The Average Gamer

Guild Wars 2 Beta – Dynamic Events Hands-on

ArenaNet have announced the date for their first Guild Wars 2 public beta weekend – 27th to 29th April. This will be available to everyone who has pre-ordered pre-purchased the game as well as those who already have beta access.

With the Guild Wars series, ArenaNet are known for producing games that function even on low spec machines. The minimum system requirements currently available on the website covers graphics cards and chips from 2005-2007, so most machines today should be able to run Guild Wars 2 at some level of graphical fidelity.

I played the game during the last closed beta weekend and got a good look at the early hours of the Charr, antagonists of the original Guild Wars Prophecies game and now one of the five playable races.

As an engineer within the Iron Legion, my personal story revolved around gathering materials and supplies to create a new super-weapon that I’d apparently designed and hidden in a chest. Of course, the evil Flame Legion were planning to steal it so, with the aid of my NPC friend, I had to kill them all once I discovered 20 of the buggers inside my hut. Obviously. Other quests revolve around the same sort of thing – go here, kill some dudes. Go there, collect some stuff. Oh noes, some dudes are in the way. Kill them. Destruction is the mainstay of most games after all, and there is rather a large war on. Between the guilds.

Players of the original Guild Wars games (or indeed Star Wars: The Old Republic) will be familiar with the concept of instances set up for small groups to progress the storyline. I played through plenty of these dotted around the world map, staving off waves of onrushing enemies and collecting thingamajigs for the war effort.

As with the previous games, you are warned to find a group before entering an instance and the game can get tough without one. There are no henchmen available to help this time, if you’d rather play solo, which is a big minus for me. In my experience, most people who play a lot of MMOs are already on their second/third/tenth character and are familiar with the storylines by the time I come along, leaving me constantly playing catch-up after watching the cut-scenes. It’s certainly possible to beat the story maps with just your NPC friend but I wouldn’t recommend it.

Guild Wars 2 differs dramatically from its predecessors with the main world areas. Rather than being a series of instances with shared towns, the world is fully persistent and shared, like a typical MMO. This doesn’t translate to the traditional grind of finding the right three spawn points to run between in order to level up, though. What the game does instead is provide “world events” – large attacks that repeat on a regular basis – in which everyone in the area can participate. These are indicated by large text flashing up on the screen and a world event indicator appearing in your active quest HUD. Here’s a half-size resolution video I took of the Tar Elementals attack that happens several times an hour, early in the Charr area. The entire lake turns black and dozens of tar elementals crawl onshore. You can see the quest progress indicated by the white bar in the top-right corner which decreases as players destroy the elementals.

Note: I’m running this on a hardware that’s a few years old now, but still well above the minimum specs – Phenom X3 2.4GHz and Radeon HD 5870.

At about timestamp 00:33 you’ll see me hit option 7 in my quickbar at the bottom of the screen and the left-most attacks change to a row of identical icons. Option 7 was one of the unique skills of the engineer class; the ability to throw mines on the ground. Each of the first five slots represents a mine that you can place or reposition. These are triggered when an enemy walks over them but you can also remote detonate all the mines simultaneously for a coordinated attack. Given that explosions will trigger nearby mines anyway, this is of limited use early in the game but once you get some extra traits that apply debilitating conditions, I can definitely see the advantages of blowing an offensive wall of mines around a group of targets.

Around the 2-minute mark, you’ll see a rush of other player characters come up behind me. This is where I started getting concerned about my PC’s performance on the game. I was running on reasonably high settings and it played smoothly during instances with just NPCs. During the world event, between the dozens of tar elementals, dozens of player characters and all the fancy attack animations and effects, I had some serious graphical slowdown. Yes, while capturing this video my computer had to deal with the video capture as well as rendering the game for me, resulting in extremely poor framerates during action-packed. Still, the slowdown was obvious even when I wasn’t capturing. I have no doubt that most people will be able to play the game just fine at lower graphical quality. You’ll need a beast of a machine to use the highest settings.

After the battle at 3:15, you’ll see an achievement box pop up in the bottom right corner of the screen. Clicking onto it revealed that I’d reacher Tier 2 of the Emergency Response Hero achievement by responding to the call for 15 world events. I didn’t find out what benefits this brings in-game but it’s a nice touch for the gamers who crave that sense of progression.

Many of the dynamic events chain together. Near the lake shown in the video is a series of caves inhabited by more of the Flame Legion Charr. Another dynamic event that pops up requires players to beat the Flame Legion coming out of those caves. Once that event is successfully completed, others appear in succession, asking players to raid the caves, destroy strong artefacts inside and ultimately kill the powerful bosses that might spawn. While these are fun for a while, the frequency at which the events spawn feels a little off.

I understand that as an alternative to grind and fetch-quests, you need to keep players busy but it doesn’t take long for the shine of “Ooh, I really am affecting the world” to wear off. The dynamic events soon start to feel like the cheap slaughter-fests that they really are. It’s not bad but it is a little disheartening to see the tar elementals emerge once again from the lake not 15 minutes after you valiantly destroyed them all.

Some of you might be wondering how the ArenaNet crew have dealt with kill-stealing in such mobs. As shown at 0:21, I received 15xp for a kill during the event but if you look at the top right HUD when the battle is over, again at 3:13, you’ll see that a large gold medal appeared next to the quest log. This indicates that I was ranked “Gold” for this event. In other words, I was (somehow) one of the top contributors in this battle against the tar elementals and thus, received a higher share of the experience points and gold rewards. This is primarily based on damage but since Guild Wars 2 doesn’t rely on traditional non-damage support classes like healers, there should be a way for everyone to contribute.

This doesn’t mean that high level players will be able to storm a low-level event and steal all the credit. As posted by ArenaNet community manager Martin Kerstein in the GuildWars2Guru forums, high level players will be dynamically scaled down closer to the level of the event in question.

“A level 20 player trying to take part in a level 5 event will scale down to about level 8. They’d still get to feel very powerful but wouldn’t break the event. This has the added bonus of allowing a player to go experience whatever content they want to regardless of whether or not they’ve “out leveled” it.”

(Hat-tip to the Guild Wars 2 wiki)

Clearly I won’t be playing this game on the highest settings with my current machine, but I anticipate that Guild Wars 2 will be a lot of fun. Between the dynamic world events, the heavy emphasis on different starting areas and storylines for races and the competitive world vs world maps that I haven’t even touched upon, this game will have a huge amount of great content, no matter what your play style.

To guarantee access to the upcoming open beta weekend as well as any future betas, pre-purchase Guild Wars 2 today from Zavvi, Amazon, Play or the Guild Wars 2 website. You’ll also get a three day head-start and an in-game Hero’s Band that provides a stats boost.