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Guild Wars 2: My Weekend in Ascalon (A Beta Weekend Review)

gw2 logoAs with so many fantasy journeys, mine started in a most unexpected way…

As we all know, GenCon 2012 is rapidly approaching now, and I have been in all-out copper-pinching mode.  I’ve been questioning every purchase I make, resisting the urge to dine out with friends (I miss the sushi bar!), and budgeting out even my groceries to only the basics.  And always reminding myself that every extra dollar I have at “the best four days of gaming” will get to be spent in the Exhibition Hall on more awesome gaming stuff!

But one of the things I had been looking forward to at the end of this summer is the new fantasy MMORPG – Guild Wars 2It was available on pre-order, and came with the offer of a beta key, and it was ever so tempting.  I’ve been MMO-less now for several months, what with The Old Republic holding such promise and then being such a disappointment.  Despite jonsing to play an MMORPG again, the thought about going back to World of Warcrap annoyed me just to consider it, as the game and the player base frustrated me more often than entertained, so there was no way I would ever reactivate my account there.

But then, I got this email from Amazon.com that was a game changer, so to speak.  They were doing a special offer of the Guild Wars 2 Pre-Orders, including the beta key and an in-game magic item – and they would not charge my account for the purchase until the MMO goes live!  Yes, that meant I could get the pre-order, and play in the final beta weekend of Guild Wars 2, and it would not affect the money I saved for GenCon!!!

Needless to say, I don’t think I’ve never placed an Amazon order so fast.  And in less than three hours, I had downloaded the beta version of the game and was taking my first steps into the world of Tyria!

A Brave New World

Prior to this, I had never tried playing the original Guild Wars MMORPG.  I think I am like many MMO players, and I tend to play those MMOs where I know the most players, and none of my friends really wanted to try GW while WoW was there thing.  Camaraderie is a big part of the MMO to me, and while I enjoy making new friends in an online game, I also like to have Real Life gaming buddies along for the experience.

Luckily, I talked my trusty Media Gnome, Tizzbin, into taking the plunge into the Guild Wars 2 Beta with me, and it’s always good to have a battle-buddy around when you’re out exploring a dangerous uncharted fantasy world.  And Tyria was definitely a whole new world experience!

Right off, I have to say that the graphics in the GW2 are lush and vibrant, striking a nice balance between the ultra-realism one finds in Age of Conan and the cartoon-style graphics of WoW.  So you have both characters and monsters that move well, and the landscapes and vistas are just amazing.  Most gamers who played WoW and TOR will probably find their PCs handle Guild Wars 2 fairly well.
asuran art
So we started off playing a couple of gnome-like Asura (Tizzbin insisted), and found them to be a thoroughly fun and often hilarious time.  They look a bit like a cross between a little gray alien and Dobby the House Elf, but there are tons of physical customizations to modify their physiques and facial appearances.  As for personality, Asurans are like dealing with the a cross between Spock and the guys from Big Bang Theory, shooting out technobabble and dropping attitude over who knows more about magical-mechanical construction and engineering while trying to outdo each other.  It’s like nerds gone wild in the asuran homeland, and I should probably mention that one of the major NPC allies for the asurans, a vixenish golemancer named Zojja, is voiced by none other than the Princess of Geekdom herself, Felicia Day!

I also had to chuckle a bit at the “our gnomes are better than your gnomes” dig that NC Soft seems to have poked at WoW.  For whereas WoW gnomes use mechano-magical engineering to produce a sort of comical Steampunkish assortment of gadgets and architecture, the asura take it to a whole extreme level.  Their magically enhanced technology looking more like something off the bridge of Star Trek: The Next Generation!

After bopping around as asurans for a bit, we decided to try out the other races, like the huge viking-like Norns, the elf-plant hybrid creatures called the Sylvari – and although Tizzbin had no interest, I tried out the creating one of the nasty cat-beings called the Charr, who have personalities which would make them fit easily in any Klingon pub.
gw2 humans
But in the end, we ended playing humans for most of the weekend, which I guess would seem rather vanilla compared to the range of the other races.  Not only do the humans look pretty cool, but they sound cool too – probably because the human males are voiced by Nolan North AKA Desmond Miles of the Assassin’s Creed series.

