In my 45 minutes with Guild Wars 2 I saved a fortress from centaur attack, rescued some villagers, saved a farm from bandits, watered several other players, gained the admiration of meat eaters everywhere, and corralled bunny rabbits.
Guild Wars 2 was the game I was looking forward to seeing the most at Gamescom 2010, so I was a little disappointed when I spent the majority of my 9AM appointment with ArenaNet on the last day of my stay in Germany dozing off.
I couldn't help it! I was exhausted physically and mentally. The long walks through the convention centre, nights spent staying up late writing, and fitful sleep in a hotel room without air conditioning had taken their toll. As the hour passed, with members of the game team walking me and a couple of German press members through the starting experience of a human mage and a high-level portion with a premade Charr character, I dropped my notebook at least seven times, fingers going slack as I drifted away.
But it all paid off in the end.
It was suggested I go to the show floor to try out the game for myself, but as luck would have it, the second press room didn't have another appointment scheduled, so I was allowed to sit in the comfy business area and play the game for the better part of an hour, guided personally by Guild Wars writer and Dungeons & Dragons legend Jeff Grubb.
So, to recap, falling asleep during a meeting led to me spending 45 minutes hanging out with one of my favourite writers in the world. Finally all those years of sleeping in school paid off.
The demo build came in two flavors: beginning human or high-level Charr. Hungry for a taste of the starting experience, I opted for a male human Necromancer.
While physical character creation was disabled for the demo for fear of players spending the entire time limit tweaking their looks (a valid concern), I did get to go through the game's unique background profile creator.
The game asked me questions from my background (upper-class, well-to-do) to my biggest regret (never joining the circus). Each class also gets to select a defining personal item. In the Necromancer's case, it's a mask. Skull-faced mask in place, I entered the opening cinematic.
Guild Wars 2 features a strong focus on art, as evidenced by last year's release of a hardbound art book barely a month after the game's official reveal. The cinematic intro features the art of the game prominently, telling the story of the rise of the elder dragons and humanity's last stand. The cinematic then focuses on my character, regaling me with the tale of an upper-class lord dedicated to protecting the people who look up to him no matter the cost. In the final scene my character model stands tall against a concept art backdrop, ready to fight the good fight for the sake of the world.
Or at least the fate of a small village. As my character entered the game proper, I found myself in a village under attack from the vile half-men, half-horse beasts. I was tasked with rallying the survivors and bringing them to the local inn.
The world of Guild Wars 2 is every bit as gorgeous as the screenshots make it out to be, though it looks a fair sight better in the eyes of a Necromancer. Other characters (demo players and ArenaNet staff back home in Seattle) ran about killing with abandon. I, instead, killed with certain flair. Poison was my particular poison, casting the ailment on the centaur enemies while my pet ate away at their life. With a press of a button I stripped away the ailment, causing more damage. With another press my pet exploded, healing me with the health it had devoured from my enemies.
It was all very fast and dynamic, and extremely satisfying.
Mr. Grubb pointed me towards a button on my taskbar that shifted me into a wraithlike state (forgive me for not noting the proper term). The world went dark, and my powers changed while the meter slowly counted down. My pet in this state was deadlier, and I had a power called Doom, which is possibly the best power name available. The centaur were no match.
After rallying the requisite number of survivors, I was tasked with helping a hero defend a small keep. First I had to stop waves of oncoming enemies charging the keep door. Once inside, more waves came, followed by a boss fight against a centaur shaman. Soon we had him on the run and we gave chase, only to fall into his little trap.
The shaman summoned a gargantuan golem, towering above the assembled forces of good. The wind swirled about, debris forming hands and a face. It was gigantic, and magnificent. It was a breathtaking moment.
As impressive as the beast was, we had but to take out its hands to bring it down. As it fell I passed out, letting the darkness claim me.
Only to be woken later by a non-player character. I had been out for three days, and several concerned visitors had checked in with me while I was unconscious, including a nobleman friend of my family. Mr. Grubb pointed out that the visitors would change depending on which background I chose.
From there I was free to roam the countryside, ready to right grave wrongs or simply help a farmer wrangle bunnies, which is exactly what I did.
An event was going on right outside the inn I was staying at. Another player was desperately trying to wrangle rabbits eating a local farmer's watermelons, as rabbits often do. We had to capture a certain amount within a time limit, while making sure at least one watermelon survived.
As we clicked on the rabbits, they appeared in our arms. It was the cutest thing I've ever seen. If the folks at ArenaNet weren't all on vacation following a weekend filled with working German hours to keep the demo populated, I'd have a screenshot for you. Jeff told me that an early bug made the rabbits wieldable as weapons. I'm sad I missed it.
Me and another player completed the task with seconds to spare, rewarded with experience points, some coin, and the ability to purchase watermelons from the farmer. The event was dynamic, and anyone could have joined in to help. If this were the full game, I would have friended my fellow bunny wrangler in an instant.
But that's the joy of Guild Wars 2. You don't need to group or friend folks to play. Anyone participating in an event gets experience points and rewards, reaping the benefits of their actions.
Having progressed to level two, I was given a new spell that caused the hands of the dead to burst forth from the ground in a straight line, just in time for another event at another farm. Bandits were stealing hay, and several players were on defence duty. A large group spawned in the area I was guarding, and I cast my grasping hands spell, aggroing the lot of them. As my health bar rapidly dropped, one of the bandits died, and I gained level three, refilling my health bar to full once more.
It was a very close call.
I decided to dedicate the rest of my time to simpler pursuits. Grabbing a bag of feed, I fed a nearby cow, which caused someone to say, "The cow thanks you. I thank you. Beef-eaters everywhere thank you." Cute!
I pick up a watering can and water crops, causing them to spring to life. Watering the cows does nothing. Watering fellow players doesn't do anything either, but I spend a good five minutes doing it anyway.
I spent my last few minutes with the game wandering over to a city wall infested with harpies. There was a mission there to defeat them, but I just wanted to explore this beautiful new world, reach great heights, and then jump off.
I survived the fall, but have great hopes for magnificent falling deaths in the future.
Guild Wars 2 is definitely living up to its potential so far. The missions I played had long-lasting effects on my game, the experience was tailored towards telling my story and not just the story of the world, and there's plenty to do when you're in a mood just to screw around for a half-hour without getting into a fight.
This is the sort of game I could get lost in. I want more.
North American players will get their first taste of Guild Wars 2 at the Penny Arcade Expo in Seattle from Friday September 3 to Sunday September 5. I really wish I could be there.
As I left the ArenaNet area following my demo, Jeff Grubb asked me if he could take my soda glass for me. Jeff Grubb wanted to take my soda glass.
Best game demo ever.