After two days of downloading over the university’s internet connection, I finally exit the launcher for Star Wars: The Old Republic and start packing up my laptop. One of my friends had given me one of the seven-day free trials they were passing out to subscribers so we could play together, and with a strange curiosity I accepted. There was a lot of confusion on how well SWTOR was going and whether people liked it or not. As I was still waiting for any info from ArenaNet, I wanted to see what it was like for myself, and what Guild Wars 2 was going to compete with. Trying to have an open mind, I set everything up and jumped onto Skype, joining the server my friends were on.
My friends had a few mid-level characters on the Jedi Republic side, so they decided it was best that we all started on the same side at level 1, going for the Sith Empire. A few adjustments in the face maker and I was now Corrupt, the Twi’lek Sith Inquisitor, my other friends being a Bounty Hunter and a Warrior. A few looks around the starting room and I was initially confused as to where my Hunter friend was; he was actually on another world’s tutorial. Well, it’s probably a short tutorial, I thought, so I decided to follow my friend out into the desert. The very start of the game is of course the perfect time for friends to go suddenly go AFK and get food, so I decided to muck around and whack stuff with my yellow training sword while I waited, gaining a level off killing sand creatures in a bonus quest. When she returned, she saw the level difference and was not happy. In annoyance she told me not to do anything while she did the killing quests and got up to level 2, saying that we both needed to be even with levels as much as possible.
Already, I was starting to see why Guild Wars 2 was breaking conventions with its levelling system. My friends had to start at level 1 to play with me properly, and were very rigid on that we had to level together. The ability to go join with a newly made character after the tutorial and do the events without having to be on the same side or level was something that we could have used if I really wanted to go Jedi. The statistics of levels being based on the zone makes sense as well, as they could join my quests and story which they probably haven’t seen before.
Even the supposed “endgame” is affected by this. In SWTOR, there’s been complaints about the lack of content after you reach the max level. It’s an obvious problem, once you’ve levelled up fully on a planet or zone, you can’t go back with any danger or skill needed. Guild Wars 2 changes that completely. Even at max level you can do whatever you want in the world, and you’ll most likely have missed a lot of stuff in other races’ lower-levelled zones. Want something to do? Go to one of the home territories and do some events that were on the other side of the map when you were that level. Gave up on a skill point in a lower-level zone? It’s still there and as hard as it would have been before, except now you have more skill and knowledge on how to tackle it.
Going forward and killing bandits while randomly stumbling around for the quest objectives, we finally set foot inside the Sith Academy. We talk to our teachers who have varying levels of how much they wish to kill us, and are promptly told to go on a taxi and to one of the tombs around the place and get something. A choice to give someone a brain or poison it beforehand, scan and kill rebel scum, and then go back to the Academy for another cutscene. I had to admit that the cutscenes are probably the strongest and best part of SWTOR. Having played the Mass Effect series, the dialogue wheel that Bioware are known for was very welcoming, and the choices while generally led to the same point were fun and good. The millions of dollars spent on voice acting shows. For a while, I was quite happy to be playing a Bioware RPG. I did have a few quibbles about how interactive it was between the party characters themselves, but I did realise this would have been almost impossible to implement. Besides, what is Skype for? I dearly hope that ArenaNet put almost as much effort into their story as this, and from what I’ve seen in the beta testing videos it looks like they are on track with their story.
Taking the plot quest into the tombs, we quickly got to work killing and going to the end of the tunnel to fetch the plot device, where I discovered the limits of the combat system. I had issues targeting enemies, somehow targeting enemies that were already dead, and ending up being unable to activate skills on enemies right in front of me. Helpfully my friend told me to use the tab key to target the closest enemy a few tombs in, but even then I still had trouble with dead enemies and trying to attack the right person, having out of range issues with creatures everywhere. Eventually this ended in me relying on an AOE knockback skill that didn’t needed targeting and then trying frantically to lightning bolt anything I could. Eventually I started to stun people before using the AOE, but it was still quite messy and confusing due to the targeting. This was only with around 10 skills, three of which I never used, and with another 30 empty slots to fill.
