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An outsider's look inside Guild Wars 2

Jef Reahard

The second Guild Wars 2 press beta weekend has come and gone, and Massively was there every step of the way. Stay tuned throughout the day today for even more guides, impressions, videos, and Q&As to get you ready for the highly anticipated sequel to Guild Wars.

My Guild Wars 2 beta weekend started off with a whimper instead of a bang. As I fired up the client and got a load of that sexy 2/dragon logo prior to character creation, one of the video cards in my gaming tower decided to give up the ghost. I didn't know this at the time, and as I slogged through the game's opening sequence, I wondered why it was running like pure Charr poo even with the settings dialed down.

I could barely move around the starter village, and after 15 minutes or so, I closed the client in disgust. Later I fired up EverQuest II on that same system and experienced similar subpar performance, so I quickly downloaded the GW2 beta to my laptop.

Ah, now that was more like it. Here was the Tyria I'd glimpsed via screenshots and video over the past few weeks, and I rolled up an Engineer to help determine whether ArenaNet has anything to offer a crusty old newb.

Guild Wars 2 - Divinity's Reach concept art
I don't know a damn thing about the original Guild Wars, so if you're in search of hardcore comparisons and in-depth analysis, these aren't the paragraphs you're looking for. I played the beta sometime in 2005 during a weekend sabbatical from Star Wars Galaxies, and I remember being entirely put off by what I perceived as a smallish world, lots of lobby instancing, and the fact that my toon was the whitest of white men when it came time to jump.

Guild Wars 2 - dragon logoIn the years since, I've tried and retried to get into Guild Wars, mostly thanks to the glowing recommendations of various Massively colleagues. I've made it out of Pre-Searing twice, and both times I returned to former MMO flames rather than sticking it out. It wasn't bad, but it just wasn't for me, you know?

From what I can tell, though, Guild Wars 2 is an entirely different animal.

Character creation is... better than it first appears. I was initially dismayed to see a bunch of pre-set head choices, but drilling down into the facial detail menu rewards you with a decent number of sliders that can turn your clone into someone reasonably unique. Making a Guild Wars 2 avatar is a 10-step process, and I won't go into it since Massively is detailing that in another article.

I will say that I enjoyed the playful nods to RPGs of old here, particularly the bit that read "my most useful tool is..." followed by a choice between goggles, a multitool pack, and the requisite monocle. After a bit of tinkering, my charming street-rat of an Engineer emerged from Anet's primordial soup and got down to business.

Guild Wars 2 - Divinity's Reach concept art
There were some cutscenes, and some skip-worthy stuff about backstory that gave rise to a bit of eye-rolling. Fortunately, ANet hasn't spent three-quarters of the game's budget on MMO story and pervasive voice-acting, but these new-school conventions are there, and apparently I have a buddy named Quinn and my voice sounds exactly like Nathan Drake's.

This is nothing personal against the very talented Nolan North, but I cringed every time my character spoke out loud, and I loved the fact that most of the NPCs I encountered in the world proper had a line or two of voice dialogue before defaulting to good ol' text chat.

I should mention Guild War's 2 UI presentation here. Wow! would be one reaction. Holy crap, that's pretty! would be another, and even though I'm one of those guys who likes to drag, resize, and manipulate every aspect of an MMO interface, I didn't much care that I couldn't due to the drop-dead gorgeous art direction (and the logical placement of all the essentials). The aforementioned text chat is easily the most visually pleasing I've ever seen in an MMORPG; the windows appear and disappear with subtle animations capped off by brush-stroke buttons that give the whole enterprise a certain classical feel that's hard to describe and easy to love.

The controls are pretty basic. If you've played an MMO before, you'll feel right at home thanks to WASD, tab targeting, and a hotbar that mixes number and F-key presets. As a long-time Age of Conan player, I also appreciated ANet's decision to let you roll and dodge via double-tapping your directional keys, and adding an endurance bar (so you can't spam these movements willy-nilly) is a good call.

Like the interface, the game world of Guild Wars 2 is fairly stunning. It's quite open, especially compared to the first game, and the megacity of Divinity's Reach is the closest thing to an MMO version of Minas Tirith that I've seen to this point. There are some interesting smaller touches as well. The gathering animations are fun, and the game's lack of a quest journal (and the associated drudgery that MMO quest journals inspire) was refreshing.

Guild Wars 2 - Fortress concept art
That's not to say the game lacks questing mechanics. They're called events, and despite the fan scuttlebutt I've heard over the years about GW2's elimination of traditional MMO quests, well, that's not exactly accurate. Kill quests, FedEx quests, and level-appropriate questing areas are still the order of the day, but unlike most of its themepark brethren, GW2 doesn't lay them all out for you like a grocery list. Instead, there are little hearts on your world map (did I mention how much I love the map?) that mark event-starter NPCs, and you can run over and join in on what appears at low levels to be a meatier variation on Warhammer's public quest system.

Or you can do what I did and run around exploring, gawking, and popping the occasional cap in random skales courtesy of your spiffy flintlock pistols.

If you do choose to take part in an event, it will feel a little different than your standard MMO quest grinder. I helped out a comely lass named Farmer Diah, for example, and rather than send me off on some ridiculously inefficient errand halfway across the world, she had me feeding her cows and watering her corn. And I enjoyed every minute of it.

I'm steering clear of any success/failure predictions in this article. I'm a franchise newb, and I really haven't played the game long enough (about five hours total) to offer a worthwhile opinion on what it's like past the starter areas. I can tell you that Guild Wars 2 brings a few interesting wrinkles to the table, though, and it's the first new themepark MMO that I've played in quite some time that doesn't feel like a cheesy, feature-deficient retread of what's come before.

Is it the MMO second coming some are hoping for, or a World of Warcraft-like genre-changer? Nah. Will I be pre-ordering, playing on day one, and probably long after that? Yep. And hopefully that new graphics card gets here in plenty of time for launch!

Even a Bookah like you knows that Guild Wars 2 is on the way, but it takes an Asura's intellect, a Human's charm, a Sylvari's wisdom, a Charr's passion, and a Norn's love of strong mead to dive into beta and make sense of a game this complex. Fortunately, we have all five on the Massively staff. Enjoy our previews, guides, and our weekly GW2 column, Flameseeker Chronicles!

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