[GW2] An altered questing experience

Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Maybe the most profound impression this last beta weekend has left me with, is the questing experience in Guild Wars 2. I am reluctant to even call it “questing”, so overused is this term ever since World of Warcraft and so heavy with negative meaning. What I’ve experienced instead in GW2 is adventuring in the truest sense: being a traveler on an unknown road, inquisitive and curious, ready for chance meetings and whatever the world may present me with. Now, we’ve known for a while about ANet’s different approach to quests – the free for all, public and dynamic events. But knowing this or having read about it somewhere does nothing to prepare you for how it really feels to travel the roads of Tyria. You have to do it yourself. You have to be there and spend a couple of hours before the message sinks in with all its gravity.

It was maybe 8 hours into this second beta, when I had seen a big part of the Norn starting area and began to extend my reach, visiting other places like Queensdale (Humans) or the Plains of Ashford (Charr), exploring maps in greater detail. I was around level 18 and had just helped a traveling salesman to get safely to market, when it hit me: there is no quest log.

Ye gods….I have no quest log!

I can’t express properly just how liberating it felt to realize this, that there was no “homework” for my character. No predefined road. In GW2 it is not the quests that drive you from A to B, to discover certain areas or the next quest hub. Instead, you simply wander around and by blundering onto a site (often it finds you), you are presented with an ongoing situation or are asked for help. That is when an event marker or summary will appear on your screen – but it will disappear again as soon as you leave this region or if you fulfilled your mission. This means your screen is empty when leaving events behind and you also don’t just accumulate more and more jobs. The only ongoing, railway type of questline is your personal story and that one waits for you in patient and unobtrusive fashion. The only time I did consult my zone map was in order to avoid too high level content or to check whether I hadn’t accidentally missed a corner.

This difference in approach, that quests and events are tied to locations rather than to your character, makes a huge impact on the enjoyment of exploration. One may justifiably call this a great paradigm shift from the classic, WoW-shaped questing system of MMOs. Rather than already knowing where to go and what you’ll have to do there, you have to figure it out on site. Add to this that events will usually let you assist in several different ways and have several stages or chapters, depending on when you got there.

Things don’t stop there though: the questing experience becomes even less linear once you realize that you really want to go everywhere – that it makes sense to go everywhere. With the level down-ranking in place (your HP constantly changes depending on where you are) and flat leveling curve, it does not matter where you go to do events, gain experience or karma points, as long as you steer clear of higher level content which is rather quick on the ball punishing transgressions. In fact you do want to visit alternative places especially to earn extra skill points. The bottom line is that there are no strict “starting areas” anymore. All the maps are yours and the world feels bigger than ever. Feel that there’s not enough to do on “your map”? Well then, move your butt somewhere else! Pacing is not the same concern when you have so many areas to choose from.

All these innovations have added a great deal to my enjoyment of this beta weekend and made for the kind of immersive gameplay experience I haven’t had since Skyrim. ANet has achieved a splendid thing and I look forward to them improving the system further where balance and rewards, impact and cooperation are concerned. I will not complain about these issues though; at this point in time I am simply too happy with the overall concept realized in this upcoming and visually stunning MMO.

Talking about stunning…

To say that the world of Guild Wars 2 is breathtakingly beautiful, even on a PC as dated as my own, falls horribly short. The visuals and art style are far beyond anything I had personally hoped for and the wonderful soundtrack of Jeremy Soule (which could be more frequent in places) adds further depth and atmosphere. I’ve stood under a pine tree showering me with snow; I felt the sea spray on my face.

My most remarkable moment of the entire beta was in Godlost Swamp though: standing in the middle of a shallow lake, an eagle flew by me and then circled around me maybe four times. Then, he actually plunged into the water, caught a fish (I assume..) and soared up into the sky. I LIVE FOR THIS SHIT!

And because it was all so wonderful, I decided to create a small screenshot gallery (not mobile friendly) with some of the most beautiful shots I’ve taken this weekend. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do! And I hope the third beta weekend won’t be too long!


  1. I have to say that I had much of the same experience in the game. I was running around getting all of the points of interest in Hoelbrak? When I stopped and was stunned. It was snowing. Actually snowing. Not lame like in most games, but actual natural looking snow. That’s when it hit me. This game is about the environment. It makes you want to look under the rock because you don’t know what you will find under it.

    1. They have certainly put monstrous effort into the maps and small details. I am thinking much of the missing polish that is in the combat still or menu/functions, comes down to their main focus having been visual design for a long time. maybe that’s totally wrong, but it’s how the game feels right now. I love how they added secret underwater tunnels etc. – so much care for small things!

  2. I agree. I think ArenaNet hit the sweet spot between a pure sandbox game where it is “Here it is your game. Now go figure what you want to do” and a more rigid quest system where you feel like the developers are leading you with a carrot on a string.

    A good example with that was when I was running around the norn starting area yesterday. I already had completed the map but needed some screenshots for blog posts. I found that statue that you are featuring on your post that I haven’t noticed before. The statue was broken then and had a dead NPC by it. I was curious and approached it. Me and another player resurrected the NPC and as I was trying to get a nice position to take a screenshot, an event started where those Sons of… whatever-the-name-was appeared and started attacking both the NPC (who was now repairing the statue) and the statue itself. We drove them back, the statue was fully restored and the NPC went happily back to the outpost nearby.

    It was a fun event and one I wouldn’t even know existed if I didn’t take time to go out of my way to check something I thought was interesting.

