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Guild Wars 2

Rabbits Versus Dragons In Guild Wars 2
by Phil Kollar on Aug 16, 2011 at 09:15 PM

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Platform PC
Publisher NCSoft
Developer ArenaNet
Rating Teen

It was only a month ago at Comic-Con that I had my first hands-on time with Guild Wars 2 and walked away wildly impressed. Yesterday at Gamescom, I had the opportunity to sit down for two longer play sessions that showed off even more reasons to fall in love with this promising game.

Two major mechanics have changed about Guild War 2 since last time I saw it. First off, the fast dodging move, which lends the game a much more action-y feel, is now powered by a "dodge meter." Dodging before an attack hit virtually always guarantees that you'll avoid damage, but players will only be able to pull off three or four dodges in a row before needing to give the meter time to refill.

Developer ArenaNet has also tweaked the way skills are gained. To go along with the game's friendly attitude toward quickly and frequently swapping weapons, new skills now become available on your skill bar as you use a weapon. For example, after around 10 or 15 minutes of using a wand as a necromancer, I gained my second skill, which turned positive buffs on enemies into curses. By the time I was done with the 40-minute demo, I had switched to a sword and nearly reached my third skill on that tree.This system guarantees players will never need to waste time hunting down a trainer just to get the new abilities they need to progress.

For the first of my two play sessions, I tested out the Charr starting area by playing as a necromancer. During character creation, I was prompted to choose several story options in addition to visual customization. I chose what emotion my character stuck to most, which legion of the Charr he belonged to, and who his best friend was. These choices immediately affect the starting area's storyline and will help branch players' personal stories further from there.

The Charr begin the game in Ascalon, a major capital city that was at one point stolen from them by humans. Though the Charr now control Ascalon once again, the city is cursed and constantly under siege by ghostly remnants of the people who once lived here. I started with a mission to fight off the powerful spirit of one of the human barons.

As soon as I'm past character creation and story segments, I'm immediately reminded of why I loved Guild Wars 2 so much at Comic-Con. Characters move fast and can continue moving during combat. In fact, player location is a greater factor than almost any other MMO, because characters can continue moving while using skills or casting spells. My primary starting ability as a necromancer allowed me to throw bolts of poison at enemies, while I also had a healing ability that allowed me to summon a companion that I could then slaughter to regain my health.

Over the course of this first quest and the boss fight that ensued, most of my pack were wiped out, save for me and the character I had chosen as my best friend. Out of the tutorial instance, I was introduced to a wide open area that would be used for questing in a traditional MMO, but Guild Wars 2 doesn't have traditional quests. Beyond the personal story, players advance by completing dynamic events that are generated all over each area of the world.

Outside of Ascalon, I quickly discovered five or six dynamic events within walking distance, some more serious than others. For one, I was asked by a farmer to take up a cattle prod and help herd some cows into a fenced-off area. For another, I had to fight off relentless waves of Fire Legion Charr to win back an armory near the city. These events become active as soon as you enter the area in which they're happening, and they provide numerous levels of reward based on how much you participate, including experience and gold.

I continued my personal story by visiting the commander in charge of my pack, who wasted no time in blaming me for my group being wiped out. As an insult, he gave me a fetch quest as my next mission -- picking up some supplies from a nearby caravan. I headed over quickly, hoping to win back his support, but as you might expect, things went horribly wrong. The supply train was attacked by Fire Legion traitors, and I arrived just in time to see them destroy the supplies before I could stop them. Despite taking my revenge on the Fire Legion, my commander was not impressed. My Charr playthrough ended with him ordering me into an unbalanced arena fight to prove my worth.

After this entertaining starting experience, NCSoft wanted to show off some higher level content, so they loaded up a level 58 Asara character for me to play. The Asara are the tiny, bunny-esque creatures pictured in the screenshot at the top of this preview. One of the first things I noticed with my Asara warrior was the incredible amount of animation put into making this character. Dodges for the Asara look more like huge leaps, and when they are running while carrying large weapons, they'll hoist the blades onto their shoulders nonchalantly. An ArenaNet representative explained to me that they wanted to give this race a more light-hearted feel that comes across just by watching them, and they've certainly succeeded.

I jumped in as an Asara Warrior and made my way down to the coast line of this wooded region, where one of the craziest dynamic events I had seen was taking place. A large undead ship had emerged from the water and was slowly making its way to the coast, at which point it would begin pouring undead out into the zone. Luckily, there were a number of catapults set up along the beach, so I jumped into to one and started attacking the ship.

As soon as I started taking part in the event, a timer popped up in the corner letting me know that we had 15 minutes to take down the powerful ship before it arrived on shore and progressed to a different part of the event. An NCSoft representative explained that the event has several sections, and the undead could be stopped and driven back at any of them. If players aren't around or fail to stop it, the undead can take over nearby towns. If players need help, they can reach out to a nearby cave full of ghost pirates, who will agree to help drive the undead back if you help them -- an example of two entirely separate dynamic events that can overlap and intertwine if they happen at the right time.

I teamed up with a couple other players and focused on taking out the ship alone. It retaliated with giant poisonous projectiles that destroyed the catapults, forcing us to defend and revive NPCs who could repair them. After 10 minutes of struggle, we took out the ship and received a huge reward. Then NCSoft decided to show us one of the coolest encounters in the game so far.

We warped to a different area of the zone, a gray, dead land where off in the distance a huge dragon was immediately visible. According to ArenaNet, this giant beast is one of the smaller dragons in the game. For this encounter -- again, purely a dynamic event that anyone who wanders by can join in on -- players need to work together with a huge NPC army to fight off legions of undead, break down the dragons wall of bone armor, and attack the creature however possible. Numerous siege weapons dotted the landscape, including a catapult and lightning turrets. I also noticed a huge laser in the back. When enough power has built up into the laser, it will blast through the bone wall and bring the dragon down briefly, opening up a brief window for players to run up close and attack the creature.

I split my time between reviving NPCs to make sure the turrets stayed in top shape and manning them to more efficiently take out the swarming undead and to pick away at the bone wall. Despite being wildly outnumbered -- this fight is meant for at least 10 players, though it can scale larger, but we only had around 5 -- we fought hard and were able to keep alive and slowly tick down the dragon's health.

The fight highlighted another thing I enjoy about Guild Wars 2: The game provides players with an absurd amount of options in battle. Every class has its own healing abilities, every class can revive NPCs and other players, and there are many skills to help out in sticky combat situations. Using a mix of healing, a stomp ability that sent large groups scattering, and a whirlwind ability that allowed me to quickly move away from enemies, I managed to only die a single time in this difficult battle. When downed, I received a second chance to take down a single enemy before dying for good. I happened to take out a nearby undead monstrosity, and my character jumped back to his feet with a healthy chunk of his life restored.

We weren't able to take out the dragon in full -- that would have taken a lot longer, especially with our tiny group -- but this battle was one of the most thrilling dragon encounters I've experienced in any MMO. It was a true struggle instead of just a 20-minute stretch of slicing at some huge creatures knees. Yet again, I walked away from playing Guild Wars 2 with a huge grin on my face, eager to check out more as soon as possible.

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