Guild Wars 2 review as it happens

Chris Thursten at

Exploring the human capital of Divinity's Reach reveals some surprises.

Welcome to our Guild Wars 2 review in progress. The three day head start for Guild Wars 2 pre-purchasers began on Saturday morning. Chris has been in the game (well, ish) from the start, and will be recording his impressions here over the course of next few days with a full review to follow. Check out hours 0-6 below, hours 6-17 here, hours 17-24 here, hours 24-30 here, and hours 30-42 here.

The next update will be on Tuesday due to real life bank holiday commitments. Honestly: it's like they don't know there's a war on.

If you'd like to join us in Guild Wars 2, check out last week's community update for all the information you need on our newly-founded guilds.

Hour 1:

It’s an hour and a half before early access is officially due to begin, but internet rumblings suggest that ArenaNet have pushed the big red button sooner than they said. Two initial login attempts fail, but then I’m in. I join Gunnar’s Hold EU and start creating my first character.

I’ve known what I wanted to play first for a while - a human warrior, the first GW2 character I played - so I bypass a fair bit of the selection process. It’d be nice to have more fine control over some aspects of character creation. I’m making a female character, and it’d be good to be able to customise make-up (i.e, remove it) separately from face shape. Nonetheless, I make a character that I like. Guild Wars 2 has a thing for corsets and impractical armour, but it is possible to make someone with an athletic build and a tan.

Combat in the human tutorial feels fast and punchy, even if I’m just whacking centaurs. This area is well-paced, particularly the way it bottlenecks new players around the bridge during the defense sequence. As more new players show up, the centaur waves grow - it feels dramatic, and that’s important in someone’s first thirty minutes.

I won’t spoil it, but the human tutorial boss is brilliantly staged. This is (or could be) raid-level stuff, and it’s a great big advertisement for the rest of the game. “YOU ARE GOING TO GET TO FIGHT LOTS OF RIDICULOUS MONSTERS”, it cries. It's on the rest of the game to live up to it.

A cutscene, and then I’m in Queensdale, the first human zone. The dialogue sequences seem snappier than I remember - I wonder if they’ve trimmed them down to improve the pacing. Long dialogues were one of the problems I had with the beta - GW2 doesn’t give you choices in voiced conversations, so they need to keep them brief and interesting.

The spawn-in area is hilariously packed, but there’s no lag and I’m able to get out into the zone quickly. It’s about an hour since I loaded up the launcher, and I’ve logged in, created a character, and I’m playing: we’ll see what happens over the course of the day, but so far that seems like a smooth launch.

Events get larger to accommodate big groups of people. At the moment, Queensdale is being policed by an army.

Hour 3:

...and there we go. Almost immediately after writing my last entry, I’m booted from the game while tooling with armour dyes. We’re thirty minutes from official early access start. I’m hoping to get back in before things go crazy.

Twenty minutes later, and I’m back in - just before early access opens up properly. I haven’t had any problems since but I understand that there are login issues in Europe. Nonetheless, there are a lot of people in-game and it seems to have been a relatively painless start so far.

I’ve not decided to blitz any one aspect of the game yet. I’ve wandered, done some story missions, chatted to the guild and explored the city. I’m level six, and I’ve unlocked all of the abilities for my first chosen weapon set - sword and shield. What impresses so far is how many individually memorable things have happened. Here are the boxes I ticked:

  • Fought a bandit leader in a pub.
  • Learned to cook and went herb-picking.
  • Wandered down a back-street and found an enormous steampunk trombone the size of a merry-go-round that was farting out carnival music.
  • Failed to stop some bandits from poisoning the water supply, but subsequently completed the event to make a cure.
  • Joined a massive mob of players chasing a rampaging bull across the countryside. It ran through some bee houses. Fought angry bees with the help of many, many wizards.
  • Disguised myself as a bandit and did some quests for them to uncover a conspiracy.
  • Became strangely fixated with dyes and colour coordination. This is likely to become a trend.

I’ve played a lot of GW2 already over the course of several press and beta events, but there are still aspects of the combat system that are just now starting to click. One of my shield abilities allows me to hunker down and shrug off hits for three seconds, but it’s channeled and locks out all of my other abilities as well as movement. Initially I thought that this was designed to keep you alive while your healing skills cool down, but having played with it it’s more of an active block: you use it to avoid major incoming attacks without dodge-rolling and getting out of position. I’d been thinking of it solely in terms of numbers - the amount mitigated, when I can use it, etc - rather than twitch skill.

I’m starting to see where the depth is, and how pro players will set themselves apart - but I’m not totally convinced yet that the game does enough to explain this. There’s a new tutorial button, and helpful pop-up tooltips appear every time you encounter a new feature - but at the moment it feels like it’ll be down to the community to say “hey, you should be dodging more” or “this is how you get the best use out of those abilities.” MMO communities have been great at this in the past, but it’d be a shame if people miss out on the best bits of the combat system simply because they don’t ask for help.

I don't know what I'd do without the support of Planky The Smack-Talking Floorboard.

Finally, a tip: go to the options menu and activate auto-looting as soon as possible. This makes it so that the loot window only shows up if your inventory is full: otherwise, you can just run around hammering the F key to pick everything up. It’s really useful during hectic events where you might miss drops and crafting materials.

Hour 6:

After another hour of running events, gathering, and crafting, we’re all booted from the server again. It’s the same login issue as last time.

Ninety minutes later, I manage to get to character select - but I’m promptly booted again, and now the launcher won’t load. I guess a whole bunch of Europeans woke up around 11am, and decided to play Guild Wars 2. It didn’t end well.

The fact that I’ve played a couple of hours of the game already puts this launch above Diablo 3’s, but it’s far from where it should be - particularly as the only people with access are pre-purchasers. That’s part of the problem, though: people have paid a premium for this early access, given the cost of the game on the ArenaNet website compared to other outlets. They’ve got another hour, I reckon, before the collective sighs of every European pre-purchaser puts a dent in the Earth’s orbit and sends us all hurtling into the sun. Perhaps that’s overstating it: people are likely to be cross, is what I’m trying to say.