The Guild Wars 2 primer
Guild Wars 2 is ArenaNet's incredibly hyped (thanks in no small part to Hammond himself! -Steve) successor to the acclaimed Guild Wars, first released in April 2005. While the first game wasn't technically an MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game) but described more as a CORPG (Cooperative Role-Playing Game), this second installment in the series takes place in a persistent and dynamic world. To give you a taste of what's to come, here's pretty much everything you need to know about the game as it stands currently before release.
ArenaNet’s Design Philosophy
Buy the game, play free forever. The game is also supported by microtransactions, none of which are imperative to playing the game; they only offer cosmetic/personal rewards. They just want you to enjoy the game, not feel as if you’re being uselessly dragged along to pay another month’s subscription.
Guild Wars 2 is set in Tyria, the same as the previous title in the series. However, much has changed in the 250 years since then. The elder dragons have awakened, transforming the landscape and the sunken continent of Orr has risen again, flooding many familiar landmarks.
Humans were all you could play in the original Guild Wars. They’re back but their importance in the world has dwindled somewhat. GW players will feel at home with this race with a lot of fun throwbacks to original lore and characters.
The Charr were an enemy race to the humans in previous titles. While they have reconciled their differences, communication remains icy. Charr are a hulking, militaristic race of ferocious felines.
The Eye of the North expansion introduced us to the Norn. Towering humanoids who lived in the far north but driven southwards by the awakening of Jormag (one of the elder dragons). Norn love a good drink and are guided by the spirits of nature.
Asuran society became apparent in EotN when they emerged from underground. The Asura are a tiny, hyper-intelligent and hyper-condescending race of magical inventors. Similar in appearance to a rabbit crossed with a potato, but still charming.
New in Guild Wars 2 are the Sylvari who awoke a mere 25 years previous. Humanoid, but made of plant leaf, bark and sap they are curious about the world and have a strict code of chivalry.
Elementalists are (almost) your typical mage class. Mastery of the four elements gives them the ability to switch attunements on the fly to be best suited to the task at hand. Not to be discounted as a ranged “glass cannon”, an elementalist wielding daggers or attuned to earth can easily be your melee downfall.
A warrior is a true master of arms. Capable of wielding the greatest variety of weapons in the game, warriors are versatile at attack and defense. Their special ability is a burst skill, unique to each weapon.
The ranger is at one with their environment. They are the only profession to have true pets, which they can swap between when required. Naturally proficient with a bow, the maneuverability provided to this profession by a sword or an axe is surprising.
Manipulating the dead to suit their intentions and blighting the living, the necromancer is a formidable opponent. Their survivability is improved by using their death shroud, transforming them into a spectral form complete with new abilities.
Those most adept at protecting their fellow players are the guardians. While unable to directly heal a target ally, they can transfer virtues and set up barriers to protect themselves and others. Guardians are just as at home with a greatsword as a staff.
Are you seeing a Mesmer, or is that one of its illusions? They can create identical copies of themselves to confuse and explode upon enemies or powerful phantasms who deal additional damage and apply conditions.
Thieves may use their special ability to teleport to an enemy and steal an environmental weapon off them, to use against their foes. A thief can make themselves invisible for short periods of time and are not limited by skill recharge times like other professions.
A fresh addition to the classic lineup is the engineer. The engineers toolkit contains not only pistols and rifles, but grenades, turrets, mines and a flamethrower! To combat their lack inability to switch weapons like many of the other classes, they have additional “tool belt” skills for each equipped ability.
No “Holy Trinity”
You may have noticed that there are no professions aimed at solely healing. While all can provide support, nothing will be as effective as your own self healing skill. Add to this, there being no way to directly draw the attention of enemies and hold it like a traditional ‘tank’. All professions are capable of performing the new roles of damage, support and control with the ability to change between them depending on the situation.
