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What to expect in Guild Wars 2

Don't let false expectations spoil your experience

Don't let false expectations spoil your experience

Guild Wars 2 changes the MMORPG genre so much, a lot of people are just confused about it. It’s even a big change compared to Guild Wars 1. This guide is written to clarify what Guild Wars 2 is, what it isn’t, and what frame of mind to approach it to get maximum enjoyment. It’s also there to help people not have unrealistic expectations that will spoil what could instead have been a really good experience. I have also taken off my fanboy hat, and really tried to be as objective as possible.

My prediction is that the Guild Wars 2 community will continue to grow over time, as people learn to understand what Guild Wars 2 is about, and learn to appreciate it in all its complexity and simplicity. Guild Wars 2 introduces a lot of new concepts, it changes how we think about MMORPGs. No wonder then that is seems alien to many. Although the game is crafted to ease people in, there’s still a lot of re-learning and adapting to be done. I think a lot of those changes needed to be done for the MMORPG genre to grow out of the stale clonish state it was in. History shows that good changes in isolation is not enough.

I believe that a lot of what initially makes Guild Wars 2 good or bad depends on how open-minded you are to these new concepts. Sure, no game is ever made to please everyone. But Guild Wars 2 has a lot to offer for those who know where to look.

Persistent areas

The meat of persistent areas is (1) dynamic events (DEs) and (2) hearts. Of course, there’s also lots more to do, like jumping puzzles, vistas, etc, but for now I will concentrate on DEs and hearts. Both of those are essentially quest systems, that is, they guide you to kill stuff, bring stuff to NPCs, and interact with stuff. Hearts are more static “been-there-done-that” checklist-type quests, whereas dynamic events are quest chains that move around the map telling its own story. But ArenaNet has earned the right to not call them quests because these two differ from classic quests in various ways:

  1. DEs and Hearts normally include several tasks you can do to contribute, you can do any of those tasks (or several of them) to contribute. So if you like combat there’s stuff to kill, but if you want a break there’s usually other ways to contribute like collecting items or breaking items. You’re no longer forced to farm brute orcs when there’s only shaman orcs around, or stuck in your quest because you don’t know what it means to “take some hair while the bears are distracted”.
  2. Both DEs and Hearts actually scale to the number of players contributing to the event (see below).
  3. You do not need to talk to NPCs to initiate the quest (aside for triggering a Dynamic Event if nobody else has) or after to collect the reward (except to return items you collected). You can talk to them if you want to learn more about the lore, but this is entirely optional.
  4. Some events need someone to trigger it. Anyone can trigger an event, and you can join events in progress without triggering it yourself. You can also abandon an event halfway. If you contributed, you will get rewarded, regardless of whether you were there at the beginning, middle, or end.
  5. It is really hard for someone to interfere with what you do. Leechers don’t count towards scaling because they don’t contribute. You cannot steal kills. Nodes can be tapped by many players. So generally you are happy to see people joining.
  6. You do get rewarded for helping, even in ways not specifically written into the quest objectives. Resurrecting people nets you contribution. Usually, killing any foe nets you contribution if you kill them near an event or heart, even if it’s not specified in the objectives. Only a handful of times did I need to actually stop and ask NPCs or read objectives to know what I needed to do. Generally, it’s pretty obvious what needs to be done to help out.

Persistent areas are for PUGS. Persistent areas are social, but they are far more designed for players who want to play with others without being forced to group. The groups are often temporary, disbanding when the task is done. Persistent friendships might require you to put in more effort than just participating in dynamic events. You are not forced into making groups, which some may like or not like. The option is there for those who want it. This is in my opinion really good for those who like PUGs but don’t want the hassle of looking for groups. Sure, some like to play alone, and Guild Wars 2 allows that.

This occasional bump-ins is a main feature of persistent areas in all MMORPGs. However, Guild Wars 2 differs in how people share the world once they bump in. Traditional MMORPGs force a choice on you, either you group up and share rewards and quests, or you don’t group up and then you compete for quests and rewards. In Guild Wars 2, however, you share quests and rewards regardless (provided you participate) hence the choice to group up is a social choice.

This makes the world a lot friendlier to PUGgers. If you want a tight experience with teamplay, I suggest storyline quests or dungeons.

Persistent areas scale to group size. Unlike many MMORPGs, the game actually changes in a way that promotes players having fun in large groups. Shared rewards means that you can actually join large groups of allies and get rewards for participating.

The game increases the difficulty of events and hearts if there are more people participating. Scaling means that even as a large group, you will get a challenge that will be fun to play. And so, people do tend to clump and do things together. There has been some complaints that scaling didn’t work properly in some cases, but most often it works pretty well. Clearly, this is something that ArenaNet is fine-tuning during the BWEs and will continue to monitor after release. But compare that to normal MMORPGs where too many people means it’s trivial, and too few people means it’s impossible, and I hope you will understand that even bugged scaling is better than no scaling at all.

