Last week we covered the basics of questing, making a character and going about the world gaining levels. But how fun the questing system is really depends on how any MMO approaches combat and group dynamics. Fortunately Guild Wars 2 offers a good range of classes each with their own unique varieties of gameplay; assuming you enjoy the open ended combat that GW2 encourages all that's left to do is experiment and discover what class fits your style the most.
There are a total of eight classes in GW2 each of which is broken into their own armor class. The Guardian and Warrior wear heavy armor and employ a wide variety of weaponry from dual wielding axes to swinging massive swords and maces. Both excel in close range combat and are able to provide group buffs depend on which weapon set they have available, though all classes have the ability to provide healing to themselves (and some very limited AoE healing to others). One of the main advantages of this armor tier is the ability to soak up a decent amount of physical damage in addition to hitting hard once they get a hold on their target. They're more straightforward, a little easier to play than the other armor tiers, but a lot of fun and incredibly satisfying to play with.
That being said the medium and light armor tiers aren't slouches when it comes to dealing damage either, however they do boast various levels of complexity that may take some time getting used to. Engineer for example doesn't have the ability to swap weapons in combat but instead gains kits which provide entirely new movesets depending on which has been activated. Alternatively a class like Elementalist provides players with four different elements (earth, wind, fire and air) to switch between gaining different attacks and buffs which further vary depending on which weapon they have equipped. The Mesmer is a caster class which creates illusions and clones that can attack foes, while the Thief can poison and bleed their opponents with a variety of attacks that can get them in and out of melee with via smoke bombs and shadowsteps. The last two of the "˜lighter' armor classes are the pet-oriented Ranger and Necromancer, both of whom summon pets (animals or undead creatures respectively) to do a bit of their fair share of damage.
All classes have a wide variety of skills ranging from AoE, to group buffs and single target damage, and unlike most MMO's the typical Tank-Healer-DPS relationship doesn't really exist. Players can move into talent trees that make them better healers or more effective damage dealers, and further bonuses are provided depending on how deep a player moves into each tree. In fact so many points are given that ultimately any single character should be skilled at (minimally) two very different types of gameplay. For example an Engineer can fully max out a healing tree and their explosives tree, increasing their critical strike chance, health, and making their healing powers more effective. By becoming proficient in two different (but complementary) trees every single character contributes far more to a group than the typical singular focused dynamic. This is what makes GW2 really shine compared to other games on the market, and becoming adept at a single class means being able to juggle taking care of yourself and your teammates simultaneously.
Though it's possible to tunnel vision your way through world quests the detailed class design becomes apparent when entering a dungeon for the first time (Guild War's version of instances, showcasing that utilizing all your skills is an incredibly vital part of success. Groups of five can enter a dungeon starting level 30 to try and clear a story oriented instance zone, an area that's exclusively designed to take advantage of unique party compositions. Traps, area of effect spells and knockbacks will keep players constantly moving while trying to keep foes incapacitated as long as possible. It becomes a concerted effort to keep a single attacking NPC in place, keep yourself and allies healed, and make sure everyone is contributing to damage.
On one hand this means that dungeons can be incredibly challenging, which may be refreshing for a lot of gamers exasperated with the current status quo of "˜casual' MMO gaming. It also means that getting inexperienced pick up players, or players who are not sufficiently geared/talented to get the job done will be brutally punished for their inexperience. Some of the challenge is mitigated by the fact that every dungeon does have waypoints and a repair section allowing players to run back into ongoing combat and continue the fight. Not every fight is so forgiving however, as waypoints are limited to entrances and defeated boss locations, but it's still a nice change from the typical MMO "˜instance' setup.
PvP employs a very similar focus on multitasking various skills, though is a little more forgiving in letting players experiment with them. Players looking to kill other players have two options: either entering the Structured PvP zone or engaging in World vs World. Structured matches allow players to participate in objective oriented games with a premade team or randomly joining a group in progress. Capturing an objective adds points to your side and the first team to reach 500 points wins the match which then immediately cycles into the next. Levels vary from simple ruins, to using siege weapons to wreak havoc on a city, to fighting for control of an underwater objective to befriend killer sharks.
In order to give players access to PvP immediately anyone can at any point in time (and at any location in the world) teleport to the designated PvP isle from where players register teams, swap out gear and access vendors. Players are automatically pushed to level 80 and provided every single talent as well; and combined with the button that refunds all purchased traits it means that any build you could ever want to test is open immediately with no hoops to jump through. Free weapon vendors, armor vendors and gem vendors let players swap sets of gear and bonuses with no repercussion. The entire system is incredibly friendly to players looking to avoid being pigeonholed into one type of build and provides a nice break from the general PvE grind.
Progressing in structured matches provides currency instead of experience, which is then used to purchase other PvP items, while leveling in PvP gives chests that provide random sets of gear that provide alternative visuals. Since structured matches are meant to test skill as opposed to gear this setup is very appealing to anyone looking to fight on an even battleground. Class balance may always be tweaked, but at least gear will always remain a non-issue for anyone looking to enter.
World vs World is an entirely different beast altogether, a mix between the advantages gained in PvE while at the same time keeping the bar for entry low by automatically raising the base stats for all players to that of a level 80 character. Although skills and traits aren't maxed out like in structured matches anyone can participate in WvW combat at any point in time, and unlike structured games it's possible to gain experience, gear and raw materials usable in PvE. Three servers are pitted against one another on a separate server which is designed to have small and large groups of players participate in objective based combat.
Four zones (one for each server merged into World vs World and one known as the Eternal Battleground) are littered with objectives ranging from castle keeps and towers to mining camps and small towns; each one of these zones available for capture and control from an opposing server, which will in turn provide buffs which assist in gathering and crafting. Earning kills will also provide badges which can be turned in for loot. Either way you go about fighting in WvW teamwork and coordinated group play is an absolute must. New players can generally join massive groups of roaming player gangs laying siege to keep walls while smaller groups capture smaller enemy resources like roaming caravans, trade points or towns. Those looking to assist while fighting NPC's can assault various enemy encampments (such as centaur tribes) or go to the mini-dungeons to use traps in an underground cavern to earn some kills.
The entire system provides three very unique ways to engage your character online, and though all three types of gameplay require the same sort of ability multitasking they all provide very unique experiences. It would be nice to have a little more variety in gametypes in structured matches (as of right now all PvP matches have the same objective-capturing focus), but given how new the game is it's hard to really complain that you're being cheated of anything. Given how much content is available from the very start (and that there's no subscription fee required to access it over time) Guild Wars 2 provides quite nicely.
Next week we'll deal with the smaller, but equally important aspects of the game that I may not have covered in full so far. Colored clothing, the auction house, solo versus group play, jumping puzzles and game breaking bugs are up next week. As always leave any questions you'd like answered in the comments below.