Have you heard that there is a much-anticipated MMO with dynamic content, action-oriented combat, massive PvP, deep storytelling and stunning visuals? If you think we’re talking about Star Wars: The Old Republic, you’d only be half right. The other big MMO on the horizon--alpha/beta testing will take place this year, while the game is expected to launch in 2012--is ArenaNet’s Guild Wars 2. You may have not heard much about it with that other title taking up everyone’s attention, but join us for a look at what makes GW2 a strong contender to be a breakout hit all on its own.
No more holy trinity
The concept of team play in Guild Wars 2 is a fluid one. Every one of the eight professions (i.e. classes in other MMOs) can heal and team formation is more about grabbing who you can on the spot to deal with an immediate problem rather than waiting to get players who can fulfill a niche role. In other words, no more drumming your fingers in boredom for 20 minutes waiting for a healer to show up. Also, all the classes can do their job of surviving long enough to kill their opponent, each in their own way eliminating the need for a dedicated tank.
The announced professions are broken down by armor type. In the glass cannon category are the Elementalists, who can switch between earth, air, fire, and water powers on the fly and the Necromancer with their summonable minions, life draining abilities, and support skills. In the medium damage, medium armor category are the Ranger with their minions, bow, and blade and traps, the Thief utilizing stealth, tricks, and pistols, and the Engineer equipped with guns, gadgets, and grenades. Finally, the heavily armored professions are the Warrior, who uses a variety of weapons, battle stances, and shouts, and the Guardian who relies more on enchanted weapons, wards, and buffs. The eighth and last profession has yet to be announced.
Class interaction for maximum carnage
None of these professions may sound unique or innovative, the clear exception being the engineer, but where GW2 really shines is combat mechanics and profession interaction. First, the action hotkey bar isn’t a confusing mess of dozens of abilities. There are only ten slots available and they all have specific functions. The abilities for slots 1 and 2 are dependent on your mainhand weapon. Switch out the weapon, get new abilities. This encourages players to run with whatever weapon they want instead of being restricted to the “best” one for their class. Same for slots 4 and 5 with your off-hand weapon. That leaves slot 3, which is unlocked at the end of a combo chain and is dependent on your equipped weapons. Slot 6 is your profession heal. Slots 7, 8, and 9 are profession specific utility skills. Everyone gets profession specific utility skills, but then everyone gets things like an elixir for that slot regardless of profession. Slot 10 is an elite skill. That’s it. No complicated skill lists to parse, just the skills you need to get the job done. Get bored? Try a new weapon and watch your skills update automatically.
Combining different profession abilities for stronger effects are a hallmark of the original Guild Wars title, and that concept is alive and well in GW2. An Elementalist can throw down a wall of flame and a Ranger’s arrows that passes through it will catch on fire add fire damage to the target. This applies to many of the objects in the world as well. Similar to Vindictus’ destructible environment, barrels, boulders, logs, and other physical items in the world can be used as weapons. You can even take these from your opponent and use them against them.
Gameplay choices with consequences
In many games, a quest NPC will stand there idly waiting for an adventurer to come along who will hear their tale of woe and go do something heroic about it. In Guild Wars 2, an NPC will not be staring into the distance from sheer boredom while their village is being sacked and set afire behind them. Players will know there is something to do not because they spoke to an NPC, but because they see the village under attack. And when they save the village, the village stays saved.
World of Warcraft recently introduced this kind of permanent environment change in the game through phasing, and Guild Wars 2 is picking up the ball and running with it. SWTOR is also implementing the idea that an NPC you interact with early on will react differently to you when you meet them later depending on your actions. So while not revolutionary in its approach, GW2’s decision to include this feature shows it means to play with the big boys.
One time pay to play
Similar to the original Guild Wars financial model, you will have to buy the box to play the game, but there will be no monthly subscription fee after that. There will be microtransactions if you want to customize your gameplay, but there will be no mandatory expense after the initial purchase. This will present a certain barrier considering all of the free-to-play games available, but given that this is shaping up to be a AAA MMO, it may be worth it. After all, BioWare's MMO, which may or may not come out this year, is charging for the box and a monthly sub fee.
Does Guild Wars 2 look like a winner to you? Will you play it instead of or alongside SWTOR? There's a Guild Wars 2 event going on right now at NCSoft headquarters, and we'll have some brand-new GW2 news for you very soon.
Dan O'Halloran has been an avid MMO player since 1999 and a game journalist for the last 4 years. When not sucked into the latest MMO, he can be found playing far too many mobile games.