Guild Wars 2's skill system is not a simple one, but thankfully right from the beginning you can hop into a PvP lobby and play around with a level-capped character, testing out skills you might not have a chance to otherwise use for many hours of play through the main game. This PvP character is separate from the one you level through the storyline, and you use it to hop into Conquest battles, which revolve around capture point control.
Because in Conquest you're leveled to 80, you're more or less competitive with everyone else jumping into lobbies. The matches split everyone that joined into two teams and set them loose on a map containing a handful of capture points. To secure a point, you simply stand in the zone of control and wait for a meter to fill. By securing points and making kills, you build points for your team, and the first to 500 wins.
Because your skill bar is limited to only a handful of open slots at a time, you have to consider more carefully the skills you set to active than in MMOs where every skill is accessible at any time. You also have to be smart about who stays back to defend and who joins the assault force to try and either recapture lost points or steal some from enemy control. Extra elements are strewn about the two maps available in a recent beta test, including a trebuchet to assault enemy positions and monsters standing around that, if killed, yield points.
The fast-paced combat doesn't leave a lot of room for error. Not only is intelligent skill use important, but so is proper movement. You can roll around the battlefield in Guild Wars 2, dodging to the side and away from spells and attacks. Your roll isn't unlimited – it's tied to a regenerating resource – so the emphasis is on knowing exactly when to use it instead of simply rolling around like your hair's on fire.
The lack of a dedicated healing "profession", the Guild Wars term for class, has a definite effect on combat. You don't feel to the need to have a particular profession along for the ride in an attack group. Surely some classes are better at support, and a mix of ranged and melee combat is useful, but every profession feels so versatile that it could be possible to find success with a variety of group compositions. The added ability to quickly swap between weapon sets to open up a different set of skills certainly helps in this regard, letting you switch to ranged combat mode if it makes the most sense in the situation, perhaps unlocking an area of effect nuke in case enemies are bunched up around a capture point.
Even more exciting than the PvP arenas is the World versus World mode, or WvW. While playing in WvW you don't use the level 80 PvP character, but instead control the character from your PvE game. You're auto-leveled to 80, but still wear the same gear and have the same skill limitations. So while you'll have a lot more health, your overall versatility and combat prowess will not be equal to that of a true level 80.
WvW combat is much more sophisticated than the Conquest arenas, though, and will actually serve as a means of progressing. You can earn items and experience by participating. To begin, you jump into a huge map covered with castles and caves and hill, many of which can be captured for your team. Your team just so happens to represent your server, and any success in the field is converted into a server-wide bonus that benefits your crafting, experience gain and a whole lot more. In other words, there is plenty of incentive to bypass your standard questing and jump into the bigger PvP game.
In the beta tests that have been opened to press so far, it's difficult to get a sense of what WvW might be like in a final game. But when battles do start up between opposing groups (three teams per map), the results can be thrilling. Huge groups of players swarm against each other, and the colossal map with plenty of places to hide, defend and assault seems to ensure stalemates will be rare. Hopefully in the live game it doesn't turn into completely unmanageable chaos.
The addition of siege weaponry along the ramparts of major capture points and NPC adversaries in addition to live players add even more dynamics to this already impressive mode of play. It's still early and surely quite a bit will change as testing continues, but for as many things as Guild Wars 2 does well, WvW combat seems to be amongst the most interesting. Guild Wars 2 has no release date yet, but should be ready sometime in 2012.
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