ZAM at PAX: Hands-On Guild Wars 2 Preview

Staff Writer Nate Wong is impressed every time he gets to play Guild Wars 2. The PAX Prime demo continued that trend.

There's a palpable sense around the MMO industry (or at least the ZAM virtual offices) that Guild Wars 2 is going to be something special. Even with the fantasy genre beginning to feel a little long in the tooth, everyone always includes the game in their “ones to watch” list. Everything that we've seen has had exceptionally high production quality so far, and I was interested to get my hands on the game at PAX Prime and see what had changed since my last play session nearly six months ago.

The changes were significant. For the first time in North America, all of the races were playable and nearly all of the classes were free to choose (if you were starting a character). So, at long last, I was able to kick off my weak, human trappings and don the larger, fiercer visage of the Norn. Even though I almost always play as a “larger” character in my MMOs, I wanted to try out a profession that might not fit the stereotype for my Norn character, so I opted for a gun-toting Engineer.

After selecting my race, profession, and cosmetic appearance (which was pretty ugly), Guild Wars 2 sent me to their often talked about character history selection sequence. Basically, this is a throwback to some of the older RPGs; you are given a list of questions to answer and those answers determine what sort of background your character has upon emerging in the world.

Even though I wasn't the archetypal Norn warrior wielding a giant axe, my character did believe that strength and might would get him through life and glory was what he lived for. However, he also had a tendency to overdo his celebrations and blacked out during one such event that has caused some strife for him due to his drunken action. All in all, a great backstory for a Norn that is trying to work his way through the world a little differently than most of his more martial brethren.

A short cutscene later, I was standing in the middle of my racial hometown. Unlike some modern MMOs, ArenaNet has opted to make starting towns for each race, and that really gives a sense of “correctness” to the world. You're not just some sort of hero that's been placed in the middle of a war. You have a home and a racial culture that are all your own, and that just feels right.

And as I stared at my new surroundings, I couldn't help but again be impressed at the graphics in the game. While it was likely running on a really beefy Alienware machine, Guild Wars 2 looks like it could be ripped straight out of a fantasy artists' sketch book. Every surrounding is crisp and vibrant, and colors blend seamlessly into wonderfully constructed models and structures. It's a world that I'd want to spend my time in, if it weren't so dangerous.

To that point, there is a slight sense of urgency when you start the game. Bad, bad things have happened in the past of your world, and even though the current environment seem relatively safe for the time being, you know that won't last long. There be dragons in this world, and they're likely looking for humanoids to eat. By the time I was completing my first major story quest, I'd already been pitted up against a massive ice worm (which was animated splendidly) and knew that more enormous monsters were aiming their sites at the musket-toting engineer named Micajah.

Continued on Page 2.

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