This one ain't about tabletop gaming. Sorry for that.
Anyway, I've been looking forward to Guild Wars 2 for a long time. Like a lot of folks, I like MMOs, but I also hate MMOs. There were plenty of times when I had an absolute blast playing World of Warcraft with this chica and her husband, but trying to actually make those moments happen was a royal bitch, and not usually successful. Fortune forbid we actually try and get one more person in on the action, or maybe check the Auction House on another character while waiting for someone a thousand miles away to coordinate their day with ours. Couple that with travel times, pre-adventure prep work, clearing out your inventory, and outleveling your friends, and you spend much more time trying to play than you do playing.
Guild Wars 2 aims to fix all that, and after playing the beta this weekend, I think they may have succeeded. Not 100%, but they've cut out a lot of the barriers.
Okay, the good news (and I guess I better bullet-point it, since there's a lot of good news):
The game is solid and good. Aside from any other details, arguments about what should be which way, that statement stands. It's fun, it's attractive, it's humorous (not overly), and it's not riddled with bugs.
· No monthly fee, which is good for more reasons than me being a cheapskate. The most important reason is that removing that $15/month eliminates most of the need for a grind. It's still going to take a while to hit that level cap, but you're not going to, say, queue up your crafting panel to make 100 steel ingots, go have lunch, and come back before it finishes.
· Combat is faster, and positioning makes a difference. You still have a skill bar, but your attacks are just 1-5. 6 is your self-heal, 7 and up are utility skills. F1 is often a special skill that you want to have readily available, but that's pretty much it. No more of this. You know what that is, and that is bullshit. You can dodge, and use your fellow players for cover (suck it up, Guardian!). In action, it still plays more like an MMO than a first-person shooter, but it doesn't have that same sort of automated feeling. Also, there are a lot of push/pull effects, which are sadly lacking in MMOs. I think one of my favorite combos with Earl of Preston, my human warrior (I'll be making him again for the full game, if anyone wants to be Duke of Ted) was thus: Kick the enemy, pushing him away and knocking him over. Then I throw my offhand sword at him, impaling him for a Bleed effect. Then I Leap at him with my axe, closing the distance and spending my adrenaline for lots of damage. Then I rip my sword out of him, ending the Bleed but dealing a great deal of extra pain. FUN!
· Travel is almost instant. Do you REALLY need to run back to town and stash some crap in the bank before taking on the next instance? Fine, pay your 15 copper, teleport anywhere you've been before, stash your crap, then teleport back. You will have to sit through a loading screen, but as long as you know where you're going, you then have maybe a 10 second walk to a bank or whatever you need, then you're done. This makes it a lot easier for groups to get together.
· You don't have to be on the same server as your friends. I'm told WoW has something like this now, but this was the biggest killer for me back in the day. My friends and I were scattered across multiple servers, and... gods, you all know what that means. It means starting over any time you realize that a friend plays the same game you do. In GW2 you have a friends list, and you can go join them on their server as a guest, and it's just that simple.
· Speaking of servers, there's a Server Overflow. When the area you're in is just too crowded (as the starting areas were all weekend) you're bumped into a little side server. Your friends can come, too. There are still plenty of folks about, so you hang out here, playing the game, until some room opens up. No more sitting in a queue.
· Short-term grouping is easy. You just stay near each other. No more having to decide whether to work with or against someone you meet in a dungeon in the middle of nowhere. You don't have to party up, and you don't have to share. He hits the zombie, you hit the zombie, you both get full credit and full loot. This approach to grouping comes in handy when scores of angry centaurs start charging a watch tower, and a dozen people rally to drive them off, reviving those who fall (did I mention that anyone can revive the fallen?) So start spamming those AoE powers, people!
· Level adjustment. Let's say I'm hells of slow at leveling ('cause I am). Let's say Robbie is hells of fast ('cause he is). He sees I'm on and decides to come help me with kicking ass. When he comes to my area, his effective level drops. He still has all of his sweet powers, but he's not going to one-shot everything we see. Also, he's earning loot and experience to match his real level. Nice.
· Asura. None of the races are lame, but the Asura are awesome. Think Dragonlance Gnomes with their weird genius and inventions, give them more magical power, ridiculous arrogance, a slightly sinister streak, and then make them that weird combination of hideous/adorable. Kinda like Yoda in his younger days. I found myself giggling with glee the whole time I played Gonff Mausrauber, my notorious gunslinger. Bonus: While playing an Asura, a key NPC in your personal story is voiced by Felicia Day.
· No FedEx quests, and escort quests aren't BS. I had a quest where I was helping my buddy escape from an evil Asura prison. He was defeated on the way out. No problem. I walked over and revived him, and he ran out the door with me. Go back and read that. He died, and I didn't have to start over. He FUCKING RAN! Following me! Not the plod of an old man with bad knees through quicksand that they have in every goddamn MMO I've seen!
The Not As Good News:
· It's still an MMO. If you just don't like MMOs at all, it's probably not for you. If you like MMOs, but don't like a lot of the baggage, it might be for you.
· It's a little confusing in some places. There's still a month to go before release, and a lot of this could be solved with some tooltips or something, so hopefully this won't be as much of an issue. But there it is. You can start crafting right off the bat, but it's complicated and weird, and they don't really explain it to you. That's the biggest "how does this work?" sort of issue, as the rest is introduced pretty slowly. Hil managed alright with the opening scenario, but felt like they threw her into the deep end before she could really get a handle on her powers.
· The big fights lead to lag. Each opening scenario (I wouldn't call it a tutorial, see above) has a climax against a big bad mofo of a monster. This is pretty rad, but you're often side by side with a dozen or so allies, so a lot of powers and nifty effects are flying about, and things can chug a bit. This might just be my issue, since I'm barely hitting those system requirements. For those interested, here's what I'm running:
AMD Athlon XP Dual Core, 2.1 GHz
3 Gigs RAM
nVidia GeForce 8600 GT, 256 megs RAM
· PC only. Luc, stop playing with your daddy's fruit box and get a real computer.
· No World PvP. So Luc can't stab people in the back while they're questing to ruin their day. Maybe this should be in the "Good" heading, but I know at least one A-hole for whom this is a major selling point.