Continuing in the style of Guild Wars, you are limited to the skills you have available to your character at any one time. Skills 1-5 on your bar are determined by whichever weapon you’re wielding at the time. #6 is always your healing skill, 7-9 are your utility skills which you can swap around any time you’re not in combat. Finally, the skill on the 0 key is your elite skill; unlocked at level 30 this is much more powerful than regular utility skills, it does have a hefty cooldown time to match, though.
Weapon skills are unlocked progressively through combat. No more will you ever have to go back to a skill trainer to lean additional abilities. The more you use a weapon, the more skills you unlock (up to 5). This mechanic is not tedious at all and feels quite natural at allowing you to get a feel for how a weapon’s skills work and fit together.
Guild Wars 2 combines what you may expect from a typical hotkey MMO game and an action game. The combat is fluid and position based. The user interface is designed to keep your eyes on the game and not on your skillbar or health bars of your allies. No more are you standing around just bashing out a skill rotation, you need to think about what's going on around you and use skills and spells appropriately.
All professions except the elementalist and engineer can switch weapons on-the-fly during combat -- providing them with additional options in any given situation. Every player needs to be aware of their surroundings and has the ability to dodge any incoming attack.
Being conscious of other players leads to greater combat effectiveness with a number of cross-profession combos at your fingertips. Maybe an engineeer has laid down a firewall, shoots some projectiles through it to apply burning to enemies; a thief leaping through a healing field can apply that to allies who are nearby; as two quick examplese.
At some point, you are going to take a dirtnap. By which I mean, be taken down in combat. All is not lost however as you have a brief period to fight back against your attackers. If successful, your character will rally and continue to fight on. Remain in the downed state for too long and you’ll be defeated. From which you may simply teleport to the nearest waypoint or wait for another player to revive you.
That’s right, any player can revive any other downed or defeated player. You’ll be rewarded XP for doing so -- it pays to help your allies up when you can!
Guild Wars 2 tells a story like few others. While the majority of play takes place in the persistent game-world, each character has a unique personal story. Starting from character creation your choices shape the story of the world. Insofar that creating identical characters with one small choice different can lead you in an entirely different experience. There are 15 (3 main choices for each race) initial stories, which grow more complex with each decision you make.
Although your personal story progression is set in an instanced environment, you can invite your friends to help you out and experience it it. Helping others with their story rewards you with karma which can be traded for items and benefits, and if you’re at a similar stage of your story and like their choices, you can keep them as your own or opt to do it again later the way you want.
There are three main stories running and intertwining concurrently for every player. The personal story based on your decisions, the overarching world story of the races banding together to fight the elder dragons, and the story of Destiny’s Edge, a group of adventurers told though the game’s dungeons.
The majority of the content in Guild Wars 2 is provided through dynamic events. These just happen while you’re out adventuring in the world. You’ll never have to go and talk to an NPC, hear their plight and then go and find what you need to do. You’ll SEE what’s happening and just get involved. Once you’ve succeeded (or failed) the event, you’ll receive your just rewards instantly, again -- not having to traipse back to the quest-giver.
It's worthwhile to hang around after every event out in the world. Most of them are part of a chain that can move forward and backward based on player input. The consequences of which can affect the entire map, open portals to new dungeons and result in in tasty rewards for players.
Add to this that you’re never in direct competition with other players (unless you’re participating in WvW or PvP, that is!). Everyone who contributes to an event will be rewarded based on their input. Since you'll never have your kills stolen by other players, it's always fortuitous to run into other people. The more characters that are involved in a particular event, the larger it becomes as the game will dynamically scale to challenge those present.
Similarly, if you happen to be too high a level for things to be challenging, the game will down-level your character to an appropriate power which means content is never trivial. Although you might be weaker, you’ll still gain rewards scaled to your current, actual level.
On this note, ArenaNet have promised there will not be a leveling curve, but rather more like a line. They anticipate that each level after the first few should take about an hour and a half to complete, regardless of your play-type. This means getting from level 17-18 should take the same effort as 79-80. No more grinding for days for that final level!
