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PAX 2010: Guild Wars 2 hands-on

Rubi Bayer, @@rubi_

I finally found time to check out Guild Wars 2 firsthand this morning, and the experience will easily be counted as the highlight of PAX so far in my book.

The demo booth was my first stop this morning, and I was excited to go through the character creation process and save Shaemoor. I've seen a dozen videos of just that, but there's nothing like playing through it firsthand. As I was playing, several ArenaNet staffers passed by, said hello, and chatted a bit.

I spent much of my demo time exploring all the character options, learning the controls, and looking around Shaemoor, growing a little anxious all the while. The clock was ticking and I hadn't seen nearly everything I wanted to. With about 10 minutes left, a few ArenaNet devs surprised me by stepping in and offering to show off some more content -- particularly legacy sites, something that was at the top of my wish list for the demo.

While there are no earth-shattering new revelations (sorry, no class reveal), it was exciting to check out some features in more detail. Follow along after the jump for screenshots, pictures, descriptions and video recorded in genuine shakycam!

Gallery: Guild Wars 2 hands-on | 22 Photos

I started in the standard demo, and it was a foregone conclusion that I'd choose an elementalist. I selected a dignified noble and ran her through the Shaemoor tutorial, taking time to get a good look at her skills. Many skills were locked, and hovering over the bars revealed that they'd become available later.

Once my demo time ended, things got really interesting. A few ArenaNet staffers were nearby, and they were kind enough to log into a developer account and take me on a whirlwind extended tour.

We began with a look at the dye system. It's light-years beyond the system we know today, with each piece containing separate dyeable areas. Rather than collecting vials of dye, you'll begin with access to a generous set of 11 starter colors. As you play you'll unlock more colors in sets. The sets contain several sets of jewel tones, neutrals, warm and cool tones, and the rare "midnight set," the set that contains true black dye. If you find a color that really appeals, simply right-click it to add it to your favorites. The window we looked at contained around a hundred colors, but there are hundreds more available once everything is unlocked.

The dye unlock system is account-wide, rather than character-specific, and it was at this point that I learned that account-wide features are going to be par for the course. "Everything is account-wide this time around. Achievements, titles, because we have this weird hybrid with half account and half character titles, and it really just didn't work this time around. It just makes more sense."

Once we finished checking out the dye system, it was off to some legacy sites. Our first trip was to the ruins of Temple of the Ages, something I've been anxious to see firsthand for a long time. Kormir got her own statue at some point, but unfortunately we missed its heyday. By the time Guild Wars 2 rolls around, poor Kormir is off-kilter and submerged. We paid visits to Grenth (also off-kilter and submerged), Melandru (partially submerged), and Dwayna. Our next visit took us to Serenity Temple, a familiar area patrolled at the moment by a lonely Ascalonian ghost.

Beetletun was the next legacy site, and it's not the Beetletun you know today. It's escaped the wear and tear of the other areas and thrived thanks to Lord Beetletun. There is farmland surrounding the area, a prominent statue of Lord Beetletun and his dogs, houses that you can enter and explore, and Lord Beetletun's enormous estate. I asked if the estate was an area that players could enter and move around in and was answered with a pause, then a wink. Mysterious!

We explored a farm just outside of Beetletun that had been burned by centaurs. The occupant of the farm was predictably unhappy about this state of affairs, but we were on a mission of exploration, so we passed by with a wave and wished her luck. Moving forward, we passed several Eagle Raptors, an unpleasantly familiar species of enemy to me. After moving past the raptors and a pack of rabbits, we happened across a dynamic event.

An NPC on the road, accompanied by a terribly overloaded oxen, was transporting supplies to a carnival in Beetletun and needed a little extra muscle to ensure her safety on the road. We agreed to help, but thanks to the dynamic event system, any players who want to pitch in to help are welcome and will benefit as we travel.

Our final stop was back in Beetletun, where we happened across a text hint, which casually suggested that apple peels are a delicious treat and we should perhaps consider investigating this fact further. As with all "speech bubble" hints and events, the text is accompanied by voice work, and when you get close to something significant like this, you'll both hear the hint and see the text.

The visuals were exciting -- the artists used familiar concept art as in-game art, and if you keep your eyes open in your travels, you'll find some truly beautiful work everywhere -- from small paintings inside buildings to grandiose murals that span entire walls.

At this point, I was nearly late for the Designing Dynamic Events panel, my phone was ringing, and I was forced to tear myself away -- a Herculean task. Check out the gallery above and video below to see some of what the staff was kind enough to show me!

I want to extend heartfelt thanks to pretty much every staffer at the Guild Wars 2 demo stations. So many people stopped by during the demo to say hello, chat, and generally make it a fantastic experience. Thank you all!

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