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Guild Wars 2 servers go live: and so it begins

Does the massively multiplayer bit of MMOs leave you cold? Are you put off by traditions and rules that everyone but you seems to know? Me too; let’s play Guild Wars 2 instead.

Chances are that if you’ve been eagerly anticipating the launch of Guild Wars 2 for any length of time at all, then you’re already playing it. Perhaps you’ve surfaced from the world of Tyria to grab provisions, stop by VG247 for a news fix and will be heading back in very shortly. The Guild Wars 2 early access programme is in full swing while the wider launch takes place on Tuesday but, again, if you know your Guild Wars then you already know that. If this sounds like you then I can confidently say that the next several hundred words are not for you, though you are of course welcome to stick around.

No, these words are instead for those that know little of Tyria, or even of MMOs in general, but that have had their interest piqued by the notion of a massively-multiplayer online role-playing game that does not ask the commitment of a monthly subscription. Those whose eyes have been drawn away from the 50 shades of beige presented by humdrum titles to linger over Guild Wars 2’s sumptuous art style. In short, it’s for those who, like me, have never truly been convinced of the allure of party questing and the “holy trinity” of MMO character classes but find themselves curious about what Guild Wars 2 can do for them.

“Guild Wars 2 is going to offer RPG players a great RPG,” offers NCSoft’s European product brand manager, Stephen Hutchins. “They’re going to have a really deep story that really gives them the feeling of being the hero in a world where they matter. They’re going to be faced with choices right from the get-go where they’re going to be picking their background story and what kind of personality their character has; not just race and appearance, but real deep and meaningful questions.”

In Guild Wars 2, character creation is a meta-game. It’s easy and even advisable to create and recreate multiple characters from the five playable races and eight character classes. It’s enjoyable and recommended to pore over the multitude of options for each combination: choosing key personality traits, background details and guiding principles for your characters and then watching the gorgeous origin story for each before deciding in which to invest the lion’s share of your time. With multiple character slots per account, it’s also entirely plausible to have multiple concurrent characters on the go at once, though the time investment that such an undertaking would require might mean waving goodbye to school, work and loved ones.

The key is that for anyone who’s ever played around with sliders to get their Elder Scrolls avatar looking just right, agonised over the kind of upbringing their Dragon Age character had or perused the professions available to Commander Shepard, this will feel comfortable and familiar. If you want to, you can genuinely spend hours perfecting the appearance, background and personality of your character. Alternatively, you can simply skip through the character creation process with a few button clicks and jump straight into the action.

Come out to play

The action in Guild Wars 2 takes place all around you. Disregard the notion of waiting around in a town until you’ve mustered a group sufficiently well balanced to go trigger the quest to save a village from marauding centaurs; for centaurs who are jonesing for some marauding do not work to your schedule. Instead, they try to overrun the village whether you’re there to see it or not via one of the game’s many dynamic events. If you’re there, you can choose to assist the villagers by repelling the centaurs or just leave them to their own devices. Perhaps the village is destroyed and must later be rebuilt; perhaps you chase the centaurs back to their camp and rout them. If other players are in the area, they might come and join in and by doing so, not steal your thunder but instead bring greater scope to the action, on the fly.

“What’s going to encourage you to play with other players in something like a dynamic event is knowing that the event is going to get that much more epic,” explains Hutchins. “So, the second you start seeing other players in the area you know that it’s not going to take away from your fun because you’re not going to have to queue up to kill bad guys, everything is just going to get bigger and more intense.”

Groups can be formed dynamically, too. Irrespective of the result of the centaur invasion, you might decide to invite one of the players you fought alongside into a group via the in-game mail system and buddy-up to go questing for a while. Thanks to the straightforward manner in which you can interact with other players and the fact that no one is forced to play a specific role within a group, questing with a gaggle of others during the Guild Wars 2 beta testing weekends has felt painless and this should translate perfectly to the full game experience.

The group dynamic extends beyond its initial formation and to interaction with team members too: perhaps an elementalist creates a wall of fire for protection and a ranger ensconced behind it has her arrows set alight as they pass through it, causing additional burn damage to their target. With skills based not just on profession and racial abilities but also on weapons and the amount that they’re used, levelling takes place via multiple routes and is both intuitive and easy to understand. Guild Wars 2 is very much an MMO, but the barriers of entry that you might traditionally associate with the genre have been removed and the first thing you’re going to see is a deep and engaging RPG.

Of course, this is just scratching the surface. Later comes the ability to organise yourself into wider guilds; to make detailed plans by annotating your group’s world map; to engage in small, instanced conquest battles in which everyone is set to the same level to ensure parity as they fight to take control of a fortress or use trebuchets to wrest control of capture points. There’s the option to take the fight to other servers with huge World Vs World, two-week long battles or to plunder dungeons outside of story mode, in the more hardcore exploration mode in which new areas and goals are revealed.

All of this awaits further down the line, ready for you once you’re comfortable with delving deeper into the depths of this MMORPG. But for now, Guild Wars 2 is about you and your story: a journey of a thousand quests begins with the creation of a single character. Or several.

Guild Wars 2 launches on Tuesday for PC. Go get.

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