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Your guide to Guild Wars 2

Aug 24 // Aerox
If you have any familiarity with other fantasy MMOs, here's the most important thing you need to know when selecting a character: the Trinity is dead. There are no "tanks," or people whose job it is to soak up damage and manage aggro and threat, no dedicated "healers," and no classes whose purpose is to dump out damage and do nothing else. This seems to be the number one biggest thing that people don't understand, even when I explain it to them, so I want to reiterate: the Trinity is dead. Everything you know about tanks, healers, and DPS is wrong. When I say that, I should be clear about what I mean. It's not that there is a "different kind of tanking." There is no tanking. Monsters can and will regularly attack everyone in the party, and everyone has a responsibility to mitigate or avoid the damage. There's not a "different kind of healing." Everyone has a self heal, and can spec to also have some weak group heals on long cooldowns, but healing is not and will not be a central focus of your gameplay, beyond your own responsibility to occasionally heal yourself. Every class is capable of dealing serious damage, and every class has the ability to act in a support capacity, throwing buffs (positive status effects) on their allies and debuffs (negative status effects) on their enemies (called "boons" and "conditions" in Guild Wars 2). And most classes have the ability to hand out some minor healing or regeneration to allies. Despite the notion of everyone being able to do "everything," each class feels quite different from one other because of the weapons they are able to use and their unique mechanics, so the best thing for you to do is read up on the classes and pick which one sounds most interesting. Don't fall into the trap of trying to pick based on archetypes. If you normally enjoy tanking in WoW, don't think you have to pick a Warrior or a Guardian -- there's no tanking because there's no reliable threat management. If you normally play a dedicated healer, you're not going to be standing back and healing anyone in Guild Wars 2, so find a profession that sounds cool and try it it out. Unlike virtually every other MMO on the market, every race can play as every class without any penalty or stat differences, so play around until you find a class that works best for you. Once you have your character created and you've moved through the very short introduction section, you're somewhat unceremoniously dumped right outside your city's starting zone with little direction. You'll see one green star on your map, indicating a portion of your story quest, and not much else. An NPC will direct you to what also appear to be quests -- different hearts on the map indicating people who need help. Your first inclination may be to run straight to your story quests or toward the heart quests -- after all, that's what we've been conditioned to do in almost every MMO since EverQuest. DON'T DO IT! One of the biggest fundamental shifts in thinking you'll have to do when playing Guild Wars 2 is to understand that the game is about exploration, not just running in a straight line. In most games, the best way to level is to do as many quests or dungeons as possible in a short amount of time. In Guild Wars 2, it's much different; the more time you spend wandering around off the beaten path, the more things you'll find to do. In this game, there are many ways to earn experience. You get experience for finding waypoints and points of interest on the map. You get experience for killing things. You get experience for reviving other players. You get experience for World vs. World PvP. You get experience for gathering crafting materials and making things out of them. You can even go back to old zones you never completed and get experience from them -- the game downlevels you to whatever zone you're in so you can do the content without blowing through it, while getting appropriate exp rewards for your actual level. These aren't just tiny amounts of experience, either -- they're significant. It won't be immediately apparent out the gate, but the best way to level in Guild Wars 2 is to do as many different things as possible as you play. In fact, to earn your first level out of the tutorial/intro mission, I recommend turning around, going back inside your race's major city, and exploring the entire thing. When it comes to actual "questing," the majority of "quests" in the game are randomly occurring events. As you walk around and explore the map, events will suddenly begin, or you'll move into range of an in-progress event. These events form what will likely be the core of your PvE experience, and you should always be looking to participate. Again, the best way to find these events is to just wander around exploring the map -- those who only run in a straight line to the heart and story quests will miss out. Events will occupy much of your time in the game, but if you ever get tired of them, or if feel like you are too under-leveled to move forward (and, if you only do story and heart quests and nothing else, you'll hit this point pretty quickly), remember all the other things you can do. Spend some time gathering materials and crafting items, go check out the World vs. World combat, or even check out the other races' starting areas. (Getting to them is simple, although not obvious. Lion's