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PAX 2011 - Hands On with the Asura Guardian

William Murphy Posted:
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There’s something in my genes, despite my 6’4” frame that behooves me to play tiny little characters in MMORPGs.  I don’t always make them my main characters, but I always and forever feel connected to the weird little underdogs of the MMORPG world.  Maybe it’s because I’m from Cleveland and we’re home of the longest running championship drought for all three major pro-sports (add it up), but I like the guys that look like they should be beaten to a pulp under the heel of their enemies.  I like the guys who don’t look like they stand a chance.  And therefore, when I had some hands on time with Guild Wars 2 this past weekend at PAX Prime (and thanks to the pressing of Eric Flannum that I must) I gave the Asura Guardian the old college try.

I was not disappointed.

I got to play around in the Sparkfly Fen area, which we were treated to a bit during the earlier press demo and interview.  However, instead of heading for the open water, I decided that I really wanted to track down some of the many dynamic events littered throughout the area.  This part I can’t stress enough: Guild Wars 2’s maps are huge.  Like, really, really big.  If Sparkfly Fen is anything to go by, explorers are going to have a lot of corners and nooks to dig into. 

The zone was incredibly detailed and populated with wildlife and fauna, and from my brief time with the place I really got the sense that there was constantly something happening.  GW2’s zones are not going to be the same old “static” landscapes with quest hubs and roving baddies.  I mean, that’s still essentially what’s going on, but the dynamic events are everywhere in a constant state of flux, and you really notice them.  They feel teeming with life and meaning.  Whether this will hold true through the game’s many levels remains to be seen, but both the Norn tutorial (which I played at PAX East) and this high level zone for around 55 feel exceedingly well put together. 

I had a bit of a rough time jumping into a level 55 Guardian, but I quickly learned that the tilde key will swap between weapon sets, and that my skills with each weapon changed depending on what I was wielding.  For instance, one of my sets was a sword and a torch.  I also had a mace and a shield, but let’s forget about that.  The sword/torch combo pretty much owns everything else I’ve had the luxury of trying in GW2 so far.  Why, you ask?

Because with that torch my little Asura can breathe fire.

He doesn’t just breathe it, he hops up into the air and the sheer force of the flame holds him there as a hovering jet of white-hot flame as my enemies singe and bubble before me.  I can say that my lack of true familiarity with the game’s UI (which is looking mighty clean and polished) had me a bit confused.  The weapon skills are on one side of the health-meter and the class skills are on the other side.  So for most of the time I pretty much used just my weapon skills, but they worked so well I didn’t even notice.  There’s a great single-target attack with this weapon set that triple-hits the enemy for some amazing damage too.  He leaps off the ground and spins and twirls around as he slices and dices the enemy in mid-air.  I’m pretty sure that this weapon combo isn’t intended for the “defense and self-sacrifice” nature of the class.  No, it’s meant for killing.  And it does its job well.

The animations on the Asura are a thing of beauty too.  You can really tell the time and care ArenaNet is putting into each race by the simple fact that they each have different animations for everything, including attacks.  His run and jump are suitably cute but believable, while his attacks are vicious and menacing… like when you get a cat wet and you’re pretty sure it’s going to claw your eyes out and eat them while crapping in the sockets.

I did notice that walking places takes a lot of time, which is good for the explorers.  But with no mounts, time-limited folks will be glad to know that discoverable teleport points are scattered throughout the map a la Guild Wars: The OG.  Once you’ve found one, you’ll be able to hop to it from afar whenever you want.  I couldn’t tell if there was any penalty for this, but I’m guessing not.  Either you’ll use it and use it well, or if you prefer to walk you’ll spend your time hoofing it from event to event.  I’m thinking that for me it’ll be situational.  Sometimes I like to get lost, while others I need to get where I’m going in a jiffy.

The event I took part in was nothing spectacular, just one of the areas many smaller events culminating in the larger dragon boss-fight we saw from Gamescom.  The Sylvari in the area needed help scouting the forest and clearing it of undead drowned sailors (there’s a more technical name for them, but in the hubbub of PAX I missed it).  Me and a Necromancer, which by the way is already one of the most impressive classes I’ve ever seen in an MMO, worked our way along with the Sylvari to wipe out these guys.  Swarms of them would come at us at once, and the end culminated in a satisfying mini-boss battle amid the ruins of an old temple. 

There were only two of us, and it wasn’t that hard, but it apparently scales with the amount of people.  Additionally, our demo helpers from ANet told us that this is pretty much the way all quests work in Tyria.  Sure we’d just killed 10 whatever, and sure escorted these Sylvari and kept them safe.  Both are very basic tenants of the MMO genre.  But the way in which we were directed to this task and the way in which it was all presented left me and my Necromancer friend completely unaware we were just doing a kill 10 and escort quest.  There was no number checklist on the side of the map to watch, and I never once felt like I was doing a “chore”. 

If GW2 can carry this kind of content through an entire MMORPG, a lot of people are going to be very happy with the result.


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.