Guild Wars 2 is on the way (when it's ready), and classic Guild Wars players probably understand that soon they'll be competing with a younger sibling -- a smarter, more attractive one who's sure to get more of mom's attention. And while we're sure that some of the more stalwart Guild Wars 2 fans are also Guild Wars players, not all veterans of the first edition are dedicated to licking up every drop of sequel info squeezed out of blogs, conventions, and betas. Those veterans might just be wondering, what exactly can Guild Wars 2 offer them, other than Hall of Monuments tie-ins? What's changed? What's the same? What will they love, what will they hate, and what could possibly make them jump ship to the new hotness?
The first and most important thing you must know is that yes, you can jump in Guild Wars 2! Seriously, though, jumping is more than just a thing you do with your spacebar when you're bored; it's a symbol of boundlessness. Guild Wars 2 itself is trying to jump a lot higher than its elder brother, and probably the essential difference between the games is that feeling that the walls have come down and gravity is letting loose. That alone should urge classic players to take a peek, but if that's not enough for you, fire up your Jeremy Soule soundtracks (yes, he's onboard for an encore!) and read on...
Guild Wars 2 is set in the land of Tyria, the central territory of Prophecies and Eye of the North (sorry, Cantha and Elona fans; those nations are cut off from the action this round). But we won't be playing in the Tyria of Gwen, Rurik, and our old friend the Undead Lich; this Tyria is 250 years older, it's a bit more technologically advanced (expect pistols and turrets!), and it's being confronted with all new dangers, like an island-sinking tidal wave and a coterie of evil dragons that would like to, you know, destroy everything. Players will rebuild Destiny's Edge, a multipartisan guild of warriors, to make sure that doesn't happen.
Of course, you'll still spy a few familiar names, groups, and places here and there, which suggests that some old bloodlines and philosophies are stronger than ever.
The first thing Guild Wars veterans will notice during character generation is that they're not stuck as Humans, who in this time period represent a declining civilization. In fact, Guild Wars 2 will allow you to play one of four other races, in addition to the Humans: the Asura, the Charr, and the Norn, whom you'll remember from GW campaigns, and the Sylvari, a botanical race. You'll also choose from eight classes. The Mesmer, the Ranger, the Necromancer, the Elementalist, and the Warrior return, complemented by newcomers the Guardian, the Engineer, and the Thief. Note that there's no pure support class as all classes are capable of some level of party support. In addition to picking your hair, skin, face, and height, you'll choose body type, opt for extras like tattoos and horns, and flip through a glittering array of facial sliders, from eye color and angle to nose length and mouth poutiness, all new to the sequel. There's no doubt that GW2 offers more character customization than its predecessor!
Also new to the sequel is a selection of background traits that define your character and play into the game's personal storyline mechanic, which functions a bit like GW's core questlines, though it's much more customized to each player.
Don't panic at the new level cap: It's 80 in Guild Wars 2, not 20, but you'll take the same amount of time to cover your first five levels as your last five. Levels aren't meant to slow you down, only to direct your attention and gate your gear and skill bars. In fact, your character progression centers more on your acquisition of skills, for your own class specifically, since there are no secondary classes as in GW. Instead of swapping in builds of eight skills with attributes, each player will equip 10 skills at a time, adjustable at class trainers: five class skills that are learned (rather quickly) for each equipped weapon, one healing skill from a pool of support skills, three utility/class skills selected from your pool of unlocks, and one elite class skill from your elite pool at level 30. There's no capture mechanic, and you won't be grinding experience and plat to buy new skills; these class skills are unlocked using skill points, which reward your accomplishments (such as ridding a cave of a bandit leader). Skill point acquisition locations are even marked right on your map.
GW's attribute system has been expanded in GW2 to more closely resemble stat mechanisms in other MMOs, complete with a talent-like system of Traits. Ultimately, GW2's character development is far more complex and customizable than its predecessor's, and the resulting combat is faster-paced, more action-oriented, and positional, though a similar build metagame is ever-present.
