A lot of my weekend was devoted to glory, both the in-game resource that you earn for competing in PvP and that distinction that you wallow in after doing something cool. The game allows for a lot of something-cools to be done, but the ones I'm presently interested in are hot-joinable PvP and the beta's one accessible dungeon.
I spent quite a bit more time than I'd really been planning to in Conquest PvP this weekend. It's not something I intentionally steered away from in the last beta event, but it certainly isn't my natural territory. I like PvE, and I love story, so I was surprised when I found myself putting off leaving the Mists, where Guild Wars 2's PvP takes place, in order to fit in "just one more round, really!"
This beta weekend had two playable maps for structured, hot-joinable PvP: the Battle of Khylo and the Forest of Niflhel. Both maps are based around the capture and control of three key locations along with a secondary mechanic unique to each map. The Battle of Khylo allows players to use trebuchets to alter the map architecture and wreak massive damage on anyone in their line of fire, while the Forest of Niflhel contains two powerful, mythic foes that players can take down in order to gain a significant point bonus and a brief but powerful boost to their teammates' stats. Teams of up to (currently) eight can fight in these matches, and the first team to hit 500 points wins.
Players can contribute to their team's score in a number of ways. Kills, teammate revivals, use of the map's mechanic (creature kills in the Forest of Niflhel, for example), and objective assault, neutralization, capture, and defense are all tracked by the game to determine the score. Actual player kills contribute one of the lowest possible sums of points, so the trick is not just to kill your foes but to kill them in ways that benefit any of the other objectives.
Matches cycle very quickly. The official timer starts each match off with 15 minutes, but they almost never (in my experience) go that long. After one match ends, the server automatically launches into another, so if you're comfortable with your build, you can just keep rolling through 'til the cows come home. The ability to jump into or drop out of a match at pretty much the push of a button, the occasional auto-balancing of teams in the middle of a bout, and the team re-shuffling that occurs between every round all work (so far!) to keep the game from turning into a multi-round grudge match or a super-serious affair with blame and finger-pointing and ticked-off players. Because toying around with traits, attributes, weapons, and armor are all essentially free in this type of PvP, this is low-cost on pretty much every level. There's a brief run-down of objectives before matches start, a tough-guy narrator keeping you apprised of what's going on about the map, and a very useful UI -- all of which make for a gentle learning curve. It's easy to be useful without a great deal of skill, and with a great deal of skill, it's possible to be quite a force to be reckoned with.
Because of the variety of ways to rack up points, I found this mode of PvP to be very approachable. It allows players to figure out how they best want to contribute. I'm crap at aiming trebuchets, apparently, but I really excelled at moving quickly from point to point and regaining control of objectives. Because of the relatively low point-contribution of pitched battles well away from any objectives, I didn't really see the point of hanging around for those when they cropped up, but I was always more than happy to get into a scrap while defending or assaulting a control point. The system is pleasantly flexible. Guild Wars 2 will also have ranked 5v5 matches for the more serious folk who want set teams and rigid structure, but I really hope that won't diminish the worth and patronage of this gamestyle.
I also spent a significant part of my weekend trapped in a series of caverns in the underbelly of the Charr territories, sharing some precious moments with the ghosts and gravelings of the Ascalonian Catacombs dungeon. This was far from my first real experience with the dungeon; I went through it a few times in the last beta go 'round as well as saw it for the first time almost a year ago at ArenaNet's fan day. It's something of a standard by which I'm able to judge both the game and myself -- we've both been a bit more polished every time we meet.
Dungeons are supposed to be some of the more challenging content in the game; they're not things you're supposed to be able to stumble through haphazardly. To this end, they're not actually needed for personal story progression, leaving the developers with the freedom to make the content tricky without necessarily worrying about making sure that even the most unskilled of nooblets can blunder through with a bit of luck. That said, the story mode of this dungeon is relatively forgiving. You might find yourself finishing the dungeon naked or on gear drops that you happened to find as loot to replaced your own broken pieces, but you are likely to finish it if you and your teammates go in knowing how to use your professions with moderate intelligence (which, by by the time you start encountering dungeons 30 levels into the game, you really should). I've been in teams that struggled with encounters here and there, but only one group that ended up throwing in the towel, and that had more to do with our unfortunate choice to start the dungeon just before lunchtime than anything else. Beta weekends are hungry, hungry business.
While the story mode of this dungeon (and others, one assumes) requires only that one show up with a basic understanding of concepts such as big casting movement means it's time for a knockdown, the explorable mode of the dungeon has much, much higher standards for its victims. These repeatable versions of dungeons are much like what'd normally be considered endgame content, they just happen to be scattered throughout level progression. They require a considerable amount of time, effort, communication, and forethought, and even that isn't necessarily going to guarantee success. While they're still only built for five-person teams, ArenaNet has suggested that they are more or less the spiritual replacement of large multi-guild raids and dungeons that players might know and love in other games. These are for players who want to prove their excellence, and aside from the satisfaction of having beaten the damn things, they offer players tokens to unlock armor unique to that dungeon as something of a trophy.
Despite being ultimately unsuccessful, I really enjoyed my time in explorable mode over the weekend. Most encounters were preeminently satisfying, even those that were still suffering from some bugs and unpolished kinks of the development cycle. Except for when those bugs and kinks came into play, it was easy to understand when momentary setbacks were due to our faults as players. Tank-like player can't plunk himself down in front of the boss and soak up damage? Very well, let's try a little bit of kiting and a heck of a lot of cripples! Dying isn't so much of a frustration when you can clearly understand why it happened (don't stand on spikes, as a tip) and revise your strategies accordingly. Explorable mode, particularly, still needs some loving attention before that sort of thing will be true for all the encounters (I'm looking at you, boss-with-undodgeable-pull-of-instant-death), but it's well on its way.
Livestream Q&A tonight!
It was a crazy busy weekend! You'll be hearing more about it in the upcoming days and weeks, because there always seems to be so much to say. Last week we asked you to let us know what it was you most wanted to know about the game and our experience with it, so the most popular questions (and the ones that made me do the most snooping around in-game) will be answered and showing up here on Massively in relatively short order. As to the rest (or questions you weren't able to get in), I'll be doing a live question-and-answer session this evening, on Massively's own livestream! Tune in at 7:00 p.m. EDT to get some questions answered and hear me prattle on even more about things like the Thief's steal mechanic, Charzookas, and how putting hundreds of players and scores of OP NPCs in close proximity turns Divinity's Reach into a 12fps rainbow puddle.
Even a Bookah like you knows that Guild Wars 2 is on the way, but it takes an Asura's intellect, a Human's charm, a Sylvari's wisdom, a Charr's passion, and a Norn's love of strong mead to dive into beta and make sense of a game this complex. Fortunately, we have all five on the Massively staff. Enjoy our previews, guides, and our weekly GW2 column, Flameseeker Chronicles!