MMORPGs typically offer some areas where players fight players (PvP) and areas where players fight computer-controlled characters (PvE). In Guild Wars 2, PvP (Player Versus Player), WvW (World Versus World), and PvE (Player versus Environment) are three separate maps, accessible for players of all levels.
In general, GW2 is geared towards cooperative play and griefer-unfriendliness: There is no friendly fire (your attack skills only affect enemies, your buffing skills only affect allies). You cannot “die” (you simply return to a waypoint if you are not revived by a fellow player) and the penalty is minimal. You cannot push or trap others (there is simply no collision detection between players). You cannot attack, steal from, or loot your fellow players.
[As an aside: Not even Thieves can steal from players, when they try to, all they get is a temporary copy of one of the victim’s skills — now that’s a fun game mechanic! :-) Once my Engineer stood next to a Thief while I was sorting through my inventory. Suddenly, the Thief was “dressed up as a golem”, and ostensively paraded up and down in front of my avatar. My first thought was, “Did that thief steal my golem!?!” In his defense — he didn’t. He had drunk a prank tonic that gave him a random skin for a minute, it turns your toon into anything from animal to robot.] :)
As in any RPG, PvE is where you level and train your character by choosing traits (e.g. you can invest in strength, vitality, or power) and skills (attack and defense actions). The large PvE map offers many different types of quests that win you gold, experience points, or loot. GW2 just doesn’t call them quests, but stories, events, or challenges.
- For players who like elaborate background stories, the main overall quest is called Your Personal Story. Characters complete their education (in-game tutorial), leave their village and visit the big city, from where they are sent on various missions to find allies, learn from NPC-heroes, join an order, and fight the end boss. You can make choices in some chapters, but (I assume) all players get the same outcome. You can never “lose” the Personal Story (if you do, the chapter just restarts).
- Outside the personal story, you can join solo or group events. NPCs will constantly nag you to fetch things for them, to escort their convoy, to defend their settlements from invading enemy NPCs, to test something they invented, etc. If you like role playing, you can listen to the funny, sad, or nonsensical background stories that the NPCs tell you (“A plan that involves raptors is by definition fool-proof!”). You can fail in these events, but you can play it again every time the event comes around.
- You should also complete Skill Challenges to unlock more skills: NPCs will either challenge you to a 1:1 fight, or you need to explore a wondrous, hard-to-reach location (“commune with this place”). Each challenge can be completed only once, but you can retry if you lose.
- There are also dungeons — I haven’t tried them yet. You need to team up with other players, and complete a series of battles in a separate PvE instance. You can make different runs in the same dungeon map, to gain special loot and special equipment (I don’t know any details yet). Dungeons are more targeted towards high-level players (>L40) I think.
- If you are fed up with fighting, you can also go exploring: You gain points simply for “map completion” and for spotting locations with stunning views (vistas). And if you get fed up with everything RPG, you can always do platformer-style jump puzzles — with treasure waiting at the end. (I suck at jump puzzles… I play RPGs because I want my character to be dexterous and strong and skillful, so I don’t have to be!!) :-P
In the WvW (World versus World) areas, you fight for your home server and are paired up against players of two other GW2 servers. Everyone is promoted to “level 80, all skills unlocked”. On the map, the three parties are represented as “red/blue/green team”, and player names are anonymized as “Servername Defender” or “Servername Attacker”. The map is full of transport routes, keeps, and castles, and supplies to build siege weapons. Every once in a while, the WvW score is tallied up (i.e. which teams occupy which percentage of the map), and everyone on the winning server gets a bonus! So if you are playing PvE, and you find more magic items than usual, or certain attacks are more powerful than usual, then this is a side effect of your fellow players’ winning in WvW. A nice game-within-the-game, even for people who don’t typically play PvP. I only looked at it once and I don’t get how to build all this siege stuff, but I’ll find out. ;)
In the PvP (Player versus Player) arenas, again, everyone is promoted to “level 80, all skills unlocked”. I wasn’t there yet, but I guess you… fight other players? =-) They also say PvP is a nice way for beginners to test different combinations of equipment and skills before they unlock them for their PvE character.
In short, GW2 is doing a good job to be the MMORPG that has “something for everyone”. Nearly all of these sub-games are optional. If you happen to hate elaborate background stories, or jump puzzles, or dungeons — then just don’t do them, and stick with the rest. There is also an interesting mixture of steampunk, magic, and fantasy. Cf screenshot above: So, let’s see… Mechanical robots are cleaning up radioactive magic over here, while some fire elementals want to duell behind the reactor… Sure … Right … Happens all the time! :-)