As we get to the close of the “first” GW2 beta weekend, I feel I’ve seen enough to form a first impression. In that time I’ve taken a Norn warrior to level 13, a human thief to 11, had a brief play around with a charr engineer (to level 4) and a very quick try of the guardian, mesmer and ranger classes – and to do that I had to delete a character (see below).
First of all, the good. The visuals and the music are both deeply impressive – graphics are comparable with Rift rather than WoW or SWTOR’s cartoony style. Combat with all of the characters I tried was fast and fluid, and swapping to a different weapon set up, which has its own set of skills, made for a tangibly different fighting style. The difference between an axe fighter and a sword master is no longer merely “0.3 weapon speed”. The setting is mostly generic fantasyland, but well thought out and immersive – there’s none of WoW’s habit of swinging a wrecking ball at the fourth wall. The capital cities of the three races are huge, feel like cities with all of the NPCs going about the streets, and feature some genuinely awe-inspiring architecture, especially the Norn lodges. If role-playing guilds don’t start holding some proper rounds of toasting and boasting in the Wolf or Raven lodge, I’ll want to know why not. And the automatic levelling down of players to match the area they’re in is pure genius – it means that the entire world is still valid playable content even when you reach level cap, and there’s no worry about seeing some overlevelled guy steamroller through your quest objectives while he power-levels his guildie.
Secondly – the game struck me as evolutionary more than revolutionary. This is not necessarily a criticism of the game, you understand, rather one of the expectations some players seem to have. The combat is fast-paced and you can dodge big attacks, but it’s still got the underlying hot keys and select a target mechanics (which frankly, I prefer to have in this sort of game anyway). The “hearts” on the map are old-fashioned quests in a thin disguise – you don’t have to click on anyone to start them so you get credit for stuff you kill as soon as you’re in the right area, and you can choose between clicking on stuff or killing foozles to advance them, but at the end of the day it’s still clicking on stuff and killing foozles in return for a miserly reward. The events stand firmly on the shoulders of WAR’s public quests and Rift’s rifts and zone invasions – there’s a nice touch in that some events chain into others (fail to “defend the town” for example, and a “recapture the town” event will start soon after). The lack of dedicated healers or anything recognisably like a tank (as there’s no aggro control) means that multiplayer events are primarily a swarm of damage dealers vs the enemy, with a lot of dying on the side of the players as well as the monsters – however, everyone can rez so that it becomes part of the normal ebb and flow of combat. It’s definitely different, but it might seem a bit too zergy for some. I, however, loved it – get in there, lay down some smack, get smacked down, get helped to my feet by a comrade and get back in the enemy’s face. Glorious.
Thirdly, the grumbles. Ignoring all of the “it’s beta” items (Work In Progress stickers – literally – on the cutscenes, a bar keeper called Bar Keeper [CHARNAME] with some placeholder dialogue, and other signs that this game really is actually in development and testing and this isn’t just a marketing exercise), ignoring all that, I only have two grumbles. One is that the voice acting was so-so. Not terrible, but not anywhere near the standard of SWTOR and also I was a bit irritated that every single character had a bland American West Coast accent. Don’t they know that it is a rule of nature, as evidenced by the Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones, that people in fantasyland have English accents, apart from dwarves, who are of course Scottish? Grumble number two – only five character slots? Seriously? With eight classes and a case of altitis, that’s going to be a major pain.
Conclusion – I like this game. I’m looking forward to playing some more. I’m convinced that the money I spent on a copy was money well spent. But I STILL think there are going to be some bitterly disappointed people spewing venom in places like MMORPG.com when they realise that their paradigm-shifting, brave new world of a game really isn’t.