When a Guild Wars 1 player dies, he's resurrected or sent to the nearest shrine, full-stop. But in GW2, players have a chance to fight to return from a "downed" state using special skills. Other players can revive you (and NPCs, as well). If you are defeated in a downed state, you're allowed to resurrect at a nearby waypoint, which is sort of a blend of a resurrection shrine and the map hubs that permit GW1-esque instant map-travel all over the world... for a small fee. Defeat has a chance to break a piece of your armor, something that might shock old-timers, but I promise you: It's much preferable to repair your gear at an NPC than suffer with massive DP (death penalty) a la Guild Wars 1!
In Guild Wars tradition, you'll pick dye colors for your GW2 character's starting gear, except that most pieces have multiple dyeable parts instead of just one. Also making a return is cosmetic gear, although those outfits are called "town clothes" rather than costumes. I suspect fans will be stoked to see what appear to be several direct ports of popular GW1 faces and hair styles, and the aesthetic of the ever-so-faintly anime characters and hip-but-antique-and-almost-steampunk outfits just screams classic Guild Wars. These armors and weapons are crafted, dropped, and purchased; they have hard levels as opposed to GW's soft levels; they're upgrade-able using old-school runes in addition to brand-new sigils and jewels; and they can be transmuted such that they take on different appearances.
Where will you keep all your hard-won trinkets? In account-wide storage, of course, although GW2's take on the Xunlai vault is divided between a classic bank and a section for collectibles like minipets. (Yes, minis are back!)
Guild Wars is famous for its instanced missions, explorables, and dungeons, all flanking social hubs. Its sequel opens up the world, making nostalgic swirly zone portals few and far between and creating a persistent world flecked with dynamic and impromptu random events that serve as the common content for adventurers. But don't worry; there are still instanced dungeons both as part of your personal story and for pure group challenge, and Hall of Monuments junkies will be thrilled at the staggering number of achievements that the game tracks right from launch, many of which grant additional experience and rewards in addition to titles.
Quests of the "renown heart" sort are triggered as you enter areas and usually involve multiple optional objectives rather than killing 10 rats. I have yet to make any tedious treks back to an NPC for a turn-in; it all happens within the interface, wherever I am. More important quests involve cutscenes, and while they won't be winning any Oscars, they're still a cut above the stiff and awkward police lineups common to Guild Wars' original campaigns.
Though you can solo and cooperate with other players to take on dynamic content without joining a party, you'll be looking at smaller parties if you do group up -- five to a team instead of Guild Wars' eight. You might also have been sad to learn that heroes and henchies will not be making a comeback, but ArenaNet has replaced those systems with something far better: sidekicking, which will look familiar if you were ever boosted to level 20 during Eye of the North. In Guild Wars 2, your effective level will scale up or down depending on the level of your groupmates and/or the content you are tackling. Such sidekicking systems in other games ensure that skipped "lowbie" content is always worth playing and that slow-levelers can always tag along with their highbie mates.
I cheered to see Guild Wars 2's beta interface. Many classic elements are back and sport a sleeker (and less retro-plastic) look. There's a simplistic chat, only slightly more customizable than GW1's; a minimap that merges the overhead map and breadcrumb map (on which you can still draw); a contact list; an expanded skillbar and Diablo-like health orb; overhead combat text; a fantastic inventory of the sort you'd see in World of Warcraft only with extensive custom mods; and a brand-new mail system. It's all very standard and expected in MMOs nowadays, but old-hands at GW won't be put off (although I couldn't find a click-to-move option). Perhaps the most impressive UI element is the all-new map. Gone is the relatively static and uninformative Guild Wars map; in its place is a dynamic cartographic triumph that displays everything from waypoints to nearby random events to skill point acquisition spots. Some quest-givers will even superimpose themselves and their quest information over the map in real time so that you're shown quest destinations during the conversation rather than merely being told about them. The series has come a long way from asking you to click "accept" in a text box.
