Guild Wars 2 – A Primer
If you’re already playing Guild Wars 2, this article is not going to tell you much you don’t already know. However, if you’re still on the fence about whether you should pick up this MMO, read on. I’ve highlighted some of the aspects of this game to give you a better idea of what you’ll be getting into.
There is a choice of five races in Guild Wars 2, each with an option to be male or female. That gives you ten options to start, which can be further customised with a variety of facial and body features that will make your character feel unique. There are also dye colours to choose from, so that every piece of armour you wear will coordinate (or not) with the rest of your outfit. These dye colours can be changed later as you pick up new colours in your adventures.
There are the towering Norn, giant humans who live in the icy north; the diminutive Asura, who excel at all things technological; the cat-like Charr, fierce warriors who battle ghosts for control of their lands; the Sylvari, creatures grown from a great tree and only recently awakened; and of course, the once-great humans, holding onto the last bastion of their civilisation. Each race has its own history, culture and heroes that you will discover as you adventure through their lands and beyond.
Guild Wars 2 offers eight character classes (professions), each with their own skills, weapon and armour options. There are your spellcasters, the necromancer, the elementalist and the mesmer, who all wear light armour. Then there is the thief, the ranger and the engineer, who all wear medium armour. Finally, there are the heavy armour-wearers, the warrior and the guardian. The style and difficulty of the classes vary, so it’s probably worth trying out a few classes before you settle on one. As there are only 5 character slots (though more can be purchased at US$10 each), you don’t want to waste those precious slots on characters you don’t enjoy playing.
A challenging class to play, this light armour-wearing spellcaster can deal huge amounts of damage. She has access to a number of spells that affect a large area, making her a valuable party member. On the other hand, her relatively low defence and health means she’ll go down after a few big hits from an enemy, so mobility is vital! A stationary elementalist is a dead elementalist. While this class cannot swap weapons during combat like most others, she does have access to four elements: earth, air, fire and water. During a fight, it is possible to swap between these elements, giving the elementalist access to a wide variety of spells. The elements provide slightly different types of spells and bonuses: earth focuses on protection, water on healing, air on damage and speed, and fire on really big damage. This makes the elementalist quite versatile during a fight.
The guardian combines heavy armour with big weapons and support spells. She is tough and hard to take down, as many of her skills include some healing. With access to big weapons like swords, greatswords, maces, hammers and shields, the guardian has a lot of heavy hitting melee abilities. Her ranged abilities lean more towards the spellcasting side, as she can use a sceptre or staff to support or heal allies, as well as protect herself.
The ultimate fighter, the warrior wears heavy armour and has access to the widest variety of weapons. Able to take on large groups of enemies and survive, the warrior is a good choice if you find the spellcasters too squishy and want to focus on physical attacks more than the guardian does.
Calling on the dark powers of undeath, the necromancer can weaken foes. He can also summon forth a host of gruesome creatures to fight by his side, helping take the heat off. As a spellcaster, the necromancer wears light armour and as such, needs to be smart to stay alive. Using his own health to fuel his abilities, as well as cursing himself before passing these effects onto others. This nefarious method of play takes some time to get used to.
Probably the class with the longest range, the ranger can deal huge amounts of damage, often killing a creature before it can see what’s attacking it. That is, if the monster can get past your trusty pet! Every pet has its own unique abilities and a ranger can swop between two pets in the heat of battle, either for bonuses or to give one pet a respite from combat.
Although the mesmer wears light armour, she is not your average squishy mage. This conjurer is a master of illusions, which she uses to distract and damage opponents, making it much easier to survive encounters against numerous enemies.
The thief is a flurry of blades or a hailstorm of bullets. Possibly the biggest damage dealer in the game, they are also probably also the first to die in a big fight.
With trusty turrets healing allies or burning foes and an odd assortment of experimental flasks, the engineer can be tasked to do just about anything on the battlefield.
The combat in Guild Wars 2 is fun and can get rather chaotic if there are lots of people working together to take down a boss. What sets it apart from other MMOs is the fact that you can move your character while she is attacking or casting a spell. There is also the option to dodge if you double tap a movement key. This adds another level of strategy to fights, as you have to carefully watch your enemy to see when attacks are coming so that you can get out of the way.
