Guild Wars 2 – An Overview of This Ground-Breaking Game

The highly-anticipated new MMO, Guild Wars 2, releases on August 28 (August 25 if you pre-order).  Beta play closed last weekend and everyone is now free to talk openly about the game.  I’ll summarize my opinion of this new MMO: ground-breakingly awesome.

Everything about this game takes what you’ve come to expect from massive multi-player online (MMO) games and role playing games (RPG) and turns it on its ear.  Your first clue to this is in character creation.  Not only is it vivid and full of choices that you can customize almost down to the barest iota, but it’s got great (and often funny) backdrop questions to go with your toon like “Choose a shameful event from your past:” with one of the options being “Blacking out at a party.”  Of course, the fact that this goes with the Nornes (basically Vikings) rules.

The real upheaval to gamers’ expectations, though, comes with the down-and-dirty details of character creation.  You’re immediately struck by the fact that profession/role is not nearly what you might think it is.  Sure, you have the usual Trifecta (tanks, damage, and healing), but not in the way you’re used to.  These roles aren’t as critical as you’ve come to expect and are largely interchangeable to some degree.

We’ll get more into character creation details in another report, but suffice it to say there are a lot of races and classes to choose from and they are nicely varied and fun.

Side Quests

Once you start playing Guild Wars 2, another thing happens that immediately says “this game is way different.”  The side quests in the zone you’re in automatically appear in your quest journal without your having to hunt around for quest-givers and play messenger between NPCs.  You can just pick and choose your quest, go do it, and then go collect a reward.  This gives much more of a “gun for hire” feel to the game and dumps a lot of the lame running around that is common in MMOs now.

To add to this, most of the side quests have more than one way to be fulfilled.  So instead of just going through them by rote on “Toon #5” in your stable of characters, each time can be a little different from the last.  This is very, very cool and drops a fair amount of the usual grinding MMO developers seem to love including.

Dynamic Events

Dynamic events are another cool addition that are very well-built.  Things will just sort of happen, either randomly or because something has happened – maybe someone turned in a quest nearby, the wrong animal got killed, etc. – and anyone in the area of the event can jump in to help.  These seem to morph themselves to meet the challenge as things change, so they stay challenging even if extra players show up to enter the fray.  Everyone who participates in the fray gets some experience based on their contribution.  Very well done.

Combat

Finally, we come to the bread and butter of any MMO.  In Guild Wars 2, it’s very different and the player class mixing I mentioned earlier comes into play.  First, the usual “tab-target” thing is gone in favor of a mix of auto-targeting based on proximity and movement (where you’re facing).  Once you get used to this, combat becomes much more intuitive and easier.

But that’s not all.  The hardest thing to get used to for most players will be shedding the “I’m a [insert combat profession here] and that’s what I do” thing and start thinking in terms of open, moving combat.  The fighting in GW2 is more like PvP in other games, even though the bad guy is likely an NPC.  Why?

Because not only do you usually control your targeting through where you’re facing and who you’re closest to, but you’ll also have to move a lot because GW2 has a new feature that console game players might be familiar with, but MMO players are not: combat rolls.

You can literally roll out of the way to avoid attacks and are immune from most targeted hits while doing so (area effects will still affect you).  This, coupled with your endurance bar (which controls how often you can do those blocks and avoidance moves) is how combat will flow.  Players don’t just stand and fight, taking up positions according to their place in the Trinity (Tank, Damage, Healer), but instead must move around continually.

For their part, NPCs determine threat based on proximity and damage/healing being done.  So if you’re relatively close (even if you’re not the closest) and are doing ranged damage in a big way or healing compadres quickly, you will quickly find yourself the center of attention.  No class has the ability to “pull threat” as part of their skillset.  Every class can tank, fight, and heal to some extent or another.

So the real learning curve in combat, especially group combat, is to learn to move in and out and around as a team, taking turns being tank and DPS (especially) and raising those who do it a little too much.  The way this works for each individual race and class is slightly different, but the general idea is to use your weapons and skills to both attack and tank as needed.  A person being pummeled who needs a time out can always move around and behind another player, who can force some attacks to try to pull threat, and then make their escape.

It takes a lot of getting used to, but once you do, this aspect of the game quickly becomes its greatest selling point. It also means that a lot of MMO players are going to join this game when it releases, play for a while, and then dump it and write blogs and tweets about how it “sucks” – all because they couldn’t figure out this new way of doing combat.

PvP

Last but not least is player versus player.  In Guild Wars 2, it is done in instances with objectives as the focus ala the original GW.  Most of it is based on tactics and cohesive team play instead of skirmishing, so it’s a lot more involved than players of other MMOs will be used to.

For the individual player, PvP is all abut customization.  You have a host of choices and each will change how your play commences.  An Elementalist using a dagger is different from one using a staff, for example.    Each class has 3-7 weapon choices and each of those weapons give different skill sets.

On top of this, there is world-vs-world PvP as well as area-PvP on-world.  This ranges from small area skirmishes between a handful of players to huge planetary events that happen between whole planets and their populations (though on scale, we’re talking about a few hundred players at the very most).

Conclusion

Guild Wars 2 is an epic game that is definitely going to change things for many players.  It brings much-needed innovation and a re-think of the MMO genre.  In the coming days, we’ll be going more in-depth with the game starting with character creation options (races, classes, etc) and how finalized the game is (judging by the final beta) for prime time later this month.

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