Guild Wars 2 Primer

Don’t know what Guild Wars 2 is?

That’s okay, there’s a great many of you.  I suppose it would be rather inconvenient to start going into the differences between the two games without first providing some sort of primer on what Guild Wars 2 is all about.  Otherwise many of you would be wondering why you should care…and you should.  I decided to put together a quick primer to go over the major points and show why you should have at the very least a passing interest in Guild Wars 2, as well as clear up any inaccuracies.

I’ll be posting videos and articles for you to read and watch.  Please note that many of the first ones are 2-3 years old and locations or art seen may have been changed.  In particular, one of the races has been given a makeover.

Who is developing Guild Wars 2?

There is a common misconception on who is actually developing the game. Hopefully this clears it up for anyone who reads this.

Guild Wars 2 is an upcoming MMORPG developed by Seattle-based ArenaNet and published by NCSoft.  NCSoft developed Aion and has several MMOs under their belt, but here they are merely the publisher and ArenaNet is the actual developer.  ArenaNet was founded by three senior programmers from Blizzard.  Between them they had lead the creation of Blizzard’s service and the rendering engine for Warcraft 3 (which was eventually used as the starter for the World of Warcraft engine).

They built up a studio and created Guild Wars.  While defined as a MMORPG by the gaming press, the developers claimed it was a CORPG (Cooperative Online RPG) instead since it was significantly different from normal MMOs.  It was heavily instanced to the point where you could only meet players outside your group while in hubs like outposts or cities, had NPC henchmen you could bring instead of players, and had no subscription fee.  Despite this, or perhaps because of it, Guild Wars went on to release two more standalone campaigns and an expansion pack, selling more than 7 million units total (units sold, not active players…since there’s no subscription this is the only metric available).  Since they can all be combined into the same account and played at the same time, this makes Guild Wars one of the best selling PC games ever.

Why did they decide to work on a new game?

Concept art from Utopia

While ArenaNet was developing the fourth campaign (originally titled “Utopia“, intended to have an Aztec theme), they discovered that many of the things they wanted to do could not be done within the current game engine and time available, and the things that actually could be done would radically change the game play from the previous three campaigns.  Therefore, they abandoned the fourth campaign and retooled it into their only true expansion which would be a bridge between the two games (via plot/story and other means).  This expansion was Guild Wars: Eye of the North.

Since most of the company would need to work on Guild Wars 2, they felt they needed to announce their development on the new game earlier than normal to explain why there would be no new campaigns or expansions while Guild Wars 2 was in development.  Their experience and continued profitability on Guild Wars 1 enabled them to convince NCSoft to give them the money and time needed to make the game right.  Guild Wars 2 would be the game ArenaNet always wanted to make, but was unable to do so with the engine limitations.  Fortunately, NCSoft agreed and has been allowing ArenaNet to take the time and get it right.  Pretty incredible for a team that essentially just has one game (technically) under its belt, and started the sequel a little over 2 years after releasing the first game.

There, now that the history lesson is complete, on to the big info!

What is Guild Wars 2?

Guild Wars 2 is set in the world of Tyria, the same world as the original Guild Wars, 250 years after the events of the first game.  The story continues what was laid out in the Guild Wars 1 expansion, where now five Elder Dragons have awoken and have caused chaos in the world, cutting off access to other continents and causing massive natural disasters…in addition to being destructive in and of themselves. To combat them, the major races of the world will need to band together to fight back against the the Elder Dragons and their minions or be wiped from the world as they consume everything.

In contrast to the first game, GW2 is a true MMORPG, set in a persistent world with instances mainly used for story sections and dungeons. Most features you find in other MMOs have been included in some way, even jumping and swimming (notable since these features were not available in the first game).  However, do not expect it to be a clone of previous MMOs, as the developers have looked at each aspect of the MMO genre and determined if it really works or if they can improve it.

