Guild Wars 2 Beta World Event 4/27-4/29: "Over & Under"

At long last, I finally got my chance to play Guild Wars 2! An ambitious title to say the least, GW2 is leaps and bounds ahead of its predecessor. I clocked in as much time as I could over the beta weekend, and am now going through withdrawal so I thought I'd take this opportunity to share my experiences. I had hoped to record some video over the weekend, but the performance impact was a little more than I expected. A choppy YouTube video would hardly do this game justice, so you'll just have to settle for a written account.

As a mesmer primary in the original Guild Wars, it should be no surprise that I gravitated towards this class in GW2. I had my concerns about how this class would carry over, but any doubts that I had are now gone. The GW2 mesmer uses completely different game mechanics than the GW1 Mesmer, but it still captures the essential feeling of the class. I played the mesmer class through the end of the BWE personal story line at level 18, and spend the rest of my time playing PvP with various classes.

Coming from GW1, I had a lot of preconceived notions as to what GW2 would be like. It makes sense to organize these into the parts I overestimated and parts I underestimated. These are not necessarily pros and cons, but simply differences between how I thought GW2 would work and how it actually worked. Keep in mind that the game is still a work in progress, and I'm trying to give an honest opinion so that it can be made even better in the future.

Since I spent the most time playing a mesmer, that's probably the best place for me to start. From the very beginning of the game, it became clear that I had overestimated the shatter skills and underestimated the phantasm skills. Don't get me wrong, a Mind Wrack with both traits is definitely a force to be reckoned with, but it's just that I thought that the Mind Wrack traits and a high level of Guile would be essential to any mesmer build. It turned out that this wasn't the case and there were other viable ways of playing the class. In fact, the phantasms were so awesome that I was usually hesitant to shred them. The three illusion limit also meant that I had to be careful about when I used my clones to not overwrite my phantasms. Since the illusions are locked on to a single target, this added an additional incentive to shred them before the target dies. All of these considerations made the shatter skills something that required careful timing and not just another skill to spam.

As far as the mesmer weapons are concerned, I think I overestimated the scepter and underestimated the staff. The scepter was great at pumping out clones, but I ended up relying on phantasms for most of my damage and it was hard to keep up confusion in PvP. On the other hand, I found myself enjoying the staff a lot more than I expected. The idea of random conditions and boons was something of a turn off for me when I first read the skill descriptions, but the way that it worked was that offensive buffs/debuffs were tied to offensive skills and the defensive buffs/debuffs were tied to defensive skills. Even though the results were random, they were still something that was useful in the situation.

Slightly related to the points above, I think I overestimated the confusion condition and underestimated poison. I think that part of this was that I was trying to compare confusion with hexes like Empathy and Backfire in GW1, where a whole stack of hexes becomes problematic to remove. A whole stack of confusion in GW2 still only counts as one condition, making it relatively easy to remove -- if it was even worth removing at all. On the other hand, I somehow missed the memo about poison reducing healing by 33%. This healing reduction coupled with a sometimes deceptively long duration made poison into one of the more threatening conditions for me. I distinctly remember this one thief that I fought where I had to keep spamming my healing skill until my condition removal was up again to avoid dying from poison long after I had killed him. By the time I was able to remove it, he had respawned and was back for more while I was still at 25% health -- ouch.

One of the other things that caught me off guard was that I overestimated Vitality and underestimated Toughness. In GW1, gearing for PvP was quite simple: stack as much health as you can. GW1 had a large number of armor ignoring damage sources and having enough health to survive a large damage spike was essential to surviving long enough for the healers to react. In GW2, there are no "healers". I found that rather than dealing with a single large damage spike, sustained damage was much more of a threat. This made it more practical for me to focus on improving damage mitigation rather than just stacking health. Of course, this might also be a function of beta players not using voice chat to coordinate spikes.

In terms of the PvP modes, I think I overestimated "Structured PvP" and underestimated "World vs World". I spent a lot of time playing Random Arenas in GW1 and it seemed like the "Structured PvP" was going to be right up my alley. I enjoyed the Structured PvP in GW2, but I think that was mainly because it gave me a chance to play with a fully leveled and unlocked character. The problem I had with Structured PvP it was that it felt too much like an FPS match to me. Win or lose, you were queued for the next match on the same server, fighting the same opponents with the same team over and over until someone leaves. Despite the best efforts of the game to auto-balance the teams, they were often off by one player which makes a big difference with smaller numbers. Nothing like fighting a 2 on 1 battle to ruin the fun. I also spotted a couple of "leechers" in the beta, which I thought was kind of odd. Its not like it was worth farming Glory in the beta, so I'm assuming that they just went AFK and forgot about it. However, "World vs. World" was a completely epic experience. Despite the fact that none of us really knew what we were doing, the sheer number of people on the battlefield was a sight to behold. In comparison to World of Warcraft, World vs World seemed like Alterac Valley on steroids with added benefits outside of the battleground. The only downside to World vs World that I saw was that the repair costs could rack up quickly if you were careless.

All in all, I think Guild Wars 2 met and then exceeded my expectations in a lot of areas. If I were to make a comparison, it felt like Guild Wars 2 was like the MMO equivalent of an Elder Scrolls game. The starting "tutorial zones" seemed less like a tutorial and more like a story "hook" -- my favorite of which being the Charr. The dynamic event system made questing feel less like a grind and more like a sandbox. There's a main story if you want to follow it, or you can just go explore the world and do whatever you like.

I also felt like I had a great amount of freedom in how to play my class. The build I finally settled on with my mesmer in PvP was this one. The Illusionary Warlock and Illusionary Duelist combination packed some serious damage while the Chaos traits and crippling clones made me pretty difficult to kill. Chaos Storm and Null Field allowed me to skill combo by myself for extra conditions. The Portal skill was simply amazing in Conquest mode for feigning retreat from a node, only to return later with reinforcements. The only downside of this build was that I had to be careful when swapping the scepter so that I didn't overwrite my phantasms with clones -- I would just use the two pistol skills and the channeled confusion skill then immediately swap back to the staff. In PvE I replaced the pistol with a focus and Portal with Blink to get around faster, since the burst damage wasn't as important.

Another hidden surprise was the crafting system. I didn't get much time to play with it, but it seemed to be a nice balance between the "discovery" system of Final Fantasy XI and the "recipe list" system of World of Warcraft. You combine random materials to learn new recipes, but once you learn they are added to the recipe list. As an added bonus, it seemed to accelerate the crafting process when I was creating items in bulk! It's the little details like that which made me feel GW2 was respecting the time I spent playing.

Are you a long time Guild Wars player that participated in the GW2 Beta? What did you underestimate or overestimate about the sequel?