The Guild Wars 2 pre-purchase program kickoff is right around the corner, followed soon after by the first beta weekend for buyers. Given that a large number of gamers will soon be scampering around the landscapes of Tyria, much of my coverage from the most recent closed beta event will be keeping that in mind. Throughout the week we’ll take a look at some individual case studies such as solo vs. social PvE gameplay, and the PvP enthusiast perspective. To get things rolling, however, I’ll first take a crack at both familiarizing the larger gaming community with some of the first gameplay constants you’ll encounter in GW2, along with my overall impressions for each.
The following areas represent some of the core gameplay mechanics and systems you’ll be introduced to within the first 5 to 10 levels in Guild Wars 2, or roughly two casual or one longer gameplay session. Even if your ultimate goal is to climb to the top of the Conquest leaderboards, or help your shard reign supreme in the Eternal Battlegrounds, you’ll still want to familiarize yourself with the items listed below.
Figuring out your available weapon sets
A good portion of your available skills in Guild Wars 2 – regardless of which profession you choose to play – will be linked directly to which weapons you equip. When you first enter the game, you’ll have one of the available main hand weapons for your profession equipped, and upon completion of the tutorial you’ll be awarded your choice of off-hand weapons.
At that point one of the first things you’ll want to do is familiarize yourself with the available weapon sets for your profession. Barring extensive online research into the topic, your quickest way to see what you’re able to equip, and the skills linked to each weapon, is to open the Hero panel [H] and click on the skills tab.
Not counting aquatic weapons, the available weapons for each profession can be seen in the image on the right (click to view the full image).
One thing that works exceptionally well with this system is how radically different the playstyle of most professions will be based on equipping different weapons. For example, while it would be easy to equate the Ranger with using a short- or longbow as a primarily ranged attacker, switching to a sword and warhorn automagically turns them into one of the most enjoyable melee characters I’ve ever played. No joke.
Sword rangers are like these crazy acrobatic pirates, and have quickly become my second favorite profession right behind the necromancer all because of the huge influence weapons have on combat style. Add a pet pig into the mix and GW2 rangers are pure awesome. More on my impressions of the ranger later though…
You won’t have much coin to start out with, but by the time you complete the half-dozen or so events in the starting areas for each race, you’ll have more than enough coin to purchase the weapons you haven’t already obtained as drops. Given that you’ll have to actively use weapons to unlock all of the available skills, it’s a good idea to do this as early as you can afford to.
Speaking of drops, I did find that the creatures in lower level (1-5ish) areas tended to drop weapons fairly commonly. While you probably won’t come across any mastercrafted (green) items until your early to mid-teens, the low level drops are decent enough and get the job done.
You’ll also want to get a feel for each of your profession's main-hand weapons early on, so if push comes to shove focus on purchasing those first. The main reason being, your main hand weapon – more often than not – tends to have the most direct impact on your combat style. For example, you may roll a guardian but decide you don’t necessarily like the feel of smacking things over the head with a mace. Switching to something like the staff completely changes things up for the guardian, and you might find that you truly enjoy playing the profession after all.
Another major reason to fill out your arsenal of weapons early is weapon swaps. Not all professions can swap weapon sets in combat, but for those that do, having a second set with the skills unlocked to slot right at level 7 adds another major layer of depth to combat.
If there are any downsides to be found with the entire business of weapon sets, it’s that not all professions use the same number of weapons. Those that use fewer weapons typically do have other profession-specific tricks – elementalist attunements, or the engineer’s kits come to mind here – so you still ultimately have roughly the same number of weapon skills. That part is all fine and dandy.
The part that isn’t quite as fine or dandy is inventory management. To be blunt, the more weapons a profession can use, the worse off it is in terms of inventory space at low levels. Perhaps one of the best bits of feedback I could give to ArenaNet based on weapons is that they should consider giving players dedicated inventory space for weapons.
