Turning over a new leaf in Guild Wars 2's Sylvari starting experience

Screenshot -- Guild Wars 2 -- The Grove
The Sylvari have been my race of choice ever since they were announced as a playable race in Guild Wars 2. It's not often that you see races outside of the generic Orc-Elf-Dwarf-Human spectrum, so the sylvan-esque race really appealed to me as something different. So of course, when time rolled around to stake claims on the impressions piece of the newly introduced Sylvari starting experience during the final beta weekend, you better believe I pounced on it.

So here we are: Guild Wars 2's final beta weekend is over, and it's just a matter of time before launch is upon us. But you'll be happy to know that I spent my entire weekend prancing around Tyria in the leafy soles of a Sylvari's boots. It was a journey full of mystery, surprises (both pleasant and otherwise), and a whole lot of oversized foliage. Follow along past the cut, where I shall make like a tree and get the hell on with it already.

For the purposes of this journey into Sylvaridom, I decided upon a Sylvari Thief. Note that there will be minor spoilers for the opening parts of the green-armored knight questline, but don't worry -- I'll give you fair warning beforehand. The character customization options for the Sylvari are quite extensive, as I've come to expect, and it took me no time at all to whip up an adorable little plant-man.

When you first step into the gameworld as a Sylvari, you find yourself in the Dream, which is a parallel dimension of existence (a "dream") shared by all Sylvari, where the young of the race mature and learn the way of the world before "awakening" in Tyria. But all is not well in the realm of the Dream, as Sylvari hero-thief Caithe quickly informs you, and of course it's up to you (and all the other newbies in the area) to put a stop to the corruption seeping into the Dream courtesy of the despicable Nightmare Court. After squaring off with a colossal tree-dog-beast-thing in the premiere dynamic event, you awaken in Tyria in the Sylvari territory known as Caledon Forest.

And Caledon Forest, my friends, is beautiful. The entire Sylvari area is marked by massive organic structures, such as 50-foot lily blossoms and monumental, cloud-grasping trees. I made my way through this surreally oversized garden assisting the Sylvari in a number of tasks ranging from slaying marauding undead to transforming into a fern hound to play with the pups of the pack and lead stray hounds back to the pen. The renown hearts present a fairly wide variety of objectives ranging beyond the usual kill-10-rats, and the zone's dynamic events are myriad and varied. My personal favorite occurred near the end of the Caledon Forest zone, where a number of "unclean" creatures were rampaging through the swamp. After I put the beasts down, the event progressed to a battle with the true threat of the swamp: a massive jungle wurm that would give Shai-hulud a run for its money. Upon the creepy-crawler's demise, everyone was rewarded with a glowing chest full of fabulous prizes. It was suitably epic and felt very rewarding when the gargantuan wurm finally collapsed to the ground.

I must not fear, fear is the mind-killer.
The zone also makes excellent use of the newly introduced vistas, which are locations in the environment that you can examine in order to be treated to a sweeping panoramic view of the nearby surroundings. When combined with Caledon Forest's lush forests, blooming flowers, and elegant architecture, the result is a number of striking views suitable for framing (or at least setting as your desktop background).

But my favorite part of the entire experience had to be Morgan's Leap, which is a platforming puzzle located at Morgan's Spiral in Caledon Forest. I had a blast leaping from precariously placed branch to even-more-precariously placed floating rocks, and somehow I managed to complete the puzzle on my first attempt (subsequent attempts would prove more challenging, thereby proving that I just have mad beginner's luck), and I was rewarded with a chest of goodies and... another platforming puzzle! The second puzzle is considerably more difficult (thanks to the addition of turrets that fire on you if you stay in one place for too long), but after a few hours of careful jumping (made more bearable by a few others who happened to be attempting the puzzle as well -- hi Gnomergon et al.), I finally made it to the top, this time rewarded by... spiders!? That's a terrible reward, ArenaNet! Oh well, the accomplishment felt rewarding nonetheless, and I can't overstate how great it is to have these opportunities to switch up my playstyle every now and then.

Watch your step.
Of course, not all is hunky-dory in Caledon Forest, as it happens to be home to what I feel is the absolute worst renown heart I've encountered so far: Arias' garden. Arias, you see, is a lazy mudsucker who can't take care of his own garden (which really isn't a garden, by the way, so much as a crater overrun with mosquitoes and brambles), so he tasks hapless passers-by with the unenviable job of cleaning up around the place. But there's a catch: Many of the tasks (such as destroying grub nests and clearing encroaching briar patches) can't be completed by a mere Sylvari (disregarding the fact that most of us have already brought down a creature five times our size with naught but our bare hands), so Arias transforms you into a miniature treant to help with your duties. The only problem is that the treant form is the most underwhelming thing in the history of ever. Sure, you can clear those brambles and crush those grub dens, but when an angry spider or grub pops up and wants to pick a fight, the earth-crushing strength that previously allowed you to smash those briars suddenly disappears. The treant moves slowly, attacks slowly, and did considerably less damage than my character could do with nothing but a pair of daggers. Maxing out the renown for Arias is particularly excrutiating, and I can't say I'd be concerned if Arias were to "mysteriously disappear."

And of course, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention what was, for me, one of the crowning moments of the entire experience. (There be minor spoilers for the green knight dream storyline beyond this point. If you'd rather remain blissfully unaware, skip this paragraph.) Anyway, so here's the deal: I'm minding my own business, having a little chat with Caithe, when this guy comes up shouting about how someone's going to kill his "beloved," and lo and behold, it's the same green knight from my dream, standing over some poor chap and gloating before he delivers the coup-de-grace. And that's when I realized that -- gasp! -- his "beloved" is another dude! Our resident expert Lis pointed out to me that the Sylvari don't recognize gender in the traditional human sense, being plant-people and all, and so it's not all that uncommon, but I don't even care. It's not often that gay characters crop up in major MMOs (unless they're hot chicks making out for your viewing pleasure), and even though the characters are just background characters, it's nice to see a couple of gay characters nonchalantly featured in the game world. Thanks, ArenaNet.

This picture is completely gratuitous, but ain't it pretty?
Well, folks, that about wraps up my time here. I hope you all enjoyed this little tour of the Sylvari starting experience, and of course make sure you check out our look at the rascally little Asuras' new starting experience as well. 'Til next time, saplings. We'll see you in Tyria real soon.


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!

This article was originally published on Massively.