Guild Wars 2 play diary #2: ‘Two weeks in and I’m the possessor of a very nifty pirate overcoat’

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Our intrepid adventurer, Tom Mendelsohn, makes his way through the world of Guild Wars 2 with a mouse in one hand and a flagon of rum in the other.

Following my first diary entry, I’ve been playing the game fairly intensively for two weeks, even managing to meander my way to level 42. An increasingly demented section of my guild, meanwhile, have been streaking their way to 80, the game’s top level. They seem to be enjoying themselves, but I can only wince at how much their mouse hands must by now be hurting.

That’s by the by, of course, because I’m here to talk to you about my more leisurely yomp through the digital hinterlands. It feels as though I’m beginning to get more of a handle on what the game is, and it’s becoming ever clearer that Guild Wars 2 genuinely is the evolution out for which its genre has been crying. It’s full of remedies to the annoyances that have plagued us since World of Warcraft, many small, but some significant. My first trips into one of the game’s eight dungeons are proof positive of the later.

Instanced dungeons, separate levels which you and a party of friends clear in the hopes of scoring loot, are an absolute staple of the genre. Some games make them big, with teams of 25 or 40, while others stick to five or six people. They’re also meant to be difficult, especially at high levels, and everyone has a role they’ll have to play lest the big bosses spank them like naughty children.

The absolute cornerstone of raiding dungeons is the so-called ‘holy trinity’ of character classes – tanks, healers and damage dealers. Tanks are big armoured guys who have to get the bosses to hit them and healers have to keep the big guys alive while everyone else tries to kill them; it’s a formula that MMOs have used since time immemorial (otherwise known as the late 90s). In Guild Wars 2, they don’t exist. Everyone is responsible for their own healing, and it’s no-one’s job to manage baddies’ aggro. It completely changes the way you play.

At first the change is hard to parse, so you die; you die a lot. But after that, fresh strategies start emerging. The game forces you to think, rather than just sending in the big guy and getting the healers to spam their group heal skill. Melee becomes much more hectic, skill choice becomes more important and, combined with another GW2 giant leap forward, your reactions are tested. The second change? You have to learn to dodge.

Most MMOs are built around button presses. Each player has a set of skills which they can fire off as their timers allow, and the skill of the game is in judicious juggling of cooldowns. It’s an interesting mechanic, but it doesn’t really feel like the player is ever truly in the thick of the fight. GW2’s dodge changes that; suddenly, it doesn’t feel like you’re being hit because a remote server in, say, France has decided you are. You’re hit because you didn’t get out of the way – and this simple change makes combat feel far more visceral.

I’ve done two dungeons now. It’s clear that they’ve not been perfectly calibrated, difficulty-wise. The first, Ascalonian Catacombs, is full of supposedly incorporeal ghosts who nevertheless hit with the force of a thousand suns. My very experienced guild has struggled to clear it despite voice-coordination, so for newbies in pick-up groups of randoms it must be an absolute baptism of hellfire. The second dungeon took us about 45 minutes, throughout which I was quite drunk (hey, it was a Friday). We didn’t wipeout once – even though I spent half of the fights lost and away from the group – and now my character has a very nifty pirate overcoat (which fitted my inebriated state perfectly).

Not every change is an overhaul. A lot of what makes the game so pleasurable is the way ArenaNet has clearly considered all the annoyances of MMOs and tried to smooth off the rough edges. A good case in point is the crafting system, which is about as smooth as I’ve seen. It’s complex without being overwhelming, and quite useful.

You’ve got eight professions, ranging from jewellers to leatherworkers, each of whom use a range of materials players find on their journeys, either off monsters, or from nodes of metal and choppable trees. A cynical reviewer could see it for nothing more than a huge time-sink; there are 400 levels, and materials are quite slow to accumulate, meaning that people can’t just power their way to the top, but the smoothness with which it’s presented, the utility of your crafts and the fact that it’s a legitimate means of earning decent experience points are all major plus points.

Yes, it’s a faff to have to keep buying mining picks, herb sickles and chopping axes of increasing quality and expense – and hunting down enough material to have a good session is an occasionally obnoxious task – but they’ve got to make it a bit of a challenge to hit 400. Plus, it keeps the economy going, and because you can only train in two of the eight crafts at any one time, the collaboration has been a great way to build guild camaraderie.

Not that that’s in short supply. This coming week, I hope to get stuck into some team PvP. I lost a year of my life to Warhammer Online, a much misunderstood game of mass pitched battles, ambushes and all-round epic biff, and I have high hopes that once GW2’s server and grouping issues are ironed out, we might be able to ride out in force and carve ourselves a reputation.

By Tom Mendelsohn

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

    £18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

    Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

    £18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

    Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application Developer

    £30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application ...

    Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive

    £18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

    Day In a Page

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

    Beige to the future

    Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own