We spend a weekend playing with the little devils…
ArenaNet are a clever bunch. Before Guild Wars 2’s launch they’ve hosted at least six different beta weekends to show-off their highly anticipated fantasy MMORPG, but rather than show their cards to the masses early they held back two of their most unique classes until the final test event; the Asura and the Sylvari. The first is a race of plant people who are literally grown from underneath a giant tree and the latter are a race of smart-mouth little people who are by far the most technologically advanced race in the game’s continent of Tyria. Each of these archetypes bats against the established fantasy tropes worn thin by practically every other online game out there, and as a result they both stand out; the Asura especially.
Sure the mechanical maestros were in the original Guild War’s final expansion, Eye of the North, but in the sequel for the first time they are playable and from a brief weekend running around as one of the ‘wee’ inventors we found them to be just as entertaining as they’re unique.
As always with Guild Wars 2, our adventures began carefully creating our character answering personal questions about his/her past, motivations and favourite tool – a question unique to this race – before we actually got to start out adventures. Seeing as the Asura are known more for their brains than brawn we thought carefully about which class to choose. The Engineer was the ideal choice, thanks to the ability to cast out an array of turrets at any time, but instead we went for something completely different; a Guardian.
This class is mostly melee-focused like the Warrior, but rather than being only about hitting things in the head, the Guardian is actually more of a support class with abilities associated with creating area of effect healing and increased damage spells, but what’s more interesting is that our particular character could call in a giant ethereal sword to slash enemies to death. Let me just say that again, a GIANT ghostly sword which hops along and slashes any enemy you like – insect, golem, fellow Asura or whatever – in the face before disappearing after a dozen seconds. That’s cool, and delightfully silly at the same time, but it kind of sums up nicely what the Asura are all about, as ArenaNet has crafted a really fun and fancy free plot for these guys.
The other races, Humans and Charr especially, focus on the grander narrative of a giant dragon coming along and laying waste to huge sways of the Tyrian continent and the amount of suffering which defines the two centuries which have passed since the first game. The opening to the Asuran story has none of that for the first five hours at least with the plot focusing on a rift in the faction, between the evil Inquisition who practice science at any cost and more environmentally conscious regular folk. The surprising thing is this civil war context is fairly bright and breezy with giant malfunctioning robot golems running amok in Metrica Province and plenty of banter between competing inventors as they doubt each other’s scientific prowess in a manner that channels a bit of Mordin from Mass Effect 3 and the cleverest mouse from Pinky and the Brain. It’s obvious why ArenaNet has saved these guys for the final beta event, as in our opinion the Asura are the best class to start your adventure with purely because the core story is so funny, interesting and completely alien to the MMO genre.
Even the quest structure is a little bit different with puzzle-orientated mini-games punctuating the traditional go here, kill these guys formula which makes some of the quest progression feel like less of a slog. The split between instanced story-based content and public events is still the same here as it is for other races – around 30% versus 70% respectively – but the location-based quests just seem more interesting. We helped local inventors research wildlife, take down ancient constructs newly empowered by strange devices and searched around the Asuran province which regular surprised us with strange cube temples and floating electrical orbs of awesomeness.
The Guardian profession too was better than we were expecting, due to Guild Wars 2 being fundamentally more social due to the nature of the public questing system. Whenever you enter a new province you’re encouraged to speak with a scout NPC, designated by a spyglass floating auspiciously over their head, and from their your literally shown on the in-game map where the nearest multi-tiered quests are located. From there you simply meander over to said area and start interacting with elements in accordance with the objective, protect important NPCs or take out rampaging enemies with whoever else is in the area. This established system is in other MMO, but it leads to servers feeling alive with activity and a suspicion that giant battles, as long as you’re standing in the right place, can happen with multiple players at any time. There are also other public server events with boss characters suddenly appearing or auto-travel waypoints being invaded and contested by AI factions. All these features play into the living world aspect of Guild Wars 2, but not all of them are winners.
To encourage exploration further ArenaNet has added vantage points into the game-world which involve scaling the sides of really tall structures, carefully jumping from platform-to-platform in order to get to the top and get a better view of the world gaining another valuable notch on your area completion ratio. This idea in principle is a great one, but the problem is that server latency for Guild Wars 2 isn’t low enough to make accurate platforming possible, so instead most of the time you’ll try to get to the top and find that your inputs aren’t properly registering or worse that you’ve nudged your character too far along due to the positioning not updating fast enough. This is a small problem, but when you apply that increased latency to combat and other interactions, you discover that perhaps the server infrastructure isn’t as slick as it first appears.
Nevertheless Guild Wars 2 is definitely worth everyone’s time and the Asura certainly seem the best class to start off with, especially if you enjoy intelligent funny dialogue and innovative ideas over the sullied traditions of regular fantasy offerings. The MMORPG sub-genre has been in dire need of genuine innovation for years at this point, and Guild Wars 2 absolutely has that and best of all without the pressures of a subscription fee.
Tags: Guild Wars 2
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