Guild Wars 2 - Hands-On at PAX Prime Part 2

Guild Wars 2 Hands-On

This weekend at PAX Prime in Seattle, Ten Ton Hammer was fortunate enough to get plenty of hands-on time with the live demo for Guild Wars 2. In fact, we even managed to play through full demo sessions of both the low level human experience in and around the village of Shaemoor, as well as the mid-level charr content including the epic Shatterer event and a whole lot more.

Since the overall breadth of content to consume in the Guild Wars 2 demo encompasses far more than what a single article could properly cover, we have a two part look at the game in action. First, Ethec shared his experiences as a human ranger, and for the second half of our two part feature Sardu gives an in-depth look at mid-level charr necromancer gameplay. How is the game shaping up so far? Read on and find out!


Sardu's Second Look at Guild Wars 2 Through the Eyes of a Charr Necromancer

Over the course of a major industry event such as this weekend’s PAX Prime in Seattle, WA, a common question I’m asked is what was the most interesting thing I’d seen on the show floor so far. Earlier in the event season I honestly had a hard time pinpointing only a single title as being the one that made my socks go up and down simply due to the ever growing number of upcoming MMOGs that are all high on my radar.

And while a number of those same titles were on display at PAX – Rift, End of Nations, Torchlight II, TERA and LEGO Universe to name a few – getting my first look at upcoming Guild Wars 2 at gamescom last month made the answer to that question incredibly easy for me. Having seen the game in action at a second event in a row only helped solidify the fact that ArenaNet isn’t simply saying cool things about game mechanics that only sound good in print, but rather that those mechanics are in the game and are far cooler than simple text descriptions could properly describe.

While at gamescom, I spent the bulk of my demo time playing as a low level human necromancer, so I knew going into PAX that I wanted to hit the mid-level charr areas as much as our packed appointment schedule and the equally packed booth for Guild Wars 2 would allow. My first appointment was spent almost exclusively speaking to Game Designer Izzy Cartwright – an interview which proved to be so jam packed full of details about the game that it justifies being split into a few individual chunks which we’ll be rolling out throughout the week. But I also wanted to be sure to get some additional hands-on time with the game, and as luck would have it I managed to snag a second time slot with the ArenaNet team to do exactly that on Saturday afternoon.

My initial idea was to select one of the three other available professions this time around - elementalist, ranger or warrior – since I’d spent the bulk of my time playing a necromancer at gamescom. However, I also thought it would be an excellent opportunity to compare the low and mid-level necro experience, especially with the different racial abilities and animations thrown into the mix, so that’s exactly what I did.

I didn’t spend as much time with character creation, but did find some of the background choices for the charr to be pretty cool. In particular, one choice has you deciding between different members of your warband which grants you a racial elite skill that allows you to summon them to your current location to fight alongside you for a short period. While obviously a very different racial choice than deciding which of the human gods you were blessed by at birth, the 5 different charr options fit perfectly into their background and lore.

But enough about character creation for now – there was some monster bashing to be done and I was more than excited to see things like the weapon skills, Death Shroud abilities and  of course the diverse selection of necromancer minions in action. Let me say this much up front – the level 45 necromancer experience did not disappoint.

We spoke to a number of gamers in and around the Guild Wars 2 booth over the course of the weekend to get their impressions of the game so far, including a GW2 fan named Tony (pictured left) that had just completed his time with the live demo. We asked what he thought of the dynamic events system to which he replied, "They're Grrrrreat!"

Guild Wars 2 Hands-On

The bulk of my time was spent exploring different parts of the Dragonbrand which is the name for the massive scar running through the former kingdom of Ascalon, left in the wake of the Crystal Dragon’s flight southward into the desert. Before heading out from the small encampment I was spawned in, I took a bit of time seeing what the different weapon set abilities were like and formulating some basic ideas of how to approach combat with each.

