Ten Things We Learned about Guild Wars 2 at PAX East 2011

The leaked thief profession and guardian gameplay presentation during GDC 2011 may have taken some of the wind out of the developer’s marketing sails, but it certainly didn’t stop ArenaNet from being the big buzz in Boston this past weekend. Even without a dedicated booth to call its own, Guild Wars 2 made a massive splash this year at PAX East 2011.

Between the live show floor demo, ever-accessible development team members, the Friday night NCSoft community event, and a series of discussion panel appearances, there was a lot to take in during the short three day event. Throughout the week this week we’ll be bringing you some new gameplay videos, updated hands-on impressions, details from the “Guild Wars 2 – Fantasy MMO Redefined” panel, and more.

First, however, we wanted to share some of the more interesting details learned throughout the weekend. The following list of Ten Things We Learned about Guild Wars 2 at PAX East 2011 provides some fresh insights into various aspects of the game for diehard fans, as well as a primer for those of you just starting out on your journey towards obsession over all things GW2 related.

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Guild Wars 2 Guardian Skill Bar

Skill Bar Visual Feedback Enhancements

As seen in the newest demo build, the Guild Wars 2 skill bar gives you some interesting visual feedback to let you know when certain abilities are ready to activate. A perfect example here is the Norn Guardian featured in the demo at GDC and PAX East 2011. On the left side of the skill bar (as shown in the image above) you can see blue flames slowly rise up behind the weapon skill slots (1-5) alerting you to when your next attack will cause burning damage if you have your Virtue of Justice active.

This can take a lot of the guesswork out of knowing when certain combat abilities are triggered, provides much better visual feedback than if that skill slot simply blinked or turned red as it might in other MMOGs, and otherwise just looks pretty badass.

This will naturally be different for each profession, based on their particular combat style and abilities. This same area directly above the first five skill slots is where you'll be able to keep track of how much initiative you've built up as a Thief, for example.

Be sure to watch our videos of the Guardian and Thief in action!

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Guild Wars 2 Thief Combat

Weapon Sets Don't Limit You to Exclusive Use of Melee or Ranged Abilities

The recently revealed Thief profession is an excellent example of how players won’t necessarily be forced to create weapon sets that favor either melee or ranged attacks exclusively. For the thief, this means you can do things like have a dagger in your main hand and a pistol in the offhand for one set, and then swap to a set that uses a main hand pistol and offhand dagger.

Depending on how you slot those weapons, you’ll not only get a unique set of 5 skills to use in combat, but it will also directly influence the thief’s third skill based on your active set.

According to ArenaNet developer Jon Peters, for the thief this third skill slot works somewhat as a replacement for the GW1 assassin’s attack chains. Only instead of being locked into using an opener, secondary strike, and finisher, the third slot in the case of a mixed pistol / dagger weapon set can either allow you to follow up a ranged attack by flipping forward to unleash a powerful dagger attack, or in the case of a dagger / pistol set you can do the exact opposite with that third skill by leaping back out of melee range if you’re taking too much damage.

While the thief may be a more extreme example of how important movement is to GW2 combat, the above examples should give you some indication of how the game is changing our understanding of what "active combat" can mean in an MMOG.

For more detail on weapon sets, be sure to read our overview of Weapons in Guild Wars 2.

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Guild Wars 2 Thief Downed State Abilities

Dynamic Event Scaling

Not only do dynamic event chains scale up in direct proportion to the number of players actively participating in the event, but they’ll also scale down as people leave the area as well. This is significant for a number of reasons, but perhaps the best part of the player tracking system for events is that it’s designed to prevent leeching.

So if a person wanders into an event, does a few basic attacks and then hides behind a building or object, the system will detect that they are no longer actively participating. As a result, the event will scale back down in difficulty to account for less active players in the area.

So not only will it be extremely difficult for someone to leech rewards through events, this also prevents exploiting the dynamic event system to grief other players by making it too difficult for them to survive.

Another important aspect of event scaling is that the more players there are actively participating in a given event, additional elements can be triggered that you might not normally experience. Bosses can become tougher, gain new abilities and even levels, and additional enemies might enter the battle. In other words, the dynamic content will always present a challenge for players no matter how many are actively participating, keeping the system from ever feeling trivial simply because another player showed up to help.

