This weekend I was lucky enough to take part in the beta event for ArenaNet’s upcoming MMO Guild Wars 2. I’ve always had a soft spot for Guild Wars. The MMO was released way back in 2005 and its free-to-play model won it many fans. I played pretty regularly until I had exhausted almost all of the content that was available.
Luckily for me and fans of Guild Wars everywhere, ArenaNet have not been idly twiddling their thumbs for the past 7 years. Expectations were high, so I went into this beta simply hoping for a sequel that would compare favorably to the original. What I found was a game breathtaking in size, and in quality.
Guild Wars 2 starts its story 150 years after the events in Guild Wars: Eye of the North, when the heroes of Tyria drove back the Great Destroyer and managed to save the land for the final time. Since then, there have been some major world-changing events. Ancient dragons, long thought gone from Tyria, have awoken from their slumber and torn the land to pieces. It is now up to a band of intrepid heroes to unite the people of the world and send those dragons back where they came from.
Players have the option of choosing from five different races to play as: Charr, Human, Norn, Asura and Sylvari. Sadly the Asura and Sylvari were not available during this beta weekend, but it was nice to see them walking around the world as NPCs. I managed to get some serious time with all three available races over the weekend, checking out their starting zones and getting a taste of what was to come.
The humans of Tyria used to be on top, until the Charr drove them from their home in Ascalon. They built their capital in Lion’s Arch and everything began to go back to normal. Sadly, when the ancient continent of Orr was raised from beneath the ocean by the Elder Dragon, Zhaitan, Lion’s Arch was destroyed by tidal waves. To top it all off, the Six Gods the humans worshipped have seemingly abandoned them, staying silent for many years.
They built their new capital in the land of Kryta and named it Divinity’s Reach, and boy is it impressive. Stretching as far as the eye can see, Divinity’s Reach really has to be seen to be believed. It easily dwarfs any of the cities in the original Guild Wars, and I would hazard a guess that it is the biggest city in the game. The lower levels are made up of districts named after the Six Gods, each containing the merchants, weaponsmiths and armorers you would expect any game of this type to have. One corner of the city is home to a giant hole called The Great Collapse, a dark pit holding a big secret no doubt. I spent quite a bit of time trying to fling myself in from the rope bridges strung up around it to no avail.
The upper levels of Divinity’s Reach are home to a beautiful glass dome, complete with what seems to be a massive, intricate sundial suspended above a lovely garden. It also houses the throne room of the Queen and the headquarters of the city guards, the Seraph. Travel between the levels is quite easy, you can take the magical equivalent of an elevator or use one of the many free waypoints to warp yourself there. There might even be stairs hidden somewhere you can use, but I didn’t find them because the city is so damn huge.
Outside the city are farmlands inhabited by humans who find life in Divinity’s Reach a tad too opulent. These simple folk have many tasks for the player to help them with, be that ridding their farm of a nasty spider infestation, retrieving loot from bandits or clearing the river of some rather hungry Drakes. Not everything is well for the humans however, centaurs have been raiding their towns and generally causing quite a lot of mayhem wherever they go. The reason for this was not made clear to me, but one NPC I ran past believed the centaurs are clearly only after the farmers’ delicious apples.
To top it all off, this beta allowed players to visit the new and improved Lion’s Arch, built near the ruins of the original (which you can still visit, albeit underwater). No longer simply a human city, it now houses Asura gates, allowing travel to the other areas of Tyria along with a unique architecture of boats being used as buildings high out of the water. There was even a treat for the explorers out there to be found when exploring the seabed around the city; a small village of peaceful Quaggan who seem very pleased to make your acquaintance.
My time spent with the humans was very entertaining, some of the highlights were: An underwater fight with a giant fish; Stumbling into a group boss battle event with a massive walking tree; Getting into a bar fight with some bandits; Exploring the deadly swamp of the Shadow Behemoth; Taking on an enormous earth-elemental boss as a level one character.
There may be a few more playable races this time around, but the humans are not to be so easily tossed aside. They’ve seen quite a few hardships and are more than willing to pick themselves up and get back in the fight.
The Norn are a giant race of Nordic people from the Northern Shiverpeaks in Tyria. They’re a warrior race known for their hunting, fighting, drinking and reverence for the Spirits of the Wild. When the Elder Dragon, Jormag, awoke, the Norn could not fight back and were forced to retreat south, to the lands previously occupied by the dwarves. During this journey, the Norn heard the voices of the Spirits of the Wild guiding them, namely the Bear, Raven, Snow Leopard and Wolf Spirits. They live by the teachings of these spirits, convinced they can help them defeat Jormag and reclaim their ancestral lands.
