Guild Wars 2 Beta Preview Part 2 - Social
Written by Omar Elassar
I not an MMO player. The idea of a game that never ends doesn't appeal to me, and with so many other games to experience it always felt like it was a waste to pony up a subscription each month. However, MMOs have the advantage of creating a unique environment that can be conducive to more complex social interactions than generally occur in other multiplayer games.
Since I spent most of my time alone or with random people last beta weekend, it's only logical that I spent some time this weekend exploring the social side of the game. This time around I spent my time running around Tyria with a friend of mine and his guild mates from the previous Guild Wars. As a party of Sylvari, a plant-like humanoid species based on Arthurian legend, we rapidly traveled the land, picked up skill points, levels and completed events. Working with both lower and higher level teammates, I was able to explore and survive in areas that would quickly overwhelm me alone. GW2 also lowered my higher level teammates' levels to match the area as well, which retained some tension in what would have otherwise been a boring slog through a lower level area.
Due to what seemed to be a population spike since the last Beta Weekend, this time around I was able to get a better idea of how the event system would likely unfold with a larger population. Smaller sized events, such as one where a Sylvari bandit operation must be disrupted by freeing wolves and prisoners, proved to be tedious, as you would end up waiting for objectives to respawn as you slowly built up a personal progress bar for the event. More mobile events such as caravan escorts ended up requiring much less effort, as the blinding particle effects skill spam obscured and decimated enemies. While the population is likely to be more spread out after the actual release, there is definitely an ideal amount of players for each event. While large scale events such as protecting a farm from bandits, or helping out a ranch benefit from larger player counts, events such as escorts, boss fights, and any event with a personal progress bar, all benefit from playing with a relatively small party of friends.
What I wasn't able to do as much this time around was take in the artfully crafted vistas or absorb what atmosphere that isn't diminished by the constant in-game chatter and HUD. Even so, the world of the Sylvari proved to be an interesting one. The opening introduced me to what is known as the collective Dream, a world from which you must wake up from before starting your new life. Like the other races, the opening area ends in a battle against a massive beast. The Sylvari starting area feels both grand and intimate in scale, with a multi level starting hub populated by ramps and seed shaped elevators, something almost akin to a high end shopping mall made of vegetation. It does make reading the map a bit difficult, but with some extra time it's sure to become simple to navigate. The Sylvari world doesn't capture the same sense of open air adventure that the other areas inspire, instead it feels cozy and lush, though like much of the game it still proves to be artfully crafted. This is where the idea of the personal story clicks in. When the full game releases I can see players exploring the world and taking on events with friends and playing the personal story alone when friends are unavailable.
After traveling the opening areas we moved past the shores and into some underwater quest areas. From there I was able to sample a bit more of the underwater combat. Diving into water made available a different skill set than the one I was currently using. Interestingly, Guild Wars 2's main combat skills change depending on what weapons you are using. For instance, as an engineer, using pistols and rifles unlock different skills, and diving into water changes your weapon to the harpoon, the default underwater weapon in GW2. Underwater movement is handled by aiming the camera in the direction you want to move and using the movement keys, this time however with freedom to move in all directions. Pressing the jump key will take you towards the surface, and other keys can be mapped for vertical movement if you chose.
Underwater combat consisted mostly of firing ranged projectiles at targets, then mixing it up with skills that fired remote mines, escape harpoons, and timed explosives. Interestingly, getting downed while in the water gives you similar recovery options as on land, but in addition you can swim to the surface to recover faster. Even with the added degrees of movement, underwater adventures were as simple to grasp and as polished as their land-bound counterparts.
I finished the weekend by finally taking a look at GW2's grand World vs. World competitive gameplay. By taking various gates or simply bringing up the World Vs. World menu with a keystroke, you can jump into various battlegrounds where players from three different servers take part in two week long siege events. The battlefields are expansive, and in each of them lies various keeps, supply points and castles that can be captured for points. These points are periodically tallied up, and depending on the distribution of point various buffs are given to the players of that team.
This is where GW2 takes advantage of its large population, and where guilds can make or break a battle. Each point can be fortified with various player made siege weapons and heavily armored walls. Blueprints for siege weapons can be bought for a good sum of money and come in fixed and placeable forms. Mounted cannons, arrow carts, trebuchets, mortars and even siege golems, GW2's interpretation of mech style combat suits are available. Each of these costs quite a bit of gold, however, and each must be built using supplies found in the camps. After setting down a foundation for each weapon, you can obtain supplies within the point and use them to complete the weapon. Since you can carry a limited amount of supplies at any one moment, building weapons takes a good amount of time and will require assistance from teammates to complete them in a timely manner. The larger weapons can take upwards of ten minutes to build without help. Combined with fortified walls, these weapons can prove formidable for both purposes of attack and defense. Walls will go down faster, and invaders can be more easily repelled by a smaller force.
Due to the advantage these weapons give a defender, it can be difficult to take a point that has been properly fortified. In these cases it's best to cut off the supply routes. Supply points periodically send out caravans to resupply the team's various other points. By attacking these caravans and taking supply points a team can slowly starve a fortified position of resources and prevent them from building weapons or repairing damaged walls and doors. While an organized guild or striketeam can punch through weak points in the enemy defenses, it is large scale tactics like these that will influence the battle the most. Skill becomes less important within the large scale battles, as the bursts of particles obscure the battles in what might as well be a cartoon smoke cloud. Here the constant chatter of updates on the ever changing control of points and discussions of 4AM raids and guilds recruiting players from other timezones to strike while others are sleeping becomes endlessly fascinating.
However, the small group experience shouldn't be written off either. Working with my newfound guildmates, I was able help build and operate a set of trebuchets, assaulting enemy walls from a distance as another teammate spotted targets for us. After fifteen minutes of continued assault we were able to finally take down the wall, but came under fire from an enemy faction. We retaliated and fired rotting corpse carcasses to poison the area they were operating from as we watched our teammates engage them from a distance.
Moments like those are what will likely make the game upon release, and I look forward to seeing what kind of stories the community creates with the tools that ArenaNet has provided.