    If it was in a rigid quest system there would be a NPC telling me to go check the statue out or something. But then it wouldn’t feel as special. It would feel just like another point in a laundry list.

    By the way, love the screenshots too. Thanks for sharing it with us. 🙂

    1. Wow, I didn’t even know about that quest for the statue! 🙂 I only ever saw it completed. that just shows how alive the world can feel in places – it gives you a sense of impact when there’s a visual change like that after you leave. I was indeed often reminded of Skyrim’s questing; I’ve never had a greater sense of open world than in that game. GW2 has certainly emulated quite a bit of that – which is an achievement for an MMO.

      Glad you enjoyed the screenies!

  3. Amen! I just referred to GW2’s adventuring model as being “more like institutionalised knight-errantry” than the traditional approach of collecting a set of quests on a to-do list and then knocking them out one by one. In GW2 you just wander back and forth across the landscape, looking out for opportunities to do good deeds that may arise at any moment.

    In terms of awe-inspiring scenery, and there was a lot, the one that struck me the most was the giant ice statues outside the four totem lodges> I don’t recall seeing them last beta weeekend when I was in Hoelbrak… but the things are easily 40 feet or more tall! Are they new, or was I just completely blind?! Either way, they really are stunning pieces of art both in-game and in terms of being game art – the poses, attention to detail and the tech (which really does make them look as if they’ve been carved from ice) are all fantastic.

    1. I love Hoelbrak especially for the 4 avatars and lodges. DR is stunning, but there I have this sense of getting lost. Also, I have a weak spot for northern, snowy settings – the ice sculptures are indeed awesome. 🙂
      I do believe they were there before, though? hehe…now I am not sure anymore. what I discovered this time around was the whole sunny place with the big statue I posted above. I missed that before.

  4. I hope this post doesn’t come as rain to your parade, Syl, but we need a balanced to this fanboish zeal you’ve shown!
    I hope that GW2 is a runaway success for many reasons: the game has soul, the devs are 100% behind the product, it’s a clear step off the [beaten] path.
    However, there are 2 things that scratch at the back of my mind whenever I want to ‘dive in’ to all the goodness that is, indeed, packed into this gem.
    1. No dedicated healing. I’m a firm believer in the trinity system as a base, and removing that specialized role will, in time, show itself as an error. Things will become to feel like a zerg, if they don’t already.
    2. The WvWvW PvP is immense, and it’s got action… but it’s forced. It’s inorganic. I then came to realize that GW2, despite all its beauty and wonderful talent behind it, still plays like a *game*.
    Things like a scaling health bar are indicative of this: when I jump back and forth across this imaginary line, my hp *really* fluctuates? Hey, it’s great for how the *game* might play, but immersion just checked out. =/

    1. Hehe, if everyone always agreed with me there’s be nothing to talk about! 😉
      I do see your point about the combat: it doesn’t feel very streamlined or cooperative right now, but I personally do not see the trinity as the answer to all MMO combat. there are too many downsides to it, for me. ANet have time to fix a lot of things and this is certainly on their list. I have also not yet been able to play 5man dungeons, the public events aren’t the best opportunity to experience combat mechanics. either way, at the end of the day you have to live with the more zergy and wild nature of fights in GW2 I think. it is simply not WoW and doesn’t aspire to be.

      As for WvW I cannot say much about it. The fluctuating HP isn’t necessarily immersion breaking though, if you can free yourself of a number and rather experience the relativeness of you vs. your environment. it makes sense that even as a more seasoned fighter, you still won’t one-shot everything below you. this is fairly ridiculous in most MMOs. a high-level should not be 100+ times stronger than any opponent. the flexible HP in GW2 brings some balance into this. I don’t necessarily see how the lines between areas are so relevant as the mobs usually change too. again, I think this is merely something people need to get used to.

  5. Exactly. Questing felt natural. The only thing I did miss was that after I died (or left for whatever reason) I could not see my progress anymore. I’ve also received a bronze medal for just standing near an event whilst I did nothing (I tend to sometimes alt+tab).

    ANet’s entire design philosophy seems to be less is more. You notice this when you install the game: it is 4 files. It reminded me of Apple, but I realize that is a can of worms of a compare. You also notice less is more in the respeccing via weapon (feels natural and elegant) and the amount of abilities (each of them matters in a different way but there are not zillions of them which don’t matter like in WoW and SWTOR). And those are just a few examples.

    1. It does seem overly easy in places to earn a reward; the game is almost diametrically opposed to those MMOs where players will compete for every bone. I don’t think that’s how it’s supposed to be though, we will probably see fixes sooner or later.

  6. I have to admit I like GW2 UI’s quest log that only shows the heart and events in the area the character is in (the track is still kept of course so you don’t lose progress when you leave the area – I think it was displayed when you moused over a heart on map) too. There was some trouble too – I was not impressed (I don’t mean I hated it but I was merely unimpressed) by the main quest line which I felt lacked options. Many hearts had quite a few objectives that couldn’t be progressed at all which meant the few ones that worked had to be grinded – and that made the experience worse for me.

    However all this felt quite like the old, well known quest system – it was the random events that felt different. I understand they are not new either but for me it felt the way quests in WoW felt when I was new there. I was familiar with quests and done quite a few of them – but suddenly, it felt as if there was a quest everywhere and there was never need to kill a monster without a NPC asking me to. GW2 felt similar.

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