Risen From The Ashes – First Impressions on Guild Wars 2
The Elder Dragons have risen, leaving behind a trail of destruction that has shaken every race of Tyria to their very cores. Ascalon is a wasteland of undead souls that see anything living as a threat. Kryta is the last remaining kingdom of humanity. The Charr have built a new capital city on top of the burnt remains of Rin, Ascalon’s former capital. The Norn and Asura have left their homelands for safer havens in the Tarnished Coast and Shiverpeaks, and a new race, the Sylvari has been born from the Pale Tree of the Tarnished Coast.
A lot has happened in 250 years.
Gone is the Tyria that we knew two and a half centuries ago, and it shows. Tyria has been so transformed by the ravaging that has taken place over the last couple hundred years so that it is just barely recognizable as the land we once knew. But it’s not just the world around us that’s changed.
Many of the fundamental aspects of Guild Wars 2 have been changed from how things worked in the original. Basic movement is different, getting rid of the Diablo-style point and click movement to just using the mouse and/or keys to move your character. Tyrians have also developed the abilities of jumping and swimming, which allows a greater amount of freedom when moving around the world. But it’s the battle system that will have you putting the training wheels back on for a few hours as you familiarize yourself.
The first thing you’ll notice is that the skill bar has been retooled. The first four function keys (F1-F4) are for your profession skills (I of course opted for the elementalist, so this would be the elemental attunements), with the first five number keys being slotted for your weapon skills. Your main weapon determines the first three skills, while your offhand determines the last two. Number 6 is reserved for your Healing skill, while 7-9 are occupied by your Utility skills. Utility skills, in essence, are unlockable profession skills, which can be purchased with skill points, although some skills are race specific. Finally, the last slot (0) is reserved for an Elite skill.
With these changes, new dynamics are brought in to combat. Carrying multiple weapon sets can unlock a vast number of skillsets to be changed on the fly in battle, allowing you to be more diverse and effective. The removal of the hack-n-slash model encourages movement (as do some of the skills such as the ability to dodge) during combat making the conflict feel more fluid and less like a double-ranked battle line.
While the quests and storyline are still being fleshed out, there’s still plenty of stuff to do and places to explore. We got in about 10-15 hours over the weekend and still felt like we had barely scratched the surface of the beta area. The world of Guild Wars 2 is a persistent one, where day turns into night, and during your travels you’ll encounter other players and be able to join in on repeatable “mini-missions” that occur in-game. This is a major change from the original game where the only persistent environments were in the cities, while everything outside of the town walls was instanced (i.e. the world only contained the characters that were in the leader’s group); however, there are instanced areas in GW2 such as dungeons or places where the main storyline takes place.
Don’t think you’ll just be able to sit back and wait for a group to clear a monster and then quickly run in to gank the loot; drops are assigned to players to prevent that.
The new world of Tyria is far more explorable now, especially with the new jumping and swimming mechanics,, but with freedom comes the pitfalls…literally. You can fall off of cliffs, and at one point I even stopped to revive a player in Divinity’s Reach (the capital of Kryta) who had hurled themselves from an upper floor to the lower and didn’t survive the fall. Everything in the environment is open concept now, and you are no longer immune to klutziness in the towns. Watch your step!
The developers have also given players an added incentive for fully exploring the gorgeous world they’ve created for us. Aside from the typical experience points earned by completing tasks from the main story-line and sidequests, you can now get XP for World Completion. Each area has a set number of Points of Interest, Waypoints, tasks, and skill challenges. So, definitely stray off the beaten path – you never know what you may find!
Other changes include learning crafts to create armor, food, jewelry and more. You can have two of these disciplines at a time, and switch between six disciplines for a fee. With crafting comes the need to gather materials, which requires tools such as pickaxes or sickles to be able to mine the materials that you require.
Of course, what we’ve seen is still a work in progress, and you are reminded of that frequently. After completing a main story task, you’ll take a short two or three question survey to ask how your experience was. Furthermore, cutscenes have placeholders consisting of the characters conversing in front of a backdrop of concept art with a “Work In Progress” sign just above, serving as a reminder to the player, “Yes this is a rough cut. No, it won’t be like this for launch.”
Even being a rough draft, ArenaNet has managed to really flesh out the detail of the world around you beautifully. Character and environment modeling is pretty much complete with very few bugs, and everything is simply gorgeous to behold. Even with the graphics turned down on my Alienware m11x v2 laptop (the Nvidia 335M GPU has a tough time with it, although this might be a driver issue), everything was a significant improvement over its predecessors visually speaking. However, I withhold my final judgement until our full review.
Overall, our experience with Guild Wars 2 was an enjoyable one during the beta weekend. There’s so much to see and do that you really need to dedicate an entire weekend to it, and even then, you may not finish every quest and see what there is to see. After a glimpse into what Tyria is about to become, we can’t wait to see what’s in store for us on the full release!
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