Gate has portals to all five major cities, and can be reached either through the portal in your own city, or by entering the sPvP lobby through your Hero Menu and taking the portal found there.) Remember -- don't focus just on quests, don't be afraid to aimlessly wander and explore, and don't be afraid to check out other zones. The more you explore, the better off you'll be. One of the other aspects of Guild Wars 2 that will probably take some adjusting to is the fact that it's a social game. Not "social game" in the sense that you're spamming farming invites to your friends, but social in that there's a very real incentive to work with other players, and luckily, doing so is simple and generally doesn't require any futzing with parties or raids. Hell, you don't even have to technically talk to anyone, but you will have to work with other people. Again, it's not immediately clear, but working with people in this game is ALWAYS beneficial. There's no kill stealing or even kill tagging. You can't take loot meant for someone else. Even gathering nodes will be unique to your character, meaning no one will swoop in in front of you and snag that ore chunk you had your eye on. If you come across other players, help them! Start attacking their monsters -- they won't mind, since you'll both get experience and treasure. Happen upon a downed or dying player? You'll want to try to revive them, since there's a bit of experience in it for you. If you see a group of people wandering around, follow them. You'll all help each other out, and there's a good chance you'll come across a random event together as a group. Similarly, if you see a whole bunch of players all running in one direction, definitely follow them. A major event is probably about to start or already in progress, and you won't want to miss out. Later in the game at around Level 30, when dungeons become available to you, you WILL have to start dealing with a party system. The dungeons are all five-mans, but, again, remember that the Trinity is dead. It shouldn't be super difficult to find a group, because virtually any group composition should be able to clear any dungeon in the game. You don't have to sit around waiting for a tank or a healer -- you can grab the four nearest Engineers and still have a reasonable chance of completing the dungeon. Simply put, if you're the kind of person who tries to play MMOs solo (which, I admit, often describes me), you're going to have to shift your thinking, or you're not going to have much fun in this game. All that said, my experience in the beta weekend has been that once all the barriers to co-operation are removed, people generally seem to act a whole lot nicer to each other. Now, we get to the combat itself. First off, your main skill set is tied to the weapon you're currently using -- the first five skills on your hotbar correspond directly to your equipped weapon. You start with only one skill in each useable weapon, but they quickly unlock as you kill things -- within two or three hours of play, you should have unlocked most if not all of your weapon skills. Your other five slots are a healing skill, three utility skills, and an elite skill, all of which you can choose from a set that you will unlock as you level up. When it comes to actually killing, throw everything you know about priority systems and rotations out the window. Guild Wars 2 isn't the kind of game where you stand in one place mashing buttons; you need to be moving CONSTANTLY. Almost every skill can be used while moving, even most channeled ones, and as such you should be constantly strafing and circling your target. Generally speaking, you have less skills overall than in most other MMOs, and the skills you do have come with significantly longer cooldowns. The time you're not spending mashing skill buttons instead goes to combat positioning and avoidance. In addition to just moving around your opponent, you also need to learn to dodge. The dodge skill is absolutely critical to survival in the game, and once you move past the first few areas, you'll find that even basic monsters can easily kill you if you're not careful. Many enemies have extremely powerful attacks that can one-shot you, so you need to learn the tells so that you can dodge out of the way. In the event you do go down, don't worry! The downed state, which you should be introduced to in the tutorial, is an expected and normal part of the game. Being downed doesn't necessarily mean you've done something wrong (although there's a good chance you're down because you blew a dodge), and you should quickly be revived by another player in the area. You can also come back from being downed by contributing to an enemy kill while downed, and it will be obvious how to do so when you first enter the state. If you do end up dying, you'll just respawn at a waypoint. As you move through areas, keep an eye out on your map for other downed players -- reviving them will grant you some experience, and they'll certainly appreciate the help. Finally, a few notes about loot, dungeons, and the "end-game." The "end-game" concept central to most MMOs is not present here. In Guild Wars 2, the time it takes to gain a level is designed to be roughly equal, whether you're leveling from 29 to 30 or from 79 to 80. Rather than gating content at the level cap, the content is more evenly spread throughout the entire game. When you do ultimately hit the level