Published on May 2nd, 2012 | by James Kulas
Catherine Zeta-Rhinoceros: A Guild Wars 2 Preview
Writing a short article about an MMO is a bit like trying to squeeze a fully grown rhinoceros into Catherine Zeta-Jones’s catsuit. You may get it in there, but no one is going to appreciate the outcome. In order to avoid such a traumatic image from permanently occupying my subconscious, I’m going to try to focus on what I think are the most innovative and poignant features of ArenaNet’s forthcoming massively multiplayer beast.
The most striking thing about Guild Wars 2 is its willingness to do away with many of the accepted clichés of the genre. The designers have carefully considered the reasoning behind many sources of tension and conflict, making broad, courageous strokes to address them head on. Those familiar with Warhammer Online, and the more recent Rift, will be aware of the concept of public quests. For the uninitiated, shared dynamic objectives which take place in specific areas dotted around the map, rewarding teamwork and cooperation. Each one generally having several stages, often culminating in a boss style encounter with expensive looking particle effects and maniacal laughter.
ArenaNet have taken this idea to an elegant next step, by linking a multitude of public quests together in an intricate web of interdependent events. Fail to fend off marauding centaurs and they may take over the local village, cutting you off from respawn points and equipment vendors. This will trigger a new event to liberate the village, with its own success and failure conditions. In the wider picture, there are positive and negative extremes to each zone which may culminate in a large scale battle or substantial boss fight. The primary effect of this concept addresses the Achilles heel of any massively multiplayer world, persistence.
Traditionally the player is the “chosen one”, solving problems for the meek, helpless inhabitants only for them to ask the same thing of the guy behind you. Most of us enjoy the idea of being the fated hero, but when everyone is equally fearless and altruistic you are no longer a unique and delicate snowflake. By linking enough of these events together, the time it takes for them to swing back to familiar objectives is generally longer than you will spend in a given area. So while it isn’t technically persistent, your actions will have a direct effect on the balance of power during your stay.
To provide a few other examples, the concept of “tagging” an enemy simply doesn’t exist. Everyone involved with the fight will gain experience, public quest credit, and delicious loot upon its defeat. Similarly every profession has the ability to revive fallen players, which are conveniently highlighted on your map.The culmination of these subtle tweaks gently nudge the player toward cooperation rather than competition. An important difference when viewed with three-way world PVP in mind.
For those of you with an insatiable appetite for setting your fellow man ablaze, there is plenty to keep you occupied. Player conflict itself comes in two distinct flavours, a familiar structured environment with small instanced maps and balanced numbers, and vast territorial warfare with no such restrictions. Nothing ground breaking, but as with public quests, each element has been thoughtfully tweaked. Most prominent is the matchmaking system, which shuffles the two opposing servers fortnightly based on performance. Consequently you are unlikely to be merciless predator or hopeless prey for too long.
Visually the game is attractive and packed full of character. Later public quest events demonstrate an unparalleled scale, with vast dragons swatting swathes of attackers. Some areas, such as the central gardens of Divinity’s Reach were quite stunning. I did encounter a few low quality textures, and the performance isn’t fantastic regardless of graphical settings. However, these things are to be expected from a beta client, ArenaNet are no doubt working on ironing out the kinks and optimising for release.
In terms of overall feel and responsiveness, the stress on the servers was apparent, making an accurate judgement of combat extremely challenging. Several abilities appeared to have unintentional activation times, severely impacting flow. There also appears to be something of a disparity between ranged and melee professions. Both issues have been acknowledged by the development team and are being worked on for the next event.
The intention is that both styles are viable. Certainly right now Melee is more difficult than ranged. There are some things we will try to do to address this, but I think the more you play you would find they are closer than you think.
Overall the future looks bright for Guild Wars 2. With a beta weekend planned roughly once a month, there should be plenty of time to address these minor issues. I eagerly await the next event to see what improvements can be made.