Guild Wars hands-on previewed by Ryuken

ArenaNet and NCSoft invited Fragland a while ago for several hands-on opportunities of Guild Wars. Every Wednesday we had the chance to try out the ongoing beta of this game. It’s suffice to say that this is an excellent opportunity to see the game evolve towards the final version (which should be in stores here in Europe around the end of April).

First, a short introduction to the game itself. Guild Wars is an online action role-playing game or as the makers put it; ‘a Competitive Online Role-Playing Game’.

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You could call it ‘massive’ because players all log in on the same server and can see each other in the cities which act as gathering places. It’s even better in that than most mmorpg’s; people from litterally all over the world get connected to the same network and can play with each other without the infamous server-soap you are used to. But once in the quest-areas you are adventuring in a place for you (and/or your party) alone (these zones are also called instances). That means no interruptions from other players or otherwise said no camping/griefing issues that most of the massive multiplayer online rpg’s are experiencing. It also means that you’ll never get the thrill of player vs player (PvP) or a real ‘seamless world’-feeling in these quest-areas. Still, the PvP-aspect gets enough attention in special arena’s, tournaments and such where everyone will meet his maker sooner or later. It’s also here where the ‘Guild’-part of the game’s title really comes into play. Something that people will love to hear is that players won’t be charged a monthly fee. You just buy the game in the shop or online and you’re all set. On the other hand; a lot of new content will eventually be bundled in optional expansions. We’ll have to wait and see how frequently ArenaNet will release these expansions and how much these will cost.

A player’s character can choose from six professions and can get access to a shitload of skills. You’ll need to have a main profession like Warrior, Monk, Mesmer, Elementalist, Necromancer or Ranger. After playing for a short while in the adventure part of the game you can choose during certain quests to learn a second profession which gives you access to the skills of that profession but with a lesser effect than if that profession was your main area of expertise. You’ll understand that the series of combinations this system offers (along with the more than 400 skills) create that great ‘I am unique’-feeling. While there a lot of skills that can be obtained, there is always a limit of maximum eight skills you can bring with you during your exploits in the instances and PvP playgrounds. Changing skills is only possible in special, neutral zones like the cities. It encourages a player to think what abilities he/she will need for a specific quest or for a PvP encounter. Parties (of up to 8 players) will surely need a wide array of powers if they want to challenge other teams or some of the more difficult monster encounters. Handy for people who don’t want to go through the quests every time is the option to create level 20 character right from the start. This character will not be able to adventure but it does have access to the PvP modes right away. New skills which are gained in the adventure part of the game can be used by this high-level PvP character. So level 20 is the highest level, that levelcap seems low but I have yet to make a complete run through the whole game to see if things don’t go too fast.

The Player vs Player differs from other online rpg’s by offering a more competitive approach. Tournaments, ladders will get your team/guild special rewards and it should keep the game alive and kicking at all times. ArenaNet made the comparison with the competitive nature of online shooters many times. While fighting another team in an arena is fun already there will still be other modes to hold your interest (like King of the Hill and Capture the Relic). I personally find it a bit ‘unroleplaying’ like but on the other hand I can understand this is what many Diablo-players have wanted for a long time. It would be cool too if the developers could put some sort of territorial PvP too in it though.

One of the unique things about Guild Wars is the technology. The installer is pathetically small since the game gets its content straight from the servers. It all gets streamed while you are roaming the landscape or while you’re creating a new character. For a broadband connection the download traffic isn’t that big to be worried about. The biggest advantage of this technique is that the developers can change areas, quests or other content within a blink of an eye. I said before that you are actually questing/fighting monsters in your own world/instance. Some quests might have an outcome where the world should undergo a change (f.e. you managed to destroy a dam so certain areas should get flooded) and that really does happen and remains that way in your own instance. Things get even more impressive when you realise what kind of graphics are shown on your display. Pure eyecandy or better put: a whole candystore is presented. Simply amazing what ArenaNet achieved here. Of course most things look prettier because of the heavily used ‘gloom’ effect but that doesn’t make the marvelous scenes themselves less magnificent to behold. Who cares what tricks are used, as long as it looks great (and it does) it’s fine by me. The character models just feel right in this world, their animations and the whole trunk of spell/lighting effects too. There are a couple of limitations though, you can’t fall off edges nor can you jump and it feels awkward sometimes when you can’t pass over certain terrain elevations. It’s not that you would expect a lot of freedom every time of an action rpg but one can’t get enough of this game so that he/she will even want more.

It’s also great to see how the game is shaping up through the addition of all kind of details. I noticed especially that the starting area (Ascalon) had a lot more quests than in the areas in the few beta weekend events I’ve played last year. Despite the fact that these are mainly fedex-assignments it’s still remarkable how well this is camouflaged through a nice variation in non-playing characters and parallel storylines. Also a nice addition was the decent voicecasting in the game’s intro sequence, it would be a pity if there were no voices at all for the npc’s (like it is the case now). The menuscreens are getting more and more gorgeous and if that wasn’t enough the makers have even added the option to tweak the interface some time ago. With an extreme ease you can drag, crop and hide all the interface-elements while you’re playing.

For now I conclude that Guild Wars just feels right. I don’t care how it is labelled as, this game takes elements from the Diablo-series as well as from the average mmorpg out there and succeeds in delivering a very playable, addictive combination. I am very curious at how the PvP will turn out eventually. I don’t recall any online rpg which drives the tournament-aspect this far. Some questions need answering still but as you might have noticed during this preview; I am pretty optimistic about the game.