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Guild Wars 2 Preview

publisher: NCSoft
developer: Arena Net
genre: MMORPG

ESRB rating: T

release date: Aug 28, 12
» All About Guild Wars 2 on ActionTrip

Developer ArenaNet made a huge splash seven years ago when they released the original Guild Wars. Part co-op MMO, part competitive PVP title, that never had an additional charge after the initial purchase price, Guild Wars was a critical and fan hit that had three expansions and ultimately sold over seven million copies. In 2007 ArenaNet told its fans that going forward they would be devoting their time to Guild Wars 2, which would allow them to implement features not possible in the original. In 2009 ArenaNet announced that the game would most likely not be released until 2011. Since that time the team has been soliciting feedback from fans from closed Betas and on their forums in order to make Guild Wars 2 a polished product. This careful process of gathering feedback to make a game both the developers and players will love is something I heartily support. However, it also comes with the tradeoff of having to be patient until the game is to a point where we can play it. Imagine my surprise and excitement then when I got an email inviting me to come up to Seattle to tour the ArenaNet offices, speak with the development team and then see what they have been working on for the past five years by actually playing Guild Wars 2.

Upon arriving at the ArenaNet offices, we were greeted by President / Co-founder Mike O'Brien (Mike used to be a company director and lead programmer at Blizzard where he developed the 3D rendering engine for Warcraft III and led development of ). Mike gave us a tour of the offices while explaining some of the core ideas behind Guild Wars 2 and the company in general. He told us that ArenaNet is a company of 270 hardcore gamers and as we were shown around the offices this point was clear. Work stations were littered with action figures, toys and gadgets that are the hallmark of any true geek's workspace. Game boxes and jewel cases (not just from their own products but other great titles) were on proud display bookcases and walls all around the offices. Artwork from ArenaNet game designs were on display everywhere. Bright, fantastic vistas, noble statuesque heroes and terrifyingly powerful creatures were present in every room. It was hard to tear your eyes away from some of the displays, but I had to force myself in order to keep up with the group as they moved along.

Mike also explained how the building itself was designed to make it easy for team members to relocate work spaces easily so when collaboration is required, moving to a new part of the office is a simple process. Desks are on wheels and PCs have power and network connections through a single cable so members of the team can unplug and move around with very little effort. The walls, lighting and heating and cooling systems are all modular and can also be easily altered to allow for more or fewer people in a specific area with little effort. I was amazed at how much effort went into designing a work environment that lets the team focus their attention on what's really important: their game. Overall, I felt the entire workspace is clean, modern and warm, completely lacking the typical cube farm vibe and attitude found in most development companies. This was my first indication that something very different is going on up in Seattle.

As we toured the offices, we were introduced to many members of the various teams working on Guild Wars 2. People from core system development, game mechanics, map designers, artists of all sorts, QA, support; all are upbeat, positive and unified in the primary goal of creating a game that is different from what most people expect when they hear the term 'MMOG' (Massively Multiplayer Online Game). The message I kept hearing (and saw from my time in game), is this: ArenaNet has a definite vision of how they are making MMOG's fun and accessible to gamers again, while minimizing or removing the negative aspects of the genre. Guild Wars 2 is that vision. At the end of the office tour, we settled into a conference room. We were promised that it would be just a few more minutes before we got our hands on the game, Mike and other members of the team gave us a brief rundown of what MMOs have become and how Guild Wars 2 hopes to set things right.

Let's get this out of the way right at the start. In keeping with the tradition of the Guild Wars franchise, you buy the game and never pay another dime. Online play is free, meaning no monthly fees that are usually associated with an MMOG. Yes, there are quite a few Free-to-Play MMOs out there, but players usually find that without using micro-transactions, their gaming experience is severely limited. While there is an option for micro-transactions within Guild Wars 2, the team is quite firm that no player will be able to purchase a better gaming experience than anyone else by whipping out daddy's credit card to buy an advantage over others (which is especially important for PvP. Keep reading for more details on why this is a non-issue). The items that can be purchased from these micro-transactions are things like perks to grant extra XP for limited time. Players can also opt to use the gold that is earned in game to purchase the same items. Expect more details on this feature as the game gets closer to release.

The art quality is stunning and has a hand-crafted look I have not seen in any other game to date. But they have been very careful while developing Guild Wars 2 so that it will work on systems with hardware up to four years old. Granted the better your rig, the more eye candy you can experience, but bleeding edge tech is not required to enjoy the many aspects of the game. I spent a lot of time wandering around the human city marveling at the way it was constructed. It felt like a real city that had grown and expanded organically, instead of blocks of building that are little more than window dressing mass produced and stitched together. Coupled with a stirring soundtrack and sound effects, it all adds up to a background that allows Guild Wars 2 to give the player an epic story experience but still allows them to play their own personal story. Your personal story will branch and evolve as you go from the level 1 all the way through level 80. How do they do that? When you create your character you are asked a series of question about your background that will then tailor your story and journey based on those decisions. As you play and make these decisions, your biography is created and written in your character screen. You can go back and reread the experiences that formed the character you are playing now. Star Wars: The Old Republic was touting personal story as their big feature before it launched back in December of last year, but from what I have seen so far in Guild Wars 2, they may have some serious competition. Only time will time how well the personal story has been blended into the game.

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Burning Up

Almost every aspect of an already great game seems to have been improved, promises to be a vital step forward in the Guild Wars franchise and indeed the genre of MMORPGs;

Game still needs testing and polish.

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