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Guild Wars 2: Casting Aside Convention

Based on a weekend of beta testing, it's clear ArenaNet is building an incredible game. Beautiful, imaginative landscapes stretch in all directions, free of the off-putting copy / paste feel of some virtual worlds. Run through the starting city of the cat-like Charr and you'll see dark towers twisting in front of a colossal globe covered in crude metallic stitching, a scene with many large, moving parts brought to life with such artistry that walking through is like exploring a painting. It's difficult to prevent such a fantastically realized fantasy setting from grabbing hold of the deepest fabric of imagination, and that's only one of Guild Wars 2's strengths.<br/><br/>Outside of the player versus player modes, the style of play encourages social behavior for all the right reasons. There's no cause to send hostile tells at another who stole your kill; tag a monster and you gain experience and can access dropped loot. There's no sense of questing in a bubble of isolation while following quest lines, much as some may walk down a crowded city street with headphones blasting music and avoiding the gaze of all. The event system ensures anyone can participate and, more importantly, profit.<br/><br/> <object id="vid_b24fdbb60ee43adb1424da77ebf87d3f" class="ign-videoplayer" width="467" height="263" data="http://media.ign.com/ev/prod/embed.swf" type="application/x-shockwave-flash"><param name="movie" value="http://media.ign.com/ev/prod/embed.swf"/><param name="" value="true"/><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"/><param name="bgcolor" value="#000000"/><param name="flashvars" value="url=http://www.ign.com/videos/2012/02/20/guild-wars-2-playing-the-mesmer"/><param name="wmode" value="opaque"/></object> <div style="width:467px"><b><center>Playing as a Mesmer.</b></center></div><br/><br/>The idea of events isn't new. It's a public questing structure, utilized in games like Warhammer Online and Rift. ArenaNet's handling of the idea is excellent, resulting in a system with hardly any barriers for participation. When an event triggers in an area &#x2013; let's say a giant pig shows up in the forest &#x2013; everyone nearby gets a notice. You can walk over to the pig and start hitting it, or stay away. Your choice, but everyone that participates gets experience, money and more, so why not hit the pig? The more you contribute, the better your reward. There is no downside. In fact, you're worse off if you decide to pass on the pig-slaying opportunity, because you just missed a big chunk of experience.<br/><br/>Unlike the original Guild Wars, PvE progression in the sequel is more about leveling. With 80 levels total, don't expect to rip through to the cap within a few days. Killing individual monsters yields hardly any experience, while questing delivers experience in colossal heaps. In other words, grinding in Guild Wars 2 is kind of pointless. Sure, you can do it, but as the saying goes, you're doing it wrong. So go kill that forest pig, go destroy those miners protecting that giant drill, go clobber that ultrapowerful shaman channeling the devastating energy of a whirling ice elemental. Do it alongside others not only because it's fun, but because it's the most effective way to advance.<br/><br/>Events are far from simple. Even the starting zone for the large, gruff Norn race has a complex, multi-stage event progression. Travel to the level 10 &#x2013; 15 zone and you'll find something truly impressive. An NPC begins to walk down from a small hut and across a frozen lake. He needs to be protected, your quest log exclaims. You run over and find a few others already there, hacking away at enemies. No need to spam chat for group invites, no need to share a quest, no need to sprint to a target and make sure you land the first hit &#x2013; just walk over and start hitting things with swords, maces and magic. Congrats, you're part of the solution.<br/><br/> <object id="vid_847c229117ab3e0207a623c870fb2a95" class="ign-videoplayer" width="467" height="263" data="http://media.ign.com/ev/prod/embed.swf" type="application/x-shockwave-flash"><param name="movie" value="http://media.ign.com/ev/prod/embed.swf"/><param name="" value="true"/><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"/><param name="bgcolor" value="#000000"/><param name="flashvars" value="url=http://www.ign.com/videos/2012/02/20/character-creation-in-guild-wars-2"/><param name="wmode" value="opaque"/></object> <div style="width:467px"><b><center>Creating a Character in Guild Wars 2</b></center></div><br/><br/>Eventually the NPC makes his way across the frozen lake. A statue displeases him, and the growing group of players is informed via updated quest text that they should blow it up. While you're casting magic at the object, monsters assault from all sides, and you have to split focus between the statue and the aggressors. Is everyone ok? No? The Mesmer fighting alongside three mirror images of himself died. Any class can revive, so it's no trouble at all to walk over and loop him back into the fight.