Over this past weekend, ArenaNet invited a bunch of journalists for some hands-on time with the Guild Wars 2 beta, and while things didn't go exactly as planned, we have quite a few impressions pieces to bring to your attention.
The idea of events isn't new. It's a public questing structure, utilized in games like Warhammer Online and Rift. ArenaNet's handling of the idea is excellent, resulting in a system with hardly any barriers for participation. When an event triggers in an area – let's say a giant pig shows up in the forest – everyone nearby gets a notice. You can walk over to the pig and start hitting it, or stay away. Your choice, but everyone that participates gets experience, money and more, so why not hit the pig? The more you contribute, the better your reward. There is no downside. In fact, you're worse off if you decide to pass on the pig-slaying opportunity, because you just missed a big chunk of experience.
This past weekend marked the first time the press has been able to get into the beta for Guild Wars 2, the follow-up to the popular RPG that took a different approach with MMOs. The sequel looks to continue that trend as the first few hours give a taste of both epic battles with dozens of other players and small quests devoted just to your character and the selections made during the character creation process.
ArenaNet wants you to feel like an integral part of the Guild Wars story and there’s no time to take in the scenery as you start your adventure. After selecting a Charr we were straight into the action and immediately thrown into battle... thankfully not against a bunch of rats. Right away you are asked to fight alongside your comrades so you need to get familiar with your skills fast.
It's hard to feel like you're missing out with the lack of dedicated healing in this game. The role of a dedicated healer is simply not necessary. What's great is that this doesn't make the game feel like some desperate struggle to survive -- at least not in any negative sense. In fact, in the time it took me to level from 11 to 13 on my front-line Warrior (doing only in-world events without any personal story) I never had to use my self-heal. I was able to be smart about how I handled engaging enemies and there was enough support from my teammates to keep me from resorting to my healing skill.
As you may know, the skills in Guild Wars 2 are determined by what item you have in your hand, combined with what class you're playing. So a Thief with a pistol will have different skills than a Mesmer with that same pistol. In addition, you can combine weapons in each hand for skill combos. So for my most beloved Mesmer, I had a scepter in one hand and a pistol in the other. This combination gave me the Illusionary Duelist skill in slot 4, which creates an illusion (clone) of my character that unloads duel pistols on the enemies. Taking that pistol away and adding a one-handed sword gives me an Illusionary Swordsman skill that works very similarly.
Combat in Guild Wars 2 retains the same simple elegance as the original game, a welcome in a genre that tends to lean towards complicated mechanics involving multiple rows of confusing icons. Here your weapons determine the first five abilities in your single toolbar and skills and traits determine the final five. There's no need to rearrange your toolbar every time you switch weapon sets; those pre-defined skill populate automatically, leaving the player free to ponder which tools to use rather than how to use them.