Guild Wars 2 Beta Hands-On
The MMORPG to wait for.
Note: This article is based on a Guild Wars 2 beta test session on March 23rd and may contain possible plot spoilers. Video recorded demonstrate an erratic frame rate due to the heavy player population in the beta and ongoing testing. Further patches were deployed to greatly improve the game’s performance after the videos were recorded, and the developers have posted that this version of the beta has not been optimized graphically.
There’s always so much pressure when you’re under an NDA. For the uninitiated, that’s a Non-Disclosure Agreement, which is usually something you have to sign or agree to before starting on a project that needs to remain top secret. In the gaming world we come across these all the time, and while they are in place to protect the integrity of the game and its details, most of the time you’re just bursting to tell someone something, even just the tiniest detail. That’s exactly how I felt as I played through the beta of Guild Wars 2 this weekend – there’s been so much of buzz around this game already that the Interwebz is full of people scouring for even the smallest bit of information on the game. So I certainly hope that I can do this game justice and answer whatever burning questions you may have.
The original Guild Wars was released way back in 2005, and quickly picked up an almost cult-like following. Playing through the beta of Guild Wars 2 made me remember why I enjoyed playing the original so much; the vast environments, the structured yet reactive storyline, the countless abilities you could wield – it was a game that could easily capture your imagination for hours on end.
I logged in to the client and started creating my first character, one of five character slots allowed in the game. The beta allowed me to choose between the Human, Norn, and Charr races (with the other two races locked) and select one of eight classes that encompass stealth, brute force, cunning, and the arcane. I chose to play as a Charr Necromancer, and after answering a few questions to establish my character’s back story, the introductory cinematic plunged me in to the welcoming world. Here’s a quick video of the character creation process:
The user interface hasn’t changed much from the original game, but even new players will appreciate the clutter-free interface and straightforward controls. You’re given a number of slots at the bottom of the screen which act as hotkeys for your swappable abilities, and depending on you class you also have access to hotkeys bound to your Function keys. So as a Necromancer I could tap F1 to shift into another mode that dealt more damage, whilst playing as a Elementalist I could tap F1 or F2 to cycle between using Fire or Water spells to attack.
Attacking foes is a simple matter of highlighting them and tapping a hotkey – when playing as a spellcaster I discovered that I could freely run around or away from enemies and still cast spells at them, unlike some games where moving around will interrupt the action. The other beauty is that should you unfortunately fall in battle, you have a precious few seconds to use several special skills as a last attempt to overwhelm your enemy and regain consciousness. It’s a thankful tactic that saved my butt several times when I was overpowered by enemies, so I didn’t have to respawn at a checkpoint in the end. Here’s a quick video demonstrating how new skills are unlocked while in combat:
What strikes me the most about Guild Wars 2 is the pace of finishing quests and leveling your character. Though the beta is capped at level 25, I’m just touching level 8, and I’ve been playing this game for two days straight. Rather than rushing through enemies and grinding until you hit the level cap, you’re compelled to actually take an interest in the quests you pick up and speak to the NPCs on your journey. Not only that, but the game offers plenty of ‘dynamic events’ as you progress through sections of the map, and can be anything from retrieving items to defending an encampment. The story progression is very well done, and no matter which race you start with you’ll really enjoy the starter quests and storyline.
Though you can get through the game in PvE mode (Player vs Environment), you can ramp up the challenge considerably by switching to PvP mode. In PvP mode you have to work together to capture strategic points on the map, and the action can get really intense. You can also participate in traditional dungeon runs with other players for some incredible loot and rewards. While I wasn’t able to get to the dungeons during the beta because I hadn’t leveled my character enough, the forum feedback shows some really promising gameplay if you’re a fan of dungeon runs.
Guild Wars 2 also focuses on the microtransactions system of trading gems for items and bonuses, and there’s an official post here on how the system will actually work out. While I can’t go into too much detail about the content available in the Gem Store, I was able to nab two items to test out the transaction process, which was very straightforward.
Since this is just a beta, I found that while most of it was playable, there were still plenty of bugs in the game. And on that note I have to say that the Guild Wars 2 beta has been the most awesome beta experience I’ve ever taken part in, simply because the team was firstly playing in the actual game alongside other players, and secondly was so quick to respond to player queries on the forums and deploying new patches that on the second day of beta testing the experience was so much better. Granted, the frame rates in my videos aren’t fantastic, but I’m really not too worried at the moment as there’s still work to be done to make the game more stable. In areas where there were a lot of players present, I found the game slowing down a bit (akin to standing in Stormwind in World of Warcraft), but in other less populated areas the game ran without any hiccups. I tried running the graphics at max settings and then at lowest but the framerates were still erratic, echoing the developer’s comment that this beta did not have optimized graphics and was more to test the server loads and story branches.
Spell effects are well animated, and the voice acting is also really well done, as are the cutscenes that use in-game sprites rather than pre-rendered CGI clips. At the moment it’s unsure when the game will launch as it wholly depends on how quickly the beta community can continue testing and how soon bugs can be fixed. Bear in mind that there will probably be another beta session in the coming months to more thoroughly test dungeons and other content, so I’m sure there are still plenty of changes and tweaks to come. It’s also too early to tell if there will be a server located in our region to reduce latency, but there’s always hope.
As it currently stands, Guild Wars 2 is definitely on my watchlist and I had a lot of fun playing through the beta test. A release date is hard to pinpoint just going off this beta, but if this kind of quality testing continues I’m no doubt sure that a release date will be announced soon enough. I know there are more things you’ll probably want to know about the game, so leave your questions in the comments below and we’ll provide as much information as we can.