Well, the last beta weekend has come and gone for Guild Wars 2 and I couldn’t be more excited for the game’s release later in August. In my last preview, I mostly stuck to how the developers were improving player interaction and questing. So, if you’re interested in how questing works or general impressions about the combat, you can catch up here. This time around, I gave greater focus to the offerings of PvP, exploration and trying the two newly available player races.

PvP was a major draw in the original Guild Wars, so it’s no surprise that a lot of love has been shown to the completive side of the sequel. There are two avenues of PvP in Guild Wars 2, structured and World vs. World, and the two types offer very different approaches. If you want a fair fight to properly demonstrate your ability as the player behind the characters, then you’ll want to steer towards structured PVP. If you’d rather lean towards the accomplishments of your character and your ability to mobilize large groups of players strategically, then you’ll want to check out World vs. World.

Structured PvP removes the MMO issue of “victory through time investment” by giving everyone an even playing field. When you enter the structured PvP zones, you’re raised to max level and everyone draws from the same pool of equipment. You’re free to retrain your traits, swap for different upgrades and customize your character, but you’re always assured that you’re on the same level as everyone else. As you claim victory during matches and dispatch opponents, you’ll gain glory that can be used to purchase better looking equipment, but the PvP gear you earn here has the same stats that you start with and can only be used in these PvP areas. In this way, structured PvP stays fair and disconnected from the PvE experience, and if all you want is to jump in and fight you can shortcut needing to grind to max level.

World vs World PvP pits three servers against each other, all vying for control of various points in massive zones. World vs World attempts to strike a middle ground between making everyone feel like they can contribute and rewarding player investment. You retain only your acquired skills and equipment, but your level and stats are bumped to that of a max level character. So a higher level character will generally have better items and have greater flexibility in their skills than a lower leveled one, but it’s not going to be an instant one-hit-kill either.

The battlefields themselves are massive, supporting upwards of 500 players for a total of 2,000 across the four World vs. World zones. Each area has a number of camps, towers and keeps that players can fight for, and there are various bonuses awarded to the player holding them. These bonuses even trickle down to PvE so there is incentive to take part in both aspects of the game. The variety of controllable structures also means you can tailor your conquest based on how many players you can rally. A small group can still harry supply caravans or take smaller camps, but a larger number of players will be needed to tackle a siege.

Sieges are certainly a big draw, though; keeps and castles have considerable defenses in addition to the enemy players themselves. While it’s possible to eventually destroy walls and gates by hand, you’ll almost certainly need to employ siege weapons to speed up the process. This causes this great ebb and flow as players inside of the castles form up to make raids against the enemy’s siege weapons, only to have the tide of players shift and be driven back inside again. I’d highly advise keeping a ranged weapon on hand though, or you’re likely to get mobbed. One last interesting aspect to World vs. World is that player and monster kills still award loot and experience. While you won’t be losing or looting any actual items, it does mean that if you so choose you can level entirely in the World vs. World zones by defeating players and discovering various points on the map.

If you’re the sort that loves to fully explore a world, Guild Wars 2 not only offers an interesting setting but also rewards you for seeing it all. Every zone is littered with points of interest and vistas, and you’ll accrue experience and items for finding them and for tracking down all 100% of them in a map. The vistas are especially fun since they frequently involve some kind of platforming, and in addition to the experience points, you’re rewarded with lovely view of the surrounding area. Some of the most fun I had during the events was puzzling out how to get on top of something to reach a certain vista, and it’s great that I’m not falling behind the leveling curve in order to satiate my curiosity and sense of adventure. It’s just one more way that Guild Wars 2 separates progression from killing X number of Y.

For this final beta weekend, the last two races were made available. Both of them play on some existing fantasy stereotypes, but they are different enough to keep things interesting and not become straight rips from Tolkien. The Asura fit right in with the short stature, intelligent and slightly mad genius that gnomes and dwarfs might normally fill, but they draw from a very different aesthetic. Instead of steampunk, their technology has more a fantasy sci-fi feel, and they look more visually similar to Stich than to Gimli. Likewise, the Sylvari draw on many of the typical elven notes, humanoids that trend on the slighter body type and have a love for nature, but the Sylvari literally are nature. These sentient plants have a really interesting design in that while other fantasy creatures like ents are distinctly plants given motion, Sylvari’s features are the plants themselves, like leaves forming the resemblance of hair. Between these new two races, the gigantic size of the Norn, the bestial look of the Charr and the blank slate of humans combined with all the various items transformations and dyes, you shouldn’t have any problems constructing great unique looking characters.

While the beta is over, and even though I’ll need to recreate my stabby thief Slycne again, I eagerly awaiting release. There are a few things that remain to be seen if they’ll pan out favorably. For instance, we haven’t seen what the end game is like and what engine optimization we can expect remains to be done. Overall though, World of Warcraft may have ushered in the current generation of MMOs, but Guild Wars 2 has the potential to carry the genre forward again.

Game: Guild Wars 2
Genre: RPG
Developer: ArenaNet
Publisher: NCsoft
Platform(s): PC
Available from: Amazon(US), GameStop(US)Play.com(UK)

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