An Introduction to Guild Wars 2

This weekend is the head start for Guild Wars 2, the official launch is Aug 28th.  I have been involved with beta and thought I’d throw out some advice to those looking to join the game.  Let me just say that Guild Wars 2 is an MMORPG, a type of online game that has been dominated by World of Warcraft for 8 years.  Based on what I have seen, GW2 is very good candidate to unseat the current champion.  WoW became popular  by redesigning the MMORPG for a wider audience. Since then every MMORPG has mirrored the WoW model.  Guild Wars 2 is a completely different design for hopefully an even wider audience.

For those familiar with MMORPGs, GW2 represents a new redefinition. Outleveling content is gone, kill stealing is gone, forced team missions is gone, running back and forth to NPCs for missions is gone, wasting time trying to recruit a healing specialist for your team is gone, annoyingly expensive and time consuming crafting is gone, grinding is… ok some of the heart missions get a little grindy, but it is not a constant grind.  Basically, everything you found annoying about MMORPGs of the past is gone, and replaced by some really cool fun stuff to do instead.  That is why I think GW2 is the first of the genre to unseat WoW.  Oh and I failed to mention, monthly subscription fees is gone!  GW2 is the first free to play MMORPG designed from the ground up to be free to play.  So hopefully I got your attention, Lets play!

What’s an MMO?

For those not familiar with MMORPGs,  an MMO is a Massively Multiplayer Online game. A lot of this blog is devoted to Second Life, which is an MMO, but not an RPG.  As you play the vast majority of the characters, correction “friendly” characters, are other players from around the world.

What’s an RPG?

A role playing game is where you invent a character to play within a (usually) fantasy realm.  Dungeons and Dragons was considered the first. It was played with manuals, paper and dice.  Everything is on computer these days. Recent popular RPG video games include Dragon Age, Skyrim, and Diablo 3. 

Put the two together and you get an MMORPG. The most popular and famous is World of Warcraft, but there are hundreds of them out there. I have played Lineage 2, spent the better part of a year in City of Heroes, 7 years off and on in Guild Wars 1, Lord of the Rings Online, Star Trek Online, DC Universe Online, and now by far the best is Guild Wars 2.

Creating a Character

If you are new to the whole MMORPG and want to check out Guild Wars 2 to see what everyone is talking about, here are a few basics.  First thing that you do is create a character.  There are 5 races to choose from.  Except for their looks and a few minor skills, there is little difference between them play wise.  Each race has a different starting zone and major city to explore, though all races can visit all cities.  Your character’s personal story will center around your races zones and city.  If its your first time ever in an RPG, you probably want to go with Human, but much of the fun is experimenting.

Next up you pick a profession.  If you are new to the whole MMORPG experience, I highly recommend starting out with either a Warrior or a Ranger.  Easy to learn, lots of weapon choices, very versatile.  As you play, you will find certain play styles might fit you better.  There are 6 other professions to choose based on your play style.

If you like running up to bad guys and smacking them around, then you probably will prefer melee classes.  Two professions specialize in melee, the Guardians, and the Thiefs.  If you like running up and putting the smackdown on the bad guys, you will like the Guardians.  If you prefer the sneaking up from behind and stabbing them in the back, you will like the Thief better.  Thiefs are a profession that requires lots of motion, jumping, evading, stealth.  If you grew up on Super Marios 3D type games, you will probably make a good thief.

If you prefer to stand back and do your damage from afar, there are two classes that specialize in that too: Engineers, and Elementalists.  Another thing these two have in common is lots and lots of skills to choose from.  No matter what you need to do, you probably have a skill to do it somewhere in your bag of tricks.  Elementalists are spellcaster types.  Each weapon has 20 skills, 5 fire, 5 water/ice, 5 air/lightning, 5 earth/stone.  Engineers are tech heads.  The hardest part of Engineer is that your bag of tricks come in the form of kits that you cannot get access to for quite a few levels, making the first 20 or so levels of the engineer profession a bit lame.  Don’t worry, you will get better.

That leaves Necromancer and Mesmer.  These two spellcasters rely on raising minions to dish out and take damage.  Their play styles are very different from the rest, so if you are looking for something very different than melee or range, well here you go.  Note that while I am saying that certain professions cater to certain kinds of play style, all professions are pretty flexible.  All can do range, all can do melee, all can cause conditions to happen, and remove conditions, all can do “Area of Effect” damage to multiple foes at the same time, and all can support and defend their fellow players.  All are capable of self heal.  There are no dedicated healers or tanks or damage dealers as every player is capable of all 3.

All 8 professions are available to all 5 races, so that’s 40 different types of characters to play, all of which come in male and female versions too.

The First Mission

In Guild Wars 1 (and most other RPGs I have played), after you create your character and watch an introductory video and find yourself in world, it is typically a good 5 to 10 minutes of tutorial stuff until you finally get to actually fight something.  In Guild Wars 2, after an introductory video, it is typically a good 10 seconds until you are attacked by something.  Basically, you learn by doing, so you are thrown to the wolves right out of the gate.  Each race has an opening conflict that ends in a giant boss fight.  You are given a weapon with one skill unlocked. Two more skills will unlock very quickly.  As you go through the opening mission, you will see what talking to an NPC looks like, what an event looks like, and what happens when you nearly die. It also shows you how to follow your personal storyline.

Here is the biggest difference between Guild Wars 2 and a typical MMORPG, I’ll pick on Lord of the Rings Online, but my problems with that game are common in many MMORPGs.  One of my biggest pet peeves is standing around waiting for a team to form for a group mission you need to progress in the story.   You are given a mission that requires a team of 4 to 6 players and it begins at point A. So you run to point A and start spamming the chat channel “LFT Dungeon Run” until someone finally answers back that they need the mission too, and then you wait some more for others until you got 4 players.  You start the mission, and it goes on for 20 minutes or so, and it goes OK until someone gets disconnected from the game, you don’t have enough players left to finish, and you end up right back at point A spamming the chat channel again.  This is why I quit Lord of the Rings Online among others.

