Guild Wars 2 Hands-On - The Norn Race, The Guardian Profession, and the Thief Revealed

We meet the Norn race and play as both a guardian and the newly revealed thief class in this massively multiplayer sequel.

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A lot of people are looking forward to Guild Wars 2 and with good reason. While developer Arena Net admits the original game wasn't a massively multiplayer game, it was still a very popular online role-playing game with plenty of intriguing meta-game strategy. Guild Wars 2, on the other hand, will be a full-blown massively multiplayer game with giant, open worlds that act as shared spaces for however many players end up playing. And quite a few of them will want to try out the game's new playable races, such as the Viking-like Norn and animalistic Charr, as well as new playable classes like the guardian and the game's newly announced thief profession. On a recent visit to Arena Net headquarters in less-than-sunny Washington state, we had the opportunity to try all of the above and have much to report.

Our play experience started with the creation of a new Norn character. Guild Wars 2 will eventually have extensive visual customization options to make your character look however you'd like, but more interestingly, it also has a character background system for each profession. It will hit you with a handful of questions as you create your character that will then inform your character's background and potentially affect your character's future quests. These questions are not unlike the old questionnaires from the classic Ultima games or early Elder Scrolls games, and they also affect your character's starting disposition, as determined by the game's three personality values: charm, dignity, or ferocity.

Ladies and gentlemen, for your consideration: the Guild Wars 2 thief.

Throughout the course of the game, you can speak to characters you meet using these three different tones, which will cause your character to be more or less weighted toward, for instance, charm or ferocity. Arena Net representatives suggest that characters that focus primarily on charm will be mobbed by adoring children when they enter their home village, whereas characters that focus on ferocity will frighten the same children away. In addition to these choices, you may make choices specific to your race and profession. Norn characters also make the choice of following one of the race's four sacred totem spirits: the wolf, the snow leopard, the raven, or the bear. This choice will actually change the way the game's first cinematic sequence unfolds. Your Norn characters, a member of a race that values glory and reputation highly, will boast (in their own voices) about how their strength echoes that of the bear or how their cunning is like that of the snow leopard. There were six different professions available for our play session: the elementalist (the game's damage-dealing wizard); the warrior; the ranger (the game's bow-and-arrow expert); the necromancer; the guardian; and the newly unveiled thief.

The thief is an unusual class that shares some of the skills of the first game's assassin, including teleport powers and stealth abilities. But unlike the assassin, the thief can steal; specifically, thieves can steal away powers from their enemies to use them in battle. Stealing is a skill that appears on a thief's hotkey bank (much like the teleporting shadow step spell and the profession's various combat abilities), and when thieves successfully steal a copy of the powers of their enemies, thieves are considered to be holding an item pack that temporarily replaces their current hotkeys with stolen powers. These powers will generally be abilities that thieves don't normally possess on their own (and in some cases, belong to some of the game's other professions). Stealing from the game's ostrichlike moa birds will yield the ability to stun enemies by hurling a fistful of feathers in their faces; stealing from a skull-belted ogre will yield one of the actual skulls, which can be used to trigger a fear spell normally reserved for necromancers.

Otherwise, thieves are deadly combatants who have a unique advantage in combat. To clarify, all of Guild Wars 2's professions, including the thief, have various combat skills tied to hotkeys (the game even conveniently lets you right-click the combat hotkey of your choice to make it your character's default auto-attack option that will be repeatedly triggered in battle if you choose no other skill). But every other character in the game will have a certain delayed cooldown after using any given skill before they can use that skill again. That is not the case with the thief. The thief can attack relentlessly without any kind of delay. Rather than being limited by recharge times, thieves are limited by initiative points, which are spent by using skills and recharged over time and with the use of other skills. This includes the profession's special backward-tumbling dodge, roll for initiative. (Yes, that's really what it's called. Don't wince.)

