The Subject At Hand
I was talking to my brother-in-law today about Guild Wars 2, and he asked me why I was so interested in this game, when my descriptions thus far had made it sound like more of the same. Obviously, my descriptive capabilities are not particularly good, at least verbally, and certainly when I'm excited, but I want to make up for this particular shortcoming here.
In The Details
Guild Wars 2 has been designed to break away from "typical MMO" in so many ways that it can't help but take ridiculous risks. Most new games will choose an aspect of "typical MMO", most notably WoW, that they have decided is Not As Cool As It Can Be and will attempt to innovate that aspect, be it combat, PvP, crafting, storytelling, advancement, etc. They choose one subject and focus on that and everything else remains pretty much the same, and this allows them to stand out without risking losing the overall MMO market because of lack of familiarity. ArenaNet, with Guild Wars 2, has chosen to innovate everything they could conceivably think of. This is... tricky.
For me, innovation, experimentation, evolution, change, this is what makes me want to try a new MMO. I want to see what they've done to try and stand out, how it plays, how it feels. I love that feeling of discovery and wonder that an excellent new system brings out, so GW2 really appeals to me. But they have a lot of ideas, and each of them is interesting enough to pull in a curious player. I'll summarize them here, and will post an article examining each one as I find time.
There are two basic methods of questing in this game. First is the Personal Story. When you create your character, you answer a few questions that help define their personality and background a bit. This also defines your Personal Story. These quests are fairly traditional, though they're entirely focused on your specific character. You find a fellow you're supposed to talk to, chat them up, they give you an objective, and you proceed to complete it. These quests have small cut scenes which are voice-acted, which will help to immerse you in the story. These are not as detailed as SWTOR, but have a similar feel and effect. Instead of just reading text, you listen to the scene watch character reactions, feel like part of the scene.
The vast majority of leveling/questing is done through Dynamic Events, though. As you explore the world, things are continually happening, needing to be done. They simply appear in your quest log. You may choose to involve yourself in these events, receiving rewards, such as XP, money, and items, for your part in completing the event. Many events have progression chains, where success or failure will immediately lead to another event, which might then lead to another. The world is very dynamic and feels alive because of this.
As simple example, you may come across a village that is under attack from centaurs. You can choose to help out, and start fighting centaurs. If you lose, which is certainly possible, then the centaurs have taken over the village, and a new event will appear which involves retaking the village. Succeed in repelling them, however, and you might be able to follow them back to their base and eventually kill their boss.
They've been touting this as a grand innovation, and it's certainly different. There will be no devoted Tank, Healer, DPS classes. All classes have an ability which is a self-heal, with a couple of classes having abilities that might allow them to heal allies in some capacity. But it will not function in the way traditional MMO players will be familiar with. When you enter an instanced dungeon with your friends, you will not have a devoted healer, because no one has abilities that really support that position. While I believe there are some professions that have access to taunts, it will also not be something that they can maintain, and bosses and creatures will be attacking pretty much everyone during the course of the fight.
So, at a glance, this sounds like chaos. I've participated in plenty of dungeons and raids over the years, and the basic concept of the "Holy Trinity" allows for more controlled encounters. Any chaos appearing in such encounters is from the lack of skill or cohesion in a group. And one guy heals everyone, because it's his job. As such, when you want to run a dungeon, tanks and healers get groups with no issues and dps waits for a while.
Not so much in GW2. Everyone has a heal, and everyone has a dodge ability. This is what your bread and butter will be. The skilled player will be able to take less damage by dodging, and will stay on top of healing themselves when things get out of hand. The core idea here is that when you want to go adventure with your friends, you will be able to, regardless of profession. You will not be turned down because they need a healer or tank. I have yet to see how it will play out, but I've heard it works.
In traditional MMOs, a class will have a set number of skills available to them that they acquire in the process of leveling their character. In most games, one goes to a trainer and purchases new skills from a trainer when they have reached a new an appropriate level, while in a few others they are able to be obtained immediately wherever you are. In a few games, there is only one level of a skill available and it skills as you level, while in others you buy new levels in the same ability as you gain levels, making it stronger and more appropriate for your character's adventures as you level.
Okay, now that I've said what it's not... Guild Wars 2 has eight Professions to choose from and each has a limited selection of skills. You will only ever be able to have 10 skills available on your hotbar, while you will have many, many more available to you as you progress. The first 5 skills (hotkeys 1 to 5) will be entirely determined by what weapons you are carrying. You can set up two weapon loadouts to be hot-swappable in combat, allowing a fair range of options for combat. The remaining skills are based on your profession, and you purchase them with skill points. At any point you are not in combat, you can change skills 6-10 out with other appropriate skills. Note that skill 6 can only hold a heal and 10 (0 key) an Elite skill.
When you first start using a weapon, you will only have access to the first ability, and you gain the rest fairly quickly by using the weapon in combat. Skill 1 is usually a combo of some kind for melee weapons, and there is no autoattack. I suppose this means you'll be hitting 1 a lot. As you use the weapon, you'll unlock new abilities with it. Other abilities use a cooldown system, with most professions not having any other resources to monitor.
Not all professions are the same, and that's okay. Warriors have their five skills for a sword, but the Mesmer will have a completely different set of skills. Elementals and Engineers cannot swap weapons but have completely different functionality that works in roughly the same way.
And of course, there are other ways to fill up those first 5 skills. The Charr racial elite ability, Charrzooka, trades out for a completely different 5 abilities as you're now walking around with this ridiculous hand cannon. Thieves can steal items from certain bad guys and this will give them a temporary weapon. Hop on a trebuchet in PvP and your skill bar reflects it. So, yeah.
"Breathing isn't fun." This is what ArenaNet said about swimming. Now, they like underwater stuff all right, but a breath bar just puts a bizarre external limiter on your fun, a way to die that has nothing to do with combat. So they've decided everyone can breathe underwater just fine. Well, the moment you go underwater, a mask appears on your face and your weapon switches out for a water-appropriate weapon, changing your abilities. The abilities underwater tend to work in three dimensions, so you create zones that fill whole spheres, you can make your enemies sink to the bottom, fun stuff.
Like Guild Wars, Guild Wars 2 will have no subscription model. You buy the game and have access to the entirety of the game. A cash shop will exist, allowing you to buy cosmetic items, pets and whatnot. So you won't have to pay more than base price.
There's much more to this game than I'm fitting in this post. And I'm hardly getting into most of it. I really just wanted summarize a few things that appeal to me, making me really want to play this game. I mean, crafting is cool, dungeons are odd and epic. Also, short, snarky geniuses! I love me some short races. I'll likely go into specific aspects of this game as it gets closer to release and I get more information, but wanted to share stuff, if only to convince my family that playing isn't a bad idea.