Lastly, even if there are no players in a given area to help prevent it being taken over by attackers, that doesn’t mean that events can spiral completely out of control. Sure, if you allow centaurs to take over a village they may eventually begin cutting down nearby trees to build siege weapons, or can even send out hunting parties to attack other villages in the surrounding area, but there is limit to how far these event chains will go.

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Guild Wars 2 Lion's Arch Main Gate

Exploring the World is your Primary Quest Objective

While players might be pointed in the direction of areas or NPCs that can help advance their personal storyline as they progress through the game, that doesn’t mean you’ll ever be forced to pick up a journal full of meaningless quests as your primary means of advancement as has become the unfortunate, spoon fed nature of MMOGs over the past 6 or 7 years.

Instead, players will head out into the world and forge their own destiny. The events you choose to participate in, and even the ways you opt to progress your personal storyline are entirely up to you. This is the kind of non-linear gameplay that the industry has sorely needed, especially since the turning point back in 2004 when EverQuest II and World of Warcraft hit the scene and funneled you through the world by holding your hand and leading you from quest hub to quest hub, removing all sense of adventure from online RPGs.

That’s not to say Guild Wars 2 is a purely “sandbox” game, at least not in the traditional sense. Instead, think of it as a hybrid between sandbox and theme-park titles, only instead of having Quest NPCs serving as tour guides telling you which rides you can go on, when you can go on them, and for how long, all of that is left up to the player to decide.

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Guild Wars 2 Scout System

Guidance is Still There if you Want It

There are over 1,000 dynamic events currently in Guild Wars 2, which is a staggering amount once you consider that these events can span entire areas of the map and can contain multiple stages each.

Taking that into account, as well as the greater emphasis on exploration and discovery noted above, there will no doubt be plenty of players that are so used to bread crumb questing that GW2 might initially feel slightly overwhelming. This is where the Scout System comes into play, and provides direction for those players who decide that they want it.

As you enter a new area, there will be NPCs that you can speak to that will highlight where nearby events can be found on the map and give you some indication as to what you might find there. That way you’ll never be left guessing where to go next, or feel as though you have no purpose as you move out into the larger world once the tutorial areas have been completed.

It’s also important to note that using the scout system is entirely optional. In other words, it’s there to use if you want some additional guidance or information as to what’s happening in the area, but if you’d prefer to simply forge your own path you can certainly opt to approach the game that way as well.

Another thing worth mentioning with the scout system is that these are not the same as your typical quest NPCs. In other words, they won’t ask you to go kill 10 moas or bring them 50 bear tongues. Instead, they alert you to locations of dynamic event content so that you can decide which direction to go based on the content that interests you the most.

Again, Guild Wars 2 is all about players being in control of how they choose to experience the game, rather than the game dictating how you have to consume the available content. Things like the scout system are in place to help those of you who aren’t quite ready to make that paradigm leap, or are so used to playing games on rails that the idea of forging your own destiny is a bit too overwhelming at first.

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Guild Wars 2 Norn Character Creation

Norn Shape-Shifting Skills

As most of you have likely seen in the Norn Guardian presentation given during GDC and again this past weekend at PAX East, one of the character creation options for norn characters deals with the Spirits of the Wild. The current in-game text asks you which of the four Spirits spoke to you in a vision to offer its guardianship as seen in the image above.

The important thing to note here is that, while the Spirit of the Wild you select here – Bear, Snow Leopard, Wolf, or Raven – will factor into your personal story, it will not be directly tied to the norn’s unique shape-shifting ability. Instead, those abilities will be earned later in the game and will be elite skills.

What that means is that you will never be forced to choose only one Spirit of the Wild that dictates what shape-shifting abilities you gain access to. You’ll be able to eventually learn all four elite skills, so the only limitation here will be deciding which of the four you want to place into the dedicated elite skill slot at any given time.

Bonus Tip: Speaking of skills... you can right click one of your weapon skills and set it to be your "auto-attack" skill. This isn't mandetory, but is a nice option for those players who want it.