In comparison, I immediately look at GW2’s combat system and know what’s going on. Everything doesn’t need targeting, and if you don’t select anything, it will automatically target the closest enemy. You can activate all your skills even if you’re out of range, and it feels more dynamic, taking influences from Action and Dota-style games. I found myself only using four skills on my bar in SWTOR. In GW2, I’m expecting to use almost all the skills every time I fight. ArenaNet have streamlined it, having weapon skills with variety and your choice on what utility skills you think will work best. Having only ten skills available isn’t a problem, it’s brilliant. It makes every skill worthwhile and each one will activate when you tell it to.
Our bounty hunter friend came to our world after finishing his tutorial, just in time to watch us became real Sith, gaining our masters, slaves (or “companions”) and lightsabers. After an ominous cut scene to make sure you knew who the antagonist is, me realising that the taxi service is not the shuttle service, and a bit of jumping up and down flapping our arms, we finally got off the tutorial world in around five to six hours, going to a spaceport to get to the next planet. In comparison, the tutorial level in Guild Wars 2 is much shorter at around 15 to 30 minutes which expands to every part of the game at your level. After picking a choice between my crafting classes and purchasing the rest of the training abilities that I could see, we decided to do one last mission and go to the main planet through a flashpoint, their term for a scripted instanced area. The mission was interesting to say the least, involving us hijacking our own ship to chase a Republic ship and get The General, an important NPC. We were doing fine through it, attacking the troopers boarding our ship until we suddenly got wiped during one of the middle bosses with speed. In disappointment, we revived ourselves back at the midway point and made our way through the deserted corridors, before I was asked why I wasn’t healing at all. Confused, I double checked and said that I didn’t have any healing skills, and that I purchased all that I could see. She asked our other party member, who responded that he was building ranged DPS and she was the tanking DPS. None of us had any heals for this mission except the companions with extremely weak heals as we learned when we wiped on the second run. Exasperated, my friend asked loudly,
“Didn’t you see the tab for more skills?”
“No? I didn’t see a tab I think…”
Apparently healing skills were on a very small tab at the skill trainer, and I had completely missed it because of both the interface and me thinking that I got them all as my first skill bar had all the slots filled.
Guild Wars 2 has made most of this irrelevant. The interface has been made easier to understand, with weapons skills unlocked through play and personal skills unlocked through the easy-to-understand menu. Your choice of skills are important and you can’t just quickly buy them all as needed because there isn’t enough room to have them all active at the same time, causing you to think actively on what you want. As for healing problems, the trinity has been buried like the dead horse that’s been beaten by everyone talking about it. There are no dedicated roles, and there is no need to choose at the start what skillset you need, as you are able to change everything about your build at your home city and a lot of it in the field. It’s completely possible to do the most difficult battles with five characters of the same profession.
Our way around the boss was slightly silly: just have the DPS companion out and take it down as fast as possible, to success. After an age we got to the final boss of the Jedi, with us whaling on her with our best attacks. To my horror, both of my friends fell at the last sliver of health on the boss, leaving me suddenly getting all of her attacks focused on me while I desperately force lightning-ed her last bit of health. With less than a quarter of my health I finally dealt the killing blow, a large sigh of relief going through the skype call. Reviving my allies and going to take the general away for interrogation, we finally called it a night when we got into the big city and rested at the cantina, finishing at around 8 hours of straight play.
I now know why Guild Wars 2 is being called a game changer. SWTOR’s core gameplay is old, and no matter how much new paint you splash on it, the problem is that it just feels like it should have been updated. I did have some fun with friends, and the dialogue is great. However, the core gameplay, the combat, quests and interface felt clunky, like it was taken from the start of the millennium, which it is: just borrowing from a lot of the MMORPGs out there such as Everquest and WoW and just putting it in with their twist of Star Wars and scripts. Watching ArenaNet’s MMO Manifesto, their first line states what they are aiming to do: Question everything and be innovative. Guild Wars 2 is not a traditional MMORPG. Players from completely different genres and playstyles are clamouring up and wanting to see what happens with this, and after this I can see why.
I have to say it’s ironic that it took a seven-day trial of Star Wars: The Old Republic to truly get me hyped for Guild Wars 2.