If you go down to zero health, you switch into downed mode, giving you a small period of time to either kill an enemy, or heal yourself, both of which will return you to battle, albeit at lower health. Friends can also help revive you. If you die while in downed mode, you will have to wait for a kind soul to resurrect you, or teleport to the nearest waypoint. This involves a small cost, as do the repairs for your equipment.
There is a wide variety of weapons available, limited by your class. Each weapon offers you a number of skills, which you unlock through use. All classes can use a handful of weapons and each weapon has different skills or spells associated with it. This means that each class has quite an array of skills at their disposal. You will quickly get a feel for the different skills and fighting styles and probably choose a particular weapon as your favourite. Most classes allow you to equip two sets of weapons, so you can swap between them during combat, giving you access to quite a lot of skills during a single fight.
Traits and skill points
Throughout your journeys, you will spot skill points on the map, which you can earn in addition to those you gain through levelling. Skill points can be used to buy additional skills that you can slot into your skill bar – from healing skills to passive damage bonuses to epic skills that allow you to transform into a rampaging anthropomorphic bear. Later on (much, much later), you will also be able to spend these skill points to make legendary weapons (you will also have to craft, grind and earn tons of cash if you really want one of those legendaries!). You will still be able to earn skill points after reaching level 80, as you continue receiving experience, and gain another skill point every time you ‘level’.
Trait points are earned from level 10, and allow you to select passive bonuses that will further improve your character. The selection of traits appropriate to your fighting style and choice of weapons can dramatically affect your ability to survive and kill stuff in the world – so choose wisely! Traits can be reassigned, for a fee. Traits also offer improvements to your vital statistics, which may sway your decision too.
Crafting is a great way to create both weapons and armour, as well as jewellery, food and potions. The items you craft will more than likely be better than most of the stuff you’ll pick up when casually adventuring, so it’s well worth investing some time (and probably gold) into a suitable craft. You can gain quite a bit of experience for crafting, and eventually you might be able to sell your creations on the trading post. At higher levels, you can also create rare and exotic equipment, so there’s no excuse not to craft. There are some great guides available online to help you craft as efficiently as possible, as the cost of materials can get a bit much!
While you can run around killing enemies left, right and centre, this is actually not the most effective way to earn experience. In fact, the game tries to discourage mindless farming of an area by awarding you with extra experience for exploring areas, killing a variety of creatures, taking part in events, and gathering resources. The best way to level (besides crafting) is to actually complete your daily quests, which has certain milestones for you to complete once a day. Recent updates to the game have further improved the rewards you get for completing these daily and monthly quests.
One of the fantastic features of this title is level scaling. No matter where you travel in the world, you will be scaled to the right level. This does not usually apply upwards (except in PvP areas), but it does mean that if you are level 80 and want to play with your friend who is just starting out, you can head over to their starting area and kill monsters as if you were a lowly level 1. You still gain experience points and you won’t be killing everything with one shot. This makes playing with friends uncomplicated and still fun for everyone. You’ll even get a mixture of loot – some of the level you are pretending to be, and some of your actual level. However, you may notice that killing things in a lower level area is a bit easier than it was when you were the correct level – your level 80 gear and trait selections do play a role here.
The game features a lovely, if sometimes nondescript soundtrack. The voice acting ranges from good to great, and yes, Nolan North is in the mix once again, giving voice to the human male.
Every load screen in this game features an artwork of the area you’re entering, making staring at the sometimes long load screens (especially for busy areas like Lion’s Arch) somewhat worthwhile. Then there are the stunning in-game graphics, from beautiful environments to detailed character models in and out of conversations. Don’t let this short paragraph fool you, the game is truly magnificent to behold.
As you set out on your adventure, you will begin an epic, personal quest unique to your race and the specific background options you selected during character creation. This will take you from a fledgling adventurer to an epic hero, as you are swept from your starting area and small quests, to battles on a huge scale as you choose to join an order and fight against the great evils of the world. Not only are these story quests well-written and engaging, not to mention challenging, they also reward you with great loot! Unless you are higher level than the quest, you will generally receive a useful piece of equipment (often with a unique model) for your character.
