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Guild Wars 2 is out today, more than seven years since the first game was released. Back in 2005, I was dead set against paying a monthly fee for a game, especially one I had to buy first. So, while the world flocked to World of Warcraft, I played on silly private Ragnarok Online servers. Guild Wars was my first taste of a real MMORPG, a first hit that is now a full-blown addiction. Since then, I’ve played World of Warcraft and its expansions, City of Villains, The Lord of The Rings Online, Champions Online, Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning, Star Trek Online, Star Wars: The Old Republic, DC Universe Online and probably others that I’m not remembering right now. Guild Wars 2 has made a better first impression than any of them.

Like all MMOs, Guild Wars 2 begins with character creation. Humans, the only playable race in the first game, are now just one of five choices. Now you can also choose to be a charr, a sort of cat/cow beast person. Or a norn, a race of Nordic Hulks. Or an asura, a species of tiny, gremlin-esque geniuses. Perhaps the most unique is the sylvari, who are plant people that are as close as the game gets to elves. No matter your choice, you’ll be given plenty of appearance customization options, as well as some details for your character’s story background. And, no matter your race, all of the game’s eight classes are available to you.

Guild Wars gave players the ability to learn a secondary class to supplement their abilities. My warrior, Lance Slamburger, for example, learned to be an elementalist and supplemented his weapon-based combat with magical spells. Guild Wars 2 does away with secondary classes, but also essentially throws out the idea of class roles. Everyone can do everything, at least that’s the idea, and your class dictates how they do it. My ranger, who in other MMOs would be relegated purely the fighting from a distance with ranged weapons, can strap on a greatsword and fly (literally, with the help of spirits) into the melee. Of course I can stick to ranged combat if I want, but that’s just one way to play. I can summon a bunch of spirits to buff and heal the party, too. There’s no wrong class choice, no matter what you like, you’ll find something fun in every one.

With your character made, you’ll enter the world and probably become quickly overwhelmed. Guild Wars 2 does a lot of things different, and you have to pay attention to figure things out. In most MMOs, you have to collect a bunch a quests and go do them to level up. In this game, the only quest you’ll have is your personal storyline. Everything else is just happening in the world. If you wander into a town that’s under attack, a quest to help them will start. These are happening everywhere, and you get rewarded for pretty much everything. Even if you don’t fight, you’ll get XP for finding locations and especially for climbing up to vistas, Guild Wars 2‘s version of Assassin’s Creed‘s synchronization points. While most of what you’re actually asked to do is the same as other MMOs, being able to go anywhere and do whatever you want – and that being not just viable, but the best way to play – makes questing significantly more engaging.

Gaining experience is different too. For one, let’s talk about combat. You can only have 10 skills equipped at a time, just like how the first Guild Wars only let you have eight. But now, skills are segregated into specific slots. The first five skills come from your weapon. When you equip a weapon type for the first time, you’ll only have one skill, a basic auto-attack. As you use the weapon more, you’ll gain experience with that type, until you’ve unlocked all it’s skills. It sounds like a pain, but it’s actually really cool to try out each weapon and see what your class can do with it. A dagger in the hands of a thief gives them the ability to stab and teleport, in the hands of an elementalist its can throw waves of a fire or lightning bolts.

The other five skills are broken into three groups. First is your healing skill. Everyone can heal, and has to have one heal equipped. Like I said, everyone does everything. Next are utility skills. These are three slots that can be used to supplement weapon skills, adding additional buffs, stuns or even attacks. There are a ton of utility skills, and you unlock them with skill points, which you get from leveling up and completing special skill challenges in the world. The final slot is for the elite skill, an epic ability on a longer cooldown that lets you do something awesome. There are some race-based elite skills that are more goofy than useful, like the charr’s ability to summon a charrzooka, a rocket bazooka. The game basically forces everyone to have a solid set of skills, but not overwhelm you, like many other games do when you start getting hight level. I think this is a great system.

The game’s talent trees are also friendly to experimentation. They don’t really branch, you just dump points into categories that give you stat buffs. When you’ve put five points in, you get a pre-chosen talent, when you put 10 in, you get to chose one from a set – a choice you are free to change whenever you want. It’s worth noting that all stats are useful to everyone, so any path, and any gear you pick up, is theoretically viable. You probably can fuck things up pretty badly, I’m just not sure how yet.

Crafting is another way to level, although I’m not sure I completely understand it yet. You get experience for crafting components and basic recipes, but the best way to level a crafting profession is the discovery mechanic, in which you combine components to discover a new recipe. For example, if I combine a chestguard panel, chestguard padding and and insignia – three basic components made from materials I’ve gathered – I’ll have made a special coat. This gives way more XP than just making stuff from the recipes I already know. I’m not sure if leveling crafting is worth it or not yet, but if you’re interested, make sure to buy salvage kits and salvage materials from anything you can instead of selling it.

There’s so much that Guild Wars 2 does right that the little things stand out. For example, I can send all the crafting materials in my inventory to the bank whenever I want, wherever I want, which is great. I can access my bank from the same window as crafting, which is great. But I have to move materials back into my inventory to actually craft with them, I can’t just leave them in the bank. Seems like a weird hassle. Also, you’re free to dye your character’s gear whenever you want, and when you find a new color of dye, it’s unlocked permanently, all of which is good. What’s weird is that the dye is not unlocked for all of your characters, just the one you dyed with. That seems like a sinister move to get money out of a people who are willing to use the micro-transaction store.

Yes, Guild Wars 2 has an in-game, real-money store. It also does not have a monthly fee, just like the first. The store doesn’t seem like a big deal so far, just a lot of convenience items and some fun customization stuff. You can buy a one hour XP boost or a pair of aviator glasses for your character, but noting balance-breaking. The most sinister thing they sell is keys to open rare drop chests, but those keys also drop in the world, just way less frequently than the chests do. I think it’s fine. Probably the most amusing is the cow finisher, which drops a cow on defeated enemies in PVP.

That’s another thing, Guild Wars 2 is a serious game for PVP fans, and I haven’t touched that stuff yet. Beyond all the regular PVP stuff, there’s also World v. World v. World, a three-way battle for control of a massive area fought between representatives from three different servers. It’s a crazy, lengthy siege that results in boons for the entire server. Awesome.

My ranger is in his 20s now and I’ve still got a lot of the game to learn about. The biggest question is if the endgame can hold people’s interest, because we don’t really know that much about it right now. But I’ve still got a long way to go to level 80, and even if the endgame sucks, there’s no monthly fee to feel bad about anyway. I have never been so completely enthralled by an MMO, even when I first got into World of Warcraft or started on The Old Republic, nothing got me like this. I think the bar for the entire genre has been raised, good luck Elder Scrolls Online.


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