<br/><br/>The statue crumbles, which winds up angering a shaman. He wanders in from a nearby mountain and screams at everyone. He stands astride the statue's ruins and summons a vortex of rock and ice and everything goes crazy. Disc-like portals open along one side of the lake, spawning ice demons. Especially powerful creatures stalk another side of the lake, and guardians spring up around the shaman. The quest log abruptly expands, suddenly offering multiple objectives. The assembled players scramble and, almost instinctively, work together to take down one challenge at a time, gradually clearing the lake of hostiles. The whole while the shaman is invulnerable, channeling his ice tornado, teasing his eventual display of power.<br/><br/>Ten minutes ago the lake was a tranquil sheet of ice populated by docile bird-like creatures. Now it's a battleground covered by a leaping Warriors and the area-of-effect devastation of Elementalists and the exploding arrows of Thieves with Short Bows equipped. More players are drawn to the area as the conflict progresses, and there is no restriction preventing them from joining and profiting from the event chain, no reason to apologetically type out "Wait for next one, lol?" You shut down the last portal and the quest advances again.<br/><br/>The shaman does not hold back. He calls upon the power of a wintry elemental that surges into existence in midair, a collection of jagged ice spikes. Though they certainly look menacing, these spikes aren't just for show. They slam down into the ground, affecting wide patches of ground. Impact zones are highlighted with circles, and every player now needs to juggle the importance of hitting the shaman with attacks to cut away at his health bar and rolling out of the way. Every class can roll &#x2013; forward, back, and to the sides &#x2013; though such movement is limited by a regenerating resource. You can't spam rolls, so your decision to roll must be a good one or you're left flat-footed.<br/><br/>The resulting experience feels very much like the style of dungeon encounter you could only find in instanced content, a boss encounter that might take two hours to get to. Yet here it emerges at regular intervals, provides a challenge and worthwhile rewards, and invites all in the area to test their skill against it. Skill is required, because that shaman has a lot of health and those airborne icicles hit the ground fast and kill you almost as quickly. Once the shaman finally keels over, the elemental detonates and the sky clears, and everyone tries to remember what they were doing before joining in on a massive, impromptu battle.<br/><br/><pagebreak>The answer is probably questing, but not in the traditional sense like World of Warcraft or The Old Republic. You don't walk to an NPC cluster and snag a bunch of tasks. There are very few quests to actually accept. Most just automatically begin when you enter near certain NPCs standing around zones. The quests contain several objectives &#x2013; kill ghosts, unearth explosives, water plants, toss snowballs at kids &#x2013; and every time you do something listed, your favor with the nearby NPC grows. Eventually you fill the favor meter and get a chunk of experience and money and access to special bonuses. Then you move on to the next NPC and repeat.<br/><br/>During this time it's very possible event quests will pop up to distract you, or maybe you'll decide to take part in a collection quest. Collection quests are generally pretty dull, but at least the responsibility of collection in Guild Wars 2's case isn't entirely yours. Anyone in the area can go reclaim cannonballs from the cave filled with annoying little creatures and turn them in at the NPC. Your contributions are tracked, and you're rewarded accordingly. It's still not especially fun to cart items from one area to another, but at least you can do so with the help of others without having to fiddle with quest logs or invite to groups &#x2013; you work together automatically, effortlessly.<br/><br/> <object id="vid_c74a49fef8738a0617436c8b845f8318" class="ign-videoplayer" width="467" height="263" data="http://media.ign.com/ev/prod/embed.swf" type="application/x-shockwave-flash"><param name="movie" value="http://media.ign.com/ev/prod/embed.swf"/><param name="" value="true"/><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"/><param name="bgcolor" value="#000000"/><param name="flashvars" value="url=http://www.ign.com/videos/2012/02/20/guild-wars-2-conquest-mode-pvp"/><param name="wmode" value="opaque"/></object> <div style="width:467px"><b><center>Guild Wars 2 Conquest Mode PvP</b></center></div><br/><br/>It's the same concept with the design of classes, called professions in Guild Wars. There is no dedicated healing class. Instead, every profession gets a heal right from level one. It's not an overpowering heal, but it certainly helps survivability. More healing abilities are unlockable for every class as you level and gain skill points, allowing you to further customize how you stay alive. But since this is Guild Wars, the number of skills you're able to set to active is limited. You won't find a screen that looks like somebody spilled different colors of paint all over a keyboard before smashing it into the user interface.