But what really made the gaming experience memorable was how amazing the characters’ personal stories.

Characters with *gasp* Backgrounds!

One of the elements that is really elevating the game play of Guild Wars 2 for me is the inclusion of diverse character backgrounds, and an individual quest series called the personal story.  This to me really puts the RPG into MMORPG!  At character creation, each player is asked a series of multiple choice questions which not only help to form the background of the character, but sets up the elements for the personal story.  And the story is not linear, but actually branches depending on decisions made by the player.  And you can bring companions with you on your personal story quest, letting them tag along into instanced encounter areas which match the surrounding landscape – but private so that no one might disrupt the play.

Given the quality of the story elements we encountered in the beta, I suppose it’s not surprising to find out that there is a celebrity of the paper-and-pencil gaming world guiding the design process – the author and game designer, Jeff Grubb!  Mr. Grubb is one of the Lore & Continuity Designers on GW2, and an author on the story elements in the world.  He also has been working with the Dungeon Team to bring story elements and branching into dungeon instances – something which should keep that part of the game much more fresh than a static dungeon design seen in other MMOs.

But what makes the play so amazing to me in Guild Wars 2 is the way that story elements are used to not only creating a non-questing quest system, but also to bring players together cooperatively in the world.

It’s so… sand-boxy!

Beyond the cities, there is a huge world to explore and plenty of opportunities for heroes to show their mettle and become, well, heroic!  But unlike traditional quest systems, GW2 has gone off in a new direction, and making questing an event rather than a grind.  It’s a real honest-to-goodness sandbox out there in the game world, and players can take their characters out and adventure anywhere they want – limited only by their level and the monsters they encounter of course.

So rather than the traditional MMO where one encounters a quest-giver, and takes on a quest to run off and kill X numbers of things or gather Y numbers of things, characters instead encounter events in the world that are both dynamic and ongoing.  For instance, as we wandered into farmlands, we encountered a young lady who asked us to feed her cows, kill a giant worm infestation, and water her corn.  Doing any or all of these activities earns “points” toward completing her quest – but you can choose what you want to do here!  In another area, we were asked to run off invading centaurs, and destroy their curse totems, and the spikes they put on the roads to stop caravans.  And as these quests complete, the character earns experience points, cash, and karma – the latter a currency that is used to buy special gear, tradeskill items, and other rare things from specialized vendors.
Queensdale2011
And then there are the random dynamic events which occur here and there all the time in the lands.  Farmers might come running up screaming about a bandit clan burning them out, or guardsmen might shout that centaurs are invading a stronghold.  In one area, we had to flee when we saw a very powerful troll champion wandering across the lands murdering commoners and killing livestock – and would have killed us too, as we were much lower level than this terrible foe!  All these dynamic events can be stopped in their initial phase by battling and killing foes, or protecting an area.  But these areas are highly dangerous, with large numbers of monsters coming in to attack, and so many players can join the fray – and you really WANT to have other folks there helping out, or you’d probably die!

The dynamic part of this event occurs if no one stops the initial event – it morphs into a new even, with new goals, and actually has the chance to make changes to the local area!  We saw this a few times where invading creatures won, and then started doing other activities, like fortifying their position, or sending new raiding parties out to take new locations.  It was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced in an MMO, and it felt like there was a Dungeon Master out there somewhere making us feel the consequences of ignoring the call to heroics.

And it’s such a different feeling than other MMOs where you’re often finding yourself at odds with other players who are on the same quest series, or just random players coming in killing “quest mobs” for resources or experience.  But the designers of Guild Wars 2 have found a way to change that, making it so that having other players dive in to help actually assists you in completing an event, and earning rewards.  And add to that the ability of heroes to give first aid to other fallen heroes to get them back up (yea, anyone can give first aid and even resurrect downed characters), and individual rewards so there is no ninja looting, there is a total feeling of teamwork as you adventure, even among those folks you don’t even know.

