Akardo, the human thief, stepped out into the world of Tyria to explore, hunt and stab all that threaten his dynamic way of life
*Contains minor (non-personal story) spoilers
After five years in development, Guild Wars 2 is officially released today, but many have already started their adventures using their headstart access they received for pre-purchasing/ordering the game. Fortunately, I managed to thieve myself a pre-purchase code, so I’ve spent most of this weekend in the world of Tyria.
In GW2, there are 5 playable races and 8 professions to choose from, with thief being one of my top choices. For those who are familiar with World of Warcraft, it already feels refreshing, as there are no obvious choices for which race might suit which profession. While each race does have their own racial abilities, these have longer cooldowns and do not influence your character much, other than how you want to play.
This is very much personal preference. The Charr race have access to the aptly-named Charzooka, which switches out your action bar for a rocket launcher. Whereas, the plant-people Sylvari can transform, immobilising themselves and sprouting turrets.
I eventually chose human, because I thought it would be fitting for my thief, and I didn’t know much about the game at this point. Although, one of the great things about GW2 is that no race is particularly suited to any profession.
Since my adventure started, I have done a lot of things. Most of my time has been spent exploring the world and doing dynamic events, including helping out the locals, which usually involves killing or interacting with something for several minutes. These are much more interesting than generic quests, as there are lots of people doing it at once, although this might not be the case in a couple months.
That’s not to say that it isn’t, on occasion, repetitive. The dynamic events repeat regularly when you stay in the same area, and even though they are a great source of experience and loot, you may want to find other ways to level.
My adventure started with me trying to help locals, which meant killing monsters, fetching rabbits, etc. Meanwhile, my character was going through some personal turmoil from his personal storyline because, despite my wanting to be a carefree thief, he seems to care about everything.
Guild Wars 2 doesn’t always explain itself. Which, while this is often a good thing, can be irritating when you make (somewhat) important choices for your character.
More than anything else, I have done lots of dynamic events. These are amazingly fun when everyone in the local area come to one place to help a caravan travel the land, or defeat an army of centaurs attacking the farm.
In Queensdale, which is the starting place for humans, the biggest of these events is a quest chain called Secrets in the Swamp, which ends in a big battle with the Shadow Behemoth:
This was the biggest battle I have seen in any game (using real players). By the end, there was maybe thirty people to share the loot. This ran pretty well on my computer, which is pretty high-end, but this is obviously a problem for those running the game on a lower spec (see chat in above screenshot: “noob … i got 4″).
(There’s more screenshots at the bottom, including one which will show more of the gameplay of this boss and how many people were there for this one event)
The graphics in GW2 are excellent, the game is a joy to look at. The particle effects are stunningly overpowered, which can be a nuisance in some cases/ for some people. But this is something that RPGs should get right more often: magic is powerful, and you should see the magnitude of fire erupt from your persona.
So far, the thief is my favourite class in Guild Wars 2 (I played others, though not all, during beta weekends), because it is really different from thief/rogue/assassin classes from other games.
The stealth mechanic, for example, isn’t a case of activating stealth and patiently sneaking up to the target. Instead, you have multiple skills that activate stealth, and they only last for a few seconds. Of course, a thief can sneak up behind an enemy and backstab for massive damage, but it requires haste and accuracy, more than preparation.
This is what the combat in GW2 is all about; skill and concentration, as well as experimentation. Your skill set is very much what sounds good at the time, at least it is until you reach a higher level, and what weapon load-outs you enjoy playing.
Player Vs. Player – on a BIG scale
Another thing that makes the thief unique, especially compared to other classes within GW2, is the ‘steal’ ability. When you use steal, you shadow-step (teleport) to the target and pickpocket an item which is generated based on the creature. If you steal from a chicken, you’ll likely get a bunch of feathers (a surprisingly useful item for a thief), or if you steal from a bandit you might get an axe or a rifle.
This skill has incredible scope in PvP, as it makes thieves a little unpredictable.
The item or skill you get from stealing is a one-use ability, and you can save it for later. You can steal the feathers from the chicken (which make you stealth for 3 seconds), then use them in your next encounter. Or the steal can be used as a teleport to jump between enemies instead, it depends entirely on the situation and your own quick-thinking.
The original Guild Wars was a game that was very much focused on PvP combat, and the sequel is hardly different. While the PvE world is really good, the PvP is better.
One of the biggest features of GW2 is World Vs World (WvW), where your server goes up against other servers in massive battles. This is the reason a character name is game-wide, rather than server-wide. At this point, I cannot explain everything about WvW, because there are so many elements to it. The objectives are typical, like hold points, attacking/defending and killing the opposing team, but this is on a great scale.
The mists is the world vs. world battleground, where each team is full of players from one server. Depending on your server, your WvW games will be against two other servers in a 3v3 free-for-all, and the progress can be recorded via a points tally in the interface. Mike Ferguson, systems designer at ArenaNet, wrote a blog post about the subject:
“Including three forces [servers] in world vs. world acts as an excellent balancing factor, preventing one team from growing too powerful and ruining the competitive balance of the game. Two teams can gang up to counter a more dominant third team, a dynamic that simply isn’t possible with only two opposing factions.”
When on the battlefield, you can buy a blueprint from an NPC which changes your action bar. You can then use a skill on the ground to start construction of a siege-weapon, such as a trebuchet or catapult, which everyone can contribute to by finding supplies and building the thing. These can then be used to tear down walls of strongholds that your team needs to take control of, which means the defenders need to be strong.
It is a daunting experience to enter your first WvW. The map is huge, everyone is fighting, many areas are under contention and, chances are, you are probably a lowbie who just wanted a slice of the action. Unlike regular PvP where you are boosted to level 80 with skills and items, you are only boosted to level 80 and keep your current load out. While this might sound unfair, it actually works pretty well, with so many people caught up in it all.
So far, Guild Wars 2 is proving a really enjoyable experience, thanks to the amazing graphics and, most of all, the gameplay. Many people, as they always do, will complain that parts of the game are repetitive (or even grind-ey) but the focus is on the gameplay. The combat is action-packed and requires your concentration and the world feels alive and vibrant, making your character really fit into his or her surroundings.
If you are looking for something to replace World of Warcraft, then Guild Wars 2 is probably the best option around at the moment. If you just want a change of pace or something a little different, then this is perfect, as the lack of monthly payments mean you can pick it up as a casual player and feel no further obligation. However, it is still an MMO, so it will require some time investment to see and do everything Guild Wars 2 has to offer.