Guild Wars 2 preview

By Ozzie Mejia, Jul 23, 2012 12:00pm PDT

The final phase of the Guild Wars 2 beta has begun, introducing players to the game's last two playable races, the Asura and Sylvari. NCSoft's Mike Zadorojny took me on a tour through the first 20 minutes of the Asura story line and showed off how much has changed since the first Guild Wars.

Guild Wars veterans will remember the Asura as the long-eared, mechanically inventive people that made their debut as non-player characters in the Eye of the North expansion. As is the case with the other races, choosing to play as an Asura will put players deep in Asuran lore, as they learn the history of their people since the events of the first game.

Before diving into the game, NCSoft showed off GW2's deep character creator. Facial features can be adjusted to nearly any proportion, within reason. A notable aspect of Asura customization is that their trademark long ears can be whittled down to mere nubs. Armor can be customized with over 200 different shades of 21 different colors.

After designing a character, the player is directed to customize their personal story, one of GW2's most distinctive new features. These questions are akin to a personality profile and choices here help determine how NPCs will react to a player's character. Players can also fill in their own backstory through a series of race-specific multiple-choice questions, which leads to a customized opening cutscene. Players will find themselves making dialogue decisions through the game, which will impact their personal story. However, anyone choosing to fully play alongside a friend can make joint decisions, with the second player having the option to select all decisions made by their friend.

The game started off amongst the Asura civilization, where their primary inventions, the golems, have started to run amok. After some of the NPC scouts helpfully gave an overview of the area, it was time to start fighting. The Asura quickly took to battle against the rampaging golems, giving Zadorojny a chance to show off GW2's combat system. Combat is noticeably more active than the more-static fighting of the first game. The Asura here were constantly moving, hitting their enemies with skills specifically designed to be used while on-the-run. The player's first five skills are dependent on their weapon, with three utility skills and an elite skill made available for purchase at later levels. GW2's level cap is at 80, with a flat curve of required XP from level-to-level, as opposed to a traditional exponential system.

Many of the traditional party elements have changed in Guild Wars 2. Of particular note is that there is no longer a dedicated healer. Players must now depend on their own skills to heal, leaving more room for offensive and defensive roles. Those players that do end up losing all their health can resort to a different set of "downed skills" to give them a fighting chance for survival. Surviving is not guaranteed, however, and any more punishment can result in full-on defeat. Fortunately, other players have plenty of incentive to pick up fallen allies, since resurrecting now rewards XP.

Helping your party extends beyond resurrections. Zadorojny noted that players will be encouraged to help each other out throughout the persistent world of GW2. Good Samaritans that opt to assist other players with some of the game's tougher enemies will be rewarded for their efforts, as all players involved in the kill will be rewarded the same amount of XP without division. This is done in order to make encounters more exciting and to provide a sense of unity amongst players.

Those looking for diversions will find that each of the lands offer a number of side-missions. One of the Asura side missions involved a mini-game featuring remote control mini-golems, playing atop a board game-style setting. Other diversions include finding vistas, which will trigger a cinematic that shows off a piece of the land's terrain. Completing these side-missions can result in the acquisition of karma, which is an alternative form of currency that can unlock special items from karma merchants. These items range from useful to silly. Zadorojny noted that one item would turn the player into a jackelope for three minutes, showing that GW2 is retaining their sense of playfulness that made the first game so charming.

In terms of lore, expect to see several allusions to the first game. For example, players will run into Queen Jennah, who is the descendant of GW's heroic Queen Salma. Players may also see spectral images of White Mantle soldiers eternally locked in battle with the Shining Blade. In terms of specifics, however, Zadorojny and the NCSoft crew steered away from revealing upcoming story lines, only noting that we would soon learn more about the Elder Dragons and their place in the GW2 world.

Finally, fans of GW's holiday events will be happy to learn that they will be returning for GW2. A live team has been put together specifically for content updates and holiday events. Zadorojny revealed that the Mad King Thorn will be making his triumphant return this Halloween, only this time, he'll be fully voiced.

Guild Wars 2 is set to release on August 28 on PC. Anyone that has pre-ordered the game, however, will get early access on August 25.


This Guild Wars 2 preview was based on a demo of the game by the publisher.

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