So you’ve got Guild Wars 2 and you’re ready to get started. You’ve heard this game is a little different from other online games, and you’re wondering what you need to know. Or maybe you don’t have the game because you’re a big meanie who hates innovation, but you want to know what sorts of vibrant new ideas you’re boycotting. Whatever, I’m not here to judge. Here’s how it starts…
I’m not going to cover race or class selection. That discussion is messy, complicated, and prone to heated debate and chest thumping. This early in the lifespan of a game, you can find criticisms of every class. And for everyone saying class X is too weak, there are a dozen people claiming your’re just playing it wrong.
“You died fighting Murdaar the Murderer, the Legendary Elite Champion Veteran Badass Boss King? Pfft. I solo’ed that guy last night. When I was three levels under him. Using starter weapons! Naked! While drunk, both in-game and IRL! It was piss easy! You must really suck.”
Just remember that this game does away with the long-standing Holy Trinity. While not all classes are equal, they should all be able to deal damage and heal damage to some degree. Everyone gets a self-heal. Everyone can deal area damage. Everyone can do burst single-target damage. The classes are radically different, but they’re all self-sufficient. Just pick one that sounds good and get on with it.
You have to pick a few bits of information about your character background. Some of these are minor or cosmetic, while others will have a significant impact on your personal questline. Sometimes you’ll get to choose a bit of gear. None of this is a huge deal, so don’t sweat it. By mid-game all the personal stories generally converge, so what you’re really doing is selecting your starting quests. As of this writing, I’m not aware of any mechanical difference between these. It’s all about flavor and, possibly, a very mild dash of actual roleplaying through dialog. Try not to freak out.
Tutorial time. You get dropped into the world and it should look like this:
Weapons Skills: Five attack buttons. That’s all you get. You’ll have five buttons at level 2. You’ll have five buttons at level 80. You don’t spend the game acquiring new concurrent abilities until your screen looks like the dashboard of the space shuttle. You change these powers by changing the type of weapons you’re holding. This fixes the problem of the overabundance of toolbars and buttons, thus keeping your focus on the middle of the screen where the action is taking place.
A warrior with a two-handed sword will have one set of abilities, but if they switch to a sledgehammer they will have five different ones, and if they use a sword and shield they will have yet another set. The two-handed sword might focus on raw damage output while the sledge might feature knockdowns and knockbacks. You don’t choose your weapon by looking at the pure damage numbers and picking the higher one, you choose your weapon based on what you need to be doing at the moment. For an elementalist, the staff has lots of long-range powers that you’ll use if you’re fighting dangerous foes at a distance, while the smaller scepter has close-range attacks that are usually good for mopping up mooks.
Note that in the case of one-handed weapons, powers 1-3 are for your main hand and 4&5 are for the off hand. This means that using a sword and mace is different from using a mace and sword.
The same five powers? All the time? Doesn’t that get boring?!?! No, for the same reason that Batman: Arkham City isn’t boring with just four combat buttons. Complexity is not depth.
Self Heal: You start the game with a simple heal. Later on, you’ll gain access to other healing abilities. However, you can only have one slotted at a time. Perhaps you want to have a strong heal. Or the heal that will restore modest hitpoints and cure poison, fear, blindness, or whatever other hoodoo the bad guys put on you. Maybe you want a heal that gives a boost to running speed to aid your escape. The first one is good for “all-in” type players who generally fight to the death. The second is good for fighting exotic foes, bosses, or for PvP situations. The last one is for cautious players who hate dying. It’s more about strategy and playstyle than using the “best”.
Utility Skills: You’ll unlock these slots as you level up. You’ll have lots of possible powers to choose from, but you’re only able to slot three of them at a time. Again, this solves the control panel problem by making you choose the powers that suit your playstyle. You can slot passive abilities, add more attacks, or maybe give yourself some type of escape ability.
Elite Skill: It’s another utility slot, but for a more powerful sort of ability. Most of them are focused on “Summon or transform into something AWESOME” with a long cooldown. I can never remember to use this.