<br/><br/>Instead, you have a limited number of skill slots. On the left half of the skill bar, five slots are dedicated to weapon-based skills. Five more on the right are dedicated to a huge range of unlockable skills you can purchase as you level. Dedicated healing abilities can be assigned only to one slot on the right, so you have to choose one and only one at a time. Other unlocked skills can be fitted into the rest of the right side skill bar, but the skills eligible for slots are rigidly defined &#x2013; you can't, for example, wipe a healing skill off the bar entirely to make room for something else.<br/><br/>The skills on the left side of the bar depend on the type of weapon equipped. The Mesmer profession, for instance, can use a variety of one-handed, off-hand and two-handed weapons. Two-handers have five associated skills, one-handers have three, and off-hand items two. This way, one-handed and off-hand items can be equipped in different combinations to change the skill bar.<br/><br/>Mesmers fight effectively by conjuring clones of themselves. With a one-handed scepter, the Mesmer's auto-attack will cast out two damaging magic charge, while the third swing will summon a clone. Up to three clones can be summoned, so within a few seconds four Mesmers are firing at the target instead of one. The clones all have low health so they can't survive many attacks, but they're crucial to a Mesmer's survivability and damage output. The scepter's second attached skill readies a counter that spawns another close if the Mesmer takes a hit, and the third skill fires out a magical beam at a single target that deals high damage and inflicts blindness.<br/><br/> <object id="vid_74d6cc3dae312a7f0adb3fa579d4fff8" class="ign-videoplayer" width="467" height="263" data="http://media.ign.com/ev/prod/embed.swf" type="application/x-shockwave-flash"><param name="movie" value="http://media.ign.com/ev/prod/embed.swf"/><param name="" value="true"/><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"/><param name="bgcolor" value="#000000"/><param name="flashvars" value="url=http://www.ign.com/videos/2012/02/20/guild-wars-2-world-vs-world-pvp"/><param name="wmode" value="opaque"/></object> <div style="width:467px"><b><center>Guild Wars 2 World vs. World PvP</b></center></div><br/><br/>With a pistol equipped in the Mesmer's off-hand another gun-toting clone can be conjured to blast away at a target or a Trick Shot can be fired to blind, stun and daze enemies. Swap out the pistol for a focus, the gun-based skills are replaced by two others. Mesmers with a focus can lay down a line of magic on the ground that gives bonuses to friendlies that cross and harmful debuffs to enemies, and can summon a clone to protect from incoming projectiles. If those skills don't feel particularly useful, the two-handed staff locks in a new set. The staff's auto-attack riddles targets with debuffs, something another Mesmer staff skill takes advantage of by summoning a clone that deals more damage against targets suffering from more debuffs.<br/><br/>It's a wonderfully flexible system, giving a certain tidal quality to the Mesmer's combat style. Initially the focus is on building an army of clones, applying debuffs and staying out of harm's way. In addition to the weapon and slot skills, there are also four ways to direct summoned clones. Should they simply stand around dealing ranged damage? Or should they be sent in on a suicide mission to detonate against the target? If you choose the latter option, the ensuing explosions after the clones obediently sprint to the target and destroy themselves, create direct damage, confusion, damage reflection and stun effects, depending on your input. Then you summon another clone army and repeat the process again.<br/><br/>That's only a tiny slice of what the Mesmer is capable of, but the way the skills interlock and augment one another is extremely impressive, and the number of potential skill combinations is a little overwhelming. If you're new to MMOs entirely, the intricacies of Guild Wars 2's skill system and options for customization might be complex to an off-putting degree, but it's a little too early to assess the importance of such a hurdle considering how many aspects ArenaNet appears to have developed so well.<br/><br/>There's so much to Guild Wars 2 &#x2013; from huge-scale world versus world capture point contests that provide global bonuses to all on a server, even those not participating, to smaller PvP arenas to stylish main storyline quests complete with character interaction and voiced dialogue to structured dungeon encounters &#x2013; that it's difficult to be anything but giddy about the game's potential. Guild Wars 2 doesn't have a release date yet, but should be available some time in 2012, and could very easily wind up being one of the best games of the year. <br><br/><br/>&#169;2012-02-20, IGN Entertainment, Inc. All Rights Reserved
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