In the weeks leading up to this year’s New York ComicCon I took the opportunity to use one of our columns to discuss what my expectations were for Guild Wars 2 at the show as well as express my desire to finally get some hands-on time with the game, something some of you reading this have already beaten me to experiencing! Well, as luck would turn out I got a chance to sample the Guild Wars 2 experience at a NCsoft press event outside of the convention hall.
As some of you might recall, I did say if I got a chance to play the game I would do so as a Ranger, and I’d do my best to run with a Flamingo as I did in the original Guild Wars. Unfortunately, no Flamingos were on hand, but I did create a level 1 Human Ranger with the similar looking Moa bird as my pet.
The demo started out with character creation, which was restricted somewhat for demo purposes (players could not physically customize their characters). The creation process is done in an ad-libs sort of fashion where I was basically filling out my new character’s biography. After I selected the Ranger, it was time to select my pet. I had the choice between a dog, a moa bird, or a bear, and as I mentioned earlier, I went with the bird.
Personality was up next. Choosing your character’s personality in Guild Wars 2 doesn’t outright affect the types of choices and storyline content available to you, instead it serves as more of a flavor choice. Personality affects how you talk to people and how people talk to you, but it also affects the way in which you accomplish certain things in the storyline. A charming character for example might use persuasion in order to get an NPC to spill the beans on something, while a ferocious character might use the threat of violence to get information. I chose the ferocious personality, though to be honest, I can’t recall it ever coming into play during the course of my demo.
The process then continued with the selection of my character’s background. Was he raised in the streets? As part of the nobility? Or was he a simple commoner? I chose the commoner, with no particular reason.
The final two choices prior to selecting my character’s name left me incredibly curious. The first of these choices involved selecting my character’s biggest regret, and if you’ve read a lot of these previews already, I’m sure you aren’t surprised to hear that I chose not joining the circus as my biggest regret. I’m really curious to find out how this one manifests in the game. The second choice involved the selection of my character’s deity, and most (if not all) of the available choices should be familiar to fans of the game’s predecessor. This too, left me intrigued; I wonder what role a character’s deity will play as well, as there was no apparent explanation. I chose Lyssa, the dual-faced goddess of beauty, water, and illusion.
Character creation ends with a finalized result of all the choices I made during the process that is presented in the form of a letter, a letter you sign with your character’s name, which was a neat little addition. This part of the creation process proved to be the most challenging, as I typo’d MikeB enough times to make me look like a fool, so I just went with Mike. This was no fault of the game, it was simply a result of getting used to the awkward orientation of my new Logitech G110 keyboard. Typing on regular keyboards is a bit weird now.
Entering the game begins with a neat cinematic that makes use of the concept art-in-motion style seen in many of Guild Wars 2’s trailers, while also using your particular character and the choices you made to tell the basic story of the game and how your character fits in.
What is that story, you ask? Guild Wars 2 takes place 250 years after the events of Guild Wars: Eye of the North, and those 250 years have not been kind to the Human race, which is in rapid decline. Humanity’s many nations have succumbed to the corruption and destruction caused by the five elder dragons that have arisen, leaving only Kryta as the sole remaining Human nation, and the great city of Divinity’s Reach serves as the home of the Human player. As a commoner, the cinematic describes the player as having never sought glory or riches, leading a relatively simple life, well, at least until that one fateful day he decided to set foot outside the walls of Divinity’s Reach and explore the world. Upon arriving in the nearby village of Shaemoor, the player discovers that the town is under siege by centaurs. Ready to make a stand, I was committed to saving the town of Shaemoor, and this is where our story begins.
Going into the demo I wanted to put some of ArenaNet’s claims of a living world to the test by doing my best to ignore a lot of the text and rely mostly on the world around me to direct my experience. The beginnings of the game are admittedly a bit more guided, but not enough to muddle the fact that this game is different from your everyday MMO. Immediately, I came upon a problem that would persist throughout my first demo of the game. I kept looking around for someone to grab a quest from. As soon as I entered the game, there was indeed an NPC there who had some instructions for me, mostly relaying the fact the town was under siege and that the people needed rescuing, but there wasn’t really a formal quest giver to be found.