In Guild Wars 2, a message appears on the screen that a nearby character needs help, for example a merchant is trying to get a load of goods to the next town and needs protection from the bad guys trying to rob him.  You jump in to help, but you are the only one.  Suddenly, bad guys attack! There’s about 3 of them, they are a challenge for you but you can handle it (or maybe not and the event fails).  Another player sees what is happening and joins the battle.  Suddenly you are a team fighting together, no spam needed.  The next attack on the caravan has 5 or 6  bad guys that the two of you have to take on.  Other players join in.  Suddenly there are about 10 players protecting this caravan.  The next attack of bad guys has 20 to 30 bad guys attacking.  There is no waiting around, events just happen, and events automatically scale depending how many people are participating in the event, meaning it will always be a fun challenge.

These events tend to “chain” where one event leads to another.  If you manage to get the caravan to the next town, then the town gets attacked.  All the players in the area now have to defend the town.  Once the town is saved you find out three townspeople were kidnapped back to the bad guys hideout, so now any players that want to can run to attack the enemy base to free hostages, which usually includes a big boss to fight.  This stuff is happening all the time everywhere around you, and always at a level of difficulty that is challenging and fun (unless you accidentally wander into an area designed for much higher leveled players).  You cannot “outlevel” any area.  If you go to a low level area your character will drop in strength to that low level.  With mods, traits, and skills you might have an advantage with the “downlevel” over players that really are at that level, but not enough advantage to make it super easy.  It does not work the other way though, you are not upleveled if you go to high level zones, so watch where you are going.  The exception to the “no upleveling” rule is WvWvW which I will explain below.

Cool Stuff to Do

If missions, story lines, and events are not enough for you, there is plenty of other stuff to occupy your time and get experience points doing it.  Besides fighting, you can explore the world and get experience as you discover new points of interest.  There is a large crafting component that is totally optional, but better weapons, armor, and other enhancements are obtainable if you do.  There are “renown heart” activities which often are odd jobs to do like watering plants, cleaning the yard, harvesting apples, etc.  Bad guys often show up while you do this stuff to make it harder. If you do enough, you get paid.

The primary activities are cooperative PvE (player vs environment) stuff that all the players help each other do.  Guild Wars 2 also has PvP (player vs player) activities too.  Early MMORPGs forced you to play against other players. The “hard core” RPGers love this stuff, but casual players find it annoying as hell.  This is why the first successful MMORPGs, like World of Warcraft, allowed people to choose whether or not they would participate in “duels” with other players. The hard core players find this pretty lame, as they have a hard time finding people to duel with.

Guild Wars 2 has something for the hard core players called structured PvP, where you can form a group with 4 of your friends, or be randomly assigned into a group of 5, and you battle another group of 5. In structured PvP, everyone is given the same armor, the same scaled weapon damage, and the same skills to choose from (varying on your profession of course).  No one can have a huge advantage, unless they happen to be good players.

For us non hard core players, there is an intermediate PvP environment called World vs World vs World (WvW).  In this environment, you can join one of 4 “battlegrounds”.  These are huge zones, and contain a lot of the same stuff PvE zones have (creatures to fight, events to participate in, stuff to explore), but enemy players are also there.  Your team gets rewards by holding land and important places on these 4 battlegrounds, so the primary activity in these battlegrounds is take and hold land.  There are always big battles to participate in.  Three of the battlegrounds are “borderlands” which are low key zones with occasional battles.  The 4th is an “Eternal Battleground” where goals are really close to one another so the fighting is intense all the time.  You can choose which to participate.  Upon entering these zones, you are upleveled to level 80. Everyone has the armor, the health, and can do the damage of a level 80 player in these zones.  Unlike structured PvP, your player can get an advantage in WvW by getting better armor, weapons, traits, and unlocking skills in PvE.  None of this can make you super powerful, but every little bit of an edge can’t hurt.  WvW is the primary activity that is attracting gamers to Guild Wars 2, so it is definitely worth checking out even if (like me) you are not into PvP.

More Information

So I gave you a basic run down of the game which I hope got you interested.  For more basic information, check out the official online manual, which includes a nice intro video.  Another very good intro video is this one by a player named Geekasaurus, which covers a lot of the same stuff I mentioned but in video so you can see it in action.  His You Tube channel is filled with lots of helpful and well done videos on what there is to see and do in GW2. I highly recommend it.

As I write this, the game is just a few hours from the headstart weekend launch.  If I don’t post for a while, it is probably because I’m playing Guild Wars 2.


  • Well that’s whetted my appetite. After a rather disappointing few months playing SWTOR, I have been considering going back to WoW. This looks like it might offer a more satisfying experience however. Have you had a look at Wildstar? It’s a ways off release yet, but I’m intrigued by it’s odd-ball approach.

  • so now you are never gonna finish “somethings in the air” lol

    • Oh I plan to finish SITA eventually, and not too far into the future. I know my pattern with video games: I will obsess over the game for the next month, then start playing it less and less.

      MMORPGs satisfies the “fun” cravings, but not the “creative” cravings. Because GW2 is free to play, I can easily put it to the side and pick it up again months down the road. In fact I can safely predict a cycle of GW2 > SITA > GW2 > SITA continuing for the next year or so.

  • Now if we can just get a nice shader mod for Torchlight 2 to darken the colors a bit and make it less cartoonish I think we will have a winner verdict over Diablo 3. I think its too early to write tl2 off just going by the beta.

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