Guild Wars 101 for MMO Vets

I’ve been playing MMOs for a few years now and I like to think I’ve picked up a few things and have become somewhat genre savvy.  None of it however prepared me for Guild Wars.  A LotRO friend of mine kept telling me that it was his favorite game and it happened to be $20 on Steam.  I figured, “Why not?”  Oh, was I ever in for a surprise.  I was lost in a haze as my friend basically dragged me through the first third or so of Factions.  Almost none of my MMO experience applied (including from Guild Wars 2), so when I was left on my own in Kaineng City at level 17, I felt confused and grew frustrated trying to play on my own.

Whirled weary warrior

Whirled weary warrior

I have since learned how the game works and very much enjoy it.  What I would like to share is essentially Guild Wars 101 from the perspective of an MMO “veteran.”  In other words, how Guild Wars is different from other MMOs.  Before I start, yes, I am aware that Guild Wars does not bill itself as an MMO.  I’m also trying to make this a short(ish) read, so I’ll be leaving out some details and oversimplifying a little bit.

First, Guild Wars has three starting campaigns.  They are (in order of release): Prophecies, Factions, and Nightfall.  Eye of the North is an expansion separate from campaigns.  The classes in Prophecies are available in the other two campaigns, but each of the others also has two classes exclusive to their campaign.  If you want to play as one of those exclusive classes, you must start in the appropriate campaign.  Don’t worry.  You can access the other two campaigns after reaching a certain point in whichever you started in.

The campaigns are different stories with differing lengths, pacing, and themes.  I think Factions strikes the best balance for a new player, if you’re looking for a suggestion.  Prophecies starts you off solo and proceeds slowly while Nightfall presumes you know the ropes already and quickly ushers you into the game.  Starting off with Factions does mean that cameos and references to Prophecies will go over your head, but you are not missing anything essential.

Second, the entire game is designed to be played by at least two characters.  Can it be done by one?  Some parts, yes, but it’s not ideal.  Note that I did not say two “people.”  For the vast majority of the game, you will have access to what are called henchmen.  These are NPCs that you can freely add to your party while in a town or outpost.  You cannot control them beyond setting waypoints or calling out a target and you will receive less loot from enemies as the henchmen take their share.  It is a necessary evil, unless you group with enough friends to fill out an entire party.  Beware: henchmen are stupid, but don’t leave a city without them.

These are henchmen. They are not smart.

These are henchmen. They are not smart.

Third, level and gear are a factor in the game, but they are not the goal.  In the usual MMO, you gain levels, grow in power, and get better gear as a reward.  Here, level is almost irrelevant.  You will hit level 20 before you finish any one campaign and in some cases, even at or before halfway through.  You will continue to gain XP and “level,” but it only rewards you with skill points past the level cap.  Meanwhile, enemy levels will continue to escalate.  How do you counter that?  With gear, right?  No.  Surprise!  Glad we had this talk.

While gear is important to a degree, you can acquire gear with the maximum armor or damage value fairly early, even before you hit level 20.  Getting gear with the maximum base stat and appropriate extra stats and/or procs will help, but to counter stronger enemies you need to focus on two things: tactics and builds.

Guild Wars is a limited skill set game, like The Secret World, WildStar, or Guild Wars 2.  You have many skills to choose from, but limited slots to put them in.  Therefore it is very important to make effective combinations.  Having the right build goes a long way to defeating enemies.

The right build will not take you very far though if you do not plan encounters.  Trying to brute force your way through the game only makes it more difficult.  Unless you are drastically over-geared or over-leveled for some normal mode areas of the game, you will need to take your time, assess enemy groups, prioritize targets, make smart pulls, and focus fire, to say the least.  I sometimes forget this myself and find half (or all) of my party dead after a fight.  Friends don’t let friends try to faceroll.

Fourth, many skills that do damage will do so in indirect ways.  Some skills reduce HP regeneration, which can go negative and thus result in someone losing HP over time instead of regaining it.  Some skills may apply a debuff that results in damage each time the target uses a spell or deals extra damage when the target is hit by a physical attack.  Don’t be surprised if a class you pick (or a build for that class) has a dearth of direct damage abilities.

He's playing air guitar. Just roll with it.

He’s playing air guitar. Just roll with it.

Finally, a tip: start off with a simpler class.  I read class descriptions and picked mesmer because it sounded cool.  In hindsight, this was a mistake and only compounded my frustration.  Mesmer is an awesome class, but to use one effectively you need to understand game mechanics, terminology, capabilities of other classes, and often have fore knowledge of the enemies you will face.  I obviously started with none of that and trying to learn both the game and this complex class simultaneously was not bright.

I also suggest not starting with a ritualist.  It’s another great class, but might be overwhelming because of how many options it gives you in terms of roles and utilities.  Warrior, ranger, and elementalist have straightforward damage dealing builds and there’s always monk, if for some reason you really want to heal.  The other classes I think tend to fall between the two ends of this spectrum I’ve presented.  If you have your heart set on a particular class, don’t let me stop you.  Just be prepared for a less forgiving learning curve.

And that should do it.  Feel free to leave comments, questions, compliments, and globs of ectoplasm below.

One comment

  1. Great write-up! I never realized how different GW is from most MMOs.

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