Release Date: Unknown
Note: This preview by Andrew Hallam is based on the latest Beta for the game.
Journalists and gamers alike say it every year. First it was Warhammer Online, then RIFT and now NCSoft and ArenaNet’s Guild Wars 2 is stepping up to the challenge. I’m of course talking about the infamous ‘WoW Killer’, that fabled MMORPG that will soon come to knock World of Warcraft from its top spot.
Well, I’m not going to make any promises here but lets just say that Guild Wars 2 is shaping up to be one of the greatest contenders and one to take inspiration from all those before it and convert that into something worth playing.
At first you might be sceptical, passing it off as just another MMO in the hundreds to scrounge off the slim subscriber pickings left behind by Warcraft, but what lies beneath the surface is something that could change the genre for good.
Lets start with the basics shall we? Three of the five possible races were included in the recent beta weekend consisting of the Humans, the half giant Norns and the beast like Charr. While race seemed to matter little in the actual game, except for voice acting, the overall customisation is on par with most MMOs, giving you a few hair, face and body options to make you character stand out, but nothing to scream and shout about.
After picking a race you’re given a choice of eight classes which were surprisingly varied. While there’s the obvious choices of Warrior and Mage classes, GW2 also expands upon these basic class types. For example, the Engineer is able to use firearms and lay down defensive turrets while the Mesmer is a magical duelist relying on deception magic and quick strikes. While each class does have a role to play they’re a lot more subtle than Warcraft’s trinity system of defined roles.
The most obvious distinction is the fact that every class has its own unique healing ability, such as the Thief turning invisible for a few seconds to regain health while the Elementalist gets improved damage as well as health regeneration for a short time. While it does slightly downplay group roles it also means that the action is rarely interrupted.
Another factor in this new shift away from the well-known trinity system is the sense that abilities are defined by the weapons you use rather than talents or skill trees. For example, equip your Thief with a pistol and sword and he’ll become more of a swashbuckling rouge able to fire off the occasional shot from his firearm for high damage while slicing up enemies with the sword. Swap out the sword and pistol for two daggers and he’ll whirl around groups of enemies with area attacks and powerful kicks.
This ability to swap out different weapons on the fly for completely different ability sets is fantastic, meaning that while you’ll still have to train with each weapon set to unlock the new abilities you’ll have a massive choice of weapons at your disposal to find the play style right for you.
However, while these minor points do little to off-set the traditional grind you’ll normally find in most MMOs Guild Wars 2 goes one step further in a direction that many players will love. The idea of questing in GW2 is completely different to any mechanic we’ve seen before on this scale. Instead of your average “go here, kill x amount of y’s, profit, repeat” you’ll be presented with a wealth of dynamic quests instead that change with the world around you, helping to create something that is at the very least believable and usually a whole lot of fun.
It still means accepting quests from quest givers but the idea is completely different to practically every other system. You see, quests are made up of a series of random events strewn across the world. In one of the first starting quests you’ll be tasked with helping out the farmers around the city outskirts. As you approach you might come across a group of bandits blocking the bridge out of the city, or possibly a bandit raid on the farmers or any number of different scenarios that seek to change up the experience.
What makes these dynamic quests even more interesting is the sense of community it helps to bring, with each ‘event’ allowing any player to join in and help and with some even taking that factor into account as it ramps up the difficulty on the fly. Take the bandit barricade at the bridge for example. Fresh out of the tutorial as I ran towards the bridge leading out of the main city I saw a barricade event already in action. Over 30 players were taking part and as more joined the fight so did more and more bandits, trying their hardest to repair their barricades and kill off the masses of players rushing to help.
For me, it really felt like a fight for the town’s survival not some unknown task just to get some +1 Hat of Awesomeness at the end of it. This is what roleplaying games should be, groups of individual players working together to defeat unknown evils and actually advancing the world around them, not a static world where nothing you do makes a lasting difference.
This simple change alone, coupled with the intricate class system and absolutely gorgeous graphics and physics engines help to make GW2 one of the most exciting upcoming MMORPGs in a long time. Pile on top of all that the fact that there’s no subscription fee and NCSoft might just have themselves a winner.