Saturday, September 17, 2011

Guild Wars 2 Within (Good) Touching Distance

Since it's coming up on twelve months since my last check-in with Guild Wars 2 I figured it was past time to post an update, since the past year has seen reams of new game details pushed out by ArenaNet and NCsoft.

It is already known what the five playable races of Guild Wars 2 will be: heroic humans, plant-like Sylvari, diminutive Asura, combative Charr and hardy Norn.  While I felt that the original Guild Wars was a solid (though not spectacular) title, I wasn't crazy about having no other playable races other than humans, and it's good to see ArenaNet address this in the sequel.

Guild Wars 2 will have eight professions, seven of which are already known and the eighth being close to a sure-bet.

First off there is of course the Warrior.  No MMO can truly call itself a game without having a Warrior class, and Guild Wars 2 is no different.  Warriors are weapons-masters, equally at home with a mace or an axe as with a sword or hammer.  They are able to aid their allies using banners and shouts, and some of their abilities will strike multiple opponents at once.

Their unique mechanic is adrenaline.  Warriors will be able to store adrenaline and then unleash it to supercharge some of their attacks.  If hitting things with large, metal objects sounds like your thing then the Warrior profession is probably for you.

Next up, the Elementalist.  As the name implies, the Elementalist is a master of the four planes - earth, air, fire and water.

Elemental attunement is their unique mechanic.

When attuned to Earth, the Elementalist gains defensive bonuses; Air attunement continually damages nearby enemies; Fire attunement grants area-of-effect damage and Water attunement will heal adjacent allies and give access to crowd-control abilities.

Elementalists can also employ glyphs and signets to augment and enhance their abilities.

Another directly-returning profession from the first game, the Ranger is a master of ranged weapons though are also capable of utilising melee attacks in a pinch.  They are able to conjure stationary spirits to buff their party as well as placing various kinds of traps that are triggered when run over by an enemy.

Animal companions are the unique mechanic for the Ranger.

Their companion can be set to passive, aggressive or defensive (as is the standard in MMOs with pet classes), and the Ranger will also gain various unique abilities based on which pet he is using at the time.  Aquatic animals have also been confirmed to be available in Guild Wars 2, since approximately 20% of the game's content is said to take place underwater.

The Guardian was the first original class announced for Guild Wars 2.  Essentially a combination of a Protection Monk from the first game and the standard defensive warrior found in many other games, they are heavily-armoured tanks able to buff and defend their party members.  Guardians can conjure spirit weapons to fight at their side for a short time, and also place wards on the ground which may have either a beneficial effect for their party or a detrimental effect for enemies.

The unique mechanic for Guardians are their virtues.

The three virtues are Justice, Courage and Resolve.  Justice passively grants them additional burning damage to their attacks, and can be activated to grant this ability to their teammates for a short time.  Courage passively grants them a free block every 30 seconds, and can be activated to pass this ability on to their party.  Resolve passively regenerates some of the Guardian's health over time, and can be activated to give this ability to their allies for a short time.

The Thief is a new class to the Guild Wars universe.  They seem to be largely based on the Assassin from the first game, along with some other bells and whistles thrown into the mix.

A Thief can use various blinks as Assassins could in GW1, and can also steal enemy weapons in order to utilise their abilities for a short time.  Thieves also employ traps which can be used both to damage and control enemies.

The Thief's unique mechanic is initiative.

Thieves have ten points of initiative, which regenerates at a rate of one per second either in or out of combat.  Initiative is used to power the Thief's attacks and allows various abilities to be chained together as needed.

The Necromancer is the penultimate returning profession from the original Guild Wars.  As the name suggests they are able to summon various undead pets which are able to both buff the Necromancer and attack enemies.

Necromancers have access to well and mark spells.  A well is a PBAoE effect around them which buffs allies, such as increasing health regeneration or reducing incoming damage.  A mark is a ground-based spell which can be triggered either by a certain condition (i.e. an enemy walking onto it) or manually by the Necromancer himself.

The unique mechanic for the Necromancer is life force.

Necromancers will passively gain life force as they cast spells, and will gain additional amounts when creatures near to them die.  When a certain amount of life force is reached, the Necromancer can choose to activate his Death Shroud ability, transforming him into a spirit and granting additional, more powerful, attacks.

The Engineer is a completely new profession.  They are very much a ranged damage and utility class that has the ability to perform several different functions depending on what is needed at the time.

Engineers are able to use various weapon kits which give them the temporary use of a special weapon (e.g. a flamethrower or a machine gun) and also backpack kits, which give them a specialised set of skills for a short duration (e.g. a bombing kit giving access to various explosives).  Engineers can also construct movable turrets which can have various effects, from dealing direct damage to enemies to even healing allies.

The unique mechanic for an Engineer is their tool belt.

Tool Belts give access to different skills depending on which weapon kit and backpack kit you are using.

It seems that if you want to be able to do almost anything and everything then playing an Engineer is for you.