With my heroic task in my mind, my trusty Moa bird and I headed down into the village and I got a taste of the game’s combat for the first time. I tested my mettle against a number of threatening looking but easy enough to dispatch centaurs. This early in the game the combat experience didn’t really do much to show me how different the game was, but moving around and shooting enemies felt quite fluid, and just like the original Guild Wars projectiles can miss if the target moves out of its path. One key difference was the fact I was able to fire off projectile attacks whenever I saw fit, even without a target.
After I slayed several centaurs I went ahead and rescued the cowering civilians and then moved on towards the town gates which were being assaulted by a centaur force as well. In order to save Shaemoor, the centaurs had to be stopped at the gates, and unfortunately I missed most of the battle, which went on without me given the dynamic nature of the game. I arrived just in time to get in a few licks in on the centaur leader, who then retreated, only to summon a giant stone elemental. My fight with the stone elemental is where I got a bit more accustomed to the game’s combat system. In my excitement to play the game, I kind of forgot that one could dodge and roll out of the way of things, and I found rolling around to avoid attacks from the elemental while returning fire with arrows to be very satisfying.
Defeating the elemental resulted in a massive explosion that knocked my character out cold. A short loading screen later and I awoke south of Divinity’s Reach in Queensdale where I’d been unconscious for three days. The personal storyline system kicked in here and I was treated to one of the game’s dialogue cutscenes, which are fully voiced.
At this point, I was pretty much free to explore the town and help out wherever I felt like. One of the game’s scouts was just outside of the inn I was staying at and helped give me a bit of direction by pointing out some of the areas of interest on the map denoted by small hearts. The events occurring at the heart-marked locations felt a bit like highly evolved public quests that fit more naturally into the world, and they often called me to the attention of other events going on in the peripheral area that I could get involved in. As part of my work in town I aided a farmer in retrieving some watermelons, a fairly mundane task. I also aided yet another farmer from bandits who were assaulting and setting her land ablaze. Though the ultimate objective was to repel the bandit waves, I could also help by dousing flames with buckets of water I was able to lift and carry around. Completing any of these events resulted in a reward of experience, gold, and karma. Karma can be spent at various merchants throughout the world to redeem all manner of rewards, which are from what I understand unique to the merchant.
Speaking of merchants, Colin Johanson, one of the game designers on Guild Wars 2 noted some of the more subtle effects the results of the events going on in the town had on the availability of certain rewards. The town market was home to a number of merchants, including Karma merchants, and the availability of these merchants and subsequently their rewards is wholly dependent on factors in the game world. The fisherman (a Karma merchant), Colin explained, was only around due to the fact that players in the area had slain the rampaging Brood Mother that was preventing the fisherman from, well, fishing! On the flip side, a produce merchant alongside him was out of stock (with her baskets empty to reflect this) due to the fact that no one helped save her crops from raiding bandits. This is your first very real example of the way the dynamic events system affects the world, and contemplating the deeper possibilities of this system got me pretty excited.
Two things were consistent during my adventures in town. One, I kept trying to talk to people to get quests as I mentioned earlier. I felt like a total idiot with how many times I would go back to an NPC and wonder what I needed to do to “accept the quest” to help her out, this was despite the fact I knew the game didn’t have quests going in. I have no idea why this happened; I guess I’ve just been trained to do it from all the other games I’ve played. You must unlearn what you have learned and all that. Two, I found myself distracted many times and my poor Moa bird ended up dying a lot in a valiant attempt at saving my life (which he succeeded at doing every time!). I eventually paid attention to the fact I had a heal skill (which healed both my bird and I at the same time, woot!), and I put that to good use keeping my bird alive.
After messing around in town, I decided to finish up my demo in Divinity’s Reach and check out the next leg of the personal story system. Divinity’s Reach is made up of six massive sections, and the city feels immediately alive, bustling with NPCs going about their own business. I greeted a few NPCs who had more to say than I had time to listen unfortunately, and then made my way to my story instance where I fought off some bandits attacking the tavern during my homecoming. Unfortunately, my demo time ran out here and the battle went unresolved, but I was definitely pining for more.