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Guild Wars 2 Necromancer

Necromancers Kick (Maybe Too Much) Ass

When the Necromancer profession was first revealed last year at gamescom, we learned about their unique Death Shroud mechanic and how it could not only be triggered manually by the character, but that it also serves as the necro’s downed state abilities as well.

This aspect of the necro hasn’t changed, but it was recently mentioned in an update on the official ArenaNet blog that some of the skills have been altered. This came up during a discussion I was having with Jon Peters during the NCSoft community event and it turns out that, in the hands of a skilled enough player, they discovered that necromancers weren’t completely unkillable, but pretty darn close to it.

As you might expect, this would make for a very solo-friendly class in PvE, but would have very dramatic, negative repercussions in PvP. You’d either see a scenario where everyone and their dog wanted to play a necro in PvP, or else teams that didn’t play them would have to adapt their entire approach to combat around defeating necros as a primary target much like monks typically are in GW1 PvP. Or to put it another way, the design of one profession could largely influence how the entire PvP metagame is played which is something I'm sure we can all agree would be pretty lame.

So the class is currently being rebalanced, but don’t worry – the core mechanics and skills we’ve seen in the event demos are still there, they’ve simply been adjusted to keep the necro kicking ass but not to the point where they’re an unstoppable killing machine.

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Guild Wars 2 Thief 11

Attribute Adjustments

In his blog post about the new approach to Attributes on the official blog last week, Izzy explained that the entire system helps illustrate the iterative approach to design for GW2. While the slimmed down list of attributes - Power, Precision, Vitality, and Toughness - will certainly make them easier for players to understand regardless of their MMOG experience level, their descriptions raised many concerns among fans.

This weekend I also learned that the attribute system is going to be changing again in the very near future. The core list of 4 attributes will remain intact (in other words, they won’t be adding in any new attributes to the current list), but the differences between them will represent a much more meaningful choice for players than the recently described iteration.

Since this is currently being looked at I wasn’t able to get exact details on what the changes to attributes will be, but for those of you concerned that there aren’t enough meaningful choices involved, rest assured that ArenaNet intends to tweak the system until that’s the case.

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Guild Wars 2 Rurik and the Elder Dragons

Rurik is the Mastermind Behind it All

We know that the Elder Dragons have woken up and vomited their special brand of bile all over the face of Tyria, and that in GW2 your character will be one of the walking Wet-Naps that helps clean the nasty mess up. We also know that the Flameseeker Prophecies foretold of the return of the Elder Dragons, and that the Tome of the Rubicon told the dwarves that if they loved stone so much they might as well marry it (which most of them did at the end of GW:EN).

But did you know that Rurik is secretly the wizard behind the curtain – the puppet master of the Elder Dragons who has orchestrated the entire chain of events leading up to GW2? I mean, can’t you just picture him saying, “When I was a boy…” as he launches into a debate with his undead minion, Zhaitan, about proper beard grooming techniques in the afterlife?

OK, so maybe I made all of that up. But you have to admit it would be pretty crazy if you reached level 80 only to discover that Rurik is the mastermind behind the return of the Elder Dragons.

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Guild Wars 2 ArenaNet Development Team

The Movement of ArenaNet's World

Over the past 10 years, ArenaNet has seen a fair amount of growth. While the Retrospective video released at the beginning of the year joked about the fact that the team size has grown so much that it’s easy to walk around the offices and meet employees you didn’t even know worked there, this surprisingly isn’t too far off the mark.

In the very near future ArenaNet will be moving into a new building to help account for recent growth, and allow them to continue that growth in the future. The company will still remain in the same relative area (sorry, Anet won’t be moving to an orbiting satellite station or bio-dome moon base just yet… though that will be the likely progression once GW2 has shipped) but the new space will allow the company a bit of much needed breathing room.

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Be sure to keep your eyes right here on Guild Wars 2 - Ten Ton Hammer this week, as we've got plenty of exclusive event coverage coming your way!

To read the latest guides, news, and features you can visit our Guild Wars 2 Game Page.

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