30 things about Guild Wars 2’s beta weekend

While I’ve gotten a little face-time with Guild Wars 2 in the past — at PAX and briefly during the prior press beta — this was the first chance I’ve had to just sit down with the game and explore it at my leisure.  Many metric tons of words have already been spilled over this past beta weekend, so I’m not looking to bore you with more of the same, but rather just a list of various impressions, thoughts, likes and dislikes that I cultivated during the past few days.

I will say this: While more time is needed to get a long-term feel for the game, I’m quite comfortable in stating without hyperbole that Guild Wars 2 is a game that I’ve fallen in love with.  I’m not saying “best game ever!” or “makes all other MMOs suck!” or anything like that.  I’m just saying that it brought flowers and a winning smile, and I’m its.  It’s a quiet, knowing sort of love, the type where I’m not bouncing off the walls looking forward to release, but content and surefast in the knowledge that when it happens, it will be terrific.

For the weekend I played a race and class I wasn’t planning on touching at launch, which in this case was a Human Thief.  The Thief is adequate — double-pistols was more fun to me than knives — but I’m still more interested in the Engineer, Mesmer, and possibly Necromancer.

So here are 30 impressions from the beta weekend:

1. It’s insanely fast to get into the game.   I’m used to LOTRO’s 2.5 minute bootup time, so it surprised me that Guild Wars 2 carries Guild Wars’ tradition of being lightning-fast from clicking on the icon to being in the game proper.  Like, measured in seconds, even with the crush of the beta weekend.

2. Very nice pistol and gun sounds and visuals.  I really dug my thief’s double-pistol action, because not only did the game provide shots that had oomph in the sound department, but it looked really neat — smoke and flying embers all over the place.  It has the feeling of early pistol technology, as it should.

3. They don’t put boobs on the female Charr.  And since this is ArenaNet, home to shameless flesh window shopping, I’m quite impressed.  The female Charr looks female, she just doesn’t need a bosom to sell that point.

4. This is a world I genuinely want to explore.  After giving some of the heart activities and events a try, I spent most of my time simply exploring Queensland and Divinity’s Reach.  If you’re going to approach GW2 by rushing through it, let me tell you that you’ll be missing so much.  The world is absolutely alive in its details, nooks and crannies, and I had a blast doing things even as mundane as reading gravestones for 15 minutes or so.

5. The hand-painted approach works for the UI.  I used to think that World of Warcraft or perhaps RIFT was the gold standard for UIs, in aesthetics and functionality.  No more.  Guild Wars 2 swats the old guard down to the ground with its elegant pseudo-painted style where straight lines are eschewed for brush strokes and clean, elegant interfaces.

6. The cash shop doesn’t feel unbalanced.  ArenaNet gave us all 2000 gems to play around with, so I spent them on a key to unlock a couple mystic boxes I got (which had nice prizes but nothing I’d kill over) and a whole bunch of minis.  Most of the store seems skewed more toward cosmetic and convenience items — boosts, keys, outfits, minis, and the like.  Nothing shouted to me “OVERPOWERED!” in the least.  The megaphone was gone.

7. The strategy notes under the enemy UI are helpful.  Different enemies have different special abilities, and I learned to ignore these at my own peril.  Will this next guy regenerate fast or call friends to him?  The game outright tells me so that I can adjust my attack accordingly.

8. It all feels very, very Guild Warsian while still being its own creation.  This is hard to explain, but Guild Wars 2 feels quite familiar to anyone who played Guild Wars 1, even though it’s a new game.  There’s just enough of the old, particularly in style, to carry on the tradition and keep the connection between the two games alive.

9. How smooth are those map transitions?  So smooth.  Not only does the map pull up right away, but by scrolling the mouse wheel you can zoom in and out across the whole world quickly.  It’s a jewel of the UI, that’s for sure.

10. The overflow server works but it’s confusing.  I got put on the overflow server three times, so that’s already way better than waiting in a queue.  I wasn’t exactly sure, however, when the game transferred me to the regular server, and I would’ve liked to have been informed about that.

11. No quests requires a different approach to the game.  GW2 isn’t going to get me to swear off the traditional quest log — I still love having a list to work through — but I do appreciate what it’s doing.  By disguising and minimizing the quests, it creates a feeling of freedom that lends itself to more exploring and adventuring.  I have a loose path I want to follow through the heart areas and my personal story, but I don’t feel pushed to do any one thing, and I’m free to just go about and explore.  It’s a lot more laid back and spontaneous because of it.

