Teething problems are pretty much inevitable where a project the size and scope of Guild Wars 2 is concerned, so developer ArenaNet did well to avert a first-day debacle reminiscent of Diablo 3.
Granted, the game was practically inaccessible in the UK on the morning of its pre-launch on Saturday (August 25), but we've experienced more or less plain sailing on the Underworld server since around 4.00pm that day.
Between now and then, we were immersing ourselves in the world of Tyria; slaying its wildlife, pillaging its resources, and engaging in some edgy banter with the locals. We'll have a full review of the game for you soon enough, but here we offer some initial impressions from our first weekend with the MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing game).
> Our interview with Guild Wars 2 developer ArenaNet
> Guild Wars 2 launch issues addressed
Character creation and first impressions
There's something about a nine-foot-tall Nordic badass that really stands out from the crowd, so we felt that a Norn warrior was the obvious choice for our very first Guild Wars 2 character.
After creating the kind of fearsome powerhouse that looks like he should be herding mammoths in Skyrim, we dived into the game and were blown away by the jaw-dropping visuals. The rich snowy vistas and sprawling wooded areas of the Norn starter region were enough to convince us that this is the best-looking MMORPG on the market.
Our adventure began in and around the Wayfarer Foothills, an area that is as thriving with life as it is cold and unsettling. The Norn settlement there is teeming with computer-controlled characters and human players alike, giving the place a living, breathing feel.
After chatting with a few of the locals and bringing ourselves up to speed on our race's intriguing lore, we got wind of an event called The Great Hunt, in which Norn hunters venture out into the wilderness to see who can bag the biggest kill. It sounded like as good a place to start as any.
The adventure begins
We encountered a host of odd creatures out there in the Wayfarer Foothills, as well as more conventional beasts like bears and wolves. The battlefield was a chaotic mess of starter quests, with countless Norns swinging their weapons wildly in the hope of hitting something.
It looked like the battle scene from Braveheart with a menagerie of fantasy beasts let loose in the thick of it. We jumped in head-first and slew a few Minotaur Bulls to put some XP points in the bank. It felt like a disorganised mess, but it was a hell of a lot of fun.
Deciding we'd had enough random animal butchering, we did some of the more structured kind, bagging a prize-winning Dire Boar to complete the Great Hunt mission. Upon finishing the quest, we experienced one of the stand-out features of Guild Wars 2 - multiple-choice character interaction sequences and a sophisticated karma system.
Unlike your average MMORPG, the game allows players to shape their own personal story through the core missions. Smug and self-assured seems like a good fit for a Norn, so we've gone out of our way to ensure that all of our responses reflect that. This tactic hasn't come back to bite us... yet.
On our way to level five, we battled a gigantic Lovecraftian worm on top of a mountain, slew a Griffon so we could use its blood to add magical properties to our axe, and transformed into a wolf during one of the side missions.
Guild Wars 2 will appeal to MMORPG fans who have grown fed up of your basic fetch and kill quests. The developers have gotten creative here to ensure that the game is fresh and varied. Between levels five and ten, we found ourselves solving riddles, engaging in a snowball fight with a gang of kids, and going toe-to-toe with the King of the Jotun people.
As things stand, our Norn is ranked at level 11 with an ego that's about to disappear off the scale, but we haven't even scratched the surface yet. A cursory glance at the map screen reveals a world of possibilities ahead, and we can only hope there is more of the same variety, sophistication and unabashed fun to come.
AreaNet has strived to push the boundaries of the MMORPG genre with Guild Wars 2, and based on our experiences during the opening weekend, the studio might well have done just that. We'll have an in-depth review for you very soon.
Guild Wars 2 is playable on PC now for per-purchase users, and will launch in full from tomorrow (August 28).