Guild Wars 2 hands-on preview

Embracing the madness

I got to experience this “controlled chaos” firsthand during my playtime at ArenaNet's HQ near Seattle, Washington. I was an Elementalist teamed up with an assortment of the four available classes as my allies. We ventured into a dark, foreboding swamp to take on The Shadow Behemoth, and let me assure you, the 12 story-tall demon certainly lived up to its name. Its health was split between its head and two massive, shadowy hands capable of rocking the earth beneath us, knocking us down.

We knew this boss would take coordination, and although none of us had chosen to be a “tank” or “healer” when making our character, it didn't take long for the familiar shouts of “OK, I'll tank him” and “I've got your back; I'll heal you!” were shouted across the room as the warriors pulled out shields and the Elementalists switched to their water attunement, granting them healing abilities.

But I'm not the healing type, so I stuck with my dual-dagger fire setup which gave me powerful AoE skills. I had a ton of fun swapping between my attunements to fill different roles: I'd jump to my water attunement to freeze a lesser demon harassing our healers, then throw down a firewall in front of our Rangers so that their arrows caught fire en route to the boss (player abilities can combine together in hundreds of different, logical ways to produce new, unique effects), and blasted the boss's face with a few fireballs of my own whenever I had some spare time.

What now?

It was going well—and then our healer died. In almost any other MMO, this would be a wipe; we'd all be dead. But we're not so helpless in GW2. Our fallen healer is still casting spells at nearby enemies, Left 4 Dead-style.

Her Grasping Earth spell attacks and slows a nearby enemy. If she can kill someone within 30 seconds, she'll pop back up to her feet and keep fighting (the time limit is drastically reduced if she's downed repeatedly or continues to take damage).

We all pitch in to help our healer kill the nearby swamp demon and she's revived; but now the tank has fallen. No worries—I pop Mist Form, which makes me temporarily invulnerable, sprint to the tank and revive him. He jumps to his feet, the healer caps off his health, and we're back in business.

In GW2, anyone is able to revive another player as an innate interaction (“We wanted lots of opportunity for things to not only go wrong, but for players to reverse what went wrong,” explains Flannum), which led to some pretty miraculous daisy-chaining of resurrections that brought our team back from the brink of disaster to finally defeating the giant swamp boss after 10 minutes of intense, fast-paced action that kept us thinking on our toes the entire time.

Environmental weapons offer another great way to mix things up mid-combat: pick up a big rock on the ground and your skills are replaced with ones that let you hurl the boulder at enemies or bash them with it up close.

Unlike some MMOs, there's no way that successful raiders in GW2 will be spamming one attack over and over—the controlled chaos keeps combat dynamic and exciting and generates great stories to brag and laugh about afterwards.

Check back tomorrow for the second part of the preview where we'll reveal two new dungeons and lots nitty-gritty dungeon/open world mechanics.