12. The XP gained sounds like a slot machine.  When you gain a chunk of XP through exploring, heart quests, or events, there’s this neat thing where it flows down to your XP bar and fills it up with a tinkly sound.  Makes you feel like you’ve won something.

13. Events are surprising and frequent, if chaotic.  With so many people there, the events turned into zerg affairs where we always won and no alternative chained events spawned (which was a shame).  Felt a lot like RIFT’s rifts or WAR’s public quests, just better.

14. Rewards from events are… meh.  I really wish that you got a piece of loot in addition to the karma/XP/coin gain.  Most public quests in other MMOs do so, why not here?

15. I was in screenshot heaven.  There aren’t enough words to describe how gorgeous and detailed this game is.  I’ll share some of my favorite screenies later this week.

16. Jeremy Soule is always welcome in my house.  It’s not a Guild Wars game without Soule’s score, and I just grooved to it.

17. Achievements are addicting.   Every zone has a list of four major achievements: waypoints unlocked, landmarks unlocked, heart quests completed, and skill challenges completed.  The loading screen and map screen remind you of these.  On top of those, there are a host of other achievements (including dailies and weeklies), and before I knew it, I was hard on my way to filling up all those bars.  If you like this sort of thing, there’s a lot of it to chase after.

18. The camera moves too fast.  It’s a little hard to explain, but the camera felt like it was moving too fast and that made me dizzy and disoriented because my eyes couldn’t focus on what was going on sometimes.  It just felt a little too loose and too willing to zoom all over the place if you got in tight quarters.

19. Female human faces are attractive… if you like Barbie dolls.  Plenty of people have commented on this, but sheesh, it’s just creepy.  Pretty girls are one things, ones that looked like they traded their souls for immortal porcelain perfection is another.

20. Divinity’s Reach is more than a quest/vendor hub — it’s a proper city.  Usually, “huge” isn’t a desirable attribute for me when it comes to in-game cities, but with Divinity’s Reach I don’t mind so much.  It’s terrifically fun to explore and feels like an actual city.  I love going in all the houses.

21. NPC dialogue is interesting but poorly paced. There’s a lot of great incidental conversations that go on around you, particularly in the city, and most of it’s both informative and entertaining.  However, the pacing is way off on it — there’s basically no pause between the back-and-forth, making it sound like first-year drama students who have memorized their lines and are more concerned with spitting it out than anything else.

22. The Skritt taunted me when I died.  “You ran from Skritt!”

23. The challenge level ramps up fast.  If you think that you’re going to breeze through the first ten levels, think again.  Before too long, the mobs will be kicking your butt if you’re not paying attention — and even if you are.  Even one level above your own presents a significant challenge, and I found myself dying quite often.

24. Downed state is awesome.  Instead of going straight to “dead,” you’ve got a chance to get back into the game or have someone save your hide with the downed state.  You get a small handful of skills — in my case, it was a basic attack, a smokescreen, a bouncy attack, and a small heal — and you can bounce back if you either kill the mob or can heal up to full.  It feels quite natural and adds an interesting dynamic to the game.

25. The beta wasn’t without issues.  Lag was a major problem, with thousands of folks cramming into the same areas, and I couldn’t progress in my personal story at one point because the instance creator failed.

26. Skill challenges are fun.  Every map has a handful of skill challenges that, if completed, award you a skill point.  One guy simply gave me one while another required me to beat down a tough mob, Chhk the Windmill King.  I like having to work for your skill points.

27. Looting is cool in a Guild Wars game?  I really didn’t like how meaningless most of the loot was in Guild Wars 1, but here it feels like a regular MMO, and I was often looking forward to seeing what I’d loot from the next mob.  I like just hitting “F” to loot while in the vicinity rather than having to click on the mobs too.

28. Underwater combat may yet win me over.  I didn’t think much of underwater combat going into this, but it is definitely engaging and (pardon the pun) fluid.  It feels like you’re flying underwater, and the different type of attacks change up the standard combat experience.

29. The personal story is nice, but I found myself wanting choices in it a la SWTOR.  ‘Nuff said.

30. The beta weekend genuinely felt like launch, not a beta.  With all the excitement, our guild forming up, and everyone leveling like mad, it felt like the first day of release.  And it’s quite sad that it wasn’t and that we’ll have to wait.