While the eighth profession has yet to be formally announced, many believe that it will be the Mesmer returning from the original game.  Given that ArenaNet have stated that the final profession is a directly-returning one, that they will wear light armour and will affect people's minds in some way, then it is not too much of a stretch to believe that it's likely to be the Mesmer.

Hopefully ArenaNet will confirm this before the end of the year.

Since any race can play as any class then this grants a wide variety of race / class combinations which should be able to satisfy a great many people.

The over-use of instancing was something that was recognised as helping to prevent the first game from being the massive success that it could have been.  NCsoft and ArenaNet seem to have taken that on-board with the sequel, and now the only instancing in the new game will be for dungeons (as is the same for most other MMOs) and also in your own personal storyline.

I want to touch on the personal storyline here, because if done right it could be something which truly sets Guild Wars 2 from any other MMO out there.  At character creation you will make various decisions for your fledgling avatar which will strongly influence how their story gets played out, and this will continue as the game progresses.  Other players can be invited into your storyline (and you can visit theirs) but it is chiefly for you and you alone.  Decisions you make will affect how NPCs act towards you and what additional equipment is made available for purchase.

Many MMORPGs have paid mere lip service to having your decisions actually matter, and GW2's approach could be something which really helps to make it unique.

Turning to combat, Guild Wars 2 seems like it will have an extremely flexible and powerful system, quite different to most other MMOs you will have played.  Different skills from different professions will be able to interact together to produce new, sometimes unexpected, effects.  The often-cited example is that of a Ranger firing a hail of arrows through an Elementalist's wall of fire: the arrows will be lit aflame and will deal additional fire damage to the target.  

There will be no auto-attack in GW2, only damage dealt from using your abilities effectively.  You will also be able to dodge certain attacks from mobs, so if you see an opponent hold his sword over his head as if he is about to stab downwards, rolling out of the way will be an option and you will take no damage from his attack.

You will also be able to obtain and use various traits for your particular profession.  Traits will modify certain skills and abilities according to personal choice; for example you may slot a trait which grants a knockdown to every seventh melee attack you make, or one which reduces the cooldowns of your skills.  Think of them as talent points as seen in other MMOs, since you will be using them to further customise your character.

When talking about combat you also have to consider death, and in this regard Guild Wars 2 is taking quite a fresh and dare I say FPS approach.  Upon reaching 0 health your character will not be killed but will instead go into a downed state, giving you a new set of skills.  Killing an enemy while you are downed will restore you to life and put you back in the thick of the action.  In addition, every profession has the ability to "resurrect" downed players even from the beginning of the game, so this should help to keep things dynamic and punchy instead of just running from graveyard to graveyard, hoping the next leap will be the leap home.

This is certainly an original approach, as I cannot think of any other MMO putting this kind of system in their game.  As I said, it's really something that FPS games have tended to embrace in the past couple of years, notably Borderlands.  ArenaNet run the risk of trivialising death to the extent that players no longer take the necessary caution they would with more challenging encounters.  On the other hand, you can just concentrate on having run rather than having to plan an escape route in advance should things not proceed how you wish them to.  I think the jury is still out on whether this will be a good idea or not, although once more it is one of those features which will help to set Guild Wars 2 apart from almost every other MMORPG out there.

And that's really where we are right now.  ArenaNet seem hopeful that the beta will begin sometime before the end of 2011, and release should then be a few months after that.  My guess would be Q1 2012 as the best bet on when to see Guild Wars 2 on store shelves.  If they can deliver on much of what they have promised then expect this subscription-free MMORPG to create waves in the industry and perhaps cultivate a new standard for online role-playing games.

And PlanetSide 2 needs to hurry up as well.

Friday, September 9, 2011

PlanetSide 2 Beta This Year

John Smedley recently gave an interview to Chinese site which was subsequently picked up by MMOsite and then of course by the trusty PlanetSide Universe.

In short, SOE are aiming for the PS2 beta to begin before the end of this year and the game will use a free-to-play model.  Smedley stated that the beta may possibly slip to the start of next year, but right now this was their goal.  It makes sense, as if SOE can get the beta begun this year then that sets them up for a Spring 2012 release (which would - coincidentally - put them up against The Secret World for new MMO releases, as that is scheduled for release in April).

Following some dubious translations of the original Chinese interview, Smedley later dropped by the PlanetSide Universe forums to clarify some points.  Among the highlights:

  • SOE will not sell power in PS2's cash shop.
  • The specific F2P model has yet to be determined, but "we like League of Legends a lot".
  • Played-created weapons may be added to the game post-release, but will not be in the game at launch.
  • Scripted AI PvE invasions may also make an appearance down the line, but again will not be in the game at release.
  • PlanetSide 2's budget is approximately $50million.
  • There will be a much greater emphasis on preventing players from hacking.  GameGuard and PunkBuster may be employed to this end.
Overall this interview was quite encouraging.  I'm a big fan of League of Legends and believe it is without doubt the best implementation of a free-to-play system, so if SOE are going to base their system around LoL's then that is going to be a big plus.

With luck, the beta will begin before the end of the year and we can start getting some more concrete details.

Still waiting on my beta invite, Smed.