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March 18-20 Beta Weekend Event Diary

Reed Hubbard Posted:
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Day 2 – March 19, 2005

Previous Guild Wars events, at least the ones I in which I have participated, have been all about showing off new technology and showcasing the game. The beta weekends, particularly this one, are about getting the game in shape to go live, or so it seems. Don’t get me wrong, that’s what a beta test is supposed to be, so I understand the lockups, the quirks, etc. I just hope the other players do, because I’m hearing more complaints this time around. Folks, remember that the game isn’t finished yet. It’s to be expected that everything isn’t perfect.

Regardless, Guild Wars is in a great state. Some games have shipped with less polish (sad, but true). The game’s storyline is more complete this time around. You start out at the end of Ascalon’s glory days. The Charr are invading and you are called to arms to defend your homeland. The first three or so levels you spend in a charming countryside with lush vegetation and quaint towns. After you hit level 3, you can enter the Academy for training, which is a PVP area that gives you a shot at what is the strongest part of Guild Wars – the player vs. player game.

Once you leave the Academy, Ascalon has been ravaged and you are called to turn back the Charr and other opponents. In a rather nice touch, you can revisit the areas you frequented before, but you aren’t told particularly what they are. It is up to the player to make the connection, because the land is burnt and destroyed, and even though the land’s layout is the same, it’s hardly recognizable at first glance.

There are mission areas that are part of the ongoing story and are progressive. You have to complete the first to enter the second and so on. These areas are cooperative, but it’s extremely easy to get a party. Lots of players are milling about the mission entrance looking for a group. If you’d rather play solo, you can recruit computer-controlled henchmen to give you a boost. Right now you can choose from a warrior, a healer, a ranger and a mage. No necromancer or mesmer henchmen yet, but those are characters best left to human players, especially the mesmer, which is purely a support character.

The biggest problem with the henchmen is how little control you have over them. They basically follow and attack what you attack. Fine until you choose to employ some tactics that don’t jibe with their programming. For example, the warrior is a melee character. Sometimes it makes sense to stand back and start with a ranged volley to pull a couple of opponents to you, but once the first arrow is fired, the warrior charges in and may end up in range of additional mobs who will gang up and wipe the floor with you. If you’ve ever been on a EQ/DAoC/etc. raid with a gung-ho kid who charges ahead of the main tank and pulls half the dungeon down on your raid party, then you have an idea of what I’m talking about.

Pulling back can pose problems. Breaking off combat is supposed to tell your henchmen to quit fighting as well, but it doesn't always work as advertised, especially in the midst of a heated battle (which is when you're most likely to need to fall back). The henchmen fight really well, but there needs to be better control over them. I’d like to see healers with the option to choose pure healing over offensive magic (nothing is more bloody exasperating than to see your healer out there attacking when you’re two shots from death!) Also, a passive/defensive/aggressive option would work wonders on the offensive henchmen.

It’s more fun to play with real people. In the coops your team starts with four players and increases in size as the missions get longer and tougher. The best bet is to get a good mix of warriors and healer with at least one offensive caster, like a water elementalist. People tend to kind of forget about rangers because warrior can fire a bow as well, but the ranger is deadly from a distance. I played in a couple of all melee groups and the groups with a support caster/ranger are much more effective.

The landscape is cool, but it’s a bit deceptive. There’s no way to jump off a cliff or up on a rampart. In fact, I don’t believe there’s a jump function in the game at all. There are lots of “invisible barriers” all over as the devs have set up discrete paths throughout the areas. It’s a minor issue, but I don’t understand why I can’t jump off a 2 foot high knoll to the path below rather than run around the long way. Of course, this can work to a tactical advantage. If you come across some melee opponents that are down in a gully, you can fire a ranged attack on them while they have to make the run. By the time they get to you, they’re probably at half-health and you can rip ‘em a new one pretty easily.

Quests are everywhere is you want to stay out of the missions. One notable trend in MMORPGs is marking quest givers with a big, floating exclamation point over their heads. World of Warcraft is where I first saw it, and now The Matrix Online and Guild Wars are using the same method. Quests are loaded into your log and choosing one lets you see the destination for that quest on the mini-map. Quests work pretty much the same way as in other games, but so far I’ve only been given experience as a reward. Maybe items will be set as rewards later.

Quests are one of the areas that need some work. They just aren’t polished yet and there are a lot of issues that are small, but noticeable, like the ability to complete tasks through means other than those prescribed. The mesmer trainer wants you to kill a bull using your mesmer spells, but you can go hack it to death and still get credit. There are also some with spelling errors and pidgin English. One I read sounded like a poor translation of Japanese text. One of the focuses of this beta test is fixing the text, so I’ll give Arena some rope there, but they do need to shore the quests up.

Even if you hate PvP, you’ll have fun playing in Guild Wars implementation. The PvP system seems to keep participants at the same level and it’s done in a tournament system. You join a team of four or eight and go at it. It’s a lot like a team deathmatch, but just going out there and blasting away doesn’t always work. In some matches you must keep your priest and hero alive while killing the other team’s. A well organized team will always have the upper hand.

I joined a team that consisted of two warriors, a monk and a caster. We romped the competition for about three rounds because the main tank would target someone and we’d all work on him until he was dead. Of course, I had my clock cleaned more than I won. It’s not always easy to get a good team when you’re playing pick-up. I imagine Guild Wars will see an emergence of smaller, more cohesive teams. That paradigm is better suited to GW’s style of play where big guilds fit the more traditional MMORPGs. A guild of five is generally considered dead in Dark Age of Camelot, but it has the potential to be a monster PvP gang in Guild Wars.

I think my favorite thing about Guild Wars is that I can play for 10 minutes and get something done. This is being seen more in MMORPGs (e.g. World of Warcraft, DAoC Catacombs, The Matrix Online), but Guild Wars has it almost perfected. I can run a mission, do battle in the arena, or run a quick quest in a relatively short amount of time. I don’t see it as a replacement for large-scale, big raid games. More like an alternative. Sometimes I want to go on a big raid and be well rewarded, and sometimes I want to pay for 45 minutes. Guild Wars seems better designed for the latter. I've heard there are higher level areas that take much more time and effort and require larger parties, but I haven't been able to make it there yet. Still, GW's bread and butter is the short game and that's what I've really been enjoying. If they can build a couple of stellar raid areas into the game, they’ll be giving everyone, even World of Warcraft, a run for the money.

See you chaps tomorrow!

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Reed Hubbard