There’s no reason to linger in the tutorial. It’s specifically designed to ding you level 2 when the tutorial ends, so there’s no benefit to killing extra guys. To my knowledge, this is the only place in the game where it restricts you like this. Just kill the guys, do the thing. Watch the cutscene.
At the end of the tutorial you’ll have a boss fight. This fight is easy, but you should pretend its hard anyway because this is your big chance to get a grip on the combat. See, other online games – and World of Warcraft in particular – have taught you to play wrong. In other games, you hold still, stare at the cooldown timers at the bottom, and fire off the best powers as fast as possible.
In Guild Wars 2, you need to watch your foes. Like, you need to look at the part of the window with the graphics in it. Foes will wind up for a big attack. Red circles will appear on the ground when some area attack is about to drop. You need to run around the field, avoiding these attacks and hitting the dodge key at the right moment. You don’t really babysit cooldowns. Some powers are better than others, but choosing powers is more about waiting for the right situation. Examples: An attack for plowing through a line of guys. An attack for putting up a flame wall. An attack to knock one foe down and interrupt the big swing they were about to perform. An attack to scatter guys. An attack to stunlock one guy for a few seconds. An attack that hits everyone in front of you in an arc. And so on. You have to get to know your class and their different weapons to really make use of it.
The point is, if you’re looking at the bottom of the screen, you’re doing it wrong.
Once the tutorial is over, an NPC will chat you up and give you a gentle shove out the door, suggesting that you go out and do some stuff.
Now you can start playing Guild Wars 2.
If you open up the map you’ll see yellow hearts spread around. These hearts are goals, which everyone just calls hearts because why would you call them goals? I’m just saying. Hearts have replaced the idea of finding quest-givers with an “!” over their heads. Instead, as you enter the quest zone a description and progress bar appear in the corner. There are always multiple ways of progressing a quest like this. Kill the bad guys. Recover the stolen widgets. Set fire to the piles of bad-guy stuff. Steal plans. Basically, you’re either killing stuff or clicking on stuff. Actually, usually you can do either one. If you need to kill guys to loot items, the drop rate is always 100%.
One the progress bar fills up the quest-giver becomes a vendor. You can stop by for some post-job exposition, sell off your crap, and see what they have for sale. Usually every quest giver has something different.
As you do this quest, you’ll find yourself running past other players. You’ve no doubt seen other players in online games before, but your relationship to them is different in this game. If you see someone in a fight, you can just jump right in and help. You’re not “stealing” their kill because it’s impossible to do so. You both get full XP and a chance at loot, without needing to group up and bicker over drops. If the quest allows you to feed cows, then another player picking up a bag of feed doesn’t deny you the chance to get it, and if they feed a cow you can still feed it yourself. If someone dies, you get XP for reviving them. If you die, you’ll save on equipment repairs if someone revives you.
The worst thing a player can do is not help you, and the incentives are all pushing them to help you as much as they can. They more they help others, the more XP they get.
This means that players tend to form transient little ad-hoc groups. They run around together killing stuff, because it’s faster if other players are helping and there’s safety in knowing there’s someone nearby to pick you up if you go down. As people begin working on the heart they’ll join the cluster, and as other players finish they run off. It’s all seamless and nothing is there to break the flow.
As soon as you’ve got a couple of silver to your name, look for a vendor selling this sort of stuff:
You’ll want a salvage kit, a sickle, a wood axe, and a mining pick. I know in other games you’re limited to gathering certain things and you need special training. Here, anyone can harvest anything. Harvest plants (yields cooking supplies) chop trees (yields stuff for crafting weapons) and mine ore (stuff for making armor) even if you don’t plan on doing any crafting yourself. This stuff is worth a good bit of money and experience.
You can use the salvage kits to break items down into raw crafting materials.In some cases, it might be better to sell the item itself. In others, the crafting materials might be worth more. As of this writing, Jute – the lowest-tier material for tailoring – is suffering from an incredible shortage, and you can make a lot of money by salvaging cloth armor. Leather? Not so much. This will all change as they tweak the drop rates, I’m sure. Maybe you’ll want to stockpile supplies in hopes of doing some crafting yourself. Maybe you’ll save the materials to sell them at the trading post. Whatever. You’ll have to experiment with this to see what works for you.
