This past weekend I was lucky enough to get my hands on a beta key for the final Guild Wars 2 beta weekend. I have to say, I was very impressed. I had a lot of fun exploring the world and getting a feel for the game. And the feel I got was one of exploration.
Everything in Guild Wars 2 seems to be structured for exploring. The world is filled with things to do. Nothing shows this more than the way quests are setup. In Guild Wars 2 you don’t get a quest from some static NPC who sends you on errands. Instead, you explore the world, and as you explore you bump into quests along the way. These quest are marked on your map as hearts and require no prerequisites. They are open to any that wander into the area. You don’t even need to accept them, instead a small notification of what to do appears in the corner of your screen and you can either do the objective or ignore it and move on.
For the first time in an MMO I wasn’t juggling quests in a journal, or running around collecting a task list from people with magic exclamation points floating above their heads. Quest completion happened organically and naturally as I ran across them while exploring. In the rare event I ran out of known heart quests to complete, I’d just pick a section of the map I hadn’t yet explored and trek off into the unknown to find more content.
Even as you traverse between known heart quests you might be in for a surprise along the way. Periodically, semi-random events occur in your vicinity that you may join in on. Like heart quests, you can ignore them if you wish, but it’s fun to join in and experience something new. These events help keep things fresh, even in areas you’ve traveled through before.
Beyond quests, Guild Wars 2 helps give you more variety with challenges and vistas. Challenges are what they sound like, small challenges to complete. For completing them you gain a skill point which can be used to unlock better skills. Vistas on the other hand are eye candy, very pretty eye candy. They usually consist of climbing and platforming in order to reach a vista point. Once activated, a vista point shows a short video showcasing the surrounding area. There’s a small experience reward earned toward your next character level, but the sightseeing can be all the reward you need. Both challenges and vistas are oriented toward exploring, enticing you to go out of your way to experience them.
Finally, there’s the glue that holds the whole thing together, your personal story. Your personal story is the only set of traditional quests that I saw in the game. Essentially one long quest chain, your personal story helps point you to areas that you should explore. If you only did your personal story, ignoring all other content, you’d quickly find that it’s too hard for your level. Instead, what I ended up doing is what I believe you’re supposed to do. On the way to each new part of my personal story I did all the heart quests and events I ran into. Playing this way I was able to always be the appropriate level for the current section of my personal story while also getting the variety of doing other activities.
It was a wonderful feeling just to explore the world and complete whatever I happened to run across. Even the player vs player mode World vs World (WvW) was somewhat structured this way. It took a little more work to determine where I was needed in order to help my fellow players, but even WvW is filled with heart quests, events, vistas, and challenges. This is where I spent most of the last day of beta, wandering around WvW, helping siege and defend key positions, each with their own player triggered and player driven events. I didn’t want to stop.
With how much fun I had during my short time exploring Guild Wars 2, I can’t wait to be able to explore it more upon release. And, with no subscription fee, I can see myself playing this game off and on for years to come.