Otherwise, the thief is an ambidextrous character who excels at wielding a dagger in each hand, though the character can also dual-wield flintlock pistols. That's right, Guild Wars 2 will have firearms, and the thief is the first profession we've seen with the ability to wield them. Even more interestingly, your character's available combat skills will be based on which weapon (or weapons) you currently have equipped, so you'll have an entirely different set of skills available when you switch weapons to your character's secondary weapon loadout (which you can do by tapping your tilde "`" key). Better still, thieves will have entirely different skill sets when dual-wielding daggers than when dual-wielding pistols, which will also be entirely different when wielding a pistol in one hand and a dagger in the other. Many players have expressed concern that Guild Wars 2's removal of the first game's dual-character class system, which let you take on secondary skills belonging to an entirely different profession, might lead to less variety in terms of what each character can do. But you can swap weapons on the fly to enable different skill sets--to say nothing of how thieves can steal additional skills--so you should have plenty of different options in any given battle.

Once you've created your new Norn character, you begin in the Norn starter village, a rustic settlement built around a wooded mountain range. The design of the Norn and their habitation was clearly inspired by ancient Vikings. These tall, broad-shouldered folk wear animal-skin fur clothes and armor and horned helmets. And they direct their anger toward an ice dragon that drove them from their ancestral homeland. Their homes are built of rough-hewn logs, and for fun, they launch heavy kegs of ale high into the air and challenge their youths to catch them--or they just fight each other.

Guild Wars 2 will offer plenty of new ideas for how a massively multiplayer game should work.

Our Norn rogue character started his career standing right in front of a quest-giving character, and we right-clicked on her to trigger Guild Wars 2's conversation system. Unlike pretty much every other massively multiplayer game out there, this one doesn't just hit you with a scrolling clump of text. Instead, the game pulls up a cinematic sequence that briefly superimposes itself on the screen, presenting your character standing tall on the left and the other character on the right, with both speaking their parts aloud and gesticulating expressively. Our first quest charged us to hunt down three different local beasts by flushing them out of the bushes or baiting traps and then carrying back their remains to the village tanner. The craftsman was so impressed with our work that we were called to join an event called The Great Hunt, which culminated in a climactic battle atop a mountain against a gigantic scaled worm that lunged out of solid ice to greet us and our computer-controlled Norn youth hunting party. We all piled onto the massive beast until it finally fell. At that point, we were instantly transported back to the village, standing before a village elder who suggested we seek out more problems to solve in the area, which would help the locals and earn us glory.

At this point, we opened the game's map, which superimposes itself atop the screen and shows key areas of interest. Guild Wars 2 clumps together quests and ongoing events in certain areas that are often located conveniently close to map nodes. Once you've visited them, they can be used as quick-travel points for a minor cost of in-game coin. The Norn starter area has four primary quests associated with the race's four totemic spirits. Most of them require you to engage in battle, though Arena Net is clearly trying to add variety beyond "go kill five of these critters." For instance, the snow leopard quest area is focused on a shaman who will change you into the shape of an actual snow leopard (with a brand-new set of snow leopard abilities). Then you must perform leopard-like activities, such as hunting down vermin or comforting newborn leopard cubs. The raven quest area is a mountain with row after row of raven statues that simply asks you riddles, and the more riddles you answer correctly, the closer you get to completing the quest. Guild Wars 2's quest and event system is built around an onscreen quest meter that gradually fills up as you perform actions pertaining to the quest or event. These may be killing off the marauding army of centaurs that has overrun a village or grabbing a bucket and putting out the fires that the beasts started.

We then switched our character out to play as a higher-level character; in this case, it was a guardian of the Charr race in the level-20 range. The Charr are beast-men that look like nothing less than half-men, half-lions (with lion's heads), but their origins pertain to their militant culture. One of the race's starter questions asks which member of your character's battalion you value most highly--the sly, stealthy scout; the powerful warrior; or the ruthless leader. However, we were playing a higher-level character, so we didn't play through the Charr's starting area and instead took our guardian into a territory shared by all the game's races and besieged by centaurs and pirates.

The guardian class works, as we've described previously, around powerful support skills that can control zones and heal allies. Among other abilities, guardians have three different virtues--skills that enhance their own abilities by healing damage, blocking incoming attacks, or causing your weapons to deal fire damage. While only one virtue can be active at a time, you can also retrigger your active virtue to lose the enhancement on yourself but add it to your companions (and to clarify, you don't need to be in an adventuring party for these skills to work; any other nearby player who is also working on the same quest you're following can benefit from the effects). The profession's other skills include summoned barriers that enclose areas to defend vulnerable teammates or performing weapon-specific attacks.

