Editor-in-Chief Chris Tom sets down his thoughts on the Guild Wars 2 press beta, where he tries to look at where hype meets reality and if GW2 is really the MMORPG revolution it wants to be.
The combat in Guild Wars 2 is ArenaNet's crowning achievement, and for very obvious reasons. Gone are the traditional MMO systems of tab-targeting and the much reviled "trinity" of healer-tank-DPS. Instead, every profession in Guild Wars 2 can heal, support, tank, and deal damage with the right utility skills and weapon choice. Also introduced in Guild Wars 2 is the ability for players to roll evade. All classes do have an endurance bar, which prevents them from spamming their roll button, but it seems that, while rolling, your character is immune to all attacks, which makes for some very immersive PvP and PvE experiences. Obviously, as a result of the roll feature, a lot of fights in Guild Wars 2 are focused on AoE and ground-targeted abilities, so you'd better to learn to manage your endurance bar early on.
At one point, ArenaNet noted that their combat system simply wouldn't allow for traditional tanking or healing, and after my first dungeon run in the Ascalon Catacombs, I can confirm that this is true. Most of the "tanking" in Guild Wars 2 is done by whoever happens to be closest to the target at the time. Currently, threat is calculated based on a combination of proximity and overall damage / healing being done. One dev I spoke to said that, in optimal situations, players would be rolling in and out of the fight, with each teammate taking a turn at "tanking" the boss through skill rotations and rolling. I can also confirm that even journalists don't know how to listen to combat advice, because while, in theory, this sounds like a dynamic combat system - and it is! - when nobody plays properly, fights quickly become messy affairs.
This is probably my only real concern with Guild Wars 2 in the future. There is a deep and robust combat system in play here that is a delight to behold in controlled situations (organized PvP will be incredible and I'll touch on that later), but once things go slightly off-kilter, or you get a dungeon running group that just doesn't understand the importance of positioning, all those nuances get thrown out the door and you're left with barely controlled chaos. I want to genuinely believe that every player out there will easily pick up on GW2's combat system, but after being a raid leader in hundreds of raids in World of Warcraft and Star Wars: The Old Republic, where a startling number of players still don't understand how to avoid standing in fire (or missiles, in the case of SWTOR), I do have serious doubts.
Getting on with PvP
I was so excited about GW2's PvP system that I was going to write about it in an article of its own, but then I realized that others might not share my enthusiasm, so I'll discuss it here. In the little time I had to play Guild Wars 2, I'll admit that I spent an inordinate amount of time tinkering with builds and playing in GW2's instanced PvP. Because about 75% of the server population was playing a Mesmer, I deliberately avoided focusing too heavily on that class and I instead played a Grenade-throwing, Elixir-tossing Engineer, as well as a Warhammer Guardian and a Water / Earth attunement focused Elementalist tank who went about reviving teammates while shrugging off three opponents at once.
Similar to Guild Wars the original, Guild Wars 2's competitive PvP will be entirely objective focused. This gives players more creativity in deciding their team compositions and character builds, as games are more centered on cohesive strategy and tactical play, as opposed to single skirmishes centered on killing the healer as fast as possible.
Character depth is huge in Guild Wars 2, as evidenced by my tanky dagger-wielding Elementalist. We'll go more in-depth with character customization in our mechanics article tomorrow, but for now, just know that each class can equip anywhere from three to seven different weapons, with each weapon giving access to new and unique skills. Elementalists will probably have the highest skill cap in GW2's competitive PvP scene, given that they will consistently have access to twenty different weapon skills (five base weapon abilities per attunement, with four attunements) and five unique utility skills, but each class plays, and feels, truly unique.
I am hoping that, in the future, players will be able to customize their weapon ability loadouts beyond the initial five, as there is something a little underwhelming in playing a Pistol / Shield Engineer and being so limited on your core skills (in regular progression, you would literally have the same weapon skills from level 5 to 80).
For players who are excited about GW2's World vs. World experience, while I wouldn't say it will be suitable for everyone, it's definitely one of those things where the good memories will overwhelm the bad. If instanced PvP is all about distilling the combat experience down to bite-sized portions, know that World vs. World PvP will be all about the battlefield tactics and the long-term maneuvers. Leading small skirmish groups to take supply camps was a lot of fun when we were met with other small pockets of resistance, but should you decide to take part in the main army conflicts, I sincerely hope your computer can handle it. Furthermore, the nuances of any combat system get demolished in the face of large-scale warfare, and this is true in GW2. Still, there is something to be said about establishing treaties with opposing factions while leading an enormous army in a clandestine mission to take an enemy's backline fortresses.
Where Guild Wars 2 succeeds is in creating a socially rich MMORPG that really breathes through its players. ArenaNet sought to take the attention away from monitoring health bars, quest trackers and threat meters, and they've unequivocally succeeded. While this does serve to only magnify problems when things go wrong; like NPCs starting to feel like static plot dispensers in the context of Tyria's dynamic setting, or combat becoming pure chaos when played by people who "don't get it," there is just too much good in this game to really warrant any major concerns.
There can be no doubt that Guild Wars 2 is both a unique and an ambitious entity in the industry of MMORPGs, and I can't stress enough how important this is. It's been eight years since World of Warcraft arrived on the scene and cemented to the mainstream masses the MMORPG mechanics that many consider to be an inherent part of the genre. Guild Wars 2 is - at its core - a fundamental reimagining of the MMORPG genre, and there are some incredible ideas at play here that I can't wait to see dispersed into the world.
Chris "Pwyff" Tom, Editor-in-Chief