How do I know what to do?
Look around for NPCs with the ubiquitous big green exclamation point, and I cannot stress this enough: read the quest text. ArenaNet might be moving away from the quest text boxes in Guild Wars 2, but those things are a fact of life of Guild Wars, and you need to pay attention to them so you know what to do. The NPCs will tell you what's happening, what they want from you, and why. Of course, they'll even offer a little compensation for your efforts, and that information is in the quest text as well.
If you accept the quest, press "L" to see your quest log. All of the information will be there for reference until the quest is completed and you've received your reward.
For our purposes, there are two kinds of quests in Guild Wars: primary quests and everything else. A primary quest is the one that will advance you through the storyline and move you forward in the game; completing them is required to advance the story. Other quests are purely optional but will award XP, cash, skills, weapons, and even heroes in Nightfall, so take your time and browse around. Chat with anyone with an exclamation point over his head and see whether what he has to offer is useful for you. Primary quests will always be at the top of the list in your quest log and will actually be in a primary quests category.
I know it's tempting to hurry up and power through the game as fast as you can to catch up, but I suggest that you at least do the quests that offer skills, for two reasons. First, those quests will afford you a little extra playtime on your way, which will help you become more acclimated to the game. Second, skill quests will save you some gold down the road. Skills purchased from a skill trainer cost 50 gold for the first one and then increase in cost until they reach a cap of 1,000 gold each. Every skill you gain through a quest is one you don't have to pay for.
If you don't want to get bogged down in all of the side quests right away, rest assured that they are always available if you want to come back to them later. Simply map back to the town at any time in the future to pick them up.
So these primary quests are all I need?
Primary quests are sort of the links between cooperative missions, which are the high points of each game's storyline. If you're in a cooperative mission town in Prophecies or Factions, you'll see an "enter mission" button in your party window as well as a nearby NPC to tell you what's happening. He won't have an exclamation point, but he'll usually be the only NPCs without a title in brackets after his name. Nightfall is slightly different in that you'll need to talk to the mission NPC to start -- there is no "enter mission" button.
In all cases, the relevant NPC will give you a refresher on significant events if needed and tell you what to expect in the mission, so it's extremely important to hear what he has to say the first time.
Finally, each mission will contain a bonus objective that will grant you extra gold and XP as well as progress on title tracks for the Hall of Monuments. Before you start any mission, search for it on the wiki (the name of the mission is the same as the name of the town where it begins). Each mission entry contains details of the bonus (or masters) objective, including how to start and achieve it.
But I need help and everyone is busy!
Don't worry -- you have heroes and henchmen! Henchmen are available everywhere. Simply click "search" in your party window while you're in a town, then click the "henchmen" tab. Since we're dealing with the bare-bones basics here, I'd suggest the standard holy trinity of healer, dps and tank, such as it is in this case. You can get a lot fancier and more effective as you progress, but right now you're just getting a feel for the game.
If you've started in Nightfall, then you have one hero at your disposal right off the bat: Koss. You'll pick up more as you go, as well. Heroes are handier than their henchmen counterparts in a few ways. With henchmen, you take what you can get. With heroes, you can change their skills, weapons, and armor upgrades just like you can your own. Heroes also level with XP just like you do, so make sure to let them participate as much as possible.
Don't forget weapons
If you purchased the Game of the Year edition of Guild Wars, don't forget to type "/bonus" in your chat window, then press "I" for inventory to find all sorts of bonus weapons. You'll be given a starter weapon when you make a new character, but these are much better for both you and your heroes.
Ready, aim, fire!
There is much more to the game, but these are the absolute basics to get you started. The best piece of advice I can give you at this point is this: pay attention and don't let anyone else do it for you. If you're in a good guild or alliance, the members are likely going to be more than willing to help you. That's great, but if help comes in the form of blasting through the first half of the game while you trail behind, you're going to be almost as confused later as you are now.
Look around, talk to the NPCs, watch the cinematics, and read the quest text as you progress. Understand as much as you can on your own before you ask for assistance, and before you know it you'll be an old pro at this.
Oh, and don't forget the most important thing -- this is a game, so have fun with it!
Rubi is a longtime Guild Wars player and the writer of Flameseeker Chronicles here at Massively. The column keeps a close eye on all the events in
Guild Wars 2, and anything bridging the two. It's also the home of a weekly summary of the travels of [MVOP], Massively's
Guild Wars guild. Email Rubi at firstname.lastname@example.org.