Guild Wars 2 headstart weekend

This weekend began the Guild Wars 2 headstart access for pre-purchasers. I’d been waiting for this since the release date was announced, and I’d even scheduled the entire weekend to do nothing but play. So Friday night, after an awesomely fun Livetweeting Terrible Movie event held by my friend, geardrops, the servers opened up around 11:30 pm. I got in when server population on all the servers was low, so I had my pick. (Tarnished Coast, if you’re curious).

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The servers started filling up quickly, which was no surprise. I created an Asuran warrior (though I’ve since switched to an Asuran elementalist as my main) and started the tutorial. I noticed something about the tutorial. Before, the end boss forced you into the downed state. It doesn’t do that any more. After that, you’re thrown into the world, which in my case is Metrica Province, to begin your adventures.

If you’ve been following Guild Wars 2, you know questing is done in a whole new way. There are renown hearts, dynamic events, personal story, and dungeons. Now, the first dungeon is only available at level 30, so that wasn’t something I got into this weekend. Personal story is just what it sounds like. Solo-able (though you can group if you want), instanced stories based around the choices you made at character creation. They have branching paths every so often, full voice, and cut scenes.

Renown hearts are similar to traditional quests, with the exception that you have multiple ways to complete them, and you don’t have to talk to the quest giver to start them. But you’ll be killing creatures, collecting things, or activating/deactivating something. Once you’ve completed a heart task, you can’t do it any more (or rather, you can’t get any more credit for doing it). Completing the task gives you karma points, which is a form of currency you use to buy stuff from karma vendors. The renown heart quest-giver turns into a karma vendor on completion and provides gear that can only be purchased through them, so it’s worth checking their trade list when you’re done.

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Dynamic events are the strength of the game. An event can occur for many reasons, but player choices and random chance are the most likely reasons to start one. When you’re nearby, you’ll see a message pop up to let you know there’s a dynamic event in the area. The events range from escort quests to collection to world bosses to holding off waves of enemies. Events can be chained based on success or failure. Early events tend to be chained less, plus the sheer number of players made them into complete zergfests. Around the teen levels, you’re more likely to see the full chain. (Hint: be sure to stick around and listen to the NPCs. They’re talking about the event, and if there’s more to do, they may continue it). For example, I wandered into a building where the Inquest (the evil Asura), were trying to steal golems. We failed to prevent them from taking them. So the two NPCs in charge of the golems held a conversation to figure out where they might have taken them. They ran off to the other building. When they got there, it kicked off another dynamic event to rescue the golems. That was because of our failure.

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This headstart weekend has had a bit of a rocky start. Not horrible, but there have been some problems. I never experienced any disconnects or login issues, but I know many players, especially in Europe, have. The trading post has been down all weekend. Grouping up with friends in overflow servers is iffy at best. Mail wasn’t working on Friday night or Saturday, but it appears to have been fixed by Sunday. Since mail is the only way to trade with other players (it’s free, instant, and you don’t need to find a mailbox), that meant no trading. But the core game has been running perfectly for me. Dynamic events with dozens of players around have been smooth as silk. I have almost all my graphics settings maxxed. In fact, I only turned one down to cut down on bloom effects, not because it was causing framerate issues.

Another feature that makes the game great is the way everything is shared. There’s no kill-stealing, no ninja-looting, no way to take something from other players. Everyone shares in the XPs of a kill. Everyone can harvest a node. If everyone assists in killing a world boss, everyone gets to access the treasure chest afterward. You’ll be happy to see other players around you instead of thinking they’re going to tag all the mobs you need and force you to wait. You won’t have to stand in line to kill a boss either.

At the end of the day, one question remains: Is it fun? And the answer to that is, oh hell yes. There’s so much to do and everything gives you XPs. A story on Massively just came out about a crafter who hit level 80 this weekend by doing nothing but crafting. (His guild fed him mats). But since the game down-levels you whenever you enter a lower-level zone, if he goes into a level 1 area, he’ll be about the equivalent of a level 4 or 5. He’ll still be tougher than someone who has that level naturally, but he can still be killed, and he won’t be one-shotting everything around him.

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If you’ve been wondering whether the game is worth getting, it absolutely is. It doesn’t completely revamp the genre, but it pushes it forward enough that it’s hard to go back to other games without feeling a bit let down by the dated concepts. Official release is Tuesday, October 28.

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