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Guild Wars 2 Previews: A Comprehensive Hands-On

By Carolyn Koh on June 24, 2011

For the demo on Press Open House day at ArenaNet, we created and played through the Norn tutorial and starting area. The Norns are humans from the cold northern regions of Tyria. The character customization was not shown, but we went through the choices for our biography. I selected an Elementalist and first chose between Fire, Water, Earth and Air as her preferred element, and then between charm, dignity and ferocity as a trait, and strength, cunning and instinct as another. Then we went on to color and I decided that during a festival celebration in Hoelbrak, I didn’t black out from too much drink or lose an heirloom, but did get in a fight… and lost. Finally, I chose a spirit guide between the bear, snow leopard, wolf and raven.

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The beginning tutorial had us obtain an object from three different creatures: a minotaur, a skelk and a moa bird. Seeing green stars in the surrounding landscape, I headed towards one and found a minotaur stalker.  Interacting with him, he told me to follow.  I did and soon I saw a small herd.  Then I found a skelk trapper who led me to a trap and baited it. Immediately two appeared:  A  pair of ferocious lizard like creatures which I dispatched with ease. Finally a green star led me to a bush.  It rustled. I walked around it until a “Shake” icon appeared and I shook it, scaring out two large birds.

This is much how things work in Guild Wars. Objects in the world are interacted with.  Once I got out of the tutorial area, the first quest I received was on to help denizens of the surround area, all of them handily marked on my map with a star. Out in the woods, I found nests that could be threatened, poked at, shaken to get a creature to spawn.  There were even over grown grubs whose tails stuck out of the ground; pulling their tails irritated them enough to emerge.

Dynamic events spawn randomly and things got downright hairy at times as I teleported to a waypoint only to find it over run by high level pirates. Well… it was a waypoint in a region quite a few levels higher than me.

I started off with two skills and a heal in the fire element as well as water. The other three disciplines would open up as the Elementalist leveled, and at high levels, you can switch between two weapons and hence different skill load-outs. At higher levels, the Elementalist can summon a pet, though not command it. The water discipline had some nice heals. For combat under water, we needed a specialized weapon for that purpose and a water breathing apparatus. Our spells changed and as an Elementalist underwater, I found I preferred the fire discipline with its offensive spells.

One interesting feature is the “last chance” or survival mode which we all saw in the dungeon instance. As you lay dying, you receive a new “last chance” bar and four skills to use to try to take some of your enemies with you. If you succeed, with or without help, you are revived and get another chance.

Apart from the skills displayed on the left side of your hotkey bar, the keys on the right are deemed the “utility” skills with your heals always tied to number 6. Buffs and pets can be changed in and out of 7 through 9 and 0 is your profession-defining skill, where as the F keys are your profession-specific skills.  Some buffs and skills are dual-purpose and have active and passive modes.

I’ve always preferred casters and healers and I found the Necromancer an interesting choice that I took into the dungeon the 2nd time. I had two pets – one which I could sacrifice for a heal, a “disease” form where I turned into an intangible plague cloud which inflicted all enemies who touched or attempted to touch me with disease, poison, plague and other effects, and the profession specific Death Shroud. This gave me a different bar and four different skills to utilize while it lasted. A very useful skill indeed and I survived a lot better than I did as the Elementalist.

Finally, when asked if we wanted to try a different and much harder dungeon mode, I chose the Guardian and was greeted with cheers.  The Guardian’s heals, buffs and shields are very much proximity based and my teammates learned very quickly to step into the circle of goodness for a short regen. Three profession skills provided shields and heals to all allies within a small range and cries of “Bubble!” were soon heard as team mates alerted each other that an invulnerability bubble was up if they need a brief respite.  This one had a long cool down and the Guardian’s hands are kept busy keeping it up, so it had to be put to strategic use.  If I was at low health, I tried to cast it near an Elementalist who could call upon the tides to heal the group.

We tried our very best but with only four in the party on a mission where two towers had to be protected, and all new players, we were defeated. Close… so very close, but no cigar.  The death penalty at this point is the cost of the respawn at a waypoint to regroup, and the shorter time between a knockdown and a defeat. Anyone can revive other players, so the longer the time between character death and defeat, the more chances of being revived to be of help to your party again.

The professions are Elementalist, Warrior, Guardian, Engineer, Ranger, Necromancer, Thief and a yet to be revealed one.  Sad to say they didn’t feel like sharing that at the event. I also tried the Ranger which is the only true pet class in the game, and the Engineer. The Engineer is a new enough concept in a fantasy game, so much so that most who played it required a little Dev assistance.  He has various turrets that he can set up, including healing turrets, mines that he can lay and blow up later, heal packs that the party can pick up when in need,  grenades to throw and he also uses pistols, shotguns and blunderbusses.

There are also mini-games.  Just like the snowball fight that was programmed into Guild Wars, each race will have its own mini-games within the city. The Norn had Barrel Brawl, a rugby-like game where you carried a cask of ale through a goal.  You had two different throws:  A shorter direct one and a longer arcing, less accurate one.  You could spill a little ale on the ice to make it more slippery for your opponents and you could beat someone with the barrel to stun them and get them out of your way.  Skills while not holding the barrel are different and include skills that are tailored toward making the other person drop their barrel. 

All in all, I had great fun playing Guild Wars 2 and look forward to more hands-on time with the game. I foresee another successful game in ArenaNet’s future… but then that’s probably not news to you guys is it?  The combat with each class is varied and detailed, the world is beautiful, and the mechanics are both new and refreshing to the genre.  Guild Wars 2 is looking like the game to beat, indeed.  Now if only we could get them to spill a release date…

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