will separate the good players from the great players! Whilst I do like the this new unlock system, it feels like the game is forcing you into a rather limited set of skills with little room for customisation – whereas the original game allowed you to load your bar with any combination of hundreds of skills.

GW2 Skills

Underwater gameplay/combat is another added feature this time around and is one that I don’t believe I’ve seen in an MMORPG before. Whilst I barely experienced this aspect, I thought it worked rather seamlessly and added a somewhat new dimension to the game.  It should be noted that characters have underwater-only weapons that carry the same skill-unlock system as the others. Oh, and yeah – you have complete directional control of your character when underwater as well.

GW2 Underwater

Since the original Guild Wars faced some controversy for having a very low “level cap” at a mere 20, it seems that Guild Wars 2 is changing things up by increasing the cap to a 80. I’m of two minds about this change. Part of me likes the extra rewards to committed players, whilst the other part of me is worried about how the game’s balance will be affected. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

Parties and Guilds make a return, except this time you’re now able to party up with people at anytime and anywhere you want, instead of only being allowed within towns/cities. I have no idea what the party-member limit is, but given how huge the game’s scope is, it’s probably a very high cap.

GW2 Party

Thanks to the latest stress-test on the 14th May, I was finally able to try my hand at Player vs Player gameplay. The PvP world (or mode) that I entered seemed to consist of an ongoing, large-scale battle for map dominance – where three teams/factions aimed to seize control of several fortifications. The map was absolutely huge and would have quite easily taken me at least 30 minutes to merely traverse. Surprisingly, this huge size is with good reason, as I soon found myself as part of a random 30+ man squad that was marching behind our (apparently) designated squad leader – whom was approaching a massive conflict outside of a heavily defended enemy castle. This assault was absolutely brutal and even showed off the ability to purchase giant gate-rams, catapults, boiling oil caudrons, AI mercenaries and many other war assets. Considering the original Guild Wars had 12-16 man teams that used relatively tiny arenas for a lot of its PvP, I felt completely overwhelmed by the sheer scale of this conflict and I highly anticipate returning here in the full game. I should also add that any characters entering a PvP zone is immediately boosted up to the level 80 cap, however you can still earn experience towards your natural level – whilst still being able to collect loot! Naturally, boosted level 80 characters are going to be lacking when compared to legitimate level 80 characters.

GW2 PvP

The final gameplay aspect that I can think of writing about is the addition of various non-combat activities that your character can partake in, such as cooking, armour-making, weapon-making, mining and various other similar things. Each activity has its own level system and presumably it will be greatly beneficial to sink time into each of them when the final game is released. I like this addition as I’ve always loved the economic-side to these types of games, however I can see that many players may not care for these activities.

Overall, I believe that this game quite simply does not play anything like the original. Now, given how successful Guild Wars 1 was, you may think that’s a bad thing – however I believe that Guild Wars 2 has a brilliant amount of potential that far surpasses that of the previous title, which is sure to be realised once some minor issues and bugs are ironed out.

Difficulty:

With regards to difficulty, I believe that the game seems to spike all over the place. The majority of the areas are so overwhelmed with players that it’s generally rather hard to die, yet there are times where certain enemies seem to kill you within one or two hits. Considering that I was using an armour-fighter type class, I was rather confused how and when this happened to me.  At the very least, I believe effectively controlling your own character isn’t very difficult at all – however these kinds of games are never as simple as that.

Graphics:

Generally, Guild Wars 2 is a rather attractive game – however it is far from the nicest looking game out there. The reason for this is due to the fact that there are blatantly some visual areas that hardly any work went into. For example, one minute you’ll be admiring the beautiful scenery as well as its reflections in a lake and the next minute you’ll be staring at a poorly-textured, almost 2D bush or patch of long grass. Together, it just doesn’t work to create anything truly noteworthy in the visual department. Another slight issue I have is that the draw-distance (how far you can see in detail) in some areas seems to be somewhat lacking.

Aside from this, I believe that the game deserves some points for incorporating a day and night system as well as a weather system – things that I believe World of Warcraft and other MMOs have enjoyed for a while now.

GW2 Graphics

Audio:

Whilst the orchestral background music is rather decent in its own right, what impressed me the most is actually the ambient noises in various areas. For example, the chirping of the crickets at night when standing in a remote part of a PvP map.

Most of the sound effects and voices are satisfying and decent too, which is definitely a good thing as there’s nothing worse than wielding a giant two-handed sword and having it sound like a foam bat on contact…or having a character that sounds wooden because they’re relying entirely on a script.

Content:

Guild Wars 2 looks like it will have a HUGE amount of content, far more than its predecessor ever had. However, since I don’t know the extent of what will be present in the final game, I’m unable to compare it to other games of the same genre.

GW2 Content

Any problems?:

Given that Guild Wars 2 is currently in a beta-state, I have to give the game the benefit of the doubt and presume that most/all of the below will be rectified with the final release.

The main issue that I noticed was that the frame-rate was generally rather poor, which is barely improved by having a super-powerful computer. This is down to poor optimisation that is primarily using the CPU rather than Graphics Cards right now.

Aside from that, there were some other problems such as random disconnects/crashes, server-side lag that sometimes delayed actions by a few seconds, the main servers frequently being over-populated and forcing you into “overflow servers” that have far less players, my previously-mentioned gripes about difficulty spikes and various cut-scene issues such as poor subtitle timings.

On a positive note though, it seems that the vast majority of the game works rather well and problem-free.

GW2 Problems

Anything else worth mentioning?:

Why, yes there is – thanks for asking!

Guild Wars 2 now features an in-game store that uses gems. Gems are bought either with real money, or in-game money – so players need-not feel trapped.

Speaking of the gem store, characters this time around are LOCKED to whatever server you create them on. However, you ARE able have them moved to another server by spending a certain amount of gems in the in-game store.

Personally, I dislike server-locked characters in games, however once a game is as large as this in scope – I’d imagine that there is pretty much no way to avoid its inclusion.

GW2 Character

Overall things I liked:

– Absolutely huge scale.

– So much to do compared to Guild Wars 1.

– Overall attractive graphics.

– Teaming up with hordes of random players to achieve common goals.

– Pleasant and immersing audio.

– Interesting combat mechanics.

– The new revival system.

GW2 Likes

Overall things I disliked:

– The draw-distance (how far you can see in detail) in some areas is lacking.

– The issues mentioned in the section earlier.

– The final game is not out yet.

GW2 Dislikes

Conclusion:

As you can probably tell, I’m really looking forward to this game. I’ve greatly enjoyed most of the time that I have spent over the course of this beta test and can only hope that all of my concerns are repaired or changed before release.

GW2 Moonlight

Image Sources:

Guild Wars 2 logo: http://elder-geek.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/guild-wars-2.jpg

All other images were my own screenshots.

All written content is
© Copyright SteadiestShark
and SteadiestShark Gaming, 2012
All images and trademarks are property of their respective developers.

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