I played a fair bit over the last weekend. OVerall the game felt pretty polished for a beta. Rather than level one class, i chose to level 5 different classes to around level 8-12. I liked the idea of a personal story even though some of the dialogue felt a little flat; though this was largely based on your class, choices you made prior to playing during creation, and your race. You could only choose between charr, Human, and Norn.
All the areas I played felt immensely details and alive. There was a ton of things to do. I really love the idea of quests that are given to you just by coming into an area where the quest was taking place. From a PvE persecptive, this game is a refreshing experiences. Everything I love about PvE with none of the grind-type stuff I hate. For example, one of the early quests in the Norn starting area has you pay tribute to 4 animal spirits. I chose to do the spirit of the raven first. To honor the raven I could do a number of things. I could kill 'skelks' that prey on ravens, I could destroy skelk breeding grounds, I could collect raven eggs and return them to roosts, and/or I could visit raven shrines and answer riddles all of which give me partial experience towards completing the quest. The really nice thing about PvE is you're not competing with anyone else for resources be it mobs to kills, things to scavange for recipes, or whatever. So if there is a Raven egg on the ground, and someone goes to grab it, you can also grab it. After you grab it, it disappears so in a sense the item is instanced so everyone can get things done without waiting for respawns. This doesn't apply to mobs, like the skelk, BUT if we both kill it (even if I only hit it once) we both get credit and experience for killing it. I love everything about this, no more camping places. Also, if you're out-leveing an area, they work around this by lowering your effective level relative to the content. So when I hit level 10 on my Norn Engineer, I was helping my friend quest and my effective level was 3. I keep my skills, my health and damage are scaled back. I love it.
Which brings me to combat. My god, combat is amazing. At first it's a little daunting as it's like nothing I've experienced in an MMO. The focus is on actual combat and involves a rather active role with intelligent decision making rather than spamming 1 or 2 buttons. You have endurance in combat regardless of your class that allows you to double-tap a direction to perform a roll thus reducing incoming damage or mitigating it altogether. At the level I was playing, I could only dodge twice before my endurance ran out. It takes a while to regenerate this while in combat so you have to pick and choose when to use it, especially on tougher "veteran" mobs which bring the pain.
Combat is very unique for every class. you have 5 skills, of which you start with one that is tied to your class and the type of weapon you have equipped. Not every class can use every weapon but gone are the days when only rangers can use bows. So your first skill is usually the one you can spam, has a really short cooldown, and doesn't do a ton of damage or anything. As you use this skill, it unlocks the next skill slowly. If you switch weapons to a different type, you get a completely different skillset to start unlocking/using. At level 7 you can learn to hot-swap weapons in combat. Until then you have to manually switch and only out of combat. This really makes combat interesting and varied. Consider an elementalist that not only gets different skills based on if if you're using a long staff vs a wand and a focus/idol, but also you have an elemental attunement that lets you swap elemental 'stances' to cast that kind of spell. Also, you can cast on the run, always, at no penalty. This makes PvP very challenging but I'll save that for the next section. Combat is very fun, entertaining, and frustrating. At level 4, I could not defeat level 6 creatures with consistency. Maybe kill 1 but a second was a death sentence, which brings me to my next point: death in combat.
If your HP drops to 0, you fall to the ground but are not 'dead' yet. You get 4 skills relative to your class that can damage the enemy or heal yourself. If you kill the enemy, you rall y and are brought back to life. If you heal yourself enough, the same can happen. If you die completely you can still be revived as there is no resurrect spell, just that everyone can revive. The more people actively reviving you, the faster it is. If you didn't rally or heal yourself, you have a death penalty. If no one is around to res you, you can pay a small fee and come back at a recent way point (think fast travel points). I absolutely love combat. It's tough, the number and toughness of the mobs also scale with the number of players question in that area. At one point in the beta we were fighting a shaman boss who was around level 12 IIRC. There had to be 100 people fighting him and he was beating our asses silly. Man it was fun, ressing people, dps, healing yourself. Healing is a utility skill of which you can unlock many different kinds. As an engineer I put my skill points into a healing turret and my utility skill (which you can swap as you please) into an ability that lets me drop badage packs others can pick up, as well as a buff pack (vitality/speed/crit chance stuff like that) and there was a pack that removed conditions like bleeds, confuse, poison, cripple etc. Very cool. Every character has a ton of abilities that feel unique and interesting. I can't say enough good things about combat. You start to really feel powerful around level 8 or so, and that's when I got hooked on any character I was playing.
I played a Mesmer, Ranger, Elementalist, and Engineer the most. All of them feel fantastically fun, had interesting abilities and unique combat styles. I could go on about this for ever, it's that good. The PvP is tremendous fun, the WvW is insanity in a good way. It's also a quick way to see what a toon is like at max level with everything unlocked when you play "in the mists" as it's called. IT's like a WvW staging area with mobs you can test your skills on. As an elementalist, I turned INTO a tornado I could control and ran around the battle field destroying everyone. My god it's fun. I'm going through withdrawal, must have more beta....
Surprisingly polished for a beta, not without bugs but I found very few. Lag was a PITA in the early goings but by saturday it was sorted out and I had nothing to complain about. Oh, crafting! You get XP for completing recipes of which there are THOUSANDS. You also get XP for gathering mats for the recipes. You also don't compete for these resources either. Everything i don't like about MMOs is gone, everything I love is in. It was a fantastic experience, well done arena=net. If you have any questions i know I didn't cover it all, ask away!
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