cap, you have an opportunity to go back to all the areas you've missed and try them out -- because of the downscaling system, you won't be just blowing through them without a challenge. Five-man dungeons are present in the game, and the first isn't available until level 30, but they don't exist to gear you up. Equivalent versions of all of the loot from dungeons can be found out in the world or crafted -- they instead serve as cosmetic rewards. Loot in general is significantly scaled back from many other games, and you'll find that you're pretty naturally upgrading your gear as you move through the game without any kind of dungeon or raid grinding. Instanced raids don't exist at all, but many will find that some of the major area events serve as de facto, non-instanced, mini-raids, and these are available as early as the starting areas of each race. As should be clear from the above, I spent a significant amount of time in most of the beta events, and had a really positive experience. I think a lot of you, even if you don't normally like MMOs, will enjoy the game as well. That said, I'm sure it won't appeal to everyone, and sadly I think a lot of people may be turned off from it simply because they try to play it like World of Warcraft or Old Republic. That's not to crap on those games (I still have an active World of Warcraft account and a great guild), but it's just to note that you really do have to change the way you think about and play MMOs to really "get" Guild Wars 2. If you read this guide the entire way through, you should have a pretty good idea of how to do so. See you in Tyria! [Jordan, Chris Carter, and I are planning on rolling on the server Ferguson's Crossing, and we expect a few other editors will be playing there as well. We don't have any kind of solid plans for a guild at this point, but if you're looking for a server, feel free to join us!]
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With the Guild Wars 2 headstart beginning tomorrow, many of you will be playing the game for the first time. Some of you may still be on the fence about whether to purchase it or not (hint: you should). If you haven't played ...

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Bloggers Wanted: Conventions


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// Aerox
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[When we're looking for blogs on a specific topic, we'll put out a Bloggers Wanted call. Check out the blog prompt, write your own response in the Community Blogs and...
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Review: Diablo III

May 24 // Aerox
Diablo III (PC, Mac)Developer: Blizzard EntertainmentPublisher: Blizzard EntertainmentRelease: May 15, 2012MSRP: $59.99 If you're coming to Diablo III as a newbie to the series or the genre, the premise is simple. Pick some skills, fight huge waves of monsters, blow the crap out of everything, get loot, and repeat -- against stronger monsters. That's the pure core of the game, and I think one of the reasons why the franchise has been so well received. It's straightforward, satisfying, and most importantly, fun. For everyone with some experience with previous Diablo games, the big question is, "How does Diablo III compare to Diablo II?" The answer is that it definitely feels like a Diablo game, but how it stacks up to its predecessor will really depend on how you remember your Diablo II experience, what your expectations are for this game, and what parts of the Diablo franchise most interest you. The actual combat of Diablo III is where the game really shines. Mowing down hordes of enemies is as satisfying as ever, and every class has a number of viable, gratifying ways to do so (unless you're on Inferno difficulty). Unique monsters and champion packs have interesting new modifiers that make combat much more dynamic and exciting. Far more so than in Diablo II, you'll find that you need to be aware of your surroundings to survive on any difficulty beyond Normal. You may find some really difficult monsters, and you may need to coordinate with the rest of your party and adjust your skill builds, but the frustration of running into one of Diablo II's lightning-immune/frost-immune champion packs as a Frost Orb/Chain Lightning sorceress is gone. It's replaced with new frustrations (jailer/desecrator/invulnerable minions?), but I've yet to run into a monster pack that I literally can't touch. On the whole, I consider Diablo III's combat to be a clear, positive evolution from what was in the previous games. By far the weakest part of Diablo III is the story, and this is mainly a problem because, unlike the previous games, Diablo III is constantly throwing narrative in your face. Diablo has never had a particularly strong story, but in previous games the story generally took a back seat. In Diablo II you would occasionally get some lore through a quest, or would watch a cutscene at the end of an act, but for the most part you could move through the entire game without engaging with the lore or narrative. Diablo III decided this was a problem, so the game is filled with cutscenes, story quests, and conversations. These cutscenes and conversations are skippable, but that doesn't prevent their appearance from being annoying, especially when you're in the middle of vendoring or crafting and are dragged into a cutscene because a party member triggered the next step in your quest. That