Character creation and the beginning
Yes, I can finally say it – I did play the Guild Wars 2 beta, and I don’t have to hide it anymore. Why am I saying this? Well, the NDA (Non Disclosure Agreement) that all EU Fan Day participants signed has been partially lifted. There are still some aspects of the game I can’t write about, but look below for all the info I can reveal.
During the first day, after the meal and before the video conference, everyone present sat in front of the computer screens. During the event, there were some speculations on the Internet forums about the number of character slots available. Some people mentioned there were seven slots. Let me do away with that rumor right now – my account had 13 empty slots, and if memory serves, Killian had 11. I suspect that if I needed more, the NCSoft and ArenaNet representatives – Melanie, Aidan, Matthew and Stephane – could “conjure” them up for me. So please, don’t pay attention to the number of slots available in the beta, their number could very well change in the final release.
So, lets move on to character creation. We started with the Norn. As time was scarce, I didn’t put as much effort into creating the character as I would into a permanent avatar, but the character creator itself is very clear and intuitive. There are a lot of options, and even something as simple as coloring the clothes of a newly made character could take a couple of minutes, if you want to be really thorough. I didn’t have the time for all that, so I quickly went on to watch the intro, which showed how my engineer started on his path to fortune and glory.
The game and location loaded, and I beheld a really nice forest. Surrounding it were huts made to look similar to Viking settlements, and among them, sitting beside fires and treating themselves to fried game meat, were Norn NPCS of all genders and professions, all huge as tree trunks. The intro did mention something about a hunt. Other participants were appearing around me, and I moved on to grab my first que… I mean the first chapter of my personal story. It involved me killing some rare and exotic animal (it was also on a fast path to extinction, judging by the number of players around me). The map pointed me towards several of them, but I only needed to kill one.
While I was on my way I couldn’t stop myself, so I shot a nearby Moa. Well, at least I found out that I wouldn’t have to wait long to be able to fully utilize my weapons. While all of the item skills (excluding the basic attack) of the items one carries are initially unavailable, unlocking them all takes only a few minutes. You can fill your entire ability bar during one major skirmish, so if the thought of endless grinding needed to unlock all the abilities of a newly acquired weapon has kept you awake at night, you can now rest easy.
First time I entered combat, I was struck by the all the chaos on the screen. It takes some getting used to, because all the ability effects, monster attacks and everything else are a lot to take in and process. Killian, who chose a guardian as his profession, had a similar experience. In the beta, I didn’t find any way beside the mouse to select or change target. This makes playing a bit more difficult if you are playing a character that attacks a single target or if you quickly need to pick out the most dangers enemy out of a group. I hope the final version corrects that (or that I simply didn’t find the correct option).
Enough about the chaos – my character was nearing the first miniboss – a Minotaur of significant size, which I had to kill and make into a trophy. Mine was already being attacked by two or three people, so I eagerly joined the fray. The beast didn’t stand a chance, and I got the item I needed, despite not participating in the battle from the start or not landing the final blow. So, not matter how long you help out during combat – as long as you helped, even if you weren’t part of the team (because we started forming teams much, much later), the prize is awarded to everyone who participated in the challenge.
Next on my kill list was a worm that turned out to be larger than anticipated. It was also the final boss of this particular chain of events. When it finally emerged from beneath the icy ground, about six characters that were in the area – including my engineer and Killian’s guardian – started fighting it. Chaos present on the screen took over again, and if it weren’t for the dodge mechanic (which takes some getting used to as well) I would have wound up dead. The fights in GW2 are impressive, and certainly not as easy as it would seem.
When the monster was dead and everyone moved on to claim their rewards the time came to take a look at the surroundings and participate in the famous dynamic events. There are a lot of them, and sometimes you literally don’t know what to choose. You can go destroy the burrows of lizards that keep attacking the holy ravens, pick up eggs that had fallen out of the nests of the ravens or test your wit by solving riddles about the strength the Norn get from their spirit guardians. This is all an example of things the player could do just a few steps away from the village. There are a lot of locations marked on the map, and if there’s something going on near the player, a circle helping to pinpoint the exact event location appears on the map, and a message “New event nearby” appears on the screen. It’s really hard to miss.
Players can help each other even if they are not part of the same team. If you happen to pass a group of mobs that just downed a player, you can raise them, help kill the opponents and be on your way. You’re encouraged to do so by achievements, which have been divided into groups like “combat” or “social”, and each one awards a small amount of experience or a unique title. Also noteworthy are the “daily achievements” that, as the name itself suggests, reset each day. There are several of them, each has 4 levels, and they are not particularly hard to complete – most involve killing several species of creatures or gathering certain crafting materials. These might prove to be the main experience source for people completely uninterested in dynamic events, because every level of such an achievement rewards a box containing 200 – 300 experience points.
Thanks to things like this leveling up is not difficult, happens mostly as a side effect of exploring the world and does not feel grindy. If you find the mobs in a particular area a bit too powerful for your taste, walk around for about 20 minutes, take part in an event or two, and you’ll find you now have the level to take on those mobs. And there’s nothing stopping you from jumping into an Asura gate – and you can do that from any place on the map – and try your luck in a different area. The price of such a journey is a measly few copper coins, depending on the distance, and makes travelling a lot easier.