Let’s start by talking about beauty. Now yes, it’s in the eye of the beholder and all that, but beauty is sometimes a rare currency in MMOs. “Eye candy” and special particle effects aren’t the same thing. A game that is beautiful is one that pleases the soul in a way that’s hard to define. LOTRO is often beautiful to me. And Guild Wars 2 — like its predecessor — is quite beautiful.
ArenaNet said that they wanted to go for a hand-painted aesthetic, and it really shows in the game world and cutscenes. If you liked oohing and ahhing over pre-searing Ascalon in GW, then prepare for more of that in GW2. It’s a seriously good-looking game that you want to frame and put on the wall. I like how art is important to this team, even though art isn’t a typical back-of-the-box bullet point feature.
So I wanted to see the introductory experience, and thus rolled up a human necromancer. GW2’s character creation process is a bit more involved than most other MMOs — it’s like a 10-step process (perhaps more when they add visual customization) where you make choices that gradually shapes the “story” of your character. What’s your class, what’s your personality, what god do you worship, where you come from, what regret do you have, and so on. My necromancer even got to choose between facial masks (there was a skull, a witch and something else… demon?). It may be a small thing, but it really goes a long way to make you feel like your character DOES have a backstory and isn’t just a creation of a one-screen generator.
After the intro cutscene, the game throws you into the action right away. In the case of the humans, you’ve wandered outside the city for the first time and find that a village is under attack by centaurs. Everyone’s running around and being attacked, and I definitely liked the movement over static mobs. You go through a short quest line that leads you up to a mini-boss battle — an earth elemental — after which you’re knocked out and taken to the “real” version of the world and set loose to do good and all that jazz.
After playing TOR, I found myself chafing a bit at not having a lot of dialogue options or being allowed to be snarky, even though I was a necromancer. Oh well.
I wandered through the world, occasionally coming on events, but I didn’t really want to do them so much as just see all that I could. The human starting area is mostly pastoral, with farms, windmills and the like. However, there’s a huge dam on the northern side that hosts a few events (I saw a series of small leaks and wondered if I could make the dam burst open, but nah, that’s probably not what good guys do), and a bandit cave that I peeked in.
Combat plays out fairly smoothly. It’s nothing stellar at the start, but it definitely is cool to swap out weapons and see your skills change. I went around with a hatchet and had a spiffy attack that sliced the enemy up six ways from Sunday. You also get a couple temporary skills when you pick up an environmental object like a tree branch — the branch lasted a few swings before going away.
Definitely the highlight of the necromancer was her Death Shroud ability. As you attack, you build up a green bar, and once it’s topped off you can go into Death Shroud mode. This gives you a whole new bar of skills and a funky screen effect. Supposedly, if you keep your health up you can stay in this mode longer, but I wasn’t ever able to do it, so I’d pop back out after a half-minute or so. One of the cool things is that when you exit Death Shroud, the game takes you back to the place you entered it with a trail of black smoke.
If you like detailed worlds that look lived in, GW2 certainly has a lot to check out. 40 minutes blew by so very quickly, and I sort of wish I’d gone back for a second demo.