Since they have what is likely the best art team in the industry, the look of the game is described as being “painterly”.  Concept art is actually being leveraged to help further the story and the appearance of the game, appearing in cinematics alongside 3D models, and areas in the game can be held up next to concept art with few differences.  Below you will find the first Guild Wars 2 trailer ever released, which shows off the art style and how integrated the art cinematics are in the game.

Is there the standard assortment of fantasy races?

There are a couple nods to the standard fare, but Guild Wars 2 introduces some variety in this.  In addition to playing as humans, as we did in Guild Wars 1, players can now play four other races as well.  You can play as the bestial yet militant Charr with their expertise in technology and guns, the insufferable and knowledgeable Asura with their prowess in magic, the spiritual shape-changing Norn hailing from a race of boisterous heroes, or the curious yet enigmatic Sylvari who are literally made of plants and born fully grown from the massive Pale Tree.  Each race is well developed with their own racial city and culture.  Below you can find the Races of Tyria video, that quickly goes over each race and their viewpoint. (Note, in-game locations may have changed during development, specifically the Sylvari, who have undergone a complete makeover since this video was released)

At the end you’ll hear a statement “What is your story?”  This is a major part of the game, as each player has a Personal Story which leads them through the main PvE plot, gathering together the members of Destiny’s Edge (the five individuals of each race showcased in the above video) who had split up due to a tragedy, and going after one of the Elder Dragons, Zhaitan.

I keep hearing Guild Wars 2 is different from other MMOs.  What actually makes it different?

In addition to being able to do what they originally wanted, the developers believe that MMOs are stagnating and decided to question everything from the holy trinity to class design to grinding to endgame.  They released a design manifesto detailing their goals for Guild Wars 2.   Every facet of existing MMO norms were looked at and determined if they contributed to the game or held it down.  As a result, Guild Wars 2 plays significantly different than normal MMOs.  This manifesto was followed up with a video manifesto designed to show you what they mean.

Several changes have been implemented that set it apart from normal MMOs:

  • Classes (known in GW2 and from this point on as “Professions”) are designed as play-styles instead of roles, allowing you to play whatever profession you wish without worrying that you’ve limited yourself to only being a damage dealer or healer.  Each of the 8 professions can do everything, but will do it in different ways than other professions.  “Bring the player, not the profession” is a common theme here, as it shouldn’t matter which profession someone is, only that they know how to play it.
  • The dedicated Holy Trinity is gone.  Aggro works vastly differently (there is no taunt or other aggro skills, for example) and everyone has a self-heal that is better than anything another player can do for you.   Instead players will be utilizing various crowd control methods and various ways to prevent damage rather than heal through it.
  • Grinding is minimized.  All the timesinks other MMOs have to artificially keep you playing longer are removed or reduced, replaced with actual content with context instead of thinly veiled speed bumps.  The goal is entirely focused on having fun by actually playing instead of merely waiting to have fun.
  • The entire game is now endgame.  Unlike other MMOs, Guild Wars 2 does not suddenly change at max level for an unending grind for slightly better rewards.  You won’t find yourself doing certain types of content as you level and then feel like you’re playing a completely different game once you hit max level.  The types of content and playstyles you are doing up to max level is the same type of content you’ll be doing at max level.  In addition, due to a level scaling mechanic, you will never be limited to only a few max-level PvE areas because you out-leveled all the content.  The entire world will always be available to play.
  • General questing (i.e. “Talk to NPC with bang/feather above their head, do tasks, turn in for reward”) has been replaced with scalable Dynamic Events, allowing you and friends to adventure together without the frustrations of figuring out who has what quest and what step they’re on, all the while still getting rewarded for playing.  Danger and excitement lurk all around the world, events even happening when you’re not around, and the lands change based on the success or failure of your (and others’) actions.  Take part in anything from saving a farmer’s crops to stopping a massive undead dragon from wreaking havoc.  All you need to do is jump in and help.
  • Each account will have a home server, but players are free to visit other servers anytime they want, allowing you to play with your friends at any time without starting a new character, even if they’ve been playing on a different server up until now.
  • Each character has a Personal Story, which is the closest thing to a normal quest in Guild Wars 2.  It is a long series of quests and events told through a variety of means such as instances, cinematics, conversations, etc. and is the story of your character.  Unlike other MMOs, even ones with major stories, this is a tailored experience that actually branches based on decisions you make to the point where two otherwise identical characters can have vastly different personal stories and see completely different paths.

