Right after creating a character and taking your first steps into Guild Wars 2 you’ll be able to participate in what’s essentially end game content. Player versus player arenas can be accessed at any time to hop into short-duration battles between two teams. Or you could drop into the World versus World system, a large, persistent battlefield where armies from three different servers compete for supremacy. You’ll fight for control of numerous types of structures, from lowly supply camps to heavily defended forts, build siege equipment and take part in battles with huge groups of players.
To solve the problem of power imbalance between low level and high level players all in the same combat space, ArenaNet bumps your character to 80 as soon as you enter into WvW. “If you come in at level two we basically adjust you up to what a level eighty would be like stat-wise,” said Mike Ferguson, systems designer at ArenaNet. “It’s not like most games that have PvP is across wide levels where it’s like ‘Oh, I’m five levels above you, I’m just going to smash you and kill you in one hit.’ We’ve tried to make it so that everyone can feel competitive at the same time but still have that kind of on-going progression. We don’t want is for people to feel like you have to be in level eighty for the real game to start.”
Making this experience comprehensible to a new player has been a challenge for ArenaNet. “We’ve added some things like instructors right when you get into the World versus World maps,” said Ferguson. “As you load in there’s a guy there with a little chalkboard over his head that you can talk to and he explains how the game works. What we’ve seen is people will just hop in and someone will notice they have a commander mark over their head and everyone will go to it like a moth to a flame. Then they’ll start running around with a group there and people will start learning the tactics. And after a couple of hours, people just kind of understand how to play naturally.”
Though there’s a lot of complexity to the skill system, its intricacies might be drowned out by the chaos of huge groups swarming into each other and using superior numbers overwhelm all else. ArenaNet hopes to curb the effectiveness of this ‘zerging’ tactic through a variety of objectives and methods to alter the tide of battle. “We have so many objectives on every map,” said Ferguson. “Starting out with the supply camps, they can get flipped with one or two people if they’re really good. Or two or three people if you need a little extra help at lower levels. So sure, you can take sixty people and just run across the map like a mindless horde, but you’re only going to be able to take one point at a time. A team that actually coordinates is going to be able to set up siege weapons at choke points and be like ‘Okay, they’re at that keep, let’s just go take everything around that keep’. So zerging is effective but what we’ve seen is zerging is generally the first step of acceptance into the game. It’s the easiest thing for people to understand. You’re just in a big group, you’re running around, don’t really know what’s going on but [you’re] doing stuff. And then you start picking it up.”
According to ArenaNet, setting up things like siege weapons can have a huge effect on battles, so paying attention to the details of WvW play can really pay off. “One of the things we saw coming out of the [beta weekend events] is we were watching all the videos pop up on YouTube and you would see these guys, they would set up two ballistas on top of a wall or on top of like a ledge looking over a big fight and nobody on the ground was actually paying any attention,” said Ferguson. “These guys were up there just cackling and destroying people. A ballista will two-shot somebody in most cases. So within four or five seconds you’re taking down people and if they don’t come after you, you’re just going to sit there and tear them apart. Siege weapons are our equalizer.”
These weapons can also be effective while trying to break into enemy-controlled structures. “You’ve got flame rams, which set up right on the doors. You can stack a couple of those to bring the doors down really quickly, and they also have a secondary skill of a flame burst. The flame burst applies burning to anyone that hits it and it also gives you fear. So if you set the flame ram up, you can hit that flame burst so the fear chases them away and gives you a better chance to kill them and keep them from reinforcing the location. Trebuchets are kind of the opposite. They’re way far away but they can do a lot of damage to walls and gates so you can set two or three up on a ledge and just keep pounding away at a keep. And eventually [the enemy team is] going to run out of supply to keep repairing stuff so you’re going to knock the wall down.”
On the WvW map you won’t fight only players, but also computer-controlled enemies, which ArenaNet feels could be a good way for newcomers terrified by the idea of purchasing and operating siege equipment to get accustomed to the map and flow of gameplay. “The PvE events act as a little bit of a bridge between the normal PvE game and PvP,” said Ferguson. “There are some ambient creatures running around that you can use to level up or gain loot. And there are also mercenary camps. There’s, say, a camp of ogres and you need to help protect them against the harpies, which involves killing the harpies, destroying their nests and things like that. Once you actually befriend them then they’ll send out NPCs, like ogres, to go to the nearby locations so that they can help attack like supply camps or towers and give you extra reinforcement. So if you’re a single player you can go in there and kind of take that camp over and all of a sudden you’ve got like four or five ogre buddies running with and you can go in and take that camp that’s right next to the ogre camp.”
In case the concept of wide open battles bristling with ballista fire and mobs of kill-crazy players is still too intimidating, Guild Wars 2 also offers dungeons throughout the leveling experience in the level 1 – 80 world. Dungeons are playable in either Story or Explorable modes, and picking one adjusts the degree of challenge and the path from beginning to end. When you first find a dungeon, Story is the best mode to play, because with a somewhat organized you should be able to knock out the end boss and reap the rewards. Explorable mode is meant for more advanced players in more coordinated group.
“The vast majority of our fan base can go through Story if they wish to,” said ArenaNet’s Kevin Millard. “It’s easier, not trivial, but it is easier than the Explorable mode. Explorable mode is designed to be extremely difficult. We expect that a small percentage of our fan base will jump into Explorable dungeons.”
Millard explained how that difference in challenge level was designed, in terms of boss encounters in particular. “In story mode, what we’re going for is making the players think and discover a neat strategy. So for example, it might be as simple as when [the boss is] holding his sword above his head, you need to be far away from him. When he’s not holding his sword above his head you need to be close to him. That’d be a very simple boss mechanic that we would use in an early dungeon, or possible for a lesser boss. Another example is there’s the Story dungeon boss that has little wolves all around that you can’t normally fight, and the boss occasionally turns one of the characters into a cat. And you’re stuck as a cat until you hunt down one of the wolves and kill it, and when you do you transform back. So there’s strategy there, being a cat means the boss isn’t hitting you, right? So maybe this is an opportunity to heal up. So we want you to think and have strategy but we don’t want it to be overwhelmingly difficult.”
“When we move onto Explorable, we want to keep that same strategy but we want it to sort of be razor thin. If you don’t do everything in exactly the right order at exactly the right time, you’re going to die. So you need to develop a much tighter group. We expect that if you’re in Explorable you’re communicating with voice communication, you’re probably in a guild together and that you know each other, and this isn’t the first time you’ve gone through this. It is theoretically possible to pick up group through an Explorable. In fact, I assume lots of people will. But you probably need to wait until other groups have pioneered through it, you know, written strategy guides and such.”“Our goal is when you approach especially the major boss fights in the dungeon, we want you to stop and we want you to think.”