This past weekend, Guild Wars 2 held its third and final Beta Weekend. Heck, you might’ve even been in there playing it for yourself if you were lucky enough to grab one of the 1,000 beta keys Nerdist News gave away. But before the masses got a crack at it, we were given a special private tour of the fantasy MMORPG’s enormous world by the game’s developers, ArenaNet.
250 years after the events of the original Guild Wars, humankind has been crowded out of the spotlight by the ascension of new races. The feline, war-loving Charr are back, as well as the shape-shifting, barbarian Norn, the diminutive, egg-headed Asura, and the mysterious, tree-birthed Sylvari. Also, to make matters worse, there be Dragons. Elder Dragons, in fact. Something has awoken five of these ancient monsters, and their minions have been causing chaos in Tyria, the game’s homeworld. No single race holds the strength and knowledge to defeat these death-loving Dragons alone, so it’s up to everyone to make nice long enough to deal with the greater threat. And to make sure it gets done right, you, the player ,will need to reunite the Destiny’s Edge, an guild of multi-ethnic adventurers with the best chance at success.
Built on a heavily modified version of the original Guild Wars engine, Guild Wars 2’s graphics have “progress” written all over them. But rather than packing on polygons and calling it a day, the team at ArenaNet have dug deep into a stylized, hand-painted aesthetic that will be a pleasure to explore for the dozens of hours it’ll take to play through the story quests alone. The game’s development team take a lot of pride in the volumes of beautiful concept art that have gone into the creation of Tyria and its people, and that’s directly represented through both in-game content, which feels organic and handmade, as well as cut-scenes, which appear as 3d models acting in front of watercolor backdrops. The game delivers on the exaggerated proportions and wide color palettes you’ve come to expect from a fantasy game with wide appeal, without going overboard into cartoon gimmickry or childishness. In terms of scale, Guild Wars 2 isn’t afraid to go big. We encountered screen-filling monsters and immense architecture, as well as vistas that stretch out for miles of in-game travel distance.
Being an MMORPG, there’s no one way to play through Guild Wars 2, though the main storyline will always share the common thread of Elder Dragon destruction. At the game’s start, you’ll be taken through a character creation process that includes choosing one of the five races, as well as choosing one of eight professions, such as Ranger, Thief, or Necromancer. You’ll also get to tweak umpteen-thousand aspects of your character’s physical appearance, from body type to hair and facial features, and you’ll even be able to designate your own preferred color scheme which will be mapped onto items you find throughout your journey.
Then you’ll drop into a homeworld based on your race and get right to the questing, though that’s not what it’s called in this MMO. Rather than meeting people who assign you lists of things to do (or so often, fetch), Guild Wars 2 shifts the content in the game world in front of you and compels you to deal with these changes, or to live with the results; these are called “dynamic events.” You’ll encounter tons of NPCs who ask you for help and progress the story, but it feels more like they’re commenting on the current state of the gameworld than just trying to keep you busy grinding out another hour of errands.
Combat is largely guided by how you choose to level and equip your character, with options galore for an extremely wide variety of play styles. You can bash it out up close, deliver magical punishment from afar, confuse enemies with trickery, summon machines and beasts to fight for you, or choose from a wide variety of other skills. And because variety is the spice of life, you can assign different sets of skills to your character that are dependent on which weapon you’re holding, for on the fly switching. Damage is modified based on where your hits connect, so you’ll want to take advantage of the dodge mechanic to evade incoming attacks and move behind your enemy to teach them a lesson.
All of this plays out in a world teeming with other players, who you’ll want to group up with for the best chance at survival. Attacks often change when given strategic consideration and used in concert with one another, and every enemy encounter in the game has the ability to scale in difficulty and accommodate parties of all sizes. Plus, the massive battles and sieges are quite a sight to behold, with dozens of players from the five unique races joining forces to hold back an incoming army or knock down a skyscraper-tall baddie.
Just when I thought my life was all full up on fantasy, Guild Wars 2 has pushed its way onto my radar in a big way. If you’re a sucker for spec’ing out roleplaying characters, the huge variety of race/profession/skill/gear combinations in this game is worth a look. And if you’re just in it for the action and exploration… it’s also still worth a look. The first letter in MMORPG is “Massively,” after all, and Guild Wars 2 seems to have earned that. Considering there aren’t any monthly fees after you’ve bought the game, it’s looking like a bargain.