Electronic Vanguard: Guild Wars 2 - The First Beta Weekend

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Guild Wars 2 – The First Beta weekend

On the last weekend of April I shamelessly neglected my volunteer duties, did not answer any emails and was hardly available on skype because of an event for which I have waited roughly the last two years: the first (half) open Beta event of Guild Wars 2. Everyone who had a pre-purchase edition for the game (of which still no release date is known) could join in.

This is my story

The sales for Guild Wars 2 are running for 2 weeks now and the pre-purchase Collectors Editons in Europe seemed to be sold out in a couple of days. I was too late and could only find a non pre-purchase Edition which made me buy another normal Edition without the collector's stuff1. That of course was a little more expensive than just buying one game but I really wanted it badly.

Although I bought my game online I also saw it in shops next to other games and it really made an impression to me. What does the usual cover of a computer game look like? It's colorful, most of them seem to use dark colors at the moment and there is some pretty picture on the front that often shows in-game characters or some other artwork or renderings. At the back there are some more pictures and a text talking about why you should buy the game. Here Guild Wars 2 is already different: the front cover is simply white, with the dark red Guild Wars 2 logo in the middle and the name of the edition. At the back there is no picture either, just a very short paragraph about the game and a list of bonuses of the edition in question. That is it. No big pictures. No extra advertising. Just a plain white cover with the name of the game. But in the shop, this really makes it stand out. The next surprise comes when opening the box: there is no CD. It's only a code for activating the game, you can download it online.

The weekend

The game download was available a few days before the beta and it was unexpectedly fast and smooth and without problems. It was done within a couple of hours and then there was just waiting for the beta to start.

On Friday 9pm CET the log in was activated and indeed it worked immediately, but as soon as I had started character creation the servers gave up under the load of users and it was over again. That had to be expected on the first day of the beta, so I just went to bed. On Saturday morning there were no problems anymore, throughout the weekend - with just another small interruption on Saturday evening – the game ran as smoothly as it can get. Better than many released games in fact. The performance was just amazing for a beta (and even some finished games are not running so smoothly) and the graphics were more than good even when not on their highest settings. I was blown away by the 'medium' settings. But all the time it was clear that there were really a lot of people, some areas constantly needed 'overflow servers' because there was just not enough space for so many placers.

The game

I will not tell you everything there is to know about Guild Wars or Guild Wars 2 here, if you like you can read my Entries about it.

As I have to start somewhere and as I am an Arts Editor I first want to tell you a bit about the artistic features of the game. To put it simple: it rally is amazingly beautiful. The whole world is designed to the last corner. Nothing seems random. There are interesting things and beautiful views to detect everywhere. I spent a lot of time with just exploring the part of the game that was available in this beta, and although it seemed so big it was just a tiny part of the finished game. There are flowering gardens, city squares, bastions, everything you could wish for and in many different styles. It's a lot of fun to look at. Same goes for the designs of armour and weapons, even the most basic things just look good. There were even houses where artwork of Guild Wars and Guild Wars 2 was hanging on the walls as paintings, whch I found really a neat idea.

The user interface is just as well designed and people who pay attention can see that the picture doesn't just end at the sides of your screen, no, the edges of the picture look like the edges of a painting, it doesn't quite reach to the corners. The in-game map also looks more and more like a painting the more the player zooms out. In addition cutscenes in which the player character talks to non player characters feature concept art of the game in the background, like a theatre stage set. This is to tell you: everything just fits together. This is not just a game. This is art.

Guild Wars 1 will find many references to the old game, even people who tell stories which are related to it. A lot of experience points are given for just running around and exploring the world. Like in Guild Wars 1 there are again titles to be achieved for this – and other things like slying a certain amount of a certain type of creatures and the like. Just a lot more different things than there were in the first game.

So, what did I play? Mainly a Charr Engineer because I think that's what I'll play in the released game, but I also tried a human Mesmer and a Norn Necromancer (Sylvari and Asura were both not available in this beta). I must say I liked all of these three classes, which was a surprise in the case of the Mesmer. One fault was the human character creation, many people complained that they all look too young, while on the other hand male Norn look too much like Hulk. The appearences of the Charr were all really good.

The actual gameplay needs a while to get used to for most people. At first I had some difficulties but things got better until the end of the weekend. Although every player has only access to up to 10 different skills at the same time every single one of them seems to be useful. Nobody is drowned in a sea of skills of which onls 2 or 3 are needed, everything seems to make sense. Additionally every player can heal, at least themselves and also others depending on the healing skill. This is something I really like and miss in many games. And of course it is necessary in a game without healing class. Reviving others and NPCs actually is rewarded, isn't that cool?

If things go bad in a fight you do not die immediately but first go into a ‘downed state' in which you get a last chance to fight for your life by either healing yourself or doing things like throwing stones at your opponent. I was at first quite sceptical about this feature but in the game it just seems natural and I never really thought about it anymore. Additionally armor gets damaged and if you don't pay attention you may find yourself suddenly only wearing underpants on the battlefield! A really funny sight. Repairing armor is also not very expensive, but it needs going to a town. But if you *do* survive (and I died a lot or at least was ‘downed' a lot, and I had the impression it was meant to be so) your health fills up very fast after a fight, there is no long waiting time or healing.

Usually I am not at all a PvP player, but I did try World versus World, where the players of three game servers are meeting each other in battle. There can be up to 1500 players in the 4 maps of the battle all in all. I was really impressed by the size of the maps and the whole layout. There are big castles with towers and baileys and secret tunnels. People fight with trebuchets and knock down doors with rams and the whole battle just goes on and on (planned for 2 weeks each in the released game). I was exploring the map for quite a while but never saw even half of it. It is a whole game within a game, it's even possible to level only in WvW. Very impressive.

The main storyline of all characters was interesting and it made me wonder what would have happened if I would have made other choices on the way, because there are choices that influence the story. Unforunately there are so many possibilities that I'll never be able to play all of them. Whiche in a way is good, there's always something new whenever you paly the game. Next to fighting and exploring the world I also had to solve a riddle (and I hope there is more of that in the game).

Although I really liked it the game was of course what it was: a beta version. There were some problems here and there, the balance of the different professions and the difficulty of contant was not yet perfect for instance.

After the beta is before the beta

When I logged in at Star Wars on Tuesday I was just confused, after only a weekend of Guild Wars 2 I had forgotten everything, because guild Wars was just so much more impressive. I have read a lot of comments by people who said that they have cancelled their current subscription in whatever online game they play after palying Guild Wars 2 because it changed their view on games completely. Now everyone is waiting for the next beta event, which should take place in a few weeks.

If you want to see more there are a lot of videos on youtube and I have uploaded a collection of screenshots for you on my flickr account.

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07.05.12 Front Page

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1a 'making of' book, a big 'miniature' of one of the main characters in the game, a soundtrack CD and some in-game items are included next to the game itself

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