Sooner or later your inventory will fill up. Probably sooner, since you’re a new player with a new character and thus you’ve got the storage capacity of a an Altoids canister. Before you flog all of that random stuff at the vendor, look for this button:
That will magically transport all of your crafting materials into special sorted slots in your bank space. You can do this at any time. There is a special slot for every crafting material in the game. There are a lot. These slots look like this:
That’s a picture of the slots just for food. There’s another bank of slots for raw building materials, another for the odd knickknacks needed to make magic items, and so on. Basically, raw crafting materials can be stored for free without devouring your general store space and they can be magically sent into storage at any time. Sick of hauling around materials in other games? Did you ever get back out in the field in WoW and suddenly realize you’ve got 4 bags full of engineering crap? Get sick of moving stuff in and out of inventory when you want to transition from crafting to questing? Not a problem here. When you’re done crafting, just click that button to dump the stuff into the bank. Also, crafting tables can draw materials from the bank without you needing to move them to personal inventory.
Heads up: The general bank space you DO have is NOT large. And is shared between all characters. Use this to trade items between your chars.
Eventually you’ll hit a bit of a gap, where you’re level X and the only available heart is X+2. That’s doable, but if you keep going eventually you’ll face X+3 and X+4, and sooner or later that will halt your forward progress.
The thing is, we’re used to the idea of “do all the quests in this area and you’ll be ready to move on.” The trick here is that there is more to the game than just doing hearts, and that is taken into account when awarding XP:
Do story missions. Story missions are instanced adventures, meaning they take place in your own private zone and not in the open world. They tell the story of your character, eventually sweeping you up and carrying you along to take part in the larger conflict. There is always a green star on the map, showing you the way to the current story mission. One annoying thing with story system is that they go up in level as you progress, and if you’re too high it doesn’t scale you up. This means that you’ll reach other end of one quest where King Fancypants tells you to hurry to the village of Bumpkin, where bandits are about to burn down the kitten orphanage. Hurry! But that’s the next quest in the chain, and it’s two levels higher than you. So you go back to the open-world adventuring and faffing about until you’re high enough.
The bad guys are sporting enough to wait, but it can really take the momentum out of a quest line when this happens.
Other starting areas. Somewhere around your home city you’ll find this purple stargate thingy called an Asura Gate. Jump on through to teleport to Lion’s Arch, the hub city of the gameworld. From there you can jump to one of the other species cities, and do their starting area. The leveling curve is gentle, and you can still make great progress at level 8 if you’re doing level 3 quests.
Do events: Events continue to pump out XP, so if you find one you like then just hang around and do it. In the human areas there’s a set of pipes. Sometimes bandits come to put poison in them. If you fail to hold them off, there will be another event to gather materials to cure the poison. (You get XP either way.) If you succeed, the bandits will try to blow up the pipes. If you succeed they might try the poison again, while if you fail you’ll have another event where you defend the repair crew. Hang around as long as you like, fighting the bad guys and gaining XP.
Crafting. According to the folk-knowledge of player chat, mastering a crafting profession is worth ten levels. If you’re completely new to the game you probably don’t have the materials to get rolling on this, but it’s an easy way to grab a few levels once you’ve built up your supply.
Exploring: You get XP for finding “Vista Points”, which are these floating icons tucked away in hard-to-reach locations. You get XP for harvesting raw materials. You get XP for visiting new places. You get XP for beating various bosses that lurk in the corners of the map and who give out skill points that you can use to unlock new stuff for your utility slots. Basically, get out there and do stuff.
So that’s your first ten levels. By this point you should be able to tell if you love the game or if you want to curse me for hyping it up so much. And if you hate it? Well, they have Kung-Fu Pandas in World of Warcraft now. Maybe that’s more your thing.
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A video Let's Play series I collaborated on from 2009 to 2017.