It's time to ditch the snorkel--Guild Wars' sequel lets us finally dive beneath the water's surface, and there's a deep and wonderful world beneath the waves. We went up to ArenaNet's Seattle-based studio yesterday to swim around the ponds, oceans, rivers, and lakes of Tyria, meet it's friendly and not-so-friendly aquatic inhabitants, and shoot them with our speargun.
The biggest problem I had with the original Guild Wars was how restricted player movement was. It's hard to feel immersed in a world when you keep running into invisible walls meant to keep you on a specific path and above the water's surface. But ArenaNet has said time and time again that Guild Wars 2 is supposed to change that, by being built in a truly massive, open world. And so far, it looks like they've nailed it. Adding the ability to travel underwater is another way that ArenaNet is making Guild Wars 2 feel huge, liberating, and undeniably worthy of the MMO label, which its predecessor never quite managed to wholeheartedly identify with (ArenaNet even made a point of saying at yesterday's demo that they never called Guild Wars an MMO).
But I can hear the naysayers right now. "Underwater, huh? Big whoop! MMO X, Y, and Z have done that for years," they're skeptically muttering to themselves. Well, Mr. and Ms. Naysayer, I dare you to name another MMO that's built underwater gameplay as deep and custom-tailored as Guild Wars 2's. Let's start off with the things missing (and we're glad to see 'em go): there is no movement penalty while swimming; there's no breath timer limiting how long you can stay under; there's no awkward spell mechanics.
As soon as you dive underwater, playful bubbles gobble up your character's action bar. In it's place rises a completely new action bar filled with underwater-only skills (based on an underwater weapon you can equip/swap on the character pane, just like your regular weapons). I was playing as an Engineer, and the only weapon available to that profession is the speargun, but that suits me just fine--I can't think of a more intimidating underwater weapon.
Jumping into the first pond I found, my original plan to hunt down every fish I saw was immediately forgotten when the first school of fish went swimming by me. Guild Wars 2's visuals are stunning across the board, so it should be no surprise that the underwater area are detailed and gorgeous. I just sat and watched the waterworld do it's thing for awhile. Having access to the Z-axis is freeing, and with no movement penalty, I was happily zooming around the pond's bottom, watching the fish swim and the kelp wave in the current.
A few minutes passed, and my bloodlust returned. I was no longer satisfied looking at fish--I wanted to blow them up. I ditched the small pond and hoped over to a larger river nearby (I was near Lion's Arch in Kryta), which was much deeper and inhabited by some nasty mutated giant-fish. Every profession has different sets of abilities that also change depending on weapon selection or attunement. As an Engineer, all of my abilities were based on technology and delightful explosives.
My basic attack shot a small torpedo that tracked my target. I could also launch a timed charge at my target that would attach to them and detonate after a little while, shoot out a giant net that would catch and stop anything it hit, hurl out three floating mines that detonate after a shot delay, and shoot a grappling line at point blank range to launch myself backwards and pull target with me.
Only a couple utility skills were available in the current build (such as a potion that grants random buffs), but the devs assured me that most of the land-based utility skills will have underwater equivalents. For example, one underwater utility skill I did have was Oil Slick, which, when used on land, left a trail of oil as I ran to blind enemies chasing me. Underwater, the oil drifts out and creates a cloud around me that has the same blinding effect on anyone that enters it. One non-Engineer highlight that I saw was an Elementalist trapping a shark in an air bubble, floating it helplessly to the surface.
By the time I'd added a few notches to my fisherman's belt, I had an effective skill rotation pretty much nailed down: toss the out the mines, shoot a net at the target to keep them trapped near the mines, shoot a timed charge at them, and launch a few torpedos so that all the explosions go off at once around poor gilly mcdeadfish. If Nemo somehow managed to live through the initial blast, I could easily get some distance with the grappling line ability. As a casual fisherman in real life, I have to admit that it felt a bit unsportsman-like to hunt fish like that. But as a hardcore MMO gamer in real life as well, it felt fantastic. Boom, boom, swim away, more booms, speargun to the face, throw out the net--I could've done it all day long.
And you'll easily be able to do it all day long when the game comes out. ArenaNet isn't developing this robust underwater sytem only to let you toy with it in tiny streams--there will be a lot of underwater content. The developers confirmed that there will be plenty of underwater events (a few of the enemy types are shown in the screens below), and at least one zone that is almost entirely underwater, with only a few islands scattered about. We can't wait to get back under the sea, cause, darlin' it's better down where it's wetter--take it from me.
(Some extra underwater shots of areas I didn't play from the standard press kit below.)