While the guardian isn't the game's most powerful warrior, he can clearly hold his own in single combat, and his powerful group abilities will make him a valued ally. Of course, the enemies we fought were a lot tougher than the low-level forest animals we'd tangled with as an early Norn character. In more than a few cases, when we got greedy and tried to take on too many enemies, they mobbed us and cut us down. However, Guild Wars 2 has a last-ditch fighting system that lets you attack a nearby foe for a limited time, with a limited selection of skills, if you're cut down. If you can kill a foe before time runs out, your character will recover and can get right back into the fight. Then again, Guild Wars 2 doesn't have a dedicated healer class; all professions have at least one way to heal themselves, and any character can revive any other character as well.

Guild Wars 2 has a lot of interesting ideas that are very different from conventional online games. Given the game's intriguing mechanics, solo- and group-friendly gameplay, and its beautiful art, we can't wait to see more. While there still isn't any official release date confirmed for the game, Arena Net and NCSoft do plan to launch the game this year.

Discussion

103 comments
kazumashadow
kazumashadow

This idea of changing weapons also changes skill set is simply great. I'm a WoW player but lately have been thinking that after a certain level it lacks inovation in terms of skills. Guild Wars 2 may be different and having to pay for it only once and not a monthly fee is another positive point.

simon1812
simon1812

it is taking too long, more regular updating wouldnt hurt.

phatbomber
phatbomber

when everybody around me playd wow i fought nah thats not for me dropped that game after 3 months of teeth grinding grinding and never looked back then i discoverd guild wars ....and i am still playing it not so much anymore but hey ...no monthly fees .....hope they keep that up and dont create anymore fiascos like tabula rasa wich was a shame cause it looked like a brilliant idea.... so i hope this will exceed all my expectations !!

N0tYrBeezin
N0tYrBeezin

@Project-Mayham How does one insult a game exactly? I didn't know games had feelings! Beside I think you are not reading my post right. There seems to be a kind of disconnect. I don't know how to connect what you said to what I posted in response to another poster. Really!

Project-Mayham
Project-Mayham

@N0tYrBeezin seriously, computers are not that expensive these days. i can't believe you would insult a game because it cannot play on a "lousy computer."

raptures330
raptures330

This is taking so loooooong to make. Good. Really think things through this time ANet. Learn from GW. Wonder what will be the first solofarmer class :)

masterdude192
masterdude192

Why is the character's walk so bouncy? It looks as if hes skipping. Otherwise Im very excited and can not wait.

elementrium
elementrium

Should be much better than the first one... sooo thankful that they have got rid of the dye purchasing kinda got tedious

NColdhardt
NColdhardt

Reminds me of the thief class in older Final Fantasies.

AzatiS
AzatiS

@flux_da3mon And not only that. Blizzard for example , seems so greedy. What i mean is that for server maintenance and patching once in 2-3 months for more content , DOESNT COST 130MILLION dollars ( THATS the amount of $$ EACH month for wow subs only ). Period. They dont even cut monthly price a bit , only hiding behind "patching and server maintenance excuse". Biggest excuse ever for 130millions per month isnt?.. And yeah the moment GW2 release , the first second ill cancel my wow sub. period

flux_dA3m0n
flux_dA3m0n

The sole fact this game will not have a subscription fee is AMAZING. I hope millions of people buy it. While I love MMO's,having to buy the game -AND- continue paying for it as long as you want to play in my opinion is incredibly infuriating. God bless Arena Net.

Goddess_s
Goddess_s

YESS!!! this year! woot woot!!

Jinroh_basic
Jinroh_basic

i have VERY high hopes for GW2, and hopefully ANet will be able to pull it off.

packers91
packers91

As long as the thief isn't as incredibly lame and noobish as the current assassin

N0tYrBeezin
N0tYrBeezin

@I_ArCh0n_I Every other game wasn't released in 2004 with a 2002 game engine! Beside your every other game won't even play on a lousy computer. Stop muddling everything with your inconsistent argument.

