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PAX 2011 - The Whole Package

William Murphy Posted:
Interviews 0

This year’s PAX Prime 2011 echoed the scene from Gamescom 2011: everyone, not just MMO press, is starting to realize that Guild Wars 2 is a game to watch.  The mainstream press is even jumping on the bandwagon and saying, “Whoa, look what these guys are building.”  There’s a reason that we gave ArenaNet’s game Best in Show: it’s because they put the proof in the proverbial pudding.  Our first meeting of the weekend was with Colin Johanson and Eric Flannum to chat about all things Tyria.  We were not disappointed with what we learned during the presentation.  Though there wasn’t anything specifically earth-shattering it was all good information. 

Character Creation: No Uggos

The first thing the guys showed us was the character creation, a lot more in depth than ever before at these events.  Their goal is to have a hybrid of selections and slider options, but not to the point where players can make a beautifully and imposing Norn woman look like a deformed troll.  In short, they told us there would be “No Uggos” in Tyria, unless of course you count the Asura which sort of use the cute form of “ugly” like a pug or a bulldog. 

You’ll be able to tweak and mold your character’s armor dyes from creation, and the game will intelligently apply the colors you choose to later pieces of armor as you play.  Of course you will always be able to change the colors, and I think the best comparison I can think of is DCUO’s color palette system.  The game remembers what your look is, and will put those colors on each new piece of armor you receive, unless you tell it otherwise.

Creating and Starting a Charr

Next they walked us through creating a Charr.  Lots of different fur and hair patterns are available, and the colors are of course customizable.  You can even select from well over a dozen horn-styles, with more being added in before the inevitable launch.  The bio questions were rather cool too (SPOILER ALERT!).  You get to choose your sparring partner from your warband, and there’s a point early on in the game where you and your sparring partner are the only two survivors of a battle.  This character becomes very valuable to your personal story. 

You also choose your father, and while fathers aren’t very important to the Charr as a species, their actions to reflect upon you and depending on your choice people will perceive you in different ways and your story will be altered.  For instance, with one you’ll be trying to escape the bad name your father made, while with another you’ll be trying to hunt down your dad and find out why he abandoned his warband. 

The Weapon Skills and Dodge Mechanics

We were then ushered quickly through the beginning portions of the Charr tutorial.  Colin had picked an Engineer and as such began the game with just one attack on his shotgun.  Here Eric explained that there’s a quick process for learning your weapon skills (which are separate from class skills/spells).  Basically they didn’t want you to have to keep your weapons “trained” as in other MMOs, but they still wanted progression tied to them in some way. 

So quickly, as you first begin to use a new weapon, you gain skills for that weapon type.  The shotgun Colin used had a regular blast as the primary spam-attack, and then as he fought after about five minutes of the tutorial he earned his second weapon skill, a nicely animated snare that shot a net out at the enemy and stops them cold in their tracks.  The idea is to ease someone into using the weapons, but they don’t want it to be a long process.  By the time you hit the real world, you could conceivably have most of your first weapon’s skills.

The guys also talked about the recently announced decision to do away with energy as a form of skill management.  Energy is no longer used at all for spells or skills.  The idea is that if you have the ability to use these skills, they don’t want you to be watching the mana bar and cooldowns at all times.  So instead they’ve put energy as the sole source of dodging in the combat.  And with dodging being such a viable part of the mechanics, they’ve been testing this set up for a while and found out that (gasp!) it makes the combat much more fun.  No energy potions, just a straight recharge, and right now you can get two full dodges off of your full energy bar before it is rendered empty.  Though Colin noted that the more agile classes would likely get bonuses to their dodge and recharge rates, as well as statistical bonuses through gear and so forth. 

Recap? Skills and spells don’t use mana or energy or anything of the sort.  They’re just on a cooldown.  Only dodge requires energy and dodge is extremely important in GW2’s combat.

The Asura Guardian and Water Combat

Lastly we were shown a high level area as the Asura Guardian called Sparkfly Fen.  Around level 55 or so, it’s a lush and watery coastal zone, with lots of plant life and more than a few nasty problems imposing on the land’s inhabitants.  Colin took the little Asura (who may win an award for best animations ever one day), and swam into the deep waters off the coast, aggroing the heck out of every undead baddie there.  The swimming is fluid and smooth, and the skills with your harpoon and spear in the water change combat completely from what you have available on land.  At one point he was surrounded by about two-dozen enemies and used a long cooldown skill that created a sort of whirlwind with the spear, knocking enemies left and right and propelling himself about fifty meters away from the trouble, allowing him to start kiting and escape death.  In short… this may be the first time ever where underwater combat is fun

PVP Details and Hints

Last, but certainly not least, we were treated to a walkthrough of one of the PVP zones, the Battle of Khylo.  There weren’t any players around to see how it really worked, but the map is actually quite large and expansive for what amounts to a “Battleground” form of PvP.  Essentially, ANet is taking a page from shooters in their quick-form PVP matches and putting in a server list format for their matches.  They’ll list out different types of games with different rules and the like and let players pick which ones they want to take part in.  Additionally, Eric and Colin said they are considering a plan to allow players to create their own PvP matches within the same system as the official match servers (as opposed to "hosting" private servers). The idea, if it makes it into the game in time, is to let players tweak the rules and requirements to their specifications along the lines of the way Clans host their own matches for Call of Duty.

The map itself had a nice mix of open areas and choke-points, all in a war-torn village sort of setting.  The coolest thing we saw however was the use of the trebuchet.  These are scattered for each side throughout the map, and can cause a lot of quite literal destruction when employed correctly.  There’s a building in the middle of the map that can be all but completely destroyed using the treb, but doing so also allows for some strategic options so it’s actually one of the first things the developer expects players to do.  There’s something very epic about watching the trebuchet launch its projectiles across the map and destroy actual buildings and scenery.  It’s not exactly something you see players do in most MMOs.

Additionally, it’s worth noting that players will be able to break windows to gain access to buildings, crash down walls, and in general mess with the environment in many ways.  There will be barrels for cover, but these can be broken of course.  Bridges, windows, walls, even clock towers and the like are all part of the many ways in which these PVP maps will be interacted with. 

Before our presentation and interview ended, we snuck a few final questions at Eric and Colin.  We pondered more on the World v. World v. World PVP, but they could offer us no more detail other than what we’d heard already: it’s going to be big, there’s going to be siege weapons, and the rewards will be so great that you’re going to want to destroy the other two servers.  The guys said ArenaNet is committed to offering tons of content for free, and the general idea is to never segregate players based on the paid types of content.  For instance, like Valve, they’re not going to make players pay for a new PVP map.  Instead they think they’ll be adding in new zones and the like, on top of the little vanity sorts of items.  But they’re never going to ask players to pay for something that alters an already purchased part of the game, because they don’t want to segregate their player-base. 

That, more than anything during the presentation, had me smiling.


William Murphy

Bill is the former Managing Editor of MMORPG.com, RTSGuru.com, and lover of all things gaming. He's been playing and writing about MMOs and geekery since 2002, and you can harass him and his views on Twitter @thebillmurphy.