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Thoroughly Gilded: Guild Wars 2 Preview

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Last week in my The Secret World preview I mentioned that Guild Wars 2 was “Reinventing the MMORPG with the force of a plastic explosive.” Elsewhere, I said that the words on everybody’s lips at GamesCom were “Oh my God have you seen Guild Wars 2.”

I think you guys are long overdue an explanation. Follow me down the jump for a guided tour of Guild Wars 2’s features and ideas. Did you know that it’s impossible to look straight at Guild Wars 2? It’s true. And I’ll tell you why.

The sheen of money on this game is blinding. The UI, the main menu, the character design and the world itself- it’s all completely beautiful and smooth as silk. Which is partially down to ArenaNet’s spectacular art team, but when you play GW2 you’re instantly aware of a luxury that extends beyoned the visuals. Everything bears a sense of love and time spent. ArenaNet is clearly a mightily-funded studio after shifting 6.5 million units (!) of GW1, and that funding is being put to good use. Before you know a thing about what Guild Wars 2 is doing, it’s already something you want to get involved in.

As for GW2’s design and its ideas, I’ll start at character creation and work from there.

After you choose your race, class and appearance in Guild Wars 2, you also answer a series of multiple-choice questions that make up what ArenaNet call your bio. For a human necromancer, these include what was your biggest regret growing up? Were you raised by nobles, tradesmen or peasants? What dark creature do your paint on your face? And do you get yourself out of tricky situations with charm, ferocity or honour?

Your answers to these questions then personalise your experience, in a way that MMORPGs are traditionally quite bad at. What was your biggest regret growing up? That’ll affect your character’s personal story. Who raised you? Again, that affects your personal story, and who your friends are in the human capital city. What do you paint your face with? That gives your necromancer a unique bit of visual flair.

How do you get out of tricky situations? This is, perhaps, the most exciting part. Depending on which of these three personalities you chose, your character will get different dialogue in conversations with NPCs, and the world will react differently to you. The sole example we were given is street kids either following you or running away, so it’s impossible to know how far this’ll extend. Still, it’s a wonderful idea.

The phrase ‘personal story’ surfaced a lot during our presentation of Guild Wars 2. Basically, it’s an attempt to individualise the player’s personal experience of the game’s narrative. Again, it’s impossible to know how far this’ll extend, though there is already one incredible-sounding feature relating to your personal story. Let me tell you about the Home Instance.

One district of your race’s capital city is instanced. When you go there, you go there alone, and what you find there relates to your personal story. Your home instance is filled with friends, family and quests relating to the answers you chose in your bio, and this place will actually evolve over time, depending on whether you choose to save the hospital or the orphanage when they’re both found burning, for example, and any people you save out in the public game world might be found later on back at your home.

If you’re like me and play MMORPGs to do some actual role-playing, this feature should set your heart alight. If you’re just interested in character progression, dungeons and action, well, Guild Wars 2 has you covered too. And how.

Here, it’s hard to know where to begin. On the subject of MMORPG combat, ArenaNet’s Chris Lye simply states “We can do better”. In a move meant to keep players’ eyes on the fight, GW2 has more tactile rules for attacks, meaning it’s often possible to send your character rolling out of the way of damage. Character classes will all have different specialisations you can flick between at the touch of a key- different elements for the elementalist, say, and different weapons for the warrior. Spectacular set-pieces and boss fights are being inserted into the first 15 minutes of the game, and, following feedback on GW1, the level cap’s being raised from 20 to 80, although you’ll go bouncing through those levels pretty fast.

To my mind the most exciting new combat feature is the combo system, and I’m praying it’s fleshed-out rather than a cool extra. Certain skills can be used in tandem with the skills of other classes, with the sole example we were shown being a warrior’s psychotic tornado spin whipping up fireballs when you send them through an elementalist’s wall of fire.

As for quests, ArenaNet’s anti-grind philosophy is back, but the plan here is also to make quests less work-like and more organic. An optional ‘scout’ system causes quests that are waiting to be accepted to appear on your map, and the concept of players competing or queuing for quest objectives is being eliminated. If more players show up to take down a boss, that boss grows in strength and gains special attacks, and it’ll also give up more loot. For everybody. So rather than wanting to keep rare spawns to yourself, you want everybody nearby to pile in.

Another problem being eliminated is players trying to get the right group together for a dungeon, because – wait for it – everyone in GW2 is a healer. Although it’s up to you what, specifically, you want to spec towards, allowing players who enjoy being DPS or supporters to focus on that, every single class gets healing abilities and anybody can drop into the role of a healer at any time.

The spectre of death is also receiving a kicking. GW2 will feature a checkpoint system, meaning you’ll respawn closer to the action, there won’t be any kind of XP debt or other punishment when you die, and, most excitingly, there’s a new knockdown system like we’ve seen in some recent 3rd person shooters.

Losing all your health in GW2 only sends your character slumping to the ground, where you’re free to prop yourself up and use up to 4 class-specific ‘down’ skills. Low levels warriors get to throw rocks, while high level warriors can stand up again for a brief, last-ditch assault. The necromancer’s down skills sound particularly cool, with you transporting your consciousness to an ethereal form that can run around and attack with special ghostly powers. And while you’re down, any other player can try and help you back up before you take the extra damage that’ll kill you for real.

Sounds like a package that’s full to bursting, no? And I haven’t even talked about the as-yet unrevealed underwater areas, how all the capital cities feature unique minigames with loot rewards (the humans get a shooting gallery), or the presence of an item system that’ll allow your character to carry and use quest-specific items (a bucket of water, say) in a convincing way.

Talking to ArenaNet about GW2, they have an animal confidence to them; they seem hugely excited that they have all these ideas, they have the money to actualise them, and they’re not fucking it up. I’m posting an interview with GW2’s global brand manager, Chris Lye, and designer Eric Flannum tomorrow, but for now here’s a choice snippet:

“We’re not just designing an MMO. We don’t want to make the best MMO ever. We want to make the best game ever.”

I’m know that’ll strike some people as arrogant, but it makes me happy. What would you rather a developer wanted to do?

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