Micromanaging my inventory space to account for keeping 1 of each weapon for most characters I played was tedious and un-fun. All it would take is a dedicated container in the inventory screen – kind of like the nifty weapon / armor bags added to GW1 actually – and I’d absolutely love everything about the weapon system in GW2. Thankfully GW2 is still in beta, so here’s to hoping that someone at ArenaNet manages to stumble upon my humble request!
Unlocking Weapon Skills
When I first heard about the system of actively using a weapon to unlock skills, I wasn’t quite sure what to think of it. Having gone through the process on numerous characters during both beta events, however, and I’m completely sold on the concept.
In essence, it allows you to learn some of the deeper skill interactions at a better pace than what you find in most MMOs, and slowly begin working each new skill into combat rotations as you go along. The unlocks happen quickly enough that by the time I’d level a character to five or six, I’d have most – if not all – weapon skills unlocked.
The early events can be great for cycling through weapons once you obtain them, getting the skills unlocked, and also getting a better feel for how they function in combat. Even if you are dead set on diving directly into PvP on launch day right at level two, I would still encourage you to go through the process of unlocking weapon skills in PvE first to get a better sense of skill interactions in a much more controlled environment.
Another thing to keep in mind is that certain profession-specific skills currently unlock through usage the exact same way as weapon skills. For the necros out there, this means you’ll want to use death shroud early, and use it often to unlock all four skills (ditto for the aquatic death shroud skills). Likewise, just because you unlocked all the staff skills for fire as an elementalist, you’ll still need to switch to the other attunements with that weapon to unlock the skills.
The whole system seems geared towards giving players a much better feel for exactly what their chosen profession is capable of in combat. This is also done at a better pace than you find in most “trips to a static skill trainer every two levels” skill systems in other MMOs.
Unlocking utility skills and earning skill points
Right around the time most players will have all of their weapon skills unlocked, which for me was level five in most cases, you’ll also unlock your first utility skill slot and begin earning one skill point per level. By the time you reach level 20 you’ll have unlocked all 3 utility slots, and at level 30 you unlock your elite skill slot.
A huge plus to the skill system in my book is that players have a certain amount of direct control over how quickly they earn skill points. You naturally gain one per level, but given that some skills might cost seven points (or even 25 for some elites) you’ll want to open your map in each new area you explore and find where the skill challenges are located. The map legend will tell you how many are in a given area, and how many you’ve already completed.
It’s a great system overall, but does have one potential downside when it comes to replayability. Skill challenges are found in every gameplay area following the tutorial intro for each race, so if you want to unlock all the available points on a given character you’ll basically have to hit every single area in the game to do so.
So say you’re bopping along on your norn warrior and are nearing level 30. You start eyeballing the elite skills, but also realize you need a dozen more skill points to purchase even the cheapest of the bunch. If you keep following the normal area progression for your character, it might take you a little longer than you’d like to earn enough points. Your only other option will be to hit the starting areas for each of the other four races and complete the challenges there.
That’s actually not that bad, and will give you a reason to go out and explore more of the world. But what if you wanted to wait to see the asura areas until you roll your asuran engineer? The skill challenges represent a major choice at that point; hit the other areas now to earn enough points to unlock your elite, or wait to explore them on new characters you create from the other races.
For some, that choice will be easy. For me, it’s one I keep squinting at. The completionist in me wants to run out and complete every challenge I can find. The alt-a-holic in me wants to see those racial starting areas for the first time on new characters. It’s a minor thing, but still a conflicting point of interest in terms of replayability to be aware of when you first dive into the game.
More to follow
That wraps things up for the first installment of GW2Hub’s impressions from the latest beta event for Guild Wars 2. We’ll continue our look at a player’s first steps in Tyria tomorrow with a closer look at dynamic events, personal story, unlocking traits, weapon swaps, and active dodging in combat. For the already-hardcore-fans out there, we haven't forgotten you, and will also be drilling down into dungeons, the crafting system, structured PvP and a whole lot more.
If you have questions on anything covered here or want to learn more specific details on certain points, leave a comment below, or better yet, race your roller beetle over to the forums and let us know!