FemWarrior (#lotro #gw2 )

Anyone watch Game of Thrones?  Of course you do.  Apart from HBO’s obnoxious overuse of gratuitous sex scenes and nudity (I thought SNL did a great sendup of this), I’ve been loving how wonderful this adaptation of Martin’s books has been progressing.  Last night my wife and I caught up with the episode where one of my favorite characters, Brienne of Tarth, was introduced.  She’s such a fascinating character to me — not the smartest person, fairly ugly to look at, and generally more masculine than all the guys around her, yet she’s also loyal to a fault, full of integrity, and a kick-butt warrior.

Kick-butt female warriors are a staple in geek fiction — almost a cliche, really — but one thing that I’ve noticed is that all of these tend to be tiny, lithe girls (with abnormally large bosoms).  Brienne strikes my fancy in that she’s the exact opposite: Tall, imposing, muscular, and the very definition of a battle-hardened warrior rather than a runway model playacting at fighting.

Why do I bring this up?  Because I’m finding myself much more interested in making Briennes than Buffys in MMOs.  As you all well know, I generally play female characters in MMOs as well as the smallest, tiniest race I can find.  And while my SWTOR toon is a stick-thin goth girl, I’m losing my taste for that sort of thing.  Rather, I want a woman who looks like she really could take care of herself in a fight.

It’s why I’m quite partial to my LOTRO Captain.  She looks most at home in heavy suits of armor and wielding a giant two-handed blade, and I enjoy feeling like she’s brute-forcing her way through mobs instead of doing a cute little dance o’ death while wearing stilettos.  It’s also why I’ll definitely be rolling a hulking Norn fighter in Guild Wars 2 in the beta this weekend (I’m less than pleased with how ArenaNet isn’t allowing us to make ugly characters or even adult-looking human females).

I’m past wanting cutsie, cuddly lingerie models who don’t have a scratch on them wading through the fray — I want the believability of a character who looks as though they’ve been around the block and picked their teeth with manicured mall-walkers.  Brienne, you can fight for me any day of the week.

Too Long; Didn’t Listen episode 22 is up!

We’re back from vacation and feeling footloose and fancy free!  Actually, that’s a serious medical condition and we’ll thank you to stay out of our personal affairs.  Join Dodge and Syp today as they talk about dealing with jerks in MMOs!  Two topics in 30 minutes or your next podcast is free. You know you would listen to all this if it just wasn’t so… long!

You can listen to the podcast over at MMO Reporter.

And lo, a beta weekend approacheth (#gw2 )

If you thought that last weekend’s combo TERA/Diablo III beta weekend was nuts, it’s nothing compared to the three-ring circus that’s trumpeting Guild Wars 2’s “first” beta weekend event.  I put “first” in ironic quotes like that because it isn’t exactly the first such weekend, just the first post-prepurchase weekend, so I guess ArenaNet is starting over with their counting.  Counting past three is hard, people!

Anyway, a lot of my friends are going absolutely bananas over this, and considering how jammed up the site got when the beta emails went out, so are a few of you.  My guild’s planning out the weekend activities already, which is helped by a post that ArenaNet put out about the weekend.

It’s an interesting post for three reasons.  One, they list all the servers in advance so people can make their plans and coordinate with each other.  I always appreciate this (and conversely hate it when a studio plays coy with server names until the last possible second).  I know it’s just beta, but it’s in the studio’s best interest to make sure that players have the best possible experience, and there’s nothing more frustrating than having to scramble right at the beginning of a very limited-time event to coordinate a group of people.

The second reason this post is notable is that ArenaNet is shedding some light on its sever (or “home world”) transfer policy.  You can indeed pick a server from a different region and transfer to a new server every week (for a price, of course).  Good to know that transfers won’t be incredibly painful.

The third reason, and what really caught my attention, is that ArenaNet is going to allow players to “guest” play on servers other than their own.  Like Guild Wars 2’s overflow servers, it’s kind of a genius idea.  I have a lot of friends all over the place, and picking a server in an MMO usually means that I’m choosing which friends to be with and which to not (that sucks).  Here, I’ll just settle down with my guild on whatever server and then be able to hop over to a friend’s server for some coop or whatnot.  That’s awesome.  Really.  I guess there will be restrictions on PvP, but I can live with that.

So while I’m generally not a big beta person — and my weekend is insanely busy with company arriving and birthday parties being thrown — I’ll most likely be messing around in the beta if for nothing else than to hang with some friends and get jazzed about the game.  See you there!