Long-time Guild Wars players, sick of Spamadan and auction forums, have never stopped begging for an auction hall. Wish granted! While I can't talk about my own experience with GW2's auction hall (that information is still under embargo), the official wiki describes it as a global trading system that allows you to "sell and buy items without the need to find a buyer or seller first." And unlike its precursor, GW2 features full-blown crafting skills, which you can swap between for a fee. Players, not greedy crafter NPCs, will be piecing together their wearables, weapons, and consumables from materials purchased, looted, or gathered in the world, like wood chopped from trees (which is awesome, by the way). Salvaging makes a return as well for you more destructive types.
Both games are pay-to-play in that there's a box cost with no subscription fee, but the devs still have to make a living, and that's where gems come in. Guild Wars' microtransactions were limited to luxuries like extra storage, costumes, and skill unlocks for people who wanted to skip over PvE and jump straight to PvP. I'm not allowed to discuss what I saw of the beta version of Guild Wars 2's cash shop just yet, but through ArenaNet's blog offerings, we know that the company's philosophy carries through: The team supports convenience and cosmetic items, not "pay-to-win," and we'll see a cash-to-gems exchange through which players can trade their cash-shop currency for in-game gold and vice versa.
Guilds have always been an important part of the Guild Wars series, but GW2 seeks to improve upon its older system by making guilds more than just guild tags, capes, and a mechanism for grinding faction. The upcoming game will present a thoroughly modern guild system, with simple and free guild creation, a slick management panel, guild achievements in the EverQuest II/World of Warcraft style, and multi-guild membership. And don't worry, multinational guilds: Just as in GW1, you can all choose a home server and travel between the others, though GW2 will charge a fee.
You're expecting PvP in a game called Guild Wars 2, right? Seasoned gamers will probably agree that GW's PvP has grown overly complicated. Arenas? GvG? Codex? HA? Faction arenas? AB? PvP-only characters? PvE-only skills? PvP-altered skills? Guild Wars 2 is going back to basics in an attempt to coax a new generation of competitors into mortal combat, and it will feature two streamlined modes of PvP. The first, called Structured PvP, will appeal to vets and boast small, team-based battles that flatten levels and skills for all participants and have no impact on PvE, although you can earn cosmetic gear through the system. The second is a new-to-the-franchise PvP system called World vs. World, which pits server communities against each other in colossal but casual, multi-week campaigns that provide bonuses to all players in that world. And though you cannot roll an old-school "PvP character," you'll be sidekicked up to max level upon zoning into all types of PvP, so the skill-not-time gamers will be amply pleased.
Neither Guild Wars title is technically a sandbox, but both share a certain degree of anti-grind, anti-endgame philosophy. For a GW player, reaching level 20 or completing a campaign is just the beginning of a long journey of skill capping, PvP, dungeons, exploration, hard mode, trade, factions, running, and titles, to say nothing of farming for fun and profit and costumery. ArenaNet claims that GW2 is "entirely" endgame; the team wants the emphasis to be on breadth, on repeatable, dynamic content and instant fun, right from level 1... and that's something Guild Wars old-timers will be right at home with. Expect no endgame raiding and associated timesinks and powercreep in GW2!
Ultimately, while there might be some initial culture shock for Guild Wars players used to heavily instanced content, heroes, and farming for ectos, the breadth of the game world and the breathtaking Guild Warsiness of Guild Wars 2 will soften the transition to the new title. But my few thousand words here could never adequately cover every last microdetail about ArenaNet's franchise reboot -- I didn't even have room to mention underwater combat, auto-loot, the smartphone app, and currency! So please, series experts, chime in on what you think are the key differences between the two titles, especially those not covered here. As for me, I'll be putting the finishing touches on my Hall of Monuments, making sure my spacebar is in good working order, and planning my Engineer for launch!
Even a Bookah like you knows that Guild Wars 2 is on the way, but it takes an Asura's intellect, a Human's charm, a Sylvari's wisdom, a Charr's passion, and a Norn's love of strong mead to dive into beta and make sense of a game this complex. Fortunately, we have all five on the Massively staff. Enjoy our previews, guides, and our weekly GW2 column, Flameseeker Chronicles!