Even as a magic-using class, the necromancer is no lightweight when it comes to fighting in melee range. Daggers and axes each offer a set of skills unique to that weapon type, and when combined with certain skills such as Locust Swarm (summons a swarm of locusts that steal life from nearby enemies) will see you standing toe to toe with your target, firing away at them with your weapon skills while stacking plenty of AoE based and direct attack conditions along the way.

One thing worth mentioning here is that you won’t be doing things like auto-attacking with a dagger or hatchet in your main hand, but more so that you’ll be using close range spells and abilities such as Necrotic Bite (a slashing attack that adds to your life force) or Unholy Feast (damages and cripples enemies around you) with those sets. Don’t worry though if the idea of playing a necro more like a close range melee class isn’t your thing – a simple weapon swap to a scepter for your main hand weapon instantly grants you a suite of long ranged abilities like Feast of Corruption (damages your target by removing effects), Grasping Dead (a ground targeted attack that causes bleed and cripple on enemies in a direct line) and Curse (a poison-based DoT) instead.

You’ll have the ability to quickly switch between 2 weapon sets during combat, though there will also be a short cooldown timer before you can switch back. This is done with a quick tap of the V key, and allows you to mix-and-match which AoE, DoT or direct damage attacks you want to launch at your targets since each weapon set grants access to different types of damage or conditions.

Another incredibly cool thing I discovered is that certain skills will even function slightly differently depending on the time of day that they’re used. For example, using certain skills during the day might cause your attacks to grant an extra boost to your life force (the resource that fuels the Death Shroud state) while that same skill when used at night might become a lifetap, stealing health from your enemy with each attack instead. Not only that, but certain weapons will even take on a chilling, ghostly aura when used at night which is another one of those things that left me saying “OK, now that’s cool”

Armors can be fully dyed directly in the Hero panel. Over the course of gameplay you’ll be able to earn or discover various sets of colors which you can then tag as “favorites” allowing you to mix and match your own custom color set that can be applied to just about every part of your armor. There are also 3 different areas on each piece of armor that can be dyed now, up from the original 2 in GW1. I was also glad to hear that the days of grinding mobs for rare dye in Pre-Searing Ascalon are also long gone, since the dyes function more like a learned ability now rather than a dropped consumable. In other words, once you have access to a specific dye set, it’s yours for good.

One last thing I needed to do before heading off to see what kind of trouble I could get into in the Brand was summoning my pile of minions. The beauty of the new take on minions in Guild Wars 2 isn’t even so much the fact that summoning them is no longer dependent on having a corpse nearby to exploit, nor is it the fact that you no longer have to deal with things like health degen to keep them active. Each type you can summon grants you a new ability to use once they’ve been called. While these awesome little guys were officially introduced in last week’s necromancer reveal, here’s a quick and dirty look at how they functioned during combat:


    This minion can be slotted in your dedicated healing skill slot, and saved my bacon quite a bit by the time I got the hang of combat and began the epic encounter with The Shatterer. While active, the Fiend’s attacks would steal life and help heal my character – kind of like a persistent, mobile heal-over-time spell. However, once summoned the Fiend’s icon is replaced with Taste of Death which lets you sacrifice it for a small direct heal.

    The cooldown timer is relatively short, so say you’re taking a bit too much damage while using your AoE attacks, it was fairly simple to switch to my scepter and its ranged attack skills and then sacrifice a few fiends to get my health back up in the meantime. All told it took me about 4 fiends to get back up to around 80 or 90% health, so the 5th summon I kept active to let its lifetaps and my Life Siphon take care of the rest.


    Summoning my bone minions I was pleasantly surprised to see that I could have 5 of the little guys out at once. The real fun begins though once you throw Putrid Explosion into the mix. For Guild Wars 1 players out there, this combo works somewhat similar to tossing Death Nova on your minions and letting them explode for some conditional AoE damage.

    However, with the new version of Putrid Explosion, you’ll get to use it once for each minion you have active until they’re all consumed. Not only is this a nice change due to being able to control when the explosions go off, but if you have 5 minions active, that’s five times the minion bombing fun.