One other common complaint has been that it gets confusing when a lot of people clump, because the screen can get littered with special effects. I suspect this is partly because we’re used to watching the UI so we have no real idea what a game screen looks like. I also think that with more practice, we’ll become efficient at picking up the important information from the game screen. ArenaNet are tweaking the particle system so that it adapts intelligently the amount of information provided to reduce your sensory overload. My advice though is that if you are confused, use ranged attacks. Keep melee for when you can judge if you’ll be able to survive the melee. And don’t give up prematurely, your brain might well adapt to all that information.

Static < Persistent < Permanent. Persistence in Guild Wars 2 means that dynamic events change the world for a while. Nothing changes permanently. If you lose an outpost, you can reclaim it. So the changes are more cyclic. This is much better than foes just standing in place respawning shortly after being killed.

ArenaNet is tweaking the rate of occurrence of dynamic events. When dynamic events occur rarely, they give you more of a sense of change when they do occur. But that means the world is pretty static between dynamic events. However, if the dynamic events occur too quickly, they can feel like they’re on a repeating timer. This can also break the illusion of a living world. Each person will have his personal preference on the rate of occurrence, and likely ArenaNet will continue tweaking this to please most people.

Another potential issue with this is the lore. Some people looked to dynamic events for world-changing events. Don’t. The stories contained in the dynamic events, at least for the areas we tried, are locally important but not world-changing. Whether we keep the fort or lose it to invaders, that is important to people living in the area. Whether the shaman is allowed to summon his troops or stopped, that is important to people living around. But ultimately, whatever happens, the land will heal and move on. And so to truly enjoy these events, you need to stop asking if it’s going to change the world in a permanent way, and just realize that it’s pretty cool that it is changing the world right now.

If you want events that “permanently” change the world or at least tell a full story, these are more likely to be found in storyline quests or dungeons.

My advice. Approach persistent areas as places where you can play with others without having to group with them. Your experience will be based on chance encounters. The gameplay will be more casual because of it, with players playing more as individuals than as a team. However, there is plenty of place to interact with others, and people do that… they ressurect each other, they heal each other, they help out. And people love to zerg in Guild Wars 2, so expect some pretty epic large fights.

Also, persistent areas can never create the experience of instances, so don’t expect a high level of challenge or a very detailed story here. This is casual stuff that anyone can join in and drop at any time. Rather, expect the game to offer a fair illusion of a living world, in which you are but one of many soldiers contributing to keeping the place safe for others. And look for storyline quests and dungeons for a deeper storyline and more challenging teamplay.

The new trinity

I only tried a dungeon once, but it was challenging and a lot of fun. Dungeons are basically the high-end challenging experience to be played in groups of 5 skilled players. What I liked most is that it wasn’t just waves of monsters, there were traps and bosses throughout.

It’s not clear what our group composition was, but it clearly was not the trinity. This of course brings up the question… what is the new trinity?

Tank becomes control and shutdown. Gone is the day of having 20 foes beating on you as you laugh at them. Good riddance, I say. Instead of absorbing damage, you want to make your foes waste their damage. This you do mainly by getting their attention, and when they shoot projectiles at you or put AoEs under you, you get out of the way. Or if they go towards you to attack with melee attacks, you snare them or blind them or just move out of the way. You can also use protective skills, but while useful, you cannot exclusively rely on them. Likewise, you can use shutdown skills that make enemies less able to deal damage. Mesmers and necros can also produce distractions.

This means that anyone can help out getting foes to waste their attacks. It also means that frontliners will be much more mobile than they used to be in other MMORPGs.

“Keeping the team alive” becomes “keeping the team in the offensive”. Healers are no longer the ones who keep the team alive against all odds. They are still very much useful though. A healer in the party means that other allies can spend more time attacking, and less time dodging. Support roles are therefore people who help others stay more offensive.

So if you liked the powertrip of being the one who kept everyone alive, this is not the game for you. If however you like to heal and help out, there’s plenty of things for you to do to contribute in that way.

This also means that a team can do without a healer, and instead everyone will have to be that much more careful to avoid damage. This type of gameplay is just not possible in a trinity-based game.

Roles are shared. This is by far the biggest change. Everyone can and should do damage. Everyone has some ability to support team-mates in some way like healing, protecting, making foes waste their damage, etc. And everyone can heal themselves. That means that everyone is a bit of the trinity. People can still specialize more into a role, but everyone will do a bit of everything. It means that everyone takes a share of responsibility.

The trinity was based on making you terrible at one or two roles. So if you left town alone, you were basically broken in some respect. As a healing priest or resto druid in WoW, it was difficult to kill things quick. The new system Guild Wars 2 introduces is a more balanced hybrid profession design, it’s easier to adapt your character to a given role and to fit within a party. In fact, with weapon swapping, you can often change your main role with just a weapon swap. This means that the successful player will be able to change role to meet the party’s needs, and will have more situational awareness than was previously required. Players with less situational awareness can still play relatively well, but the difference between a good player and bad player will be greater.

My advice. If you are really attached to your healing gameplay or to your tanking gameplay, you might have to adapt more than you want to. By this I mean you can still play healer, but you won’t play healer full time. Rather, you will play a balanced build with a few extra heals you can use on allies in-between attacks and shutdowns, for example. This requires more player skill to do well, but it can be very satisfying.

