While most of the attention on Guild Wars 2 has been on its main world, where quests and stories await your heroism, there's a whole second way to play - the eternal PvP war that is World vs. World vs. World, where both players and monsters are ready to get in your face. But can you really climb the levels in it? For this beta weekend, I decided to give it a shot...
You can't jump straight into WvWvW (pronounced Wuvvuwhuuvwoo) from character creation - everyone has to play through the tutorial first. To keep things as pure as possible, I avoided so much as attacking a single monster, ending up as a clean Level 2 with no extra gear or abilities beyond the knife my Elementalist was awarded for participation - much like the certificate I was once given after failing to earn a single badge at an especially painful Cubs Sports Day.
That resulted in lots of people being set on fire too. But I digress.
Bare minimum of preparation done, not that the NPCs seemed to notice, I immediately warped to the Border to join the front lines. An instructor is standing there to both explain what you're meant to do and highlight the areas to attack on a map - in short, you and other representatives from your server are fighting over towers, resource camps, caravans, orbs of power and similar in a constant tug-of-war. Building up victories mean a bonus for everyone on your server, from Artisan (Increased Chance Of Crafting Critical Success) to Wisdom (Bonus Experience Per Kill), for the duration of the current round. There are no penalties for failure, so players who don't want to concern themselves with the PvP action can simply ignore it.
Wuvvuwhuuvwoo is a pretty intimidating prospect. Forget about a simple arena - Guild Wars 2 does have those, but they're a totally different bit of the game. This is a complete new world to explore and fight in, which you can enter and leave as you will, but whose rounds last an entire fortnight. With three sides fighting, and no shortage of stuff to fight over, there's always likely to be a battle going on somewhere. Though finding it can still take a bit of walking...
To make things a little fairer, every player in Wuvvuwhuuvwoo World gets to fight at Level 80 while there. There's a catch though. Unlike the regular PvP mode, no extra abilities are unlocked and you fight with whatever armour and equipment you bring with you. Wandering out of the fortress gates and giving a Raptor a funny look... it kicked my arse. Not even a contest. Not only did my one available fire spell barely singe its fur, it had a better heal than I did, hit incredibly hard, and the only thing it dropped was a slightly better mage skirt. Very slightly.
Checking the XP gauge, I also noticed that I'd earned 6XP for slaying it. The distance to the dizzy heights of Level 3? 2,110XP. Yeah. This wasn't going to be as smooth as I'd hoped.
Picking away at a few more enemies using the ancient Elementalist technique known as 'running away like a motherfucker', I slowly unlocked my starting fire skills - Dragon's Tooth for targeted AOE, the Phoenix fireball, Ring of Fire, and Fire Grab. I considered continuing down the path and opening up the Water, Earth and Air abilities, but figured they wouldn't do me too much good. At least, not with such a power difference between me and... everything.
To be clear, it's not the equivalent of picking a fight with a higher-level character in, say, World of Warcraft, where you simply get flattened with a glance, but a lack of skill points, abilities and proper gear is still a major disadvantage not helped by the fact that even the regular enemies are tuned with the assumption that they'll be fighting at least a couple of players at once. While I couldn't count how many were online this weekend, the wiki claims that each of the four maps making up a Wuvvuwhuuvwoo battlefield can hold 500 players, for a total of 2000.
As with the main world, there are other ways to progress. Events spring up around the map, some PvE based like clearing out an island of guards to take possession of its treasure, and others focused on attacking/defending towers. They're flagged up when you get close enough, as are specific Battles going on in your vicinity and other bits and pieces you need to know.
My part of the server was quiet when I first logged on, so I opted for a few of the easiest - escorting Supply Caravans. They simply appear on the map and you sign on with the detail just by getting close. These have the advantage of some NPC back-up, and following the main roads, giving a chance of free buffs from sympathetic passers-by or random strangers also joining in. I can't say it was thrilling escort work, but at least it provided some money for initial armour repairs and a few karma points to trade in for delicious cake or something.
Sadly for short-cut fans, you have to actually be the right level to use stuff, no matter what you're fighting at, which at my current rate of progress meant I wasn't going to be equipping any good gear any time this beta. Even if I could afford to buy any, which was increasingly unlikely.
I reached a decision. Flying solo in Wuvvuwhuuvwoo World wasn't going to work.
It was time to sign up for the real action. It was time to go to war.