The game rewards you for exploring. Reaching areas of the map for the first time will reward you with significant amounts of experience. In addition there are platforming-style jumping puzzles, hidden areas and vistas to uncover. By far the greatest advantage to exploration is coming across waypoints. While there is no mounted travel in the game, you can simply open your map and click on a waypoint you’ve uncovered to instantly be transported there.
A good portion of Guild Wars 2 takes place underwater. ArenaNet have done a fantastic job of making this part of the world as interesting and beautiful as the sections on land (even more so so in some areas).
Once you’re underwater, your skill bar is replaced with an entirely new set of skills based on the underwater weapon you have equipped. This leads to an interesting shift in how you play in the water. Because there is more to think about here, as you now have a z-axis to think about.
In a lot of games, watery areas are tedious. Not here! First off, there is no breath bar as your character is equipped with a breathing apparatus. Your movement speed is not diminished in the water either.
Some of the game’s most challenging content is presented in 5-man dungeons. Starting from level 30 your character will be able to tackle these beasties. While no particular party make up is required (since there is no holy trinity) you will need to be vigilant and watch out for the other members of your team.
Once you’ve completed a dungeon in “Story Mode” you will unlock an “Explorable Mode” which ups the difficulty level but can be used to unlock fancy armour and weapon skins.
Just like the regular game content, dungeons will remain relevant as you may return to them at any point and you character will simply be downsized to the highest allowed level. No easy rides here!
Player versus Player
There is no world Player-versus-Player in Guild Wars 2. Have no fear because there is a very rewarding structured PvP system. You can jump straight in after your characters tutorial and instantly you will be level 80 with all skills and traits unlocked and at your disposal. This ensures an even proving ground where skill is the determining factor for victory.
Matches are joined similar to an online first person shooter lobby, with quick matches (8v8) and tournament play (5v5) available. The maps present at launch all feature capture-the-point style gameplay, with each location featuring a different mechanic to turn the tide of battle.
ArenaNet are dedicated to making the PvP in Guild Wars 2 a legitimate e-sport and they are well on their way. All that we need is an observer mode (which has been promised to us).
World versus World (versus World)
If direct PvP competition doesn’t do it for you, but you’d still like to take on some other human players, maybe WvW is the place for you. Played over four enormous maps with up to 1000 players, three home worlds (servers) battle it out for territory. By conquering and holding keeps, castles and supply camps, you can help secure your team’s victory in matches lasting from a day, up to two weeks! the benefits of which are applied to your home world to benefit all players.
Much like structured PvP, you can jump into this mode immediately. No need to wade through the rest of the game's content if that doesn't interest you. WvW plays concurrently to the PvE world, and as such you will actually gain levels and experience. Fear not, as all players are still have the equivalent power of a level 80 character, creating a fair environment.
The developers behind Guild Wars 2 are striving to make sure that every player can play how they want to. Even the selection of your home world server is not really a restriction, aside from which world you represent in the aforementioned WvW.
Your account is able to be a member of multiple guilds at the same time, which you can easily flick between to represent that particular guild and participate in guild chat. Great for people that have multiple groups of friends playing, or like to have specific, different guilds for PvE and PvP etc. Guild are all cross-server so it doesn’t matter where the members are.
Particularly because ArenaNet have introduced guesting. This essentially allows you to play on any home world you want for the purposes of general player versus environment content and negates the need for character transfers just to play with friends.
Say you log into a map or a home world and it’s full up of players. Normally, in any other MMO you’d settle yourself in for a wait in the queue. How about, you just go off and play as normal on an “overflow server” and you’ll be given a dialogue box when space is available on your regular server? That’s efficient use of your gaming time.
Structured PvP is implemented in such a way that you’re potentially playing against anyone from anywhere in the game, not just on your server as well, really creating global competition.
Yet another aspect of the game which is global is the economy. The trading post, where you can buy and sell items is persistent worldwide across all home worlds. This helps to create a steady and reliable economy not swayed by populations of individual servers as so often can happen in other online economies.
