MMO impressions from Eurogamer Expo 2011

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MMO impressions from Eurogamer Expo 2011
Eurogamer Expo
Some of the industry's biggest names were at Eurogamer Expo last week, including BioWare, NCsoft and Trion Worlds. I was on the floor at the expo to get some hands-on experience with several upcoming MMOs and countless singleplayer games. Guild Wars 2 and Star Wars: The Old Republic stole the show, with hands-on gameplay sessions and in-depth developer talks. BioWare also made the bold move of announcing SWTOR's official release date during its talk at the convention. In addition to promoting the heck out of RIFT, Trion showed off upcoming MMORTS End of Nations with a hands-on demo and encouraged attendees to sign up to the End of Nations newsletter.

RIFT and World of Tanks were both playable on the show floor for the entire weekend, but nothing new was being shown. Hack-and-slash adventure RPG Dark Souls and the beautifully zen Journey both demonstrated incredibly innovative multiplayer aspects that I'll likely cover in my weekly Not So Massively column, but neither falls neatly into the MMO box. OnLive had a spectacular showing at the expo, giving away free home consoles to every attendee and demonstrating the system's surprisingly lag-free gameplay on the floor. We discovered that although there are no MMOs in OnLive's current lineup, this isn't due to technical infeasibility, so we may yet see MMOs launched on the service.

Skip past the cut for my in-depth hands-on impressions of Guild Wars 2, Star Wars: The Old Republic and End of Nations from Eurogamer Expo 2011.%Gallery-135358%
As a fan of the original Guild Wars, I was always going to at least give Guild Wars 2 the one-month test on release. Rubi has done her best to get me excited about the upcoming sequel, but nothing has convinced me to get the game more than getting some hands-on time with it at Eurogamer Expo. NCsoft set up several stalls at the convention to accommodate the huge numbers of fans in attendance. Even with enforced 40-minute demo slots, the stalls were permanently packed, and attendees could expect to wait up to an hour for a chance to play. Watching other players exploring the game while waiting for my turn only served to increase the anticipation.

Guild Wars 2 is a game still firmly in the alpha stages, and yet NCsoft managed to put together an impressive demo of everything that's currently ready for use. Not all the character customisation options were available, but there were enough options to make a unique character. Three dye colours are selected for each piece of starting gear, and any equipment that drops for you in the game will be automatically dyed these colours. After designing a character and selecting a class, a player is asked a few in-character questions to determine his character's personality and customise storyline quests.

Guild Wars 2 imageThe holy trinity

Perhaps the biggest divergence from the MMO norm in Guild Wars 2 is the removal of the classic holy trinity of tank, healer and DPS. Every class is a damage-dealer with its own self-heal ability on a relatively short cooldown. Staying alive then becomes a matter of reducing incoming damage enough that your self-heal is sufficient. This largely removes the need for a direct healer role, but players who prefer to play a support role aren't left out in the cold. Healing spells create an area-effect on the ground that players who need healed can run into, and support classes like the Guardian can provide group buffs to nearby players.

I was initially skeptical that removing traditional tank and healer roles would work, but as I played I realised that the system actually worked extremely well. Any class can offer support by placing area-effect heal and buff abilities on the ground, and it's up to the receiving player to make effective use of them while avoiding enough damage to stay alive. The age-old mentality of blaming the healer when things go pear-shaped won't apply to Guild Wars 2, which is certainly an improvement over the MMO norm. Though the game doesn't really have any tanks, every class can contribute to reducing or managing incoming damage through debilitating crowd-control abilities with knockdown, blind and stun effects.

Guild Wars 2 imageCombat mechanics

A large proportion of the attacks in Guild Wars 2 are aimed or area-effect abilities, making it possible to evade a large portion of incoming damage by knowing where the enemy's attacks will land and consistently avoiding those areas. This makes avoiding damage in PvP twitch-based and centered on player skill rather than reducing a player's PvP effectiveness to a stat on gear. Should the worst happen and your character is killed, a last-stand mechanic makes it possible to self-revive in a sticky situation. If there are other players around, they can similarly revive you without the need for resurrection spells.

Elementalists are able to shift between elemental attunement stances mid-combat, modifying their five main weapon abilities according to the element chosen. Where the fire version of an attack might channel a flame breath in front of the caster, the water version would breathe a cone of cold. Going underwater converts all of your skills into underwater versions designed to fulfill the same function while working in a three-dimensional environment. No matter what I did as an Elementalist, it always felt completely intuitive.

Final thoughts

Guild Wars 2 was undeniably my favourite game of the entire expo, with fantastic controls, gorgeous zone designs and an innovative RIFT-like dynamic event system. While RIFT only really has one trick with its zone-wide invasions, the variety of events in Guild Wars 2 is massive. Each zone has multiple events tailored to the local lore, with event chains pushing back and forth on a battlefield.

The Guild Wars-style fast travel system returns with a slight twist inspired by traditional MMO flight paths; players may teleport to any waypoint they wish, but there's a fee for doing so. I was already going to order Guild Wars 2 on release, but the demo at Eurogamer Expo has made me incredibly excited for the game. I went back to play it four times over the course of the weekend, and I captured a few photos that you can see in the gallery above.

Head over to page two, in which I give my unexpected impressions of Star Wars: The Old Republic and upcoming MMORTS End of Nations.

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