Guild Wars 2: The Power of Other People

Guild Wars 2 is the first MMO where I did not view other players as a hindrance to my enjoyment. It is the first MMO where I gladly jumped in and fought alongside people and wanted to do so even when I was on my own.

I played levels 1-10 as a Human Elementalist named Mist Walker. Elementalists are like mages — throwing fire, lightning, ice, and earth around, wearing skimpy light armor, trying not to get squished. I died a lot, explored all over the place, did some crafting, and had a marvelous time. Let me tell you a story about Mist’s best experience as an Elementalist in this lush and beautiful world.

Fighting west of the main human city of Divinity’s Reach at level 6, I found a familiar cave. I’d gone to this cave earlier in my personal story — Guild Wars 2 has a personal story that sees your fully voiced character run around with other people in your background and do general heroic things. In my case, I was investigating a group of bandits. I was surprised, though, to find that I could head back into this cave. When I first went in, it was an instanced area, meaning me and only me (and, theoretically, anyone else in my full group). In Star Wars: The Old Republic, when you go into an instanced area for your class, you can never go back in once you’re done, and people of other classes can never go in, they only see a red repulsor force field over the innocuous hallway. GW2 does not work like this at all. So I went in.

I went in and found some bandits, and I lit them on fire and did terrible things to them. I also found some other players, running around doing other terrible things to these bandits. I also saw that we were all struggling a little fighting on our own, so I jumped over to help them. That sounds generous of me, but it just happened. Guild Wars 2 doesn’t feature anything like ‘tagging’ an enemy to mean it is yours and yours alone, with no one else getting XP from fighting it. Guild Wars 2 wants everyone to help everyone else, and to do so it removes all those barriers to helping everyone else. So when I saw a warrior swinging his sword and knocking his target across the room, I put down a wall of fire between them so the bandit would get burned before he got back into the fight. When I got dropped by a bandit gunman later on, a necromancer summoned otherworldly beasts while I turned into a cloud of mist and booked it around the corner. If anyone died in battle, we all ran over to them and revived them (easy as pressing the F key. You get XP for reviving people, too). Together, the five of us characters, levels from 5 to 7, pushed into this bandit cave, through the grubs, and then out on the far side.

The far side of the cave had level 10 enemies. More bandits. Alone we would have perished. We all stood around, looking at each other.

The warrior ran out in front, sword back. I stood next to the necromancer, and the engineer moved to the left side of the mouth of this cave. I don’t remember what the fifth class there was, because the battlefield became a cacophony of fireballs, gunshots, sword swings, and zombie dogs. We took out a ton of the enemy, but we didn’t take them all out. Eventually, superior numbers and our lack of knowledge of the systems dropped us. We all moved back to recent waypoints.

I never saw them again.

I was never invited to a group. No one argued over loot. No one even spoke. We just all ran into a cave together, and came out of it a well-oiled, if dumb, fighting machine. I have never played an MMO that actually wanted you to play together.

As an elementalist, I had four stances and five skills. These skills were tied to my weapon; had I switched from sceptre to staff, I would have had a completely different set of skills.

In Fire, 1 = auto-blasting little fireballs. Little damage, but it was my auto attack. 2 = a giant dragon’s tooth that dropped on the head of my target after a second or two, and anyone around him in this little circle also got nailed. 3 = a phoenix that flew out from me to a point I designated on the field, exploded, then flew back to me and healed me a bit (with another explosion). Anyone in its path got hit. 4 = a wall of fire that anyone passing over would be burned by. 5 = a fire shield that severely damaged anyone around me.

In water, 1 = three frost bolts auto-firing out and homing in on my target. 2 = a targetable circle of ice shards that froze anyone nearby. 3 = a trident thrown into the ground, damaging foes and healing friendlies in a circle around it for a few seconds. 4 = a wave of frost that rooted everyone in place for a few seconds. 5 = an ice meteor!

You get the idea.

If I were fighting me, I could dodge any and all of that. Fire-2? Run out of the white circle before the dragon’s tooth hit. Fire-3? Double tap the Q or E key, strafe left or right, to dodge roll out of the way of the phoenix. Fire-4? Just don’t run over the fire, do something ranged or find a way to bring the target to you, or teleport, or something. 5 = Double tap S to dive backwards out of the way of the fire shield before it hurt too badly. The auto-attack would hit, I believe, but not a whole lot. Fortunately, all of my skills can be cast while moving — I don’t have to stand still.

The cities are huge. Divinity’s Reach, the main human city, is probably four times the size of Stormwind from World of Warcraft. Maybe larger. Cities stretch up into the sky, and for once I felt like I’m in a world where people could actually live. There are thousands of houses along the rim of Divinity’s Reach. I can’t reach all of them, but I can reach a great deal. Throughout the city are 13 waypoints that I can teleport to, replacing the horses/gryphons/speeder bikes in other games, and at any point while playing I can just pull up the map, click on one of them, and pay a nominal fee (based on how close I am to that area) to teleport to it. If I am in the city, I can teleport to any other point of interest in the city for free.

I played ten levels of one of the five races in one of the eight classes in the game. There is a ton of content in here, that much I can already tell, and it takes the MMO limitations we’ve all known for too long and gets rid of them. I haven’t talked about how there’s no “holy trinity” of tank/heal/DPS because everyone can do everything (one of my earth skills is an armor skill, and there’s another one in the second set of skills you get as you unlock that lets you really define your character, and everyone has a healing ability). I haven’t talked about how you can in theory do all of the crafting on one character since switching disciplines doesn’t erase your progress in the one you switch away from. I haven’t talked about how I only found two of the major cities and only barely set foot in the second one. I haven’t talked about how there’s PVP because I don’t care about PVP. I haven’t talked about how you can check your mail or your auctions from anywhere in the world. I haven’t talked about the humor in the game, where my first major quest was a bar fight complete with breaking bottles over bandits’ heads and throwing chair legs at people, which I was not so good at. I haven’t talked about how the game’s acknowledgment of the teleport-anywhere travel is Mist cheekily offering up “I can run faster than a centaur!” I haven’t talked about how there aren’t any quests, there are dynamic events which change with the world and with your progress and participation. I haven’t talked about how there are karma points that let you buy rare and curious things for helping people. I haven’t talked about the other races because I barely saw them. I haven’t talked about the jaw-dropping painterly art style.

I haven’t talked about how there’s no monthly fee. But I really should, because there’s no monthly fee. Pay $60 and you get access to all of this forever. No $15/month charges popping up on your credit card, no re-buying the game three times a year. Guild Wars 2 has no monthly fee. Play it as much or as little as you want with no guilt.

Not even from your friends, because Guild Wars 2 will scale their level down to yours, yet give them rewards in line with their level, if they come back and adventure with you in low-level areas.

Guild Wars 2 wants you to play together.

For the first time in my life, I want to.

Guild Wars 2 has no official release date; just sometime in the 2012 calendar year. The preceding are comments from playing in the April 27-29 pre-order beta.

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