Guild Wars 2

When you talk about MMORPGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games), you talk about World Of Warcraft. Blizzard’s masterpiece has dominated the market in the last 7 years (oh, yes, World of Warcraft dates back _SEVEN_ years), imposing standards that many have tried to copy but few (actually, no one) have succeded in managing. Just to give an idea, with reference to users’ subscriptions (people that pays the monthly fees), the ratio between World Of Warcraft and other (supposed) leading MMORPGs (Age Of Conan, Warhammer Online, …) is some 100 to 1 (where 100 is more than 11.000.000 and 1 is barely 100.000).

Yet, one of the most awaited video-games for 2012 is a MMORPG. Guild Wars 2.

Guild Wars 2

Guild Wars 2 is the sequel to the widely acclaimed Guild Wars, a MMORPG dated 2005 (therefore, only one year after the release of World of Warcraft). Guild Wars managed to find his own place in the MMORPG market mainly because of two features that made it different from any other mainstream MMORPG at that time available: no monthly subscription fee (the game was “free-to-play” once you bought it) and instanced world of play (that is to say that the whole world of play was specifically generated for each player, with no possibility to meet other players outside outposts).

No need to say the first feature has been welcomed with great enthusiasm by players, while the second has long been discussed since it is something quite different from the MMORPGs philosophy, according to which each player should be able to interact with other players no matter where they are in the world of play. Anyway, in the long term, the decision made by ArenaNet has been winning: Guild Wars sold more than 6.5 millions units (considering all the three stand-alone episodes and the expansion pack), showing that an instanced world, where no one can steal your loots and kills, has conquered many players.

Guild Wars 2 has been announced in 2007 and it still does not have an official release date (“When it’s finished”, they say at ArenaNet). There are different reasons to look at this MMORPG with great interest. Not only, in fact, the publishers (NcSoft) and developers (ArenaNet) have decided to keep the “no-monthly-fee” politics and the instanced world, both certainly appreciated by non-hardcore players and casual gamers. They also made significant steps toward the centrality of the playing characters in the events told and the persistency of the world of play, something MMORPGs have always lacked.

What can we expect from Guild Wars 2?

First of all, a persistent world, something not usual in MMORPGs. ArenaNet wants to do something different, something that puts the player at the center of the events told in the story. As Game Designer Ree Soesby puts it in the video above:

 As a structure, The MMO has lost the ability to make the player feel like a hero. Everybody around you is doing the same things you are doing, the boss that has been killed respawns 10 minutes later … it doesn’t care that I’m there. […] In Guild Wars 2 it’s your world, it’s your story. […] You are meeting with people whom you will then see again, you rescue a village that would stay rescued.

Furthermore, the events will work on a “cause-effect” basis. When a player makes a choice, it really effects the world of play and the events that the player will have to face.

To make the long story short, Guild Wars 2 world is pulsing. This is why it may happen that you find yourself in a quest simply wondering through the world. If a group of bandits attacks a village, you don’t have to run to the villager with an exclamation mark on his head to find out about it (after all, why the hell is he staying there if bandits are attacking his village?), but you _are_ in the quest the exact moment you spot the village. “You can stand up for the villagers, or you can watch their village burn to the ground and then deal with the consequences” (Mike O’Brien – Guild Wars 2 Design Manifesto).

This is also something that is going to redefine the idea of instanced world and of PvE (Player versus Environment). Mike O’Brien explains greatly how this works.

When I’m out hunting and suddenly there’s a huge explosion over the next hill – the ground is shaking and smoke is pouring into the sky – I’m going to want to investigate, and most other players in the area will too. […] With traditional MMOs you can choose to solo or you can find a good guild or party to play with. With GW2 there’s a third option too: you can just naturally play with all the people around you. […] When someone kills a monster, not just that player’s party but everyone who was seriously involved in the fight gets 100% of the XP and loot for the kill.

In a world where the playing characters are at the centre of what happens, their creation and development is crucial. Character creation aims at great character personalization, with the important addition of character background. After choosing race, profession and appearance, you will go through some questions that define your character’s attitude and habits. For example, for the human elementalist, you will be asked to choose which of the four elements you feel your own, if you usually overcome troubles with charm, dignity or ferocity, if you were raised by common folk, nobles or in the street, and so on. Each of these answer will impact your character background and will change the way you will live your story in the game.

About character development, ArenaNet is trying to move from the usual triad “healer-DPS-tank”, introducing abilities for each class that can change the role of the character according to the different circumstances. Furthermore, the skill system is flexible (just like in Guild Wars) and each character has the possibility to discover skill combos that are different from any other player.

A flexible skill system also lead to a flexible combat system. Not only skills can be combined by a playing character, they can also be combined between different playing characters. ArenaNet also added more environmental weapons (like trebuchet and catapults, but also stones, tree branches just hacked off by an Oakheart, jars of bees, and so on). All those features aim at having a combat system that is personal, challenging and different from time to time, so that it doesn’t get boring as it usually does in other MMORPGs.

PvP (player versus player) has some interesting features too. When you enter a PvP event your level is automatically maximized to the top level of other partecipants, so that each player in the event will have the same level and you will be able to use all the available abilities and items to help your party win. Casual gamers will be able to join an ongoing match and start playing right away thanks to the “hot joinable” PvP, while competitive and hardcore players can choose the tournament mode for a more organized and structured play. Each PvP event will have secondary objectives that can help your party win the main scenario. And most interestingly there will be a very peculiar RvR (realm versus realm) feature that puts different worlds into a competition for vital resources.

Now worlds can compete against each other, through the mists that separate them, for scarce resources that benefit an entire world. Joining this PvP competition is completely optional, just like it was in the original GW, but if you do compete you’re now going to find that your world welcomes you with open arms. You don’t have to join a party to join the fight. All you have to do is get out there and start helping. Everyone has the same objective, and if your world can get 501 people working for the same goal, that’s only going to be more helpful than 500 people.

Last, but not least, the graphics. At the end of the post you can watch the teaser trailer that shows the astonishing visual impact that Guild Wars 2 will have both in cutscenes and ingame experience. I particularly love the painted style of the introduction, but the whole video (and other videos you can find at Guild Wars 2 official site) is a state-of-the-art in MMORPGs. Not that this is crucial, but it helps.

ArenaNet is currently conducting small closed alpha and beta tests, and according to the results and feedbacks from these tests, they will decide when they will do open beta testing and then ship the game. It seems they want to take all the necessary time to complete this very ambitious project and to make Guild Wars 2 the best MMORPG ever. This is a very good approach to the game. Except for the “waiting” part, of course.

  1. September 21st, 2011

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