Through a twist of fate and a driver that needed updating, Rob and I got codes to take part in the last beta weekend before Guild Wars 2’s August release. Not to look a gift horse in the mouth, we cleared our weekend schedule, ordered some pizza and set to it.
First of all, the world really is as gorgeous and colorful in-game as it appears in trailers:
It was a delight to take in. Until I tried moving. As we’d suspected, our computers were too old to handle the graphics smoothly. We knocked down the video settings to make the game playable, but it did kinda feel like we were missing out on a major element of the game the developers clearly labored over.
Graphics aside, I was pleased with the level of characterization evident, in a genre that typically doesn’t try very hard. Your character isn’t just a silent cardboard avatar; in cutscenes, they speak with their own mind and even banter with quest-giving NPCs, who also act more like people than the quest-giving automatons you typically expect in RPGs.
But the quests are where this game really shines. Gone are NPCs whining: “Go kill Jellies until you get 15 Jelly Teeth or your mouse clicking hand falls off, and I’ll give you a single shiny XP point.” Instead the game emphasizes exploring. Run around the world map and you get XP for finding checkpoints and landmarks. Discover vistas that give you a beautiful panoramic view of your location: XP. Go chop wood, mine bronze ore and make a rifle – more XP. And if you happen to butcher the local wildlife in passing, that’s a bonus.
“But what about actual quests?” the do-gooder in you whines. Well, each character has a series of instanced missions associated with their race and some simple choices made during character selection, but otherwise most quests come in the form of events. As you explore, events pop up in real time in the corner of the screen and show on your minimap where to go if you’d like to take part.
The element that makes these events tick is player cooperation. All players in the area receive the same quests as you at the same time. In many games, that’s a phrase that would fills me with dread as some pimple-flecked 13 year-old accuses me of stealing his loot before telling me to get back in the kitchen.
Introverted as I am, I’m not much for cooperating in MMOs, but in GW2 it felt great. If you see an event in progress as you walk past, you’re encouraged to jump in and take part. The game tracks how much you participated in the quest and rewards you accordingly. Without players bickering about loot and killstealing, most of these group battles were conducted in companionable silence, everyone playing their part, and once the quest was completed everyone went their separate ways. It was refreshing. And at no point did I feel like I was stepping on anyone’s toes by jumping in to play with other people.
For all that I loved about it, it won’t be a Day One purchase for us; we’d need two copies to play together, and our computers can barely handle the game anyway. Hopefully by the time our computers need replacing, the price will have dropped to a point where buying two copies is more reasonable.
If you’re in a similar situation and can’t invest in GW2 right now, I’d recommend trying out the original Guild Wars for some cheap fun. You can pick up each of the stand-alone expansions for less than a tenner, providing hours of stuff to do, as well as earning you in-game rewards for when you get GW2. It’s not the breath of fresh air that GW2 is for MMOs, but for a 7 year old game it’s not bad.