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Free for All: What I learned from the Guild Wars 2 free weekend


Before this free trial weekend for Guild Wars 2, I had spent a total of around an hour and a half in the game. I also spent more time watching my wife play the game during beta. Our PCs, at the time, were in the same office, if that helps you picture just how much exposure I had. At first, neither one of us was impressed; it felt like RIFT 2.0. That's not entirely a negative; while RIFT is not my favorite game and while I have not played beyond something like level 17, I do respect the game and think it is a high-quality game. Both games are wonderfully crafted.

So when Massively's Elisabeth Cardy shared a buddy key with me last week, I knew I'd be able to finally clear up some of the fog surrounding the title for me. I'd spend a good part of the weekend playing the game -- plenty of time for a fresh first impressions. Here's what I thought.

Guild Wars 2 screenshot
First, my race. I rolled an Asura, a diminutive, smart race that has a love for gadgets and all things tinkery. You know... a gnome. I usually must roll the smallest race possible in any game unless it is a gnome, so I made an adorable, floppy-eared creature. I didn't get to pick out my own voice although I would be hearing it for the rest of the game. That seemed odd.

I am assuming that the giant, furry race is a race of barbarians, the humanoids are the middle-grounders, the plant people love the planet and play the role of the elves, and the Asura are gnomes who use a lot of magic as well as robots... I mean, golems. Don't worry, these similarities to past games and genres and IPs are nothing new, and I do not hold them against the game usually. Not all games can be as original as, say, a Wakfu, Glitch or Ryzom, but then again, I don't volunteer to see a Western movie only to be offended by seeing cowboys on the screen. With fantasy MMOs, I usually know what I'm getting into.

"My first few minutes were spent jumping headlong into a linear story that threw me immediately into the action. So much noise. So many explosions."

My first few minutes were spent jumping headlong into a linear story that threw me immediately into the action. So much noise. So many explosions. Within a few minutes, I had seen probably the equivalent of 85% of the rest of the game. C'mon, before you correct me, you know that in most modern "AAA" MMOs, the bulk of our time is going to be spent casting the same massive spells, surrounded by the same type of combat. There's nothing wrong with that, but it can be dull and repetitive. What happened to slowly introducing me to a world? Sure, there's some nicely done introductory stuff at the beginning, but it's just stuff that is quickly buried as I'm pushed through a very linear set of activities.

As I spent the first few hours in the game, I vented about how I felt on Twitter, but let's be clear: My nerd rages are based on what I have seen so far. If there is one writer on this site whom you can trust to revisit a game or to give it a second, third, and sometimes fourth chance, I am the one.

Guild Wars 2 screenshotSo, I took a break and came back to the world later. Now that I had a general feel for it and ran pretty far out onto the map while unlocking instant teleport options, I knew I needed to get back to the beginning and start fresh. It's always good to do this in any title, especially ones that appear to be bland at first glance, because you can go back with some experience, perhaps some better loot or a higher level, and re-tread your original impressions. I joined in some public quests (similar to those you find in Warhammer Online and RIFT) and basically enjoyed them. They fire off once in a while, players take them down, and the world moves on.

My question to Twitter was what would happen if the quests were left alone. Sure, the monsters would pop up and take over the area they were designed to take over, but no great harm comes of that. At higher levels, I have been told, it definitely matters, but in the beginning levels, the dynamic quests felt about as important as any other quest, meaning that they were fun once or maybe a couple of times, but after that, a player can easily skip them. Dynamic? Sort of. World-impacting? Maybe at some point.

The renown hearts confused me a bit, but I now understand that they essentially represent a sort of bank of quests for players who might need "more direction" or who are not currently involved in their mostly solo story-line quests. I worked through a few of these area tasks near NPCs with hearts over their heads, completing enough to fill up a heart or two, and then found that the NPCs not only wrote me a nice letter but also offered to then sell me goods that might be useful to me. I was not so tempted by some mediocre prize to grind through a series of standard quests, so I generally skipped the hearts.

By the time I had hit a few levels and started to enjoy parts of my solo main quest, I figured out that players can skip to different areas of the world. In fact, during the weekend's special events, I could even be leveled up to match the level of the new areas. I asked our resident expert what the purpose of levels is if I can instantly transport to Lion's Arch and become a level 80 -- why bother with levels at all? Well, as you level, you gain skills and better equipment along the way. It was easier for me to wrap my head around it by thinking of Guild Wars 2 as a game with some pretty stout allowances for different types of play.

There are the dynamic quests for those who love the chaos, leveling for those who feel a sense of accomplishment when they level, a fair bit of exploration content that invites in those who obsess over collections or achievements, crafting that can actually level a character without combat, a class-based system that offers some variety by switching weapons, and of course, amazing graphics for those who are into amazing graphics.

Guild Wars 2 screenshot
By the time the "15 minutes until your trial is up" message popped up on my screen, I was having a lot of fun. Sure, there was an element of shiny newness that affects all new gamers and explains how millions of us can simply switch from title to another, but the world felt very large and alive and inviting and warm in many places. Roleplay could fit in perfectly, although I hardly saw any other players. This game begs and pleads for a strong roleplay community. I intend on finding one.

My estimation is that Guild Wars 2 is a triple-A effort in every sense of the word, good and bad, but it offers something for almost anybody as long as his or her PC can handle it. I've seen combat like this a hundred times before; I've heard lore like this as well. The world design is nice but does not stick out as wholly original. There isn't much in Guild Wars 2 that isn't safe. I tend to prefer games that give me a sense of the world, not a general, forced sense of direction. Guild Wars 2 is Avatar, The Matrix, or other loud, big budget movies. I prefer games that are like Fargo: confusing and primitive and enigmatic. A touch of melancholy helps as well.

Guild Wars 2 is a massive playroom romp that is truly well-built. The voice-overs are often goofy but really well done, and the exploration appears to be more than just a tacked-on distraction. Will I be buying it for $60 US? Sure, eventually. My gaming list is long. I did have a good time and was intrigued by what I saw, as little as it was. Consider me a fan.

Now, about that roleplay...

Each week, Free for All brings you ideas, news, and reviews from the world of free-to-play, indie, and import games -- a world that is often overlooked by gamers. Leave it to Beau Hindman to talk about the games you didn't know you wanted! Have an idea for a subject or a killer new game that no one has heard of? Send it to!

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