Rounding out my look at the skills on my bar I did also have access to one of the necromancer’s elite skills called Plague. This skill is incredibly potent, as it literally turns your character into walking death. While active, the rest of your skill slots become locked, but you really won’t need them as simply getting close to your enemies will stack up a massive pile of conditions on them. I popped this one towards the end of the encounter with The Shatterer and watched with mischievous glee as its remaining health drained away.

Another interesting gamer we spoke to at the Guild Wars 2 demo stations named KAM (pictured left) couldn't contain his excitement for the game. When asked if he was enjoying his time with the live demo he responded with a deep, bellowing, "Oh Yeah!" 

Guild Wars 2 Hands-On

Heading out into the Brand, I never once felt myself thinking that I needed to search around for an NPC quest giver for lack of anything better to do. I’m sure that personal storylines will provide plenty of overall guidance in terms of leading you towards level-appropriate content, but it’s literally been years since I’ve felt content to simply scamper around the landscape in a game and see what kind of trouble I could get myself into without feeling I’d be missing out on something cool if I didn’t stuff a quest log full of random tasks beforehand.

The nature of the dynamic content and events makes it so that you’re constantly being rewarded for simply going out into the world in whichever direction strikes your fancy that day. It’s nice to see that the ArenaNet team understands that an MMOG should be a doorway leading to virtual adventure rather than a long series of scripted, linear chunks of gameplay. In a sense, you could think of the game as having all the bells and whistles of a theme park MMOG, but the icing on the cake is that the entire thing comes in a seamlessly integrated sandbox wrapper.

Even without feeling as though I had an expert’s grasp on the intricate details of the class mechanics, weapon set skills or even the various types of damage or conditions I could place on my target, I still felt 100% badass the entire time. Combat is fast paced, but not to the point where things happen on screen before you know what’s really going on. More so in the sense that you can go screaming headlong into a pack of mobs, and one moment you’ll think that perhaps you’ve bitten off more than you can chew only to turn the tide of battle executing a killer string of attacks and learning when to take full advantage of your healing abilities.

For example, while the Blood Fiend summoning ability does have a short reuse timer, once I got the hang of using it I could very easily go from the brink of death to closer to full health by simply summoning a minion and sacrificing it for health a few times in quick succession. Then with one final summon I’d leave that puppy active since it’s attacks also contained a small lifetap component that would heal me the rest of the way so long as I didn’t allow myself to get smacked upside the head again right away.

Don’t get me wrong – Tyria is no Candyland full of unicorns and fluffy bunnies by any far stretch of the imagination. I’m fairly certain I’d have gotten my ass handed to me far more times than I actually did were it not for the help of some of the ArenaNet devs who were playing other charr characters in the area and helping me through some of my first steps into the Breach.

With right around 10 minutes left to go in my demo time, I was given an on-screen alert that the Shatterer had spawned, asking if I wanted to teleport to the location of the event. Mind you this function won’t necessarily be present in the game at launch but it was cool that it was added for the demo because the Shatterer fight is hands down the most epic encounter I’ve ever seen in an MMOG. The best part? It all takes place right out in the persistent world. No waiting to organize a giant raid, no spending thousands of gold on potions and buffs to prepare for the fight. Like every dynamic event in the game all it requires is a simple choice – either participate or not.

And perhaps that’s the biggest takeaway for me this time around for my hands-on time with Guild Wars 2. Every step of your journey places you fully in control of your character’s fate. Choices you make not only help decide the path that journey takes, but have rippling effects on the world around you. But even if one day you choose to skip past a particular dynamic event, you always have the choice to go back to it later on since the game will dynamically scale your level down to the appropriate range for the content.

While the release of Guild Wars 2 can’t come soon enough, I’m also happy to patiently wait while ArenaNet continues building one of the most compelling MMOG experiences I’ve seen in years. It’s the kind of game many of us have daydreamed about playing, and just as Ethec stated in his impressions of the low level gameplay experience, I believe ArenaNet just might have the first true contender for king of the MMOG hill on their hands with Guild Wars 2.

Guild Wars 2 at Ten Ton Hammer

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