Punctuation wrangler and orthographic enforcer, feminist, atheist, glutton, geek, scatterbrain, and Seattlite.
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  • GW2 Beta Impressions

    Wednesday, May 2, 2012

    So this weekend was the first public beta for Guild Wars 2, a game I may or may not be totally obsessed with. The content available to beta players, while not even close to what the full game will offer, was vast. There was so much to do; I stuck to PvE mostly, so there’s plenty I missed out on. But what I did play, I loved (with small exceptions of course). So, as I suffer from beta withdrawal this week, here’s my laundry list of lasting impressions from the weekend.

    Combat

    My plan was to play the race and profession I was least interested in: a norn ranger. I figured I should hold off on my favorites until release, and that playing something I wasn’t already sold on would help me test better for the beta. However, I couldn’t resist trying out the professions I’d been dying to play after reading the wiki and playing with build calculators for so long.

    So, mesmer it was. I really wanted to see how they played with swords and pistols so I went for a duelist sort. And it was pretty tough—would have been really tough if it weren’t for the Downed State letting me continue playing, because I went down a lot. But when I managed to stay up, it was thrilling. The mesmer is certainly high-risk, at least if you’re fighting close-range. Sword/pistol became my favorite weapon set: it had good damage with the Mind Slash chain and Illusionary Duelist, but it really shined when it came to the actual dueling. Blurred Frenzy and Trick Shot were great ways of avoiding damage and my fights tended toward either not getting hit much at all, or eating dirt. High risk, lots of fun.

    The other profession I couldn’t wait to try was elementalist, specifically dual-dagger air magic (I also tried necromancer and stuck to close-range—I’m really excited that GW2 has casters with blades okay?!). This was more straightforward than the mesmer and I stayed alive pretty easily while snapping my Lightning Whips back and forth, which has such a neat visual effect. The offhand dagger skills offered some means of control and escape, at which point I would switch to water daggers when things got rough.

    This was a big difference in the playstyles of the mesmer and elementalist, since the elementalist can’t switch weapons during a fight, only attunements. Swapping weapons as a mesmer meant I would leave the frontlines and use a staff from the back, controlling and debilitating foes. Switching from air daggers to water daggers allowed more range from the water skills, but I didn’t need to change my strategy all that much. The downside of this was feeling more constrained and less able to shift roles and adapt to a fight; ArenaNet’s goal is to make adaptability and versatility the core of combat, I believe, and the elementalist fell short here.

    However, allowing the elementalist to swap weapons would give them access to 20 more weapon skills (5 per attunement per weapon), giving them a disproportionally large pool (compared to the 10 weapon skills available to other professions in a single fight). So while they have more weapon skills as it stands (20 compared to others’ 10), at times they felt less versatile.

    Story

    Going into PvE, my plan was to experience as much Personal Story as I could and to explore the major cities. I ended up spending most of my time exploring the areas around the cities, doing Hearts and Dynamic Events.

    I did get some Personal Story done though: human/commoner/unknown parents and charr/blood legion/honorless gladium. They had their moments, the most memorable of which was in the human commoner storyline: the orphanage/hospital situation that ArenaNet has frequently used as an example for how their Personal Story works. It was very well written and did not hold back on making you feel the consequences of your decision. It was pretty heavy.

    For me, the Personal Story is a bonus if it works well, but is no great loss if it fails to move me. The real story is in the environment and events—the gameplay. That is the greatest thing about Guild Wars 2, the detail and character built into your surroundings that you experience by playing, not by watching cutscenes. As you explore an area, such as Queensdale, the map is filled with icons and indicators of landmarks and goals, almost to the point of being overwhelming. But as you explore, the Renown Hearts reach out to you first, giving you a quick rundown of who and what is in your immediate area and what you can do there. Working at the Hearts’ tasks leads to Events, which give even more character to your surroundings. Simply being a part of something that happened at any place tied me to the landscape, made me a part of it, and made me want to know it more.

    I did manage to explore the four major cities, and Lion’s Arch was easily the highlight of the weekend. I took a couple videos of Lion’s Arch’s most popular landmark, the diving board, even finding a nice place to watch divers from a distance.

    Gender and Race

    Finally, this was my first chance to see how gender and race fares in the game. After all, the debates I addressed in my article “You’re All Sexist Mother Fuckers and I’m Taking Away Your Sexy Pixels Forever” were usually based on images used to promote the game. While I wasn’t expecting GW2 to be perfect, I wasn’t prepared for how poorly women and people of color are represented in the design of the game’s humans and norn. The preset faces are all variations on the same Caucasian facial structure, the women are absurdly disproportionate, and the starter light armor for female characters is ridiculously skimpy.

    I’m not going to go into it in depth here, not yet. At this stage of development, this discussion feels more appropriate for the beta forums, which is ArenaNet’s chosen way of hearing feedback from their players.

    That said, the weekend was a blast and I’m more excited than ever for this game!

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