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The Starting Zones Preview

David North Posted:
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I was one of the lucky few to play ArenaNet's Guild Wars 2 Press Beta event this past weekend.  We had access to the Charr, Norn, and Human races.  Naturally I couldn't resist from trying out each race, as their starter areas are all different, so I played all three.  That got rid of the decision on which race to try out, but now I had to face another one, which one to play first.  After a series of coin flips, destiny pointed towards the great and powerful Norn. 


I found myself standing in the company of other eager and mighty hunters, all ready to prove themselves as true Norn.   I looked around to get a sense of the environment.  The Norn are a big people, and everything indeed seemed big.  The architecture was very organic with curved tops.  Decorations were etched into nearly everything, to show the pride of ownership.  In the far distance, the representations of the great spirits were carved in the mountains, giving this sense of strength and honor.  The land itself was divided to give worship to these different spirits.    

The Norn's beginning quest were all based on worshipping the spirits and were very different from each other.  While bear wanted me to prove my strength, Raven challenged me with riddles to test my wisdom.  The enemies in the area were also varied.  I faced other Norn factions like the Sons of Svanir, Skales, and Wurms.   The enemies themselves were very basic.  I'm not saying that they were easy to defeat, but they didn't have any special abilities that made me feel threatened.   They were just large, but so are the Norn.  The enemies were also spaced out, keeping the action very focused.  I felt that the progression from quest to quest was smooth and well thought out.  I think that with the land being divided between the spirits, they were able to keep certain enemies from mixing with each other.   

The world got much larger when I left the first area.    As I headed North to the land of ice and snow, the enemies became bigger, and stronger, but also became very exciting.  They also appeared in groups, which promoted players to stick with other, where as in the very beginning I saw very few players working together for the same cause.   This added a lot of excitement to the game.  The events also got more complex, with different steps being set in place to make you feel like there was actually a progression.  The rewards were also gratifying.  A simple escort event turned into the fight for your life.  At the end we not only gained experience, but the merchant decided to set up shop in the settlement as thanks for the escort.  


After I had spent hours with the Norn, I switched over to the Charr.  The environment is very different, as they have architecture that is sharp and harsh looking.  The Black Citadel itself looked and felt like a living machine, the center being a dark heart that just sent shivers down your spine.  You really got a sense for the Charr's technological achievements.   War machines with wheels were also placed around, to cement the fact that these advancements weren't to better the life of the Charr, but simply to strengthen theM.   

The area around the Charr capital city is ravaged by combat.  While the Norn's land was calm and divided, the Charr lands was much more intense.  It wasn't hard to find an enemy, or a group of enemies.  Things were very action oriented.  I noticed that players, and myself were sticking together more often, as the enemies would grow in strength at a pretty fast pace.  The groups of enemies were mixtures of soldiers and ranged units.   

Though there was a lot of combat in the area, the types of events were varied.  They also made a lot of sense as well.  The Charr are a fierce race, and they have short tempers.  A group of Charr from each legion were arguing over who knows what, and it was up to me to break up the fight.   This event really clicked with me, as it really required you to take notice of what you said to whom.  In a way, you had to think as if you were the character.  It brought the RPG back into the MMO.  If I said the wrong thing, the Charr soldier would attack me and I would have to shut him up the old fashioned way.   

Overall the action packed area home of the Charr was fun, and really promoted teamwork.  I also felt a bit more of the RPG element than I did in the Norn area.  With both these areas being very different from each other, I felt like I had two unique experiences.  This got me really excited for the last available race for the event, the Humans. 


When my character showed itself, it was in a village thrown into chaos.  Centaur were running in the fields, causing the villagers to run, cowering in fear.  In the lore, the Humans have fallen from being a great and mighty people.  This environment really gave the feeling that this adventure was going to be a struggle the whole way through.  The land was filled with farmland and was constantly under attack from bandits, Centaur and other types of monsters.   

This struggle for survival was the focus for many of the quest events.  Bandits would often try to set fire to the crops, so players would have to pull together in order to put out the flames.  The creatures that lived in the area were also a hazard to the Humans way of living, as much of the land wasn't populated with buildings but with natural environments.  Even the bandits didn't have a settlement to hold up shop in.  They used caves and the high terrain as their base of operations. 

Once I began to explore the more forested areas, I noticed the enemy types changed.  Rather than seeing bandits and Harpies, I ran into more wildlife creatures and Centaur.  The land was also a bit more forgiving, as bandits weren't around to cause constant chaos.  At this time however, I noticed that the drops weren't as grand.  Facing bandits, I received a lot of drops that were rich in crafting materials.  These drops were also in greater number than the Norn and Charr areas.  Once I was facing more wildlife creature, the wealth of the drops became more familiar.  Not sure how I feel abut that. 

With a lot of the events making you take on the role as a keeper of the peace, you really do look towards your fellow players for assistance.  The overall difficulty of the enemies wasn't nearly as tough as what I faced in the Charr starting zone, as the enemies were spread out enough to where you had some breathing room.  But that sense that the humans really are struggling is what I really think brings the players together.   

After venturing around the lands, I decided to explore Divinity's Reach.  This city is truly massive.  The environment is also the opposite of what I felt outside.  Everyone was cheerful and merchants were everywhere displaying their merchandise.  I even saw some karts unattended which was odd to see.  Outside of the cities walls, a farmer wouldn't dare step away from his field.  I felt like the chaos outside was happening on the other side of the world.  The city was also divided into different sections for each God, much like the land of the Norn was divided for the great spirits.  Each street was lined with several houses.  The citizens stood around and were speaking of different topics, from the wars being waged, to the simple issues that popped up in everyday life.  I felt safe.  This is totally different then the Norn and Charr cities.  In a way, this safe feeling was making me hate the citizens, as the people outside of Divinity's Reach had to struggle every day to keep things running, while these people stood around and conversed about what to have for supper.    

I look back at what I experienced, and I was really happy I decided to try out each race.  In other MMOs I would try out different races, but felt that each area was basic, flat, and the quests were all the same.  In the Guild Wars 2 Press Beta, each starting area felt different.  The races all had different ways of living, and the events gave each one a unique feeling.  The Norn made you feel pride, honor, and the thrill of the hunt.  The Charr made you feel the shadow of war bear down on you, causing you to feel rage and hatred.  The human controlled lands made you feel the hardships and struggle of being human in a world where humans have fallen from their high point.  I really felt like I had played something different with each play through.  To me this is a great achievement, and I salute all those at ArenaNet for doing a great job.  I can't wait to play the rest of the game.


David North