|Thank you, thank you, thank you!|
Maybe the most profound impression this last beta weekend has left me with, is the questing experience in Guild Wars 2. I am reluctant to even call it “questing”, so overused is this term ever since World of Warcraft and so heavy with negative meaning. What I’ve experienced instead in GW2 is adventuring in the truest sense: being a traveler on an unknown road, inquisitive and curious, ready for chance meetings and whatever the world may present me with. Now, we’ve known for a while about ANet’s different approach to quests – the free for all, public and dynamic events. But knowing this or having read about it somewhere does nothing to prepare you for how it really feels to travel the roads of Tyria. You have to do it yourself. You have to be there and spend a couple of hours before the message sinks in with all its gravity.
It was maybe 8 hours into this second beta, when I had seen a big part of the Norn starting area and began to extend my reach, visiting other places like Queensdale (Humans) or the Plains of Ashford (Charr), exploring maps in greater detail. I was around level 18 and had just helped a traveling salesman to get safely to market, when it hit me: there is no quest log.
Ye gods….I have no quest log!
I can’t express properly just how liberating it felt to realize this, that there was no “homework” for my character. No predefined road. In GW2 it is not the quests that drive you from A to B, to discover certain areas or the next quest hub. Instead, you simply wander around and by blundering onto a site (often it finds you), you are presented with an ongoing situation or are asked for help. That is when an event marker or summary will appear on your screen – but it will disappear again as soon as you leave this region or if you fulfilled your mission. This means your screen is empty when leaving events behind and you also don’t just accumulate more and more jobs. The only ongoing, railway type of questline is your personal story and that one waits for you in patient and unobtrusive fashion. The only time I did consult my zone map was in order to avoid too high level content or to check whether I hadn’t accidentally missed a corner.
This difference in approach, that quests and events are tied to locations rather than to your character, makes a huge impact on the enjoyment of exploration. One may justifiably call this a great paradigm shift from the classic, WoW-shaped questing system of MMOs. Rather than already knowing where to go and what you’ll have to do there, you have to figure it out on site. Add to this that events will usually let you assist in several different ways and have several stages or chapters, depending on when you got there.
Things don’t stop there though: the questing experience becomes even less linear once you realize that you really want to go everywhere – that it makes sense to go everywhere. With the level down-ranking in place (your HP constantly changes depending on where you are) and flat leveling curve, it does not matter where you go to do events, gain experience or karma points, as long as you steer clear of higher level content which is rather quick on the ball punishing transgressions. In fact you do want to visit alternative places especially to earn extra skill points. The bottom line is that there are no strict “starting areas” anymore. All the maps are yours and the world feels bigger than ever. Feel that there’s not enough to do on “your map”? Well then, move your butt somewhere else! Pacing is not the same concern when you have so many areas to choose from.
All these innovations have added a great deal to my enjoyment of this beta weekend and made for the kind of immersive gameplay experience I haven’t had since Skyrim. ANet has achieved a splendid thing and I look forward to them improving the system further where balance and rewards, impact and cooperation are concerned. I will not complain about these issues though; at this point in time I am simply too happy with the overall concept realized in this upcoming and visually stunning MMO.
Talking about stunning…
To say that the world of Guild Wars 2 is breathtakingly beautiful, even on a PC as dated as my own, falls horribly short. The visuals and art style are far beyond anything I had personally hoped for and the wonderful soundtrack of Jeremy Soule (which could be more frequent in places) adds further depth and atmosphere. I’ve stood under a pine tree showering me with snow; I felt the sea spray on my face.
My most remarkable moment of the entire beta was in Godlost Swamp though: standing in the middle of a shallow lake, an eagle flew by me and then circled around me maybe four times. Then, he actually plunged into the water, caught a fish (I assume..) and soared up into the sky. I LIVE FOR THIS SHIT!
And because it was all so wonderful, I decided to create a small screenshot gallery (not mobile friendly) with some of the most beautiful shots I’ve taken this weekend. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do! And I hope the third beta weekend won’t be too long!