The capital city of the Norn is Hoelbrak. It is comprised mostly of five lodges, one for each of their animal totems and the Grand Lodge, which houses a tooth cut from the very maw of Jormag. One thing to be noted is the sheer size of this tooth. The Norn are roughly nine feet tall and it is easily the height of at least ten of them – just how big can Jormag be? I shudder to think.
While initially not as impressive as Divinity’s Reach, Hoelbrak makes up for size in pure charm. The Norn are not shy when it comes to respecting their heroes, erecting multiple statues in the area for those that have performed great deeds. The lodges are impressive and it is comforting to look up and see the massive face of a wolf peering down at you.
The Norn beginner area is Wayfarer Foothills, home to huge mountainside carvings of the Spirits of the Wild in a Mt. Rushmore fashion. Here you will find yourself paying homage to the spirits by answering the riddles of the Raven, feeding bear cubs or being transformed into a snow leopard to hunt. If you head across the river to the east you can find caves of Jotun or Grawl waiting to be pulverized, but the real action begins when you head north. Once you leave the starting area, enemies begin to really get difficult. As you head north you encounter many of the Sons of Svanir, a tribe of Norn who have been corrupted by the power of Jormag. There are also deadly ice elementals to deal with, along with a large number of hostile wild animals. It was in this area I encountered my first real world event.
An announcement on my screen directed me to an ice lake where Svanir Shamans were attempting to summon some sort of ice beast. As I arrived I could see dark ice portals surrounded by elemental creatures, along with a high level Shaman performing a summoning ritual. Around 30 players arrived to take part in the event, managing to destroy the portals, but not before the Shaman was able to summon huge blocks of ice and transform himself into a giant ice golem. These dynamic events really make Guild Wars 2 stand out from the rest of the MMO crowd. A fight like this is completely optional and I could have easily ignored it, but after seeing the caliber of a fight like this at such a low level, I can only begin to imagine the beautiful chaos of a level 80 boss event.
If you choose to play a Norn, you will not be disappointed. I didn’t even go into the fact that you can transform in to a were-form of the animal totems! I’m personally looking forward to creating a were-raven that only says “Nevermore!” The possibilities are endless.
The final race I was able to experience was the Charr. A feline species from Ascalon, they have proven themselves to be tactical geniuses and masters at waging war. Originally united under the banner of the Flame Legion, the Titan-worshipping Charr drove humanity from Ascalon, the land they had originally occupied. In the following years, the Titans were revealed as false gods and many of the Charr renounced their faith to start their own legions: Iron, Blood, and Ash. Each of these groups work together for the betterment of the race, but the Flame Legion remain loyal to their fiery Gods, causing chaos and spreading disorder wherever they can.
One of the only places the Charr have been unable to conquer is Ascalon City. Populated by ghosts unleashed when the King of Ascalon brought forth the Foefire, Charr forces have been unable to win a decisive victory against a foe that continues to return from the dead. Nevertheless, they have become experts with war technology, inventing siege engines and firearms and spreading them throughout the world.
The Charr capital I spent the most time in was the Black Citadel, headquarters of the Iron Legion. As ominous looking as it sounds, the Black Citadel is a huge dark sphere made of metal which houses the forges where weapons are built along, traders, merchants and even an underground coliseum to house gladiatorial battles. The citadel was original built upon the ruins of the human city of Rin, of which you can still find remnants.
The beginner area of the Charr was by far the most interesting, and the most difficult of the bunch. It started with simple tasks like cleaning up tools and slaying vermin, but quickly lead to taking down garrisons of Flame Legion troops and fighting the ghosts of Ascalonian heroes in an underground tomb. One mission allowed me to become a Charr version of Peter Venkman, capturing spirits in homage to Ghostbusters.
To fans of the original Guild Wars, the Charr is the race to choose if you want nostalgia. As I headed east, further into Ascalon, the map continued to expand. I walked through the same fields I had many years ago and found myself in the haunted ruins of Ascalon City. It made me sad to see the place in such a sad state, but this emotion was quickly removed by the large number of restless ghosts after my blood.
So yeah, the Charr are awesome. Don’t write them off as some lame cat-people who sit around licking themselves all day, because they’re the go-getters of Tyria. If they want something, they’ll take it, so you better hope they don’t come knocking at your door.
As you can tell, I barely scratched the surface of these three races during my time over the weekend. There is so much content already stuffed into this game and we’ve only seen the first few starting zones. There are still two completely new races left for us to discover! If this beta weekend proved anything to me, it’s that Guild Wars 2 is a game to look out for, and other MMOs better start looking over their shoulders at how things should be done.