I_ArCh0n_I
I_ArCh0n_I

@N0tYrBeezin Every game has a minimum graphics setting for the lousy computers, the hard work is increasing the maximum graphic settings for people with more modern computers. All WoW has is minimum graphics, shapes with hardly any textures. Every other game is able to improve graphics so no excuses.

MetalDarkElf
MetalDarkElf

@JERONIMO888 It's an open world. Only your home and some story line stuff will be instanced as far as I know. Correct me if I'm wrong though :)

JERONIMO888
JERONIMO888

hey guys because i dont know best english can you tell me will it be like GW1 that when you get out of town, world was instanced to you or your group, or it will be open world for everyone like most mmo?

limhol123
limhol123

@666NightsInHell Except the PvP was the best part of the game, and it was incredible.

johncollins80
johncollins80

@666NightsInHell Yeah, P.S. You don't need to buy anything from cash shop. I never bought anything. There you can change character's name, face, gender; unlock elite skills (if you're too lazy to get them in-game); buy absolutely not needed 4 bonus mission packs; buy wonderful GW2-style costumes... So what's "needed" here?

johncollins80
johncollins80

@666NightsInHell In GW:Factions you can get to max level in less than a day - but contrary to you I think it's great! In many other MMO's I played I always strove to reach the max level so I can finally play as equal with other people, go into raids and face strong monsters, but in GW I can do it, like I said, even with a new character in less then a day! Well... I think that's wonderful. That way the whole game IS the endgame content! Another fact: you can't get all the elites in 5 days... XD Not even in 2 weeks, unless you play 24/7, cause you can't reach the places where they are. And I think it's easy to see: when we all have same amount of health (most of the time), maxed armour, and maxed weapons GW's motto "Your skill will be your legend" comes to life - how strong you are depends on the skills you used to create your 8-skill-build and how successfully you know to use it in different situations. (Armour mods, weapon mods etc. are used to make your character play slightly different from other people's but you can't become OP with them, and that's what's called customization, together with skins)

N0tYrBeezin
N0tYrBeezin

@I_ArCh0n_I Continuously updated does not mean they can change everything! The graphics engine is already in place since 2004 and all the low resolution models and textures are there. They cannot replace everything without people crying up a storm or people with lousy computers that suddenly can no longer play. So you think updated means they can turn a frog in to a prince? You are not very bright, are you?

666NightsInHell
666NightsInHell

..also ingame everyone have same equipment when u max level, only different looks you can get, i not understand why i need these looks without stat improvements, game is finished so quick coz of that, i cant progress after reaching max level and after buying game you still need to buy stuff from cash shop, if developers going same wau, game not worth anything, full web of free great mmo games

666NightsInHell
666NightsInHell

First guild war was for 5 days of playing, to get max level and get all needed elite skills, not impressed, cant count like real mmo game, so im not waiting 2nd part, also i dont like pokemon faced games

Raziel5483
Raziel5483

I've been waiting for this game far to long, but atleast they haven't crammed it out early like to many other developers. It's looking better and better!

limhol123
limhol123

@MetalDarkElf Ah ok i remember that (its been years since i played). Well, i dont see how that could possibly ruin the game. If that ruined the game then i dunno what a 55 monk did, as that was the easiest way to farm for a while. I also thought assassins were fine. My least favorite class was Paragon. Wasn't a very interesting class.

MetalDarkElf
MetalDarkElf

@limhol123 Perma-assassins are assassins who are permanently keeping Shadow Form up with either Shadow Form+consumables or Shadow Form + Deadly Paradox and few others. Very good farm build but that made it being nerfed very often. I don't care though, I'm not a fan of assassins. Hope the thief will be better :)

Chickan_117
Chickan_117

Damn... I was hoping for a hands on video :( Still, 'twas a good read and I still can't wait for this.

limhol123
limhol123

@MW2GhoST What is a perma assassin? Assassins in GW were mainly good for knockdown chains and deadly blossom spamming. Most of the skills that didn't have recharge weren't used from what i remember. Plus, if any type of assassin ruined the first one it was SoJ assassin (which was super fun in RA ^.^) and they nerfed things that got OP. Also, assassins were very situational when it came to GvG. They were mostly used in splits, but some guilds used them as frontlines for spikes. They took so much dmg with a lot less DPS than warriors.

megakick
megakick

the voice over for this is better then the voic eover for world warcraft catalysm. the wow voice over is silly.

kent6650
kent6650

Damn! I was expecting to see a gameplay video. The wall of text is just isn't enough. At least some screenshots on the gameplay would suffice. I reckoned this game would come out soon? or may a demo soon?