Heck, even resource nodes for crafting are individualized, and any number of players can tap them without competition.  Once you use it, the node may be gone for you, but you never have to deal with that anger at watching some player on a faster mount grab an metal ore, or wood, or herb node before you can!

Crafting = Happiness

Hi, my name is Mike, and I’m a crafting addict.

It’s true, it’s an addiction, but in any MMO, PC Game, or tabletop RPG, I love having my characters running around gathering raw materials and making cool stuff.  I just can’t help it, it’s like an obsession with me.  If my character is not wearing at least three handcrafted pieces of gear made by his own hands, I break out in the sweats.  In fact, I’ve stopped playing MMOs because their crafting system was either so expensive that it was not worth doing or so poorly designed that the effort did not match the reward!

(You hear that BioWare – I’m talking about TOR here!!!)

But without a doubt, GW2 has one of the best crafting systems I’ve encountered in an MMO in a long time!  Your character can gather from any type of node, and you can take on two crafting talents to create potent items right from the start.  On top of that, characters can change crafting talents for new ones, but they can go back to their old ones – and their recipes and skill level remain on their old tradeskills!!!  Literally, it’s possible in GW2, unlike other MMOs, to learn and max out every tradeskill the game has to offer… <swoon>.  Of course, you can only have two active ones at a time, but to a crafting fanatic like myself, this is like being a kid in a toy store!

And there is even a really cool system for experimenting with various base parts and other items in order to create new and quite potent recipes – by the time the weekend ended, I had discovered a couple dozen recipes for my Tailoring and Artificer tradeskills, and could produce gear well advanced of my character’s level!

Other cool stuff

There is so much other cool stuff I could talk about in Guild Wars 2 that I could probably write another 1000 words and still not cover it all!  There’s obviously guilds, and being in a guild has tons of perks that advance as the characters in them advance.  Plus there’s going to be guild halls for parties, and private residences for characters.  And of course, special mounts, mini-pets, and custom armor skins for karma rewards or bought through micro-transactions for cash.  And tons of PvP – not against your fellow players on your server, but against other servers in specialized zones set aside for the bloody action!

Conclusions

Clearly, I had a great beta weekend experience, and am completely sold on Guild Wars 2 as my new MMO.  It’s got such a unique play style and game experience, taking many of the well-loved elements of traditional MMORPGs and giving them a new twist, that it’s hard to resist not liking the result.  And the best part about Guild Wars 2 is the price of the monthly subscription fee – NOTHING.  Yes, zip, zero, nada – it’s totally FREE TO PLAY after you buy the game!  So one buy, and you can play for years… or at least until they put out an expansion!

Yes, after GenCon 2012 is over, and the afterglow starts to fade, I’ll be packing up and heading off to the world of Tyria, to seek adventure and fortune in the kingdom of Ascalon… Guild Wars 2, here I come!

So until next blog… I wish you happy gaming!


About The Author

Editor-in-Chief
Michael is an Adept of a Secret Order of Dungeon Masters, and dwells in a hidden realm with his two evil cat-familiars, deep within the Vale of Wolverines, called by some "Michigan". He has been esoterically conjuring D&D Campaigns for nearly a Third of a Century, and has been known to cast ritual blogs concerning Dungeons & Dragons every few days with some regularity. Michael has freelanced for Wizards of the Coast, and writes reviews of D&D and other Role-Playing Game products on EN World News.

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One Response to “Guild Wars 2: My Weekend in Ascalon (A Beta Weekend Review)”

  1. [...] Neuroglyph Games — Guild Wars 2: My Weekend in Ascalon (A Beta Weekend Review). “But then, I got this email from Amazon.com that was a game changer, so to speak. They were doing a special offer of the Guild Wars 2 Pre-Orders, including the beta key and an in-game magic item – and they would not charge my account for the purchase until the MMO goes live! Yes, that meant I could get the pre-order, and play in the final beta weekend of Guild Wars 2, and it would not affect the money I saved for GenCon!!! Needless to say, I don’t think I’ve never placed an Amazon order so fast. And in less than three hours, I had downloaded the beta version of the game and was taking my first steps into the world of Tyria!” [...]

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