Guild Wars 2 Benchmarked
A breath of fresh air. ArenaNet believes it can dethrone World of Warcraft with new - and sometimes unconventional - changes to the MMO genre. Can a company made of ex-Blizzard employees strike gold with a subscription-free MMO? We test the game with a range of notebooks and GPUs to determine what system a player will need to experience ArenaNet's unique title.
No healers, no tanks, no DPS, no subscription fees. What sounds like a recipe for a massive failure is actually a recipe for massive success when in the hands of developers at ArenaNet. The original Guild Wars Prophecies in 2005 laid the foundation for a sequel with major features not found in any MMO currently in the market.
The biggest appeal of the franchise may be attributed to its low system requirements, casual learning curve and, of course, the lack of monthly payments. The developers unique take of charging only for optional expansions and in-game transactions mean that players can experience the entire world of Tyria without dropping a dime more than the retail price for the box.
As usual for the MMO genre, players must first create and customize an avatar before plunging in on the fast-paced battles. Five races are available with four different starting locations and eight unique classes. Although some of the classes can sound somewhat generic (i.e., Warrior, Ranger, Thief, Elementalist), the Mesmer and Engineer standout with one-of-a-kind tactics and abilities that are uncommon in the MMO world.
The character editor contains a sufficient amount of options to create an individual avatar. In addition to body and head size, you can change the hair, nose and mouth. Even the color of the clothing can be modified and additional colors can be discovered and created in-game.
Guild Wars 2 doesn't waste time with lengthy introductions or CGI. Immediately after character creation, our Human Guardian was put directly in the middle of a contested village with the task to defend against encroaching invaders. After a few rounds, a massive boss fight ensues, but the creature was easily destroyed in spectacular fashion with the help of other nearby players with the same starting quest. The staging and environments are downright gorgeous in Guild Wars 2 due in large part to the art style and attention to detail. On the flip side, some of the conversations to advance the storyline can feel awkward at times.
Unfortunately, Guild Wars 2 is not a genre revolution despite the brand new dynamic events system. Although you no longer have to address a few NPCs directly (optional quests simply pop up while exploring the world), the MMO still focuses on the generic "collect this, kill that" mentality that is prevalent in the genre. The wonderfully crafted world and environments, however, make the game incredibly fun to play regardless of the current quest at hand.
As previously mentioned, gameplay has been enhanced with the introduction of "World Events" - a fancy term for quests that occur spontaneously and periodically where any player in range can jump in and help out. Most of these events involve protecting a town from enemy waves, escorting an NPC across dangerous territory, destroying an enemy champion or a variation of the three. Every event is certainly lucrative because they offer large amounts of gold and experience upon completion, but they can devolve into a mindless frenzy if the player count is too large.
Generally, the game hits the mark with its flashy but dynamic combat system. The battles quickly become second nature as the controls are responsive and intuitive. The soundtrack, from composer Jeremy Soule of Elder Scrolls fame, also dynamically adapts to each area and situation. The environmental background noises and the high detail density (many pedestrians in the cities) also contribute to the atmosphere.
ArenaNet has managed to create an atmospheric world that will likely be entertaining for several weeks, months if not years due to its sheer vastness. We could only explore a small fraction of the landscapes in our short gaming period.
We record an approximate 30 second sequence between the teleportation stones "Shaemoor Waypoint" and "Fields Waypoint" located near the retreat "Divinity's Reach" using FRAPS. Screenshots and video of our benchmark scene are provided below.
From experience, the sequence can be quite demanding, so average frame rates during explorations and small skirmishes should be a bit higher. As long as the player can maintain 30 FPS or higher, Guild Wars 2 is playable at its fullest.
MMOs generally cannot compete with dedicated single-player games in the graphics department, so titles like Witcher 2 can look more detailed with more technical effects. Still, for an MMO, the ArenaNet title looks above average and very stylish without requiring powerful hardware. Texture and objects are well-detailed, but expect some muddy and flat surfaces as are typical in an MMO world. The game will run rather easily on weaker systems and settings can be customized without needing to relaunch.
We use the preset "Best Performance" (1024x768) for benchmarking. It represents the minimum settings and looks rather unsightly (blurry surfaces, faint shadows, etc.) as can be seen in the pictures. Most settings are on high in the preset "Best Appearance" setting (1366x768). The fairly resource-efficient anti-aliasing alternative "FXAA" gives the game a cleaner look.
Our Ultra setting, which merges 1920x1080 pixels and maximum details (including supersampling), will be enough to test even the more expensive gaming notebooks. However, the engine provides a great overall presentation for the most part regardless of setting. In fact, playing on the lowest settings actually looks a lot like the original Guild Wars.
We suggest playing at minimum details if integrated GPUs are the only choice. Intel's widely distributed HD Graphics 3000 managed an acceptable 38 FPS in our benchmark sequence. For normal settings or higher at appreciable frame rates, the notebook will require a mid-range GPU such as the GeForce GT 630M.
Going higher, a GeForce GT 650M performs adequately on high details and 1366x768 pixel resolution. For 1600x900, a high-end model on the level of a GeForce GTX 670M is preferred. Maximum details and 1920x1080 pixels are possible with current premium GPUs, such as the Radeon HD 7970M or GeForce GTX 680M. On these high settings, the title is a step above most MMOs in terms of visuals and detail.
Guild Wars 2 is one of the few games where the processor can have a fairly large impact on performance. As can be seen in our chart, stronger graphics cards can be found below their weaker counterparts depending on the CPU. For example, while a combination of an HD Graphics 4000 and Core i5-3360M (2.8 - 3.5 GHz) achieves 44 fps in minimum settings, a Radeon HD 7660G and A10-4600M (2.3 - 3.2 GHz) only manages 28 fps. The CPU sometimes is the limiting factor in high details. The CPU can be a limiting factor in higher settings, so be sure to pair the discrete GPU with a relatively strong dual- or quad-core CPU for best results.
In a world inundated with WoW clones and cookie cutter gameplay, Guild Wars 2 has proven to be a fresh breath of air in the stale MMO genre. The standard "collect and kill" quests still exist and are at large, so the game is perhaps not the complete revolution that the developers have made it out to be. Nonetheless, the unique changes have been implemented well enough to attract both casuals and hardcore players, but only time will tell if the title can maintain an active player community for the next few years. For now, we can safely say that Guild Wars 2 is one of the easiest MMOs to jump on board and is absolutely worth a try. It is, after all, subscription-free.
Many thanks to Schenker Notebooks who kindly provided us with the following laptops: (mysn.de):
- XMG P502 (Core i7-3610QM, GeForce GTX 660M, GTX 670M, GTX 675M, GTX 680M & Radeon HD 7970M, 8 GB RAM)
- XMG A502 (Core i5-3360M, GeForce GT 650M & HD Graphics 4000, 8 GB RAM)
- Xesia M501 (Core i7-2630QM, GeForce GT 630M & HD Graphics 3000, 8 GB RAM)
The three laptops were powered by the driver versions: 304.79 beta (Nvidia), 8.951.6.0 (AMD) and 22.214.171.12461 (Intel).
We are planning to review Borderlands 2, F1 2012 and Fifa 13 in September.