Guild Wars 2
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After So Much time in the wilderness, it seems that NCsoft are making up for lost time. From giving out no information about Guild Wars 2 to vast reams of text explaining lots of things in surprising detail, NCsoft are outdoing themselves. And making a humble journalist's job much easier, because we don't have to scrabble around in the bowels of the internet to piece together scraps of rumours.
The major things they're talking about are traits, basically a way of making your character better at their profession. You earn them by scouring the globe for people who might reveal challenges to you. Complete one and you get a trait to be added to your character. Each profession has a set of trait lines which can be configured how you like. Each is composed of major and minor slots. For example, warriors will have general lines called Power and Tactics, as well as specific lines for the weapons he or she chooses to use. Depending on the availability of the traits, there could be a massive scope for creating unique builds for characters.
Traits are separate from a character's regular skills, complementing rather than replacing these abilities. Once you've chosen your skills, you can then assign traits to maximise their effectiveness. A warrior might try to stack his Power line with damage-boosting buffs, while adding ones that boost defence or reduce cooldown times on their most powerful attacks to the Tactics line.
In theory this system could massively diversify the foes you come across in Guild Wars' PvP. Expect vast wiki sites to appear devoted to creating the ultimate build for particular classes. And a month later, how to defeat said builds.
Not everything's going to be about roaming the hills looking for monsters to slaughter, though. A big part of the MMO experience is adventuring with friends and building up guilds (obviously, for a game with the name Guild Wars).
One new way NCsoft is looking to get people together is by the introduction of activities: things that have no impact on the world or the plot, but are a diversion for battle-weary players who just want to have a laugh.
One of these is the bar brawl, where unarmed players have to use the environment to give them the edge, perhaps by picking a chair to club an opponent over the head or spitting beer in someone's face. Other possible activities include a forming a band with a bunch of musical instruments found lying around, and a shooting range, though nobody has any idea how these could work. Folk Guitar Hero with a Guild Wars edge?
Progress in the game and in the activities leads to the inevitable (and welcome) introduction of achievements. The titles of the previous game, given to players who'd, say, discovered 70% of the game's world map, will be implemented in a different way, and they'll be bound to your account, not the character that got the achievement. There are also Feats, which are best described as daily achievements. These will be awarded for much smaller tasks that would be completed during the normal course of a game day, like killing a certain number of monsters.
All this is making Guild Wars 2 sound like a very exciting MMO and the more we hear about it, the more we want to play it.
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With its instanced hinterlands it wasn't strictly massively multiplayer, which is why it got a little picked on by the bigger kids in the MMO schoolyard. However with no subscription fees and plenty of urban persistence, it sold millions and so a sequel was inevitable. This time ArenaNet are building up the back alleys and rural areas of Tyria to support the masses just as much as the gangs, hoping that Guild Wars 2 will become the premier destination for online gamers. Set to offer more places to interact with more people, and no plans to ever charge a subscription, it's hard to see Guild Wars 2 being anything other than another huge success.
The only question mark hanging over the game is the decision to remove a dedicated healer class. ArenaNet will instead distribute the salves and bandages between all the nine classes.
Jacks Of All Trades
So far we hear about Elementalists, Rangers and Warriors - members of the scholar, adventurer and warrior professions respectively, and there are six classes we've yet to hear about. The developers are asserting they want players to be more versatile, - but those who prefer to specialise are grumbling. An end-of-year beta will hopefully calm people down a bit.
With plans to introduce a huge 'World vs World' PvP mode and a storyline based around uniting the various people of Tyria to defeat the Elder Dragons, 2011 can't come soon enough.
This hasn't been the best of years for MMOs, so here's hoping Guild Wars 2 heralds a positive change for the genre.
Many Aeons Ago, there was an MMO called Guild Wars, which was much loved because it didn't have any subscription fees. You could play at your own pace, knowing that you weren't being charged through the nose for the privilege of doing nothing.
The game was surprisingly good fun, too, having a rock-solid PvP element and an engrossing plot (for an MMO). While it didn't reach World of Warcraft levels of popularity, hundreds of thousands took to the lands of Tyria to see what all the fuss was about. Three full-blooded expansions followed and then a sequel was announced. Then nothing. Not a sausage for years. Nobody even knew, for sure, whether work was still going on. Wags suggested it was a Duke Nukem Forever situation, but thankfully they were ever so wrong. Because Guild Wars 2 does indeed exist.
The years spent in the shadows have allowed Guild Wars 2 to develop into a potentially unique MMO beast, one that is going to vigorously push forward its own approach to the genre, namely focusing heavily on personal stories. When creating a character, you'll be presented with an Elder Scrolls-style question system, the results of which go towards forming your chosen avatar's back story, motivations and allegiances. As you progress, you'll come across many more events that will shape your destiny, as it were.
"The final end point of the game tends to be the same, the dragons are awakening, and the end of the world is coming," says Ree Soesbee, Lore and Continuity Designer on Guild Wars 2, "but when you and I get there and want to face that climactic battle, you might be doing it because you want to save a town from the dragon and I might be doing it because it killed my sister."
One Of Many
NCsoft hope this will give players an extra incentive to create a number of different characters and also will make them more personally involved and connected to each of their avatars. You can even bring your buddies along to help you push your personal story along, with them acting as helpers or sidekicks, but the choices about what happens would all be yours to make.
They also promise that the world won't just be a fixed tableau that constantly redraws itself and is basically unchangeable. "Fighting an epic enemy only to see him respawn a moment later, or feeling as if the most important thing you did today was murdering 10 rats, can cause a game to have a flat, repetitive feel," laments Soesbee. "If you save a village, it will remain saved. If you go back there, the NPCs will remember you and talk to you, jg because they know you did something for them. If you save the village, but allow your friend to die, that person stays dead. You don't find him standing around waiting for the next guy. He's gone for you."
The first Guild Wars was broken up into two sections. Hub areas were where players congregated to form groups and so on, while the bulk of your time was spent in the instanced areas, where only you and your party existed. These were sealed off from everyone else and created specifically for each individual group. This isn't how MMOs' usually work, and now, in Guild Wars 2, it isn't how it works either.
"In the wider world, we have the events system, where you may come upon a situation where a group of humans is being attacked by a creature and they're yelling for help, and you and everyone else on that map can go and save them," Soesbee explains. There'll be still be some instanced zones, like your house that can be customised and develops with your story, but that still f means the vast majority of your game J time (90%, Soesbee claims) will be spent interacting with others in the world at large, a huge difference in approach from the first game.
We've yet to see Guild Wars 2 in action, but it sounds like everything Guild Wars fans could want from a sequel, and with its subscription-free model it should also continue to tap into the casual player market the first one reaped so many rewards from.
With its more personal approach to storytelling weaved around a more traditional, noil-instanced format, NC soft could be onto a massive winner with this MMO. If they ever get around to releasing it.