I_ArCh0n_I
I_ArCh0n_I

@N0tYrBeezin WoW is continously updated and I believe was released in 2010/2011 (cataclysm something or other) and thus its graphics are up to date (although still really bad) "what year is it now?" it's 2011. Would I laugh if I seen my great great grandfather riding a horse drawn cart? I imagine I would that sounds pretty funny. You do ask some bizarre questions though, I suspect too much whisky, am I right?

MW2GhoST
MW2GhoST

The perma-assassin ruined the first Guild Wars, lets hope it not as powerful this time.

jecht_35
jecht_35

OMG its guild wars 2 been dieing to try this game. Been looking for something better then WoW. I'm not hating on WoW but with each new expansion it just doesn't have the same appeal anymore hope this game is amazing enough to get my attention. so far its awesome.

N0tYrBeezin
N0tYrBeezin

@I_ArCh0n_I Graphics 10x better than WoW! Sure WoW was released in 2004, what year is this now? And I am sure you laugh at your great great grand father riding a horse drawn cart while you drive everywhere in a car, am I right?

I_ArCh0n_I
I_ArCh0n_I

With no monthly fee and graphics 10X better than WoW, it's worth keeping an eye on.

xenofico
xenofico

I agree with @graavigala the voice from the intro lacks force or the proper tone I dont know how to say it, it doesnt look to confident hehe

winyon
winyon

@Nhoj1983 GW worked fine and there is a much different feel to it comparing to paying each month a fee. GW1, you didnt need to update to play, you still could play even if there was several of expansions out there. You love to know what you are paying for, any mmo updates and it surely is not something you will know before hand. But I see what you mean, still the payment model should be the same as GW1. I for one don't like to pay each month when there really isn't any new content, nor do I like that I need to pay when the new content comes. Gw2 payment model will work, just buy it and enjoy like everyone else.

Nhoj1983
Nhoj1983

To be honest I think that the "monthy fee" is a need... for the games that can't keep the numbers.. Don't get me wrong... I've maintained a sub to one mmo or another for a long long time... but I LOVE the idea of knowing what I'm paying for... not hoping for that expansion or update at some unforeseen future. Then having to pay for the big expansion on top of it... there is no need to charge that much past more profit... and the ability to get away with it. Arena net is banking that a lot of copies will leave the store... and then if it's like GW1 6-12 months later they will buy another.. there is quality in quantity... and we all win by it. This isn't FTP it's buy to play and that is how it should be.

smoman5000
smoman5000

I really like how this game is turning out so far, they need to slap a release date on this mother!

VONthug
VONthug

Narrators voice sucks.

Kooken58
Kooken58

I played the first...was okay in my eye's...but i want a game with real pvp and combat that moves away from the standard spam abilities like in WoW and stuff. Older games had so many more in depth features like combat...playing a rogue use to be really challenging but very good while mastered....Open world pvp used to be a big thing but now its all small scale arena and instanced BGs...

Quaker17
Quaker17

I think so far this game is looking really good, definitely will be following this one as it approaches release and possibly a purchase. Although, I'm skeptical that without the financial return that it's going to be missing from a monthly subscription, that it won't meet the technical/logistical standards set by other MMOs that do have a montly payment. The reason why WoW makes so much money, is because it rakes in so much money.

graavigala
graavigala

I really like how the Norn look, bulky and huge, the voice acting just wasnt on par with the whole "im a great warrior"-feel that the video gave

NoDzombie
NoDzombie

cant wait, no subscription fees mean this game is a must have for me......

MillhousePS2
MillhousePS2

I think the fact its free to play, just makes it even more likely to be a very popular game...gona be very hard for many of the other mmo's to keep customers even if it isn't what ppl expected...