Weapon Skills & Combat

Combat is done mainly via your weapon skills. Skill 1 is like an auto-attack, but some of them do additional neat stuff like AoE damage or summon a clone. Skills 2-5 are generally more situational, e.g. have shorter range, inflict cripple, protect you, etc. While one could debate whether spamming those skills or using them strategically is preferable for the noob, it’s clear that some skills can be used properly and improperly, and likewise that some skills can be used strategically. I remember clearly using skills at the wrong time, and ending up wasting them. Dodging and self-healing is also quite important. But the game is forgiving enough that you can still spam the skills on recharge and progress… the question being, how much faster could you progress if you used skills right?

This is particularly relevant to structured PvP where using skills right and wrong will likely decide who wins 1vs1 fights. But the same can be said of PvE, where using the skills right will reward you kills faster and at lesser personal risk.

Also, remember that with the weapon swap, you have another 5 skills you can use. The recharge on skills don’t transfer across weapons, so you could use some strong skills on one weapon, and swap weapon to use more strong skills on your other weapon. There are even tales of elementalists swapping between all four elements to unleash their fury.

My advice. Resist the urge to spam on recharge, and instead take a few minutes to read the skill descriptions and to learn when to use what. It means you’ll take longer to learn, but likely, you’ll peak higher too. If things get hectic, spam away! But on calmer fights, learn to use your skills well. And learn to use your weapon swap. This is not just for optimization purposes though, I think the gameplay will be more fun if you learn to use your skills well, as it is always more rewarding to pull a good move on purpose than by chance.

Polish

The game has been very stable aside for some complaints about lag. I have not had unusual problems with lag, but some people report that they had problems. Frankly, I have yet to hear of an online game that launched without lag problems, and I would be pleasantly surprised if Guild Wars 2 managed a perfect launch. I believe that if anyone can, they can… but it’s possible that even they might not pull that off. Afterall, we all heard Diablo 3 players complaining the first few days, and that was not even an MMORPG!

However, aside for potential lag and disconnects initially, the game is already very polished and bug-free. It is very stable. The tutorials are very helpful. It’s an easy game to get into (despite all the learning to be had), and it runs really well. People who want to join large groups though might want to have a stronger computer, as large zergs in WvW and persistent areas can slow down your processing.

My advice. Expect the usual lag the first few days, and don’t get too frustrated. Otherwise though, the game should have a solid launch.

Progression

MMORPGs are notorious for wanting you to invest in your character. Guild Wars 2 will demand some investment as well, although the total grind to get to max level and max equipment will be considerably less than competitors. There are a few reasons for that.

  1. The game focuses more on player skill than level or gear grind. The prestige gear grants you cosmetic advantages only. There are some endgame items that require a lot more work from you to get, but those do exactly the same thing as other easier-to-get weapons. Except they look cooler while doing it.
  2. You also get scaled back if you are too high level for an area. So levelling doesn’t give you much of an advantage beyond some extra skills and traits.
  3. The progression curve is flat and relatively short. It’s unclear at this point how long it will take, early estimates were at 30min per level thus 40 hours total to get from level 1 to 80, which is very short by MMORPG standards.
  4. The game features much of the same kind of gameplay as the endgame. Dungeons are introduced at level 30. Big bosses are introduced at level 2. So getting to level 80 is not required to start having fun.

My advice. If you want an MMORPG that won’t turn into a second job, Guild Wars 2 is there for you. But enjoy the journey, don’t bother trying to rush to the end… the endgame is the game anyway and so, aside for economic incentives, there’s not much reason to get to the endgame faster. The game won’t suddenly change.


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  • Nice write-up.

  • Thanks.

  • I agree – very nice article.

    My only disagreement is where you said “Although the game is crafted to ease people in…”. As a non-MMOer I didn’t feel eased, more like discombobulated. I wish there had been a tutorial area or at least a section for slow witted MMOers.

  • Sonoma, I think it’s normal to feel lost with any MMO because they normally have a lot of stuff to get used to. Crafting, inventory, skills, traits, oh my! I found the tutorial in GW2 to be good, but yes, there’s a lot to learn!

    My advice here is just stick with it. After a while it will all feel very straightforward.

  • There was a tutorial in GW2? I must have missed it completely. So now I also need a personal guide to the slow witted (aka tutorial) area.

    Definitely want to encourage other new MMOers to stick with it. If I had to base my purchase decision on the first BW then I wouldn’t have bought GW2. But by the third BW the game became a must buy that I am anxiously awaiting during what is the longest month EVER.

    It seems as if most who post here, including the forums, are coming from other MMOs. But there are probably other MMO newbs, like me, hiding out there who should know that although the learning curve is a little steep, it is definitely worth it. Oh and soulbound apparently means you can’t trade or give it to other players, not that it will permanently alter you character in some horribly disfiguring way.

  • Well, the tutorial doesn’t say “tutorial” but it introduces concepts a few at a time. For example, skills are locked, weapon switch is locked, and you have access to fewer areas and fewer types of merchants… and the complexity is introduced slowly.

    The best tutorials in my opinion are those that don’t say “tutorial” but ease you in the game by getting you to play.