Aside from game purchases, Guild Wars 2 is supported by microtransactions. The gem store allows you to spend cash to buy gems which can be exchanged for in-game gold, items and upgrades such as extra character slots. Nothing that you can buy with gems will give you an advantage over other players, but merely useful and/or cosmetic. For those that don't want to spend their hard earned dollars, game gold and be exchanged for gems as well. The gem system effectively removes the businesses of illegal gold-sellers, as ArenaNet are providing a legitimate way for people to do this.
From their desire to create a deep and engaging game experience, there over 60 feature films’ worth of voice acting in the world. Featuring the stellar work of such names as Nolan North, Jennifer Hale and Felicia Day who help the main characters come alive.
Jeremy Soule is once again lending his talents to create a masterful soundtrack for Guild Wars 2. The music played in game is location, and activity dependent resulting in a rich, dynamic soundscape.
If you’re the type that likes to listen to their own music while playing games, that ability has been provided for you here too. Simply add playlists to the required folders and you’ll be played your selections specific for when your adventuring, battling or in-town.
You can easily spend hours in character creation in this game. Each race has a distinctive feel and playing around with skin tones and horn angles and bioluminescence can be so riveting to create a character that is right for you. Of course, there are presets, but why would you when there are so many sliders! A point to note is that there are limitations of the sliders which keeps appearances “normal”.
The dye system is something special too. As a new character, you’ll start off with a relatively small palette of 21 colours. As you progress through the game there are 400 dye hues to collect. Once you’ve unlocked a colour on your character, it’s yours to use infinitely. Each piece of armour has up to 3 dye channels allowing for immense customisation.
Once you hit level 80, there is no “gear treadmill”. Max level armour will be relatively easy to obtain and you can work harder to obtain rarer skins. The use of transmutation stones allows any player to choose armour or weapons that have the stats they want, and apply the look that appeals to them.
The addition of features such as the Mystic Forge, enable players to discard their unwanted weapons and armour to receive better counterparts or craft legendary weapons.
Gathering and Crafting
If you’re gathering materials in the world, don’t worry if someone else starts harvesting from that node -- it will still be available for you to harvest. That way, players can’t be grieved and all have a fair chance no matter how many players are on the map at that point.
In the course of your gathering and adventuring, your inventory has gotten quite full. Anything that’s collectible, like mined ores or gathered plants, anything you can use to craft something basically, can be deposited directly in your bank with a simple click. You can also use a similar action to instantly list items on the trading post, where you can pick up your returns next time you swing past a town.
With those materials you’ve stored in your bank, you can access them at crafting stations without needing to transfer them from your bank to your bags and then run over to craft items. On the topic. Crafting is FAST! Each successive crafting is accelerated exponentially, making it just as quick to craft 50 items as 5.
The crafting system rewards experimentation, and enables you to discover new recipes. While you can have two active at a time, at any point you can switch crafting disciplines and retain your progress you’ve made so far for when you want to change back. It is possible to have one character at maximum crafting level in all at trades.
Enjoying the World
Your time in Tyria is precious and you’re meant to enjoy it. Like the fast-travel I mentioned earlier in the article, there is nothing in the game meant to slow down your experience for the sake of it.
The Hall of Monuments was introduced in Guild Wars: Eye of the North and is available to Guild Wars 2 players that own the previous game. This enables them to get rewards for their accomplishments in the original game series. These rewards are not game-breaking, but merely things such as vanity titles and fancy weapon skins.
Even when you’re away from the game, the Guild Wars 2 extended experience is there to keep you connected with Tyra. This touted smartphone and web application can be used to chat to your friends and guild members, view character information and even see where they are in the world at any given time, as well as promised additional features which have not been outlined at this time.
Guild Wars 2 will be released for PC on the 28th of August, 2012. Pre-purchase the game in full and you'll be eligible for the head-start event giving you access from August 25th (5pm AEST). Remember, buy once and no subscription fees ever!