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Previews: Norn Thief Impressions

By William Murphy on March 15, 2011

Norn Thief Impressions

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that I’m going to play a Norn whenever Guild Wars 2 hits shelved.  I’ve been waiting to get my hands on these bulky men and women of the North for some time now, at PAX East during the NCsoft Party on Friday night I was finally able to.  Sure there was free food.  Sure there were free drinks.  But dammit, there was a Great Hunt to take part in!  The other revelry would have to wait.  I hopped onto the first open PC of the twenty or so available in the ballroom, and got down to business.

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Unless I’m mistaken, PAX East was the first time players got to go through the character creation process.  The actual looks part of creation was still barred because they didn’t want people tooling around for 30 minutes just making hair adjustments.  But we had access to all six announced classes, as well as Charr (high level) and Human (also high level) experiences.  For my own part I chose to check out the Norn starting area and try the newly revealed Thief.  But here’s what’s most interesting about the creation process.  After you pick the race, sex, and class you answer a slew of questions which in effect flesh out your character’s biography and set you on the path for your own personal story in the game.

The questions are different for each race, and will help set the tone of who you are to the rest of the game world.  I was asked for instance what I did at a recent moot (party): blacked out, sought revenge, or lost an heirloom.  Can you guess which I chose?  Hint: I’m Irish.  In any case, I found this to be a very cool addition to the way in which players can define their character and do a little role-playing.  The final question dealt with what spirit my Norn was tied to.  The Norn, as many might know, are very animalistic and tied to nature.  Each one has the ability to shift into the form of a bear, a raven, a wolf or a snow leopard.  I chose Leopard and then finished creation. 

After you do this, you’re treated to a gorgeously animated sequence that explains your character’s back story (again based on your choices).  It has a very painterly feel, with that same epic Norn music playing and a nice voice-over of your character narrating his or her own story.  Once that was complete, I was thrust into the open world and away I went.

One thing that’s worth noting is that though ArenaNet loves to say there’s not really going to be any question marks and pages of text telling you to go kill ten bears, there are still NPCs and they will still have some sort of indicator for you signaling that you should talk to them.  What’s more though is that they do run up to you, shout out at you, and in general try to get your attention without relying on some silly UI element to do it for you.  It goes a long way towards making Tyria feel alive and not static. 

The UI for conversing with NPCs is actually pretty cool.  While there don’t seem to be dialog choices, the content does seem fully voiced, and when you enter a conversation you’re treated to a sort of vignette of your character and the NPC chatting.  They’re never very long conversations and they can be skipped much like one skips quest text in current games.  I imagine that on a second or third trip through an area I’d be doing just that, but for now the cinematic and story-oriented feel of these conversations is a welcome change from the industry standard. 

The basis of the Norn starting area is that you’re about to take part in The Great Hunt which is a sort of rite of passage for your people.  But before you can do that, you have to prove the Elder that you’re ready.  So off I went as my sultry blonde Norn woman self to collect the trophies necessary to do just that.  Now, here’s the best part of Guild Wars 2 in my opinion and something I hope that will be carried throughout the game.  Sure I just found out I had a collect quest.  But I didn’t know it.  I didn’t just get a quest and wander to an area on the map and kill things until I had enough pieces and parts.  I was hollered at by a woman, told that I needed to get trophies so I could take part in the Great Hunt, and told where I could go generally to find them.

Now I came first upon a brutish looking tattooed Norn, who told me he knew exactly where I could find some minotaurs for the horn I needed as one of the trophies.  He ran, telling me to follow, and then pointed to a cave not far from our location.  As I sidled up to the cave, out came charging about a half dozen minotaurs, all using that fabulous “we run on all fours” animation ArenaNet just got right.  I had effectively spawned these monsters myself by doing this quest, and others who may be nearby would then be able to do their quest and get their horn. 

I killed the thing pretty easily… I mean, I was level 1.  And I only had two attacks to play around with at first.  A leaping whirling attack with both daggers I held (which in effect is a ranged attack that also closes the distance between targets), and a standard stabbing attack.  There’s no auto-attack and I could dodge and withdraw and avoid my enemy’s attack merely by double tapping any direction.  The only thing that was missing from my Thief was a stealth ability, which must come later through leveling.  Still the combat was fast-paced and highly action-oriented.  You’re still targeting mobs and pressing hotkeys, but it’s very interactive and the ability to dodge around your opponents’ attacks is going to become a very key component of the combat.

Moving on I realized I still needed the feather of a bird, and the something gross of a lizard-like creature (forgive me for forgetting the specifics).  A little ways from the minotaur cave, I saw a large bush that was shaking and shedding leaves.  I approached it, and was given the option to shake the plant with the F key.  Out poured a couple of the birds whose feathers I so desperately needed, and after a few stabbity-stabs I had one.  For a level one quest, in fact the first quest you do in the game, the precedent was being set. 

Next I found an open trap nearby, which again could be interacted with.  I laid down some bait and waited until a slew of the lizard creatures came pouring at me.  Again, not so difficultly (it is level one) I walloped the beasts and took the grossness I needed.  Then it was back to the village Elder to present my trophies.  I was treated to another little vignette and told that I should report to the leader of the Great Hunt and do my thing.  In short, I’d just don’t a “collect” or “fetch” quest… but I didn’t even notice that’s what it was.  Sometimes it’s all about the way in which these quests are presented to players, and if GW2 can keep this kind of disguising up throughout the game it’s going to be fantastic.

Once I arrived to the stairs leading up to the Great Hunt, I was greeting with a rousing little speech from our leader.  Several NPC Norn warriors were with me, and some players as well, as we all charged up the steps and into a massive icy clearing.  Out of nowhere a massive ice wurm sprung up from the center of the clearing.  Spit flung from its mouth and icy cracks formed on the screen as it roared.  Again, this is at level one.  This is also the first Dynamic Event Norn players will meet in the game.  I was told later that the event began with dozens of smaller wurms that needed to be killed, and that my party arrived just in time to see the massive creature emerge. 

What’s great about these events is that they scale constantly based on how many players are partaking in them.  The strength and defenses of the monster increased as more players arrived so that it couldn’t just be overtaken with sheer numbers.  After a lot of whacking and stabbing, and very few heals (though the NPCs could have used it), the wurm died and we were victorious in the Great Hunt.

After this point, I felt some stares and decided that it was probably best to let others have a try.  The whole process got me from level one to level two in about fifteen minutes of play beyond the creation of my character.  I’m still very curious to see just how all these dynamic events will work once entire servers are populated.  And I’m also very curious to know more about the massive PvP and just how that will work out.  But as far as first-impressions go for starting a brand new character, Guild Wars 2 Norn experience might be the most epic experience yet.  In most games you’re killing a few trolls or stomping on some spiders… in GW2 you’re going up against a massive ancient ice worm that could swallow you whole several dozen times before needing to use the bathroom. 

There are a lot of questions marks still about how the whole game will play, and they’re questions I’m sure will be answered in time.  For now though I’m just pleased to report that the Norn are awesome, the game plays very well, and that blacking out at a moot sounds like a lot of fun. 

William Murphy / Bill is the Managing Editor of MMORPG.com, and lover of all things gaming. He's been playing and writing about MMOs and geekery since 2002. Be sure to follow him on Twitter for all of his pointless rambling.