Friday, 5 October 2012

Guild Wars 2, from a WoW player

I bought Mists of Pandaria. Pre-ordered, in fact, and yet since it was released, I’ve played WoW exactly no times. Moreover, I stopped playing WoW a couple of weeks before MoP came out, and it’s all because of Guild Wars 2.

It seems I’m missing out on quite a fun time in Pandaria, too, since by all accounts this expansion is so far really good; Zoe is certainly enjoying it. Thing is, I’d been looking forward to GW2 for a long time, and conversely, getting less and less enjoyment out of the tail end of Cataclysm, to the extent that I only really logged in to level my mage a bit, and occasionally and begrudgingly help guildenfolk get their Iron-Bound/Rusted Proto-Drake from Ulduar.

Guild Wars, though. I like it a lot. It’s very pretty, but in a more realistic way than WoW, although this does mean places that look somewhat less diverse than Azeroth – one grassy hill looks much like any other. Still, natural-looking pretty is still pretty, and there’s enough variation in both scenery and architecture to keep it interesting.


I find combat much more interesting and exciting in GW2, with lots more movement and reactive use of abilities. You really have to pay attention to the mobs you’re fighting, and what they’re doing; there are no enemy castbars or DBM-style timers or anything like that, so you need to respond appropriately based on their actions. One particularly memorable example is a boss in Ascalon Catacombs explorer mode (which is a bit like WoW’s heroic mode). He has an ability where he raises his sword to charge up a spell that pulls everyone in line of sight to his feet, then he does a lethal whirling attack that will almost certainly kill you. Generally you have two ways of avoiding this: use your dodge skill right at the critical moment before he pulls you in, or get out of LoS. As a mesmer I had a third option: my Feedback ability, which reflects ranged attacks back on the caster. Turns out the boss’s AoE pull counted, so I pop that on him just before he does it, and he knocks himself over instead :D

Combat in dungeons also differs from WoW in that there’s no specific ‘tank’ or ‘healer’ role – mobs will attack whoever they feel like, and everyone has a decent self-heal and other survival-oriented abilities they need to make use of. Certainly you can orient your traits (sort of like WoW’s talent points) and skill points (also sort of like WoW’s talent points) towards survival or crowd-control, or towards group-focused abilities like buffing and healing, but everyone is expected to do damage. If someone gets downed*, anyone can revive them; if a mob’s attacking you, don’t expect a tank to taunt it off you.

These differences mean fights feel a lot more frantic and desperate, and playing well is much more about utility and awareness compared to playing WoW’s more narrowly-focused specialisations. It means that even on my level 52 mesmer, I could still be useful when grouping with three level 80 characters, although clearly GW2’s level scaling† meant they were much less overpowered than otherwise.

* ‘downed’ means you’ve lost all your normal health and are sitting on the floor with a ‘reserve’ health bar that slowly drains. You have a few basic abilities, including a weak channelled self-heal, and if you’re lucky you can fill your reserve health bar and rally, i.e. get back up and join the fight again. Other players can help to revive you, too.

† your level is scaled to be appropriate for the zone you’re in, so in the starting areas you’ll be down to level 3 or so, and in dungeons you’ll be at the minimum level required for them, e.g. 40 in Ascalon Catacombs. However, you still keep all your weapons, armour and abilities, albeit also scaled down, so you will likely still be more powerful than someone at-level.


Another significant difference in GW2, that I noticed most when watching Zoe quest in Pandaria, is that there is no mob tagging. Instead, if you make a significant contribution to the damage on a mob (the wiki says between 5 and 10 percent), you get loot from it, and credit for killing it if an event or quest asks for that. Likewise, there is no competition among players for gatherables (ore, herbs and trees), since collecting from one does not deprive others from it. All of this, plus the way you can partake in quests just by being in the right area, mean there is a very strong feeling of cooperation, with everything designed to encourage it naturally.

Of course, since everyone is on the same side, there’s no Horde-vs-Alliance–style world PvP – you’re never in danger of accidentally attacking someone who’s flagged, and getting trounced by them as a result. Player vs player in GW2 is an entirely separate thing, so it can’t interfere with the cooperation aspect.


So, those are my impressions after playing Guild Wars 2 for a couple of weeks, from the perspective of someone who has played World of Warcraft since just before Wrath of the Lich King was released. I still haven’t hit 80 on my highest character, and even when I do, I want to level a few others just to see how they play. Maybe by the time I’ve done that, an expansion will be nearing. We shall see.

In the meantime, if you want to drop by I'm on Blacktide (EU) server and my display name is Caer.1605, and I’ll probably be on either my mesmer, Yalaera, or my guardian, Aerlocke.

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