Guild Wars 2 Beta Superiority

by Jessica Brown, May 30, 2012

Each year a plethora of MMORPGs storm the market, each one hoping to take its share of the available market and make a name for itself. Some of these are major subscription driven MMOs while others follow the ever popular, cash driven free to play model. Invariably, many of these games tout that it offers something that no game before it ever has and that it will mark a new trend for the future of gaming. These self proclaimed "World of Warcraft killers" always make lofty claims, yet none has truly managed to succeed in what it has promised its players.

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Back in 2011, a newcomer to the market created by Trion Worlds promised that it would crush the competition with lofty slogans like "We're not in Azeroth anymore!" This claim did raise the eyebrows of several veteran MMORPG-goers who picked up copies of RIFT in the hopes that it would provide the welcome winds of refreshment they had been long seeking. The truth was, however, that while RIFT did attempt to mix things up with dynamic world events and new class structures, the overall game world was much smaller than most. Additionally, the dynamic events quickly grew stale due to the sheer amount of times they were each repeated. In more recent memory, Star Wars: The Old Republic came on the scene with the promise that it would shake up the genre with its cinematic flair and attention to story driven details. The fact of the matter has been that while certainly fun from a single player perspective, SWTOR falls short as a multiplayer game and ends up feeling almost like the party based and social aspects were more of an afterthought. This makes the game feel more like Knights of the Old Republic III than an MMO.

Thankfully, this is where Guild Wars 2 comes to rally disparate fans behind its banner. As a game, GW2 has been in development since at least 2007 and at one point was estimated for release as early as late 2008 or 2009. Developer ArenaNet has been very cautious to confirm any such estimated release date. All along, when asked by fans and members of the press when the game would be ready for release, they always claimed 'it will be ready when it's finished.' Earlier this year, the game entered closed beta and then this past April a series of weekend beta events began. Fan sites and official forums quickly became abuzz with a flurry of activity - all for good reason.

Like many others out there, I have been waiting for GW2 to hit store shelves for many years now. Unlike SWTOR (which I was on the fence about and thus was hesitant to part with $149.99 for the special edition) once I saw that ArenaNet was offering a collector's edition of the game I jumped on the opportunity to pre-purchase it. Part of that impulse was due to the desire to get access to the weekend beta events that started in April and a part of me also wanted to have the physical, boxed copy of the game that included all the little bonus items and books. $149.99 is certainly a lot of money to part with for a game, but when that game is the sequel to one of my favorite games of all time it ended up being a no brainer.

guild wars 2 group

While I admit that I was initially apprehensive that the game would never live up to five years worth of hype, I have to say that based on my experience with the beta events, ArenaNet is living up to its expectations. In fact, I'm willing to go out on a limb and say that even in its present beta form, Guild Wars 2 is miles above many MMORPGs on the market - including both RIFT and Star Wars: The Old Republic. Bold words to be sure, but Guild Wars 2 deserves a lot of praise.

When I first fired up the game, I was immediately impressed by the depth presented by the character creator. Gone were the tried and true methods of creating basic aesthetics, choosing a class, and naming your character. Characters in GW2 can be modeled right down to sliders that alter basic bone structure (perhaps not unlike the set up seen in Champions Online, although this is a good thing). It has a ton of options for hair and makeup, and an editor that generally makes most other games' options look like child's play. Yet the biggest selling point of the generator is the fact that you actually determine your character's personality and, in turn, the direction in which their personal storyline will head. This is achieved through a series of questions posed by the game, including even relatively innocent things like whether you would get into a fight or drink yourself into oblivion at the local tavern. Ultimately, this has the benefit of making a unique experience possible for you even in regards to an extent to storyline, or perhaps encouraging you to make a second character of the exact same profession. Once you factor in that your storyline will vary by profession, race, and your personality, the ability to replay GW2 is leaps and bounds beyond even SWTOR.

One of the biggest selling points of the game, at least to me, is the very strong sense of immersion that it employs. Immersion can be hard for an MMORPG to truly create, yet ArenaNet seems to have invested the last several years in finding a way to make it possible. Rather than simply rely on a very strong personal story arc to suck you into the world (although such an arc does exist), the game walks a careful balance between story, immersive dynamic events, and a living world filled with interesting and multi-dimensional NPCs to interact with. Additionally, the fact that the world is essentially non instanced and therefore filled with player controlled characters makes the end result quite staggering. Attention to detail isn't lacking in any part of the game, and it is difficult to express in words the sense of realism you get by having your character walk through a town or even the local tavern and to hear the NPCs - who are all fully-voiced - talking about random goings on in their lives. What's more, if you listen to them talk you will quickly find that their conversations are far more than idle chit chat and that listening to them can possibly give you clues in regards to what you might want to do next.

guild wars 2 map

The above statement, however, should not be taken as meaning that any part of the game is truly linear. Yes, your character will have a personal storyline to go through, but beyond this the game is more of a sandbox style than most games out there. The developers at ArenaNet seem to have listened to all the people complaining about the typical quest structure that has been in place since the days of EverQuest (the whole "go here" and "kill x number of y" setup) and have presented us with a world in which events are unfolding around us at every turn. While out exploring one of the maps, players will find scouts who can tell them various things they might wish to consider doing there. These are all completely optional, and yet like quests in other games, completing them might still be to your benefit. If that structure isnít enough, the game is filled with a series of dynamic events that can spring up around you at any moment and can actually have world changing effects. These can be simple things such as hanging around an NPC in town long enough to have them turn to you and ask for your assistance in matters, or on the larger scale it could be something as hectic as a group of minotaurs invading a local hamlet. Your success or failure in the objectives presented by these quests can actually have much larger reaching consequences, perhaps leading to even more quests to take part in.

Of course, the original game was known for its very fun player vs player combat system, and the "Wars" portion of the title is certainly not going to waste. Of course, many of the tried and true methods of combat seen in the original Guild Wars make a return in Guild Wars 2. ArenaNet has kicked things up a notch by introducing a new style of combat in the form of World vs World. Rather than pitting one faction against another, this style of combat puts entire servers against each other. Veteran warriors should feel quite at home with this new title and those new to PvP should certainly have something to look forward to.

Still, I would be remiss to say that the game was without any sort of hiccups. While the beta events and stress tests have certainly been far smoother than most beta tests of recent MMORPGs, there have been a few minor snags along the way. A couple of the maps have suffered from unexplained performance issues that will need to be cleaned up before final release and other areas have had instances that have failed to load, essentially preventing progress in a few side quests. These issues are being attended to by ArenaNet and certainly should be resolved before the game's commercial launch.

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There is no indication of when the game will be hitting store shelves. Recently, ArenaNet dispelled the notions of a June release as indicated by dates on preorder receipts. The company is standing true to their earlier statement 'it will be ready when it's finished'. Estimates in some circles put the target release date as August 20. This makes sense because it would mark the five year anniversary of the release of Guild Wars: Eye of the North. Regardless of when the game sees its release, one thing is certain in my mind: Guild Wars 2 is a truly immersive experience that creates a dynamic world that will (and already does) put games like World of Warcraft to shame.