This was it. I was at the opening of the NCSoft Meet and Greet party at PAX East 2011, and I would be playing Guild Wars 2 for the first time ever. After this there would be no going back. I was almost unsure how to tackle the demo. Some players were going to go in like data miners and suck as much marrow from the demo’s bones as they could. Others would try and explore to the farthest reaches the demo would allow. Others would just play, perhaps not realizing how deep the rabbit hole went. Should I go in as a journalist, as a fan, as a player? Should I watch the cinematics I had already seen? Should I carefully choose my character’s set up? I had no idea as I clicked the “start demo” button.
I began in the starting norn area, deciding ahead of time to play a norn guardian. A lot can be learned on how a class plays initially, and I wanted to see how the developers were going to portray one of the more complex classes at the start. The two choices I remember making during character creation was that my character would be ferocious (instead of charming or dignified), and that my guardian had definitely blacked out at the last norn moot. That seemed to get my norn as far away as I could from a pious, paladin-esque guardian. I named him “Ravious Will Guard” and journeyed into the mountains.
I wasn’t sure what I wanted to experience, but I set off with my first personal story piece immediately. The tutorial area was super quick. Almost too quick. The first story piece asked me to collect three animal trophies so I could participate in the Great Hunt to kill the ice wurm, Issormir. Coming off of Rift, which had a dozen kill ten rats style quests, I had to kill three very easy enemies and a very easy boss before I really even understood my skills. I noticed this watching the human starting area too; the pacing is very fast. I am not sure whether it is supposed to be a safe sandbox, an interactive cinematic, or an actual tutorial area. Maybe all three? To be fair, the time limit pressure imposed by the demo clock definitely forced a quick pace on its own.
In the persistent world, I headed haphazardly toward an area the scout system pointed me to: the Raven Shrine. There was an ongoing event to basically please Raven by helping find raven eggs, killing off skelk harassing the ravens, and answering riddles at the raven shrine. It was a very relaxing event. After a moment of playing around, I decided to talk to the NPC standing at the shrine. He would explain the shrine and event, but then there was a curious red option. As my character was ferocious, I could basically tell the guy that raven’s riddles were stupid. I laughed out loud as this was nearly the first NPC text I had read during actual play. I did tell him the riddles were stupid.
I reset the demo and headed in to the high level area playing as a thief (and later a necromancer). The skill bar was instantly overwhelming, but the layout helped a lot. The most basic attacks went from left to right on the skill bar, and my heal skill was right next to my globe-shaped health bar. If I had leveled from one to the near thirties, I am sure I would have had no problem, and by the end of the demo I was definitely getting in to a rhythm. When Guild Wars 2 developer, Jon Peters, helped me run through the demo again as a necromancer, it was apparent that a little bit of knowledge goes a long way.
It’s really hard to know what to share and take away from the demo. It’s like being able to smell a 12-course Michelin-rated dinner. The thing I can share is that combat is fluid, extremely fluid. The way the skills felt. The way the AI responded. The way the character moved. It felt right. It was more balanced than Vindictus’s frenetic pace, but it felt more real than Dungeons and Dragons Online pseudo-action. It was also apparent that each profession had their own rhythm. The guardian was going to be in the center of the action, while the thief was going to dance around the edges. The necromancer felt like an utility guy, just like he should.
The demo makes me even more excited for the upcoming beta, and Jon Peters told me that they were looking forward to beta just as much as the fans were. They want to see people playing and experiencing the game. The time has to be right, though, so that all sides can benefit. At least two more PAX East posts will be on their way this week!