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'Guild Wars 2' preview: Hands-on with ArenaNet's impressive MMO sequel

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'Guild Wars 2' screenshot

© ArenaNet/NCsoft


Guild Wars 2 is the hotly-anticipated sequel to ArenaNet's much loved Guild Wars. The game promises an epic and highly personal main campaign in a massive persistent world, along with multiplayer battles involving up to 400 players.

Guild Wars 2 came about after the NCSoft-owned ArenaNet decided that it could no longer tell the story it wanted to tell with just expansion packs on the Guild Wars massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) game - only a full-blown sequel would do the job.

Set 250 years after the defeat of the Great Destroyer in the Eye of the North expansion of the original game, Guild Wars 2 finds the fantasy world of Tyria in the grips of an industrial revolution, yet still divided amongst the clans of humans, Charr, Norn and Asura, along with a new race called the Sylvari.

You will be able to play as all five races in the sequel, rather than just one as in Guild Wars, and ArenaNet has created a dynamic system that puts personal choices at the heart of everything to ensure every player has a different experience.

'Guild Wars 2' screenshot

© ArenaNet/NCsoft

'Guild Wars 2' screenshot

© ArenaNet/NCsoft



Choose your destiny, but do it wisely…

Guild Wars 2 features all the character customisation options you would expect from an MMO, but as well as their own particular skills and different arcs to their journey, ArenaNet has further attempted to create more depth to the customisation with contextual statements. For example, you may be asked while setting up your character - "Trouble may follow me, but I use my ___ to overcome it." You can then pick either heart, strength or ingenuity as the missing term (alas, no option for a rude answer). How you respond to these statements shapes the experience you will have in the game.

Similarly, pledging your allegiance to one of three factions - the Iron, Ash or Blood Legions - impacts the type of experience you have and the activities you will be doing, making you carefully think about what type of player you are, and how you want to experience the game. After setting up our Iron Legion character we were thrown directly into a fight, while the Charr - who in Guild Wars 2 have seized back most of Ascalon - were busy fending off an attack of ghosts of dead humans around their Black Citadel base.

'Guild Wars 2' screenshot

© ArenaNet/NCsoft



Dynamic events, simplified gameplay

ArenaNet has opted for quality over quantity with the skill system, involving players selecting just ten skills from a larger pot. The combat system in Guild Wars 2 has also been made more action-orientated, so that even MMO newbies can be hammering away in no time at all. The point-and-click mechanic for targeting is simple and effective, while holding Alt and right-clicking on the mouse triggers an auto-attack, enabling you to review alternative options from the skills bar.

Another big feature about the combat is that you can use the environment as a weapon. We saw this in a mortar that had been left free to use, enabling us to jump on the weapon and start raining shells down on the ghosts of Ascalon. A down-not-dead system enables you to launch attacks when in low health, and if you kill an enemy then you are instantly returned to life.

We battled the human ghosts in the village of Smokestead, and then fought a mini-boss battle against Duke Barradin, who took on the form of a giant statue. Beating him set up our standing within the Charr, and started our journey as part of the Iron legion.

'Guild Wars 2' screenshot

© ArenaNet/NCsoft

'Guild Wars 2' screenshot

© ArenaNet/NCsoft



Persistent surroundings and Renown events

Guild Wars 2 has a totally persistent world, meaning things will keep happening even when you are not logged in. The game features a core story that guides players through, involving the reunion of the members of the disbanded Destiny's Edge guild, who have the power to combat the undead elder dragon Zhaitan.

There is also a 'Renown' system, symbolised by hearts on the map, that encourages people to delve deeper into the world. Instead of quests in the traditional sense, ArenaNet has introduced 'Dynamic Events', essentially little side missions that are triggered in the world, usually by an NPC calling you over. You can choose to help or not, which affects your character growth and standing. Failing the events, moreover, could spin off a whole new set of side quests.

After we dispatched Duke Barradin, we had to help out in clearing up the village of Smokestead. For example, we were given an electric cattle prod to herd cattle back into their pen, and then opted to help pick up unexploded mortar shells after being asked by a Charr captain. These relatively menial tasks provide a good foil for the combat, mixing up the action and ensuring that there is always a sense of progression in between the core story. You can play the game as a lone wolf, or party up with up to five people to experience the story and dynamic events as a group.

'Guild Wars 2' screenshot

© ArenaNet/NCsoft



Player versus player, world versus world

Alongside the core campaign experience, Guild Wars 2 features an extensive multiplayer game, ranging from traditional player-versus-player (PVP) battles to enormous server-versus-server wars. To get around the fact that players may be at different skill and character levels, ArenaNet has made it so that everyone is leveled up to 80 (rather than 20 as in the last game), including health, weapons and skills. There is the opportunity to rank up and increase your abilities, but this normalising approach is designed to make it a level playing field.

We tried out the PVP in Conquest on the Battle of Kyhlo map, which involved two teams of up to five players attempting to capture three key points on a map from the enemy, and performing a range of primary and secondary objectives. Each side had a trebuchet, a giant medieval catapult, that could be used to take down enemy targets. The action is fast and furious, moving around the map, beating seven bells out of anyone not on your side and then trying to achieve the objectives.

Alongside the PVP mode, there is a 'world-versus-world' battle which will pitch three servers of players against each other, involving potentially up to 400 participants. ArenaNet said that these epic battles will unfurl over a period of weeks, and people will be able to drop in and drop out at their leisure, with rewards given based on their contribution. Due to the lack of enough players currently on the servers, it was not possible to try out world-versus-world, but this sounds like a potentially game-charging MMORPG multiplayer mode - albeit dependent on enough people getting involved to make it work.


After a hands-on with Guild Wars 2 it appears to be a worthy sequel, and a game that justifies the massive hype and expectation surrounding it. The scale and scope of this game, which is to be offered subscription-free, is immediately impressive. The opportunity to play as five different races in a personalised main campaign is a step forward, while up to 400 players battling it out in the multiplayer is a tantalizing prospect. Taking on the might of Activision Blizzard's World of Warcraft is never going to be easy, but ArenaNet certainly appears to be offering enough good reasons to journey back to the world of Tyria.

Guild Wars 2 will be released on the PC later this year.

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