When asked if I'd like to participate in the Guild Wars 2 beta on behalf of Player Attack, I think I paused for all of half a second before saying yes. Though I never ended up spending as much time as I would have liked in the original Guild Wars, I've always admired the developers for going in a different direction within the MMO genre, with the game not requiring a subscription fee and only giving you a handful of skills to work with at a time.
The sequel is continuing down the same path with a relatively meagre 8-12 abilities available to a character at any one time, with dozens more available to be learned, unlocked and swapped between. Even equipping different weapons, or combinations of weapons, can open up new skills to your character. For a system that seems so simple on the surface, there's a lot more depth to it than some other titles in the genre, which is promising for players who really like their characters to be unique.
Whilst the original game was released after the launch of World of Warcraft, it was close enough in time that WoW hadn't yet dominated the market, but Guild Wars could not crib the best parts. This time around, developer ArenaNet has had time to investigate what people enjoy in the modern crop of MMOs and has created systems to cater to those desires.
The PvP Battlegrounds players have become familiar with thanks to WoW, Rift and particularly Star Wars: The Old Republic's Warzones are present in Guild Wars 2 and like SWTOR Warzones, players all have their statistics boosted to the equivalent of the game's maximum level. In GW2's case this is level 80.
However, unlike every other MMO, Guild Wars 2 unlocks everything for players to tinker with as they choose, gives everyone access to the same gear and trait points and then sets them loose in the assigned battleground. This ensures that everyone is on a completely level playing field in regards to gear availability and time investment, but does strip away much of the drive to complete other parts of the game to better your PvP experience.
This is likely to appeal to a lot of people who've grown tired of competing for positions in PvE raids to get specific pieces of gear, but for the people who prefer just joining and having a thrash around with their regular character (like me!) it's disappointing.
Without a great deal of interest in the general storyline and questing the boss lady discussed in her earlier article (after a Bioware MMO, I'm harder to impress) I thought maybe I was done with the game after a brief play session. I didn't want to be, I want a new MMO to play and I still needed to write this article.
It was then I discovered the game's World versus World mode and I finally fell in love with Guild Wars 2.
World versus World (WvW) takes place in the Mists between worlds and is primarily a PvP game mode, though many PvE objectives exist and can be completed to help your side achieve victory. The Worlds in question are entire servers of players. As there is only one playable faction in the game, everyone gets to fight for the glory of their home server, if they participate in WvW, thus wiping out the usual concerns with factional imbalances.
And unlike the heavily restricted battlegrounds system, WvW only lets you use whatever you actually own with your character. The statistics are all still boosted, so your weapon will do meaningful damage and your armour won't seem made out of a sheet of paper, but your character will be wearing her own gear and using her own weapons and will thus actually feel like your character, not a collection of skills, statistics and items you haven't earned.
Much of the gameplay revolves around capturing and defending the various Supply Camps, Towers and Keeps spread across the map, with players battling to advance towards the Cradle of Power for the opposing Worlds. Each Cradle of Power holds an Orb of Power at the start of each two-week long bout. Capturing the Orb and successfully bringing it back to one of the Keeps controlled by your World grants bonuses to everyone on your side of the conflict. Having your own Orb spirited away naturally makes it that much harder to fight back against the side who took it from you.
Grabbing the Orbs is the end goal of a game but between the start of play and getting to that point, your side will need to progress through the various fortified areas either capturing them for your own World or building on the defenses already established. Walls can be upgraded with additional masonry to withstand attacks for longer. Cannons, mortars and cauldrons of boiling oil can be mounted on the parapets and above the gatehouse to repel invaders, as well as additional NPC guards hired and useful vendors encouraged to set up shop.
To get those cannons and catapults built you're going to need supplies. These are ferried from the Supply Camps by Tyria's beast of burden, the dolyak. It looks like a yak. With saddlebags. And while it is just as sturdy as you would expect a yak to be, there's a series of monsters and bandits that will try and stop the supplies from reaching their destination. This can mostly be prevented by hiring some NPC guards to protect the shipment, but if you're thinking they must be popular targets for other Worlds trying to cripple your side's economy? You'd be right!
Conflicts often spring up around the supply yaks, even when the WvW zone is otherwise fairly empty. A small group or a particularly adept individual can take out these vital links in the supply chain, rather than trying to tackle the much harder Towers or Keeps (which even the basic NPCs can defend quite well against a small number of attackers). Choke off the flow of supplies to a Keep and they can no longer build new defenses or repair the ones they already have. If done in preparation for a siege, you could starve them of the supplies they need to defend themselves, thus ensuring your victory.
With all the consequent cooperation required it's easy to see how this could hold a great deal of appeal for guilds from small to large, or even just lone players looking for a means of advancement a little different to the traditional.
Most other games that have a cross-server system choose to group certain servers together, usually based on the respective population levels, factional balances and the like. Guild Wars 2 is going to keep track of how well each server is doing in WvW and every two weeks will match them up accordingly. Thus, servers with a very active and successful WvW population will be matched against others who are similarly accomplished, rather than constantly smashing the same outmatched or outnumbered opponents.
The game is still in beta at this stage and there's aspects that clearly will need a lot more work before the release date, whenever that may be. But with such a well thought-out solution to a problem that has plagued other games, ArenaNet is definitely on the right track.