My first experience with the game proper was quite a shocker. I was stood on a small crest with a few others (who had presumably just left the character creator as well) with ghosts running around; people stood about, sitting down and fighting everywhere; speech bubbles popping up all over the place; character names hanging above everyone; personal story information blinking in the top right corner of the screen; repetitive dialogue chirps and combat noises filling my ears. Amidst all this chaos there were tutorial pop-ups struggling for my attention as well and they didn’t do a particularly good job of easing me in anyway. It was all a bit too hectic for my plebeian eyes.
It was time to make a move. The personal story information had a green star next to it and there was also a green star on my map so I decided to check it out. At the star’s location I spoke to a Sylvari called ‘Caithe’ who told me there was some great evil or darkness disturbing the dream so I headed towards the next green star to deal with it. I say ‘deal with it’, more like ‘languish before it’. I saw a clearing where there were probably up to twenty other friendly players running amok, at least I think they were other players. As I entered I was accosted by a pack of hounds that I somehow managed to fend off by jabbing ‘1’ repeatedly. At this point I only had a single ability so I figured whatever evil was up ahead was going to succumb to my measly attacks fairly easily. Apparently not. No sooner had I fended off the hounds a gigantic tree beast rose up out of the ground and THWACK I was downed. Just at that moment another pack of hounds appeared and they promptly started chewing on me. While this was happening a tutorial bubble popped up telling me I could attack enemies while I was down to rally myself back onto my feet. Unfortunately I didn’t know what any of the downed attacks did and while the game offers informative rollover tooltips, reading them while my character’s left butt cheek was being munched on didn’t seem like the right thing to do given the circumstances. Miraculously I managed to get back up after jabbing the 1 and 2 keys but seconds later the tree beast had been defeated by the other players. Another cutscene followed where my character awoke in The Grove beneath the Pale Tree and I was made out to be a vital part in thwarting the darkness. If by ‘vital’ they meant ‘lying down and being eaten’ then they were absolutely right. Welcome to Tyria.
This was my first thirty minutes of Guild Wars 2 and I was worried. What just happened? Was I supposed to know what I was doing and what was going on? Is that the tutorial? If it is, ouch, if it’s not, is there a tutorial and why isn’t it at the very beginning where it’s clearly needed? Is every race’s introduction like this? Aside from various tutorial bubbles popping up and some rollover tooltips there seemed to be no assured way of learning the basics from a cold start: how to move around and dodge enemies’ attacks; looking around, targetting and using your abilities effectively; understanding the user interface, experience, hitpoints, stamina, ability slots, cooldowns, conditions and profession-specific elements like the adrenaline and lifeforce bars. Yes, this is low level stuff, yes, I understood some of these things already (being a sufficiently experienced gamer) and yes, I eventually sussed out most of what I didn’t know anyway but the game expected me to help take down a gigantic tree beast right off the bat without giving me the pointers I needed to have some sort of agency. Even the Souls games threw me a bone — a few bones in fact — before dropping the Vanguard or Asylum Demon on me. It was just confusing and messy for an introduction.
The area following the dream sequence (The Grove) was much gentler and welcoming. There were fewer people around, no fighting in the immediate area, much less chatter and only a couple of speech bubbles popping up, many of which were just pleasant conversations between NPCs — it was a much needed change of pace. I seem to remember an NPC hollering and telling me about the area and showing me specific places of interest on the world map. This was more like it. I wandered around taking part in a few ‘renown hearts’ (quests, basically), spending time exploring the interface, reading various tooltips and familiarising myself with the controls. While I was doing these things I also stumbled across a few dynamic events. These are scripted activities that occur in certain places at certain intervals and branch depending on how well you deal with them. The first involved ridding a hollowed tree of troublesome termites then taking out a giant termite queen. With this being a starting area there were roughly 2312 people laying into the termites so it was difficult to tell what was going on so I decided to go further afield where it was hopefully a bit quieter.