Guild Wars 2's final beta weekend is here, and we had a chance to talk with game designer Mike Zadorojny about what we can expect for the upcoming weekend event and next month's launch. We got a sneak peek at the Asura and Sylvari starting experiences and asked a few questions about beta, release, player retention, and the future.
Whether you're a die-hard fan or still sitting on the fence, we've got some information that's sure to turn your head.
While many fans are excited about the Asura and Sylvari, I'm sure some folks are still wondering why it took so long for players to get their hands on these two races. Though part of the reason was for additional polish, the Asura and Sylvari are also locked up to ensure that the closed betas kept people playing in concentrated areas of the world (mainly the newbie zones) to help simulate a launch. By saving these two characters for last, previous betas helped stress testing for newbie areas, and this final beta gives you the opportunity to do the same thing to help ArenaNet prep for launch. Even if you don't think you'll play the two new races at release, the Asura and Sylvari starting experience is worth the effort.
First up are the Asura -- pint-sized little geniuses doing everything they can to take the world around them. New players get to choose things like their first invention, their teacher, and the college they belong to, and they can even participate in a bit of a science fair (make sure to listen for Felicia Day playing the role of one of your mentors). While you'll have some of the usual collection quests, don't pass by the game boards you may see around town. They're actually a turn-based minigame quest you can play against your friends (or if you're somehow alone, against the game), which is a nice touch for a newbie zone or... heck, any town in any game (Star Wars: The Old Republic, I'm still waiting for the same from you). Oh, and beware the giant golem. He'll be back later on.
Then we have the Sylvari, the plant dreamers who are, literally, just being born. I highly recommend that you make sure to check out your character without armor because while you may start out in a dream world, you will be born, and you will be barely clothed (don't worry; getting the real version of your dream clothes is the first thing you'll be doing). Aside from the fact that plant people still seem to have naughty bits that are covered soon after birth, the Sylvari do have some awesome color combinations available to them, in keeping with their starter zone. The dream world you start in is still pretty forest-like (and no, sorry, non-Sylvari won't have access to the dream at all), and there are still other areas to experience. Explorer types might find their way into a fiery cavern, complete with a fairly interesting jumping puzzle. Players will need to activate consoles so they can hop along floating blue discs that will take them to their destination.
"Think of these as simpler jumping puzzles. You'll see an icon floating somewhere high in the air, and it's your job to figure out how to get up there."
For those who haven't played GW2 or haven't gotten their feet wet (literally!), the game gives you different moves when you're in the water, partially because things like ground targeting aren't really effective while you're swimming. Underwater combat can be really cool, and there's a few quest areas under the sea, but as some WvWvW folks may know, you don't always get to fight in the water, and this is intentional with underwater combat as a whole. It's a nice option, but at the moment, the game designers don't want to force everyone into it. I still would like at least one underwater battleground!
Optional, unforced features are a theme throughout the game. Guild Wars 2 wants to give you an idea of different parts of the game without overwhelming you. For example, the game's basic story element may be cool for some people, but a PvPer can actually skip that and jump into PvP. You won't miss out on any special abilities as in SWTOR, but GW2 also doesn't have the explicit options for different outcomes, for the most part. Mike Z mentioned that certain personality types and the way players respond to some conversations may open up secret options in some situations, so if you're a story fan, pay attention to your options!
Explorer types seem to have received some love as well. Vistas and harder jumping puzzles are fun (Mike, PR man Emil Rodriguez, and my guide Alley spoke of an "arms race" among game designers to make the most difficult puzzle). Unlike the GW1 vial system, the dye system in GW2 required players to actually go out and discover new dyes. These shades are not a one-time-use sort of dye but are permanently unlocked. I was told that at release, there are 200+ various shades for players to find from drops. Whether they drop from specific creatures or have different chances of unlocking certain colors, I'm sure there are a few people besides yours truly trying to calm their inner-collector.
Release and the future
With the game just around the corner, I'm sure there are a few questions and concerns out there. For one, I know several people learned too late that simply trying to create a character on a server locks you into that server, and deleting your character won't fix that. This was very frustrating for my friends, guildmates, and allies during the first two beta weekends, but ArenaNet understands the situation.
First of all, players will be able to move servers at will for a while after release so that they can play with their friends. Since the game is launching with the ability to switch servers, it should come as no surprise that, in the event that ANet needs to open new servers, players will immediately be able to transfer servers (for free if you're coming from select crowded realms). People also have the option to "guest" on servers, allowing them to play with friends from other servers (unless you want to enter WvWvW with them, in which case, you will need to switch servers). That still doesn't fix the "Oops! I created on the wrong server and have to pay for a transfer" situation, so Mike said that ArenaNet will have a warning up after release so that new players will understand what might lock them into a server. However, people playing the beta test will notice that the warning has already been implemented!
"It needs to be said that GW2 will have server-specific forums. Those who have played other MMOs without them may have witnessed the frustration of trying to coordinate with servermates out-of-game."
WvWvW will be a bit less stable at launch. While the plan is to move from 24-hour matches to two-week matches, ANet says that if a different amount of time feels better, that time could be lower. This is important because the end of a match will always shift servers around to keep things fun and competitive. If you're on a highly skilled server, expect to get paired with similar servers. If your server has a lot of casual folks, expect to get paired with less-hardcore servers. The system won't be perfect, but at least there's an effort to mix things up on a regular basis, rather than see stagnation after World X keeps winning and people on the opposing servers stop coming out to PvP.
This feature's important because it's one the ways Guild Wars 2 is trying to retain players. As Massively's own Elisabeth Cardy mentioned in her column, there's some discussion about GW2's endgame, or perceived lack of one. Yes, there's the typical "We have so much in game, there's something for everyone!" response, but Mr. Z had a few counters I wasn't expecting.
First: WvWvW rotations. It doesn't sound like a big deal to some people, but I'm the type who has been in guilds that have became the best on the server and in the guilds that simply couldn't compete. Community stagnation can really kill PvP, while mixing it up frequently can help breathe life into the game. RIFT players may have already experienced this with the game's World PvP situation, if you consider the boon of open transfers and the bust when transfers close. The main difference here is that it's not an influx of new players who may just be server-hopping but whole communities part of a shared server being tossed together.
Next comes seasonal events. They were popular in GW1, and they're returning in GW2. I'm a huge fan of seasonal events. Every time I came back to WoW, it was for a seasonal event (not for the achievements but to see the changes). Since GW2 doesn't have a monthly subscription fee, players who may have gotten a bit bored with the game can pop back in to check out seasonal events without having to pay the price of admission.
Finally, GW2 will have a live team that will try to roll out new content each month. Each month. While this mainly sounded like it was for the PvE events in the game world, it's still interesting to hear so soon after Funcom made similar proclamations about The Secret World. The big thing the team stressed was its goal to avoid a grind feeling and to ensure that each play-through the game feels different on every character. There's no subscription fee for GW2, so the developers don't need to add grinds. Instead, they want people coming back asking, "What's going on this month with the game?" It's what kept me subscribed to Asheron's Call 1 and AC2 for years.
Still not enough for you? Well, one thing the original Guild Wars was known for was its expansions. Yes, GW2 isn't out yet, and it's getting a live team that is going to try to roll out monthly updates, but ANet's not done. When I asked about plans for expansions, I was told that release is "just the beginning."
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