|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p|
by Becky Cunningham
Back in 2010, ArenaNet President Mike O'Brian posted a "Design Manifesto" that was guiding the development of the company's upcoming MMORPG, Guild Wars 2. After the first, highly-instanced Guild Wars game, ArenaNet decided to think big and create a massive and persistent world for the sequel. The Manifesto was bold: Guild Wars 2 should be an actual role-playing game in which players made choices that would have lasting effects on their character's story. It would encourage social gaming by providing incentives for players to cooperate, whether they were grouped together or not. It would do away with the traditional tank, healer, and damage-dealing class roles and instead deliver a combat system that focuses on flexible skill sets and ever-changing situations.
Big words, but we've all heard amazing pronouncements from MMORPG developers that have turned into nothing but disappointment or canceled projects. What's special about Guild Wars 2 is that the in-development game has been demonstrated publicly at various trade shows, and it actually appears to be delivering on its promises. As Guild Wars 2 approaches the beta stage, we will be providing weekly preview entries about the game during the month of November. This preview will focus on the basic Player Versus Environment (PVE) system in Guild Wars 2, while following previews will focus on the game's races, classes, and Player Versus Player (PVP) combat.
Guild Wars 2 takes place in Tyria, the main continent in the world of the original Guild Wars, but two hundred years later. Disaster has befallen the land, with huge, ancient, inscrutable primordial dragons awakening and remaking the world. The mortal races of Tyria find themselves needing to work together in order to survive the dragon incursion, despite also struggling against their own smaller (and perhaps more immediate) conflicts. Players will choose to play a member of one of five races, and starting from that choice, will experience a personal story that takes them through their adventures in Tyria.
The personal story is the heart of Guild Wars 2's role-playing experience. During character creation, players will do more than simply decide the race, class, and appearance of their characters. They will answer questions about each character's personality and place in the world. With those answers as a start, each character will experience a personalized story that will change based on the character's race, class, accomplishments, and choices. There will even be a "home instance" for every character that will reflect the personal story—for instance, certain vendors may show up in the home instance of a character who made a particular storyline choice, while they won't for characters who made different choices.
Out in the explorable world, Guild Wars 2 won't have the type of traditional MMORPG quests in which players visit stationary quest givers who order them to slay ten rats or fetch magic pebbles. Instead, the world of Tyria will be home to ever-changing dynamic events. Players will receive a notification on-screen when an event is happening around them, and can then participate in the event by completing its objectives. All players who contribute meaningfully to an event will be awarded equally, with the goal of encouraging players to work together (even if they aren't grouped up) instead of competing with each other for monster spawns.
The dynamic event system has been demonstrated at several trade shows, and it appears to work quite well. Event scaling is dynamic, so if more players show up in an area, more enemies will appear as well. If higher-level players venture into a low-level area, their level will be adjusted so that players can group up with friends and high-level players can't dominate events. Event notifications are easy to see on the screen, so players should be able to jump into the action with minimal confusion. In one event that's been shown a few times, players must work together to fend off a centaur attack on a town. If the players are victorious, the game informs them that the town is safe and that they can now go after the centaur leadership. If the players don't fend off the attack, the centaurs will take over the town, and a new event to liberate the village will be triggered. This system allows for a sense of progression that everyone can see as they move through the game's areas. ArenaNet has said that tons of events both large and small will be found all over the world, and players can expect to find special events in out-of-the-way areas in order to reward exploration.
Combat in Guild Wars 2, similar to that of other recent MMORPG releases like DC Universe Online, will not involve any auto-attacks. Instead, the player will be activating class and weapon abilities from the ability bar. This more action-oriented combat system will allow for evasive maneuvers such as dodging. Positional combat moves will be increasingly important, as will utility abilities that hamper foes and assist allies.
Characters will gain their basic combat abilities from their weapon of choice, and every class has an assortment of weapons available to it. The rest of the ability bar will be filled with racial, profession-based, and special skills. Because there are no tank, healing, or damage classes in the game, all characters will have access to abilities that dish out damage, mitigate damage or control opponents, and heal. Cross-class combinations will further contribute to the combat system, allowing one character to lay down an activating "field" on the battlefield and other characters to complete combinations such as shooting arrows through a wall of fire or dispelling negative status effects on players in the area. ArenaNet hopes that this combat system will allow for dynamic scenarios, prevent rote and repetitive combat strategies, and encourage players to work together.
Player combat skill will be tested not only in dynamic events, but in instanced dungeons. Currently, eight dungeons are planned for the launch of Guild Wars 2. The dungeons are not required for personal storyline advancement, but are available for players who are interested in organized group play. Level scaling works for dungeons just as it does for dynamic events, so higher-level characters can join their lower-level friends without trivializing dungeons, but they will still receive loot that is appropriate for their level as a reward. Dungeons will have a story mode the first time a player encounters them, but they will also have a challenging exploration mode. Players will encounter new and different things on trips through the dungeons in exploration mode, giving the dungeons stronger replayability than is generally found in static MMORPG dungeons.
Of course, there are a ton of extra activities planned for Guild Wars 2. An extensive gear customization system allows players to exert a great deal of control over how their characters look, from fashion to dye color. Minipet collecting is back, and the developers have stated that they hope to make it more interesting than it was in the original Guild Wars. Minigames will also be appearing in the towns, with bar brawling listed as one of the activities the developers are most excited about.
As you can see, Guild Wars 2 is a very ambitious project, but the development team at ArenaNet appears up to the task, having described and demonstrated how the game's design manifesto is being realized. Hopefully gamers will have the opportunity to become involved in beta testing soon. In the meantime, we'll be continuing our preview series on the game next week, when we look at the five very diverse races that players can choose to portray.
CCC Contributing Writer