June 14, 2012

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A (p)review of the Guild Wars 2 beta

Guild Wars 2 had an open beta this past weekend and I received an invite since I had pre-ordered the game (back in August of 2009, for the record). It was very clearly labeled as an open Beta, “Feel free to talk about it with your friends,” noted the load screen. Sure, it’s just NCSoft trying to drum up more interest, but I’ll help them out by giving you a few thoughts on the game I saw along with what I found out about their Free To Play (F2P) system.

The world certainly looks nice, plus some fancy camera/lighting/water effects add some really nice touches.
First some background. I played a Monk almost exclusively in

Guild Wars (the original) and really enjoyed my healing/support role. Predominantly I played with co-workers at the time, including John; we even had our own guild. I think John enjoyed GW a large deal more than I did since he better fits the casual player demographic that they were targeting (max level 20 anyone?).

The city ‘zone’; very sizable in and of itself.
During the GW2 beta I started and played a Human Ranger up through level 10. I have no idea how good that is, but I suspect it is not 50% completion as it was in GW1. Additionally I don’t think I played more than 8 hours in total. Most of my play time was spent within 3 “zones”, 1 of which was my starting area. I put zones in quotes because there were a number of areas that were obviously separate from where I had previously been, yet there was no load screen. In fact there was only two reasons I “zoned” (got a load screen): 1 — I entered into an instance (most of the world is not instanced — unlike GW1) 2 — A major city in the area (presumably a safe area) had it’s own zone.

The first time I jumped in the water (to fight salmon), I switched to a completely different weapon set.
From the launch of the game it feels a bit like GW1 in terms of Art and character style. Very quickly it became obvious that GW1 and GW2 have very little in common (beyond art/style and lore). Even the character picking was a good bit different since you need to answer about 6 old RPG style questions (“If you were a spirit animal, which would you be” type). Once you’re dropped in game you find that you’ve already got a set of 5 skills, though everything beyond skill #1 is locked. The skills unlock with use, but change with weapons (automagically).

That glowy blue rock over my left shoulder is the waypoint, you must wander close to it once to unlock.
I won’t give you a blow-by-blow of my first 10 levels, but there are a few items of interest worth noting. First, the GW1 style of story missions as means to unlocking the game — is totally gone. Guild Wars 2 is much more open world, in a similar vein to typical MMOs (or say World Of Warcraft). Secondarily, while I had a story line mission to follow the entire time I was playing, I could generally ignore it. My story line was all about my class, so I suspect that there is also a larger story line that I’d tie into later and meet up with all the other classes. Third, while you don’t have the city/story mission jumps any more, there are warp points scattered around the map. Each “zone” (that I was in) had enough warp points to make getting around fairly convenient. If you weren’t in the city, you did have to pay an amount of copper to warp (I suspect cost based on distance, though I didn’t see anything more than 10-15 copper). These warp points are also where you respawn if you get your ass kicked. Lastly, in case it wasn’t already clear. With the exception of a few specific story triggered locations, there are no instances. The game even makes it easy during important events for other people by pinging your map with “an event is going on nearby”

The Black Lion Trading Company gem store.
Now onto the fiscally fun topic, free to play. Guild Wars 1 was truly free to play once you bought the game, they didn’t really think about long term monetization. Eventually you could buy more character slots and a few trinkets, but most people didn’t. It is readily apparent that they thought about this issue of long term monetization a lot for Guild Wars 2. The Black Lion Merchants (an in game NPC) were the conduit for real money spending in game. You buy “gems” for real money, and these gems have 2 purposes. The first is a gem only store carrying a variety of in-game items (perfect salvage kits), boosts (like 50% XP bonus for 1 hour), and account upgrades (more character slots). The second purpose for gems is to purchase in game gold. You could only buy 2000 gems in the beta (for free) so I cannot tell you what gold will cost in game, but it will fluctuate. NCSoft set up Gem->Gold (and reverse is also possible) just like real cross currency exchanges — it fluctuates with demand.

The Currency Exchange screen, showing the current (during Beta) exchange rates.
There are two other forms of in game currency beyond just gold. The first is karma which I received for completing story line missions. So far as I could tell, there was no way to buy karma for gold — at least not in my first 10 levels (maybe later, but I doubt it). The second currency was Guild Influence and it is, you guessed it, guild specific. You can use Guild Influence to buy guild halls, access to armorers, bonuses, etc. Guild Influence was generated automatically based on the number of active players in your guild, how many quests they completed and so forth. Guild Influence, I found, could be purchased for gold. So there is a direct link from real money to guild features — cool?

You also have clothing options for ‘City’ vs standard armor. The city gear, of course, required the purchase of a pair of aviators.
Without a longer look at an active economy, I can’t really say if GW2’s “free” to play system is unfair or not for those without (real) money to spend. As noted though, you can sell gold for gems and gain access to all the items that any other player can throw greenbacks at. So kids with more time than money, will still be able to get all the upgrades and special trinkets they want. I’d wager that the more real money spent on gems (and then gold), the more the gold will be worth converting back to gems (and hence the players with more time than money will be better off in the store). We shall see.