What about PvP?

Guild Wars 1 picked up a reputation for being a PvP game, one that is really undeserved as the PvE sections of the game are very extensive and far larger than the PvP content.  For Guild Wars 2, the developers emphasized the PvE part first to try and counter this impression.  However, they didn’t skimp on the PvP content.

In addition to the PvE content, which is fully featured and has no PvP at all, Guild Wars 2 also includes Structured PvP and World vs World PvP.  All forms of PvP are set in “the Mists”, an alternate dimension where heroes test their mettle against other heroes to become stronger and battle for glory.  All PvP is optional and 100% separate from PvE, and you will never be penalized for only wanting to play PvE.

Structured PvP equalizes all players who enter, unlocking all armor, skills, and upgrades, and setting all players to max level.  Your success depends entirely on your skill rather than simply having access to better gear or being higher level or otherwise more developed.  Players are grouped into two teams of equal numbers and set against each other in Conquest maps, fighting for control of points.  Each PvP map has a secondary objective too, allowing multiple strategies and turnabouts, such as the use of a trebuchet to rain destruction down, or killing powerful NPCs for powerful short term buffs.

World vs World PvP is better described as a war between worlds, and is Guild Wars 2’s version of Open World PvP.  Each world (the term for each server) is matched up with two other worlds in a two-week long open world PvP match separate from the other two modes, fighting against the other servers for glory and pride.  The game type is similar to Dark Age of Camelot’s Realm vs Realm combat.  Players enter a set of four massive maps (one home map each with a center map for all) with several objectives such as castles, keeps, towers, mines, and lumber mills.  Players on each world can build siege weapons and tear down walls to take keeps for their own, fortifying them, and attempt to dominate the other servers and win bonuses for their world.  At the end of two weeks, the scores are tallied and new servers are matched up for another war.

The three game modes (PvE, WvW, and PvP) are completely separate from each other, and are robust enough that you will find several players who only play one mode and have never touched the other two, yet don’t feel like they’re missing anything.  You are not required to play in any mode in order to do well in the others, but are able to easily switch between the modes in very short order, allowing for a free choice in how or what you want to play.

I’m playing another game right now, I can’t afford to pay for two games.

Then you’re in luck.  Guild Wars 1 succeeded without having a subscription fee, and Guild Wars 2 is planned to do the same.  The games are actually a business model called “Buy to Play” or B2P, where you only need to buy the game itself and you can play the complete game without paying a single additional cent in subscription fees, similar to single player games.  GW2 will indeed have a cash shop, and while the actual contents of this shop have yet to be revealed, as with GW1 there will be no power being sold to give players some unfair advantage over others nor is anything needed in order to play.  Anything being sold is either aesthetics only and has no gameplay effect, or is also available in-game (and on that note, please recall their stance above on grinding).


There is far more under the surface of Guild Wars 2 than a simple glance can possibly portray.  Hopefully this primer has given you a taste of what Guild Wars 2 is offering as I cover these features in more detail in future posts.  ArenaNet has always said that they don’t want players to wait or prepare to have fun, and instead want players to be able to have fun from the moment they start playing.  Everything promised has been fulfilled, and as far as I’m concerned the game deserves the hype it has accumulated at this point.

See you in-game!

Images and videos are © 2011 ArenaNet, Inc. All rights reserved. NCsoft, ArenaNet,, Guild Wars, Guild Wars: Eye of the North, Guild Wars Eye of the North, Eye of the North, Guild Wars 2, and all associated logos and designs are trademarks or registered trademarks of NCsoft Corporation. All other trademarks are the property of their respective owners.


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