Happily, even if you're as rubbish at being social as I am in online games/life, Guild Wars makes it spectacularly easy to pitch in with your server-mates. While obviously you can form teams and guilds and be organised, the easiest way to join a group is just to run up to one and start doing stuff. Even as weak as I was, there were things I could do - revive fallen heroes for instance, or pile on some AoE pressure from afar. In Wuvvuwhuuvwoo, there are typically so many people around that nobody's paying much direct attention to what you're doing specifically, so nobody was being a dick or slinging around the dreaded n-word. Noob, I mean. Obviously.
Talk about chaotic. Players travel the world in swarms rather than groups, and it's rarely a long walk to a battle. The map doesn't show everything that's going on, but does flag up both Battles and other players in green dots that makes it possible to see roughly what's going on. Combat is a blaze of pyrotechnic effects, people leaping around, the clash of swords and sudden tactical decisions. I never saw hundreds of players, but there were usually tens running around - more than enough to make battles feel epic rather than one-on-one fights. As with the PvE Events in the main game, I'm a bit concerned that there's just too much going on to do more than just blindly mash attacks after a while, but at least that button mashing looks terrific.
It's the territory side that things really get interesting though. Your goal is to capture and hold resources around the map, adding instant flashpoints and full-on siege mechanics to the team deathmatch skirmishes. Wandering into my first one, I headed up to the walls and looked down to see a genuinely intimidating army of other players trying to smash down the walls - being beaten back not just but fireballs and other attacks from on-high, but turrets and boiling oil that assorted players had laid claim to. As I somewhat pathetically added a few Dragon's Teeth to the mix (cursing their short distance), the gates smashed right open and the whole fort was suddenly drowning in red enemy names and pain effects. Any attempt at a co-ordinated defence just collapsed as the survivors were left gutted and sputtering ineffective bolts of lightning as we all just bled to death, before zapping back to the spawn point to regroup.
From the other side, things were no less insane. Now, approaching the formerly defensive walls saw the ground exploding in the target reticules of incoming turret fire - everyone desperately trying to close the gap and get close. Reviving was pointless; it just guaranteed your own death. Occasionally one of the defenders would fall from the battlements... most likely the result of edging a little too far to try and fire off a spell, and be instantly devoured by the crowd. Guild Wars 2 doesn't actually let you feast on your enemies' flesh and leave them a clean-picked skeleton, but dammit, if that's not what it looks like when it happens to someone.
With so much happening, every death simply being an excuse to tool up and simply follow the crowd back into battle, the glacially slow progress largely faded from view. Compared to levelling in the main PvE world, it was dog-slow and the rewards frankly pathetic - a lump of flesh here, a tooth there, at one point a weapon. When you're fighting in a group of 20 though, in a game-mode everyone expects to have give-and-take (unlike the fixed rounds of a regular PvP match), it's not desperately important how well you're doing. At the very least, there's always Stuff to be done - repairing walls for instance, or watching the horizon for incoming hordes.
The only real problem for little 'ol me was the cost of repairing equipment. It may not cost much, and I may just have cleverly missed some handy funding source, but I was earning essentially nothing but XP from any of these battles - little cash, not much to sell. It didn't take too long before I was out of cash and standing around in my pants like some refugee from Tera.
Now, in fairness, there were ways to make money, including gathering resources and I'm sure winning epic battles that we weren't, but the first seemed against the spirit of the action and the second I was in no position to fix myself. After a while, checking my wallet and finding only +1 Tumbleweeds of Poverty within, I figured it was probably time to slink out of Wuvvuwhuuvwoo World and raise war funds via more predictably profitable PvE.
Ideally somewhere with very few people around...
So, can you level up just via the world PvP? Sure. From what I saw, it'll be slower, and I suspect most players will be happier splitting their time between the two worlds, but there's certainly nothing to stop you diving in with just a starting weapon and burning desire to murder your fellow humanoids. Likewise, if you do join a team or a guild, you'll get an added tactical level and camaraderie that you obviously won't if you're just joining a crowd and smacking stuff, but you can still be welcomed by showing up and doing what you can. People will usually revive you if your side isn't on a mad retreat, the death penalty as light as MMOs get, and there are plenty of tasks on at least the defensive side that anyone can pick up regardless of level.
Overall, this taste of it was as welcoming a mass-PvP game as I've ever played, and I hope that continues to be the vibe after launch when people aren't just having practice scraps until the world ends. Me though? I'll definitely be doing most of my levelling in PvE. More upgrades. A stronger sense of power. And of course, a second chance to join the circus...