Once you reach higher levels, your story really does take a turn towards epic, and it is well worth completing the story mode even if you’ve already reached level 80. Sadly, the final story quest forces you to do a five-man dungeon, even though the entire story up to this point has been solo-able. And it’s rather unpleasant dungeon, compared to the previous ones. Worst of all, the final encounter with the great enemy you’ve been after the entire game, feels quite… lacklustre. After all the build-up and the epic battles, this one was a bit of a disappointment.
Still, there is still plenty for you to do once you finish the main story. The game is continually being updated with new content and special events and there are awesome special weapons and armour to chase.
Dungeons in Guild Wars 2 are a bit of a different beast from other MMOs. No longer are you bound to the rigid requirements of a designated tank, healer and DPS. In fact, I have dungeoned with all sorts of strange combinations in this game, including a party containing 3 rangers, and another containing 3 guardians. Since every class is able to heal themselves to an extent, just about any combination of classes will work.
Each dungeon has a story mode, which features the hero characters you met when your character was just starting out. Once you’ve completed story mode, you can enter explore mode, which gives you more chances for loot! Dungeons range from doable with a competent party, to frustrating and expensive (in terms of repair bills due to frequent deaths), not to mention time consuming, if you have an inexperienced party. Either way, there are some nice experience and loot rewards to be had and the story really is rather interesting.
There are in fact at least three explorable paths for any given dungeon. That makes for over thirty different dungeon experiences in the game. Completing the explorable paths will also give you a currency that is unique to that specific dungeon which can be used to purchase special dungeon weapons and armour. Some of these are really quite cool looking and worth saving up for.
One thing that makes things easier if you’re on a quiet server is the fact that you can form cross-server parties and enter a dungeon together. This is also fantastic if your friends are on a different server to you.
World vs World and Player vs Player
PvP (Player vs Player) is always a big part of the MMO experience. In Guild Wars 2, this takes place in a special location outside of the normal maps. Because of the sheer number of people who take part in the PvP and World vs World battles, you may experience lag in these areas (apparently this can be improved by reducing graphical settings). WvW is a three-way fight for territory, like keeps and towers, between your server and two others. Doing well in WvW gives everyone on your server small bonuses, so it’s worthwhile for you to take part.
Guilds and bonuses
Joining a guild is a great way to socialise with people, as well as find groups for dungeons and general questing. Guilds can also have access to banks, allowing members to share resources. By logging in and playing the game while representing their guild, players also earn points for the guild, which the guild leaders can spend on bonuses for everyone, like extra experience or magic find.
Solo vs Multiplayer
The nice thing about Massively Multiplayer games is that you can play with friends and strangers alike and chat to them in-game. This is also the drawback of multiplayer games, as there are plenty of unpleasant people out there. Whichever you prefer, Guild Wars 2 has something to offer. Almost all the story quests and many of the events can be done alone, so you never have to worry about having friends online to group up with. You can even switch off the general chats and be on your merry solo way. The only time you NEED people is dungeons and PvP, obviously, and some of the world events listed as ‘group events’. Admittedly, there are often enough people floating around the map who will magically appear when there’s an exciting boss to kill.
When GW2 opened for business, servers were filled to capacity and then some. Everywhere you went was teeming with people, meaning group quests and monsters were easy to dispatch. Now, the game feels practically deserted at times, with the main city crafting areas being the only places you’ll encounter lots of players. My first server and guild really felt rather quiet, so I switched to Gunnar’s Hold server a while ago, and joined a new guild with more active members and it doesn’t seem so lonely anymore!
Free to Play
While Guild Wars 2 is free to play, there is of course premium content that you can purchase with real money. This ranges from vanity items to larger bank space and extra character slots. However, you can convert game gold into the gems used to purchases these items, so spending real money in the game is not strictly necessary.
Guild Wars 2 has had its fair share of bugs from day one, but I have yet to experience anything truly gamebreaking. Glitches, bugs, exploits and more are all dealt with in small patches that your game will download automatically when needed. Server downtime has also been minimal, which is refreshing. Exciting new updates come out every month, as well as special events like the recent Hallowe’en.
Garth and I have collectively clocked over 400 hours on this game, which is probably way more than was really necessary, or within the realms of sanity. In fact, two months after release, it’s still my game of choice, and I can’t wait to finish writing this so I can play some more. That alone should speak volumes about this game.