Guild Wars 2 Gamescom 2011 Preview -- The Lasting Effects of Bone Dragons and Origin StoriesBy Sinan Kubba - Posted Aug 17, 2011
NCsoft boldly proclaimed the reveal of Carbine’s new IP WildStar as a contender to be “the next great MMO,” whatever that quite means. While WildStar looked impressive during my session with it, it’ll have to go a long way to being a stronger contender than NCSoft's other much anticipated Guild Wars 2 right about now. The MMO sequel is simply growing from strength to strength.
What’s so impressive about Guild Wars 2 here at gamescom is how complete a game it looks. Be it in the first few minutes of noobing through a character’s origins story in its fantasy world, or be it reigning terror across the endgame areas against armies of enemies and behemoths of bosses, Guild Wars 2 has something uniquely different about it. Thing is, a lot of the ideas in Guild Wars 2 aren’t wholly original; that shouldn’t surprise given that the MMO space only ever gets busier. What GW2 does, and it does it leagues better than Rift did earlier this year (and Rift did it pretty well), is to take those ideas and really and truly run with them in a new, different direction.
Take the Origins stories, for example. Sure, they make Guild Wars 2 resemble Dragon Age a fair bit, although an origins story is really an old-school staple of the traditional RPG. Regardless, in GW2, the choices you make when rolling your character have a lasting effect throughout the whole game and not just the origin story. In one origin story, for example, the choice you make will decide which friend of yours from several will be spared a later event. The spared friend will continue to pop up occasionally and opportunistically throughout the game.
It’s not just a choice with narrative implications either, as the friend you inadvertently spare will have a certain skill set that may prove handy during certain quests. With all the choices you make in rolling and throughout the game, even though with five races and three origin stories you’re strictly getting a total of 15 different stories, in practice the story of your character can branch out dramatically.
Now speed through hours and hours to the endgame, or at least the day before the endgame. Gone is the linearity and plot of the origins stories, and in their place an incredible dynamic boss fight that makes Rift's look like little balls of static. In the Marriott Hotel in the heart of Cologne, an epic battle is taking place between merry bands of worldwide games journalists and a gigantic, screen-eating, bone dragon. The bone dragon has enclosed itself within a huge bone cage, but the walls of the cage can be torn down by laser turrets conveniently surrounding the huge skeleton.
Not so conveniently the dragon is spawning undead creatures that are doing a good job of distracting our plucky critics from wreaking fractures upon the fragile dragon. It’s a huge fight of crazy proportions as the bone dragon fends itself from attackers who fend themselves from a growing number of minions. While it is a huge fight, there’s order to it; it’s not just a free-for-all melee. Strategy is needed here, but we’re talking about games journalists, and it’s no surprise to see the dragon still standing by the end.
Switching from the madness of this prolonged turret attack to on-ground combat with a high level character is no less fun. While the hot bar is filled on the left-hand side with a fairly typical mix of range shots, area of effect attacks, and so on for the first five keys, on the right there’s some more interesting stuff going on, none more so than the ability to toggle on and off a flamethrower.
Using the flamethrower replaces that left-hand side with its own set of attacks, including a huge area of effect attack that basically creates the Great Wall of Fire. Not only is this badass, but if friends shoot bullets and other projectiles through the flames, they will become combustible and do extra damage. I must admit, once you toggle on the flamethrower, it’s hard to go back. It’s way too cool.
All those elements mentioned are essentially evolutions of ideas from other games, be they MMO games or otherwise – even a jump attack shown to me, with its huge area of effect damage for both jumping high and out of sight and for then landing with a thump, oddly reminds me of Final Fantasy.
Still, when Guild Wars 2 does it so much better it’s hard to feel outraged. A great and final example of this: the dynamic end-game. Not to again rag on Rift, because I do enjoy it, but the rift mechanic never really evolved as the game went along, and what felt dynamic and interesting in the early stages just didn’t quite capture the same spirit towards the endgame. Guild Wars 2 attempts to ramp up the ramifications of its large-scale events. Killing off the bone dragon, for example, will change the whole area around him and with much more permanency; it would drive out the undead from surrounding areas, maybe attract other creatures, and maybe even persuade a shopkeeper to set up a stall where he was before all the commotion – at least until the next bone dragon appears.
It’s easy to get carried away, especially in the realm of the MMO where the pressure to succeed is ludicrously high. Carbine and NCsoft’s proclamations about WildStar may be difficult to swallow at the present time, but if NCsoft were to throw the same kind of rhetoric around more with Guild Wars 2, then I don’t think there would be too many complaints from humble plebs like you and me.