In my last blog post, I expressed how eager I was looking forward to the first Guild Wars 2 beta test. As I wasn't lucky enough to be picked, I had to get in by pre-ordering like so many others. I've been looking forward to Guild Wars 2 for awhile, as I greatly enjoyed the first one. So, with the weekend event now over, I'm left to think about what I had experienced.
What I experienced was, in a word, great. Yet, at the same time, hard to talk about. In a lot of ways, it breaks preconceived notions and ideas involving the genre. To explain the game and why things work, you have to step back and explain everything about the game from the very beginning. The most evident thing I noticed was that Guild Wars 2 doesn't punish you for playing with other people, I never found myself running out of things to do, nor was I ever in competition to finish objectives. This is in contrast to most other MMOs, which make other players a liability or something to avoid. I regularly found myself getting angry at other players for daring to attack my target, yet had to pause and remind myself: That doesn't matter. They're not stealing my kill. I'll still get credit and reward, and so will this other person. They're not competing with me, they're helping me. This fundamental concept of relaxed teamwork is something that has been sorely missing from the genre, removed way back when EverQuest became popular. The PvE events (the primary replacement for standard quests) took simple and familiar concepts like going out and killing monsters, escorting caravans, and interacting with objects, but then made these concepts fun again by simply allowing other players to jump in and engage with you at any moment. The effect is a PvE experience that's more relaxed, doing away with the stuffy notions we've dealt with for years, as MMO developers seem terrified of letting us have fun, much less having fun with other players outside of a structured group. This leads to a more chaotic and fluid experience, and I loved it.
The PvP, however, was my main draw. I enjoy competitive games, and Guild Wars managed to be the only one of the overall genre that pulled it off with any semblance of success by allowing players to hop in from day one and compete. I'm happy to say that this tradition has carried over successfully. In my times of playing organized small teams, we were all powered up until we were even with each other. With equal level and equal gear, teams could play evenly, and being able to do this within the first few moments of my character existing was stupendous. At a moment's notice, I could drop the PvE event I was doing and go become a max level killing machine, fighting other max level killing machines, with no grind required to enter this point. After all, why should there be a grind involved in competitive games? StarCraft 2, for example, has a healthy competitive scene, and I don't have to play for hours to unlock actually worthwhile units. Guild Wars 2 follows a similar philosophy with its player competition. What matters is personal skill and teamwork; not who has the best gear.
In the touted WvW (reminiscent of Dark Age of Camelot's RvR), however, things were a bit different. Not all the skills were unlocked (although they could be unlocked by killing other players and NPCs), and it struck me as a bit more of a zergfest than a competition of who's the best. To ArenaNet's credit, they consider WvW a more casual form of PvP than the organized teamplay. I'd liken this to WoW's battlegrounds, versus its arena. Regardless of the fact that I felt as if my character may be a bit lacking because she hasn't unlocked every option yet (unlike the organized play, where everything is unlocked), every player was once again bumped up to max level to ensure fairness, and the mode was an easy way to relax and feel like I'm contributing to a larger war effort. What surprised me in WvW, however, was how important siege engines were, and the possibility of recruiting neutral armies to my side. At one point, a fort for my side was being defended by a bunch of frog people my side helped out as part of an event within the large PvP zone. The mode comes across as a successor to DAoC's RvR, and created by people who passionately loved that game's mechanic. It wasn't what I was primarily interested in, but I found it to be a fun way to spend time all the same.
The only real complaints I can leave with the game are obvious ones: The game's performance was lacking, by ArenaNet's own admission. Currently the game is very heavily CPU-bound, which leads to poor frame rate, especially in populous events or WvW battles. There was also the issue of server lag and stability, but to its credit, the game was mostly playable during its first public beta event. I've seen release launches of MMOs that were in far worse condition than this game. And finally, my only other annoyance was that some of the events wore out their welcome, or were obtuse with what the objectives were. However, the game provides you with plenty of alternatives for leveling and progressing, including WvW. This worked so that on the rare occasion I didn't enjoy an event, I could easily run off and find something else to do.
It's very rare that an MMO encapsulates me, considering how bitter and mean I can be towards such a bloated and inbred genre. However, I think this may be the new one for me. It hasn't been since WoW's initial 2004 release that I found myself really enjoying an MMORPG, and wanting to see more of what it offers. The next beta event can not come soon enough.