said, the fully animated cutscenes are absolutely stunning, and I think Blizzard's cinematics team is legitimately the best in the industry. With the exception of Jennifer Hale as Leah and a few of the playable characters, the voice acting generally ranges from substandard to straight-up cringe-worthy. (Emperor Hakan is probably the most egregious offender.) After your first play-through, you'll find yourself skipping everything story-related, every time -- there's simply no reason or incentive to go back and listen to them again, and if you want to watch one of the awesome cutscenes, you can do it straight from the main menu without being annoying to your group members. The user interface also suffers from a number of problems, most noticeably that the screen simply feels cluttered for a Diablo game. Given that you will spend most of your time frantically clicking around the screen, it's all too easy to accidentally click on a party member portrait and bring up a window, or to accidentally click on an achievement notification that just popped up on your screen; on later difficulty levels, this can mean death. Having to scroll through six separate pages of skills while swapping builds gets annoying, since they can all easily fit on a single page. It can be difficult to see when certain skills like Arcane Dynamo, which allow you a damage burst once the skill has triggered five times, are active, because most of your buff icons are small and placed very low on your window and they force you to look away from the action to check their status. Some buffs, like Magic Weapon, don't even have icons at all, leaving you to either guess when it's almost up, or just make refreshing it a regular, constant habit. One positive addition to the UI has been the social features. They're easily turned off if they bother you, but I've been finding that I like them. You can easily quick-join your friends' games straight from the character select menu, they can quickly join yours, and you can all view each other's progress as you work your way through the game's hundreds of achievements. One of the exciting parts about unlocking achievements in Diablo isn't just the accomplishment, but also knowing that it's going to trigger conversation with a bunch of my friends who want to congratulate me on what I just did, or ask me how I did it. That said, the in-game chat leaves something to be desired, and Diablo II fans will likely lament the loss of private chat channels and the tragic removal of the chat gem. The gold Auction House (all references to the Auction House are to the gold Auction House; the Real Money Auction House was not live at the time of this writing) can be clunky and awkward to use -- you'll find yourself swapping tabs constantly when trying to sell things, and when buying items it seems odd that you can't sort by low bids or time remaining. Having a limit of ten items to sell at a time with no way to cancel auctions is also extremely frustrating, given the amount of loot that drops in the game. Additionally, the Auction House has been having a number of problems lately -- searches sometimes don't work, bids occasionally don't go through, or items will sometimes return an error when you attempt to list them. These are sporadic problems, but nonetheless annoyances, and I think they're a cause for concern for when the Real Money Auction House does go live. These issues certainly don't ruin the game by any means, though; they just serve as annoyances and distractions. Probably the biggest fundamental change from Diablo II to Diablo III is the revamp of the skill system. Skill points and attribute points are entirely gone -- skills, and runes that modify those skills, unlock in a set order as you level up. On the whole, I prefer the new system. I like being able to experiment with different builds on the fly, and I like not having a ruined character because I invested in the wrong skill or put too many points into the wrong attribute. So far, at least on Hell difficulty, my friends and I have found totally different, viable builds on the same classes that we're all enjoying playing -- my wizard is using a Living Lightning/Arcane Orb build that revolves around stun procs and Arcane Dynamo, while my buddy is mostly focused on Magic Missile and Disintegrate. I simply don't have the time anymore to run a brand-new character through 20 hours of leveling to try one new skill. In Diablo II, the alternative to grinding it out was just to get instantly rushed to a high level by sitting in on Baal/Cow Level runs, and I think this new system elegantly avoids that problem. That said, it is a little disappointing to lose out on those fun one-point utility skills that many builds in Diablo II had. Essentially, those who really enjoy carefully mapping out a character and making difficult, permanent decisions on how to build them (assuming you're not just following a guide) will likely find Diablo III's advancement system disappointing. If you like being able to try new skills and abilities on the fly, or want the ability to modify your character in response to specific situations, the new system should appeal to you. The way loot is handled in Diablo III also is a bit of a departure from Diablo II. On the surface it appears the same, but many character stats have been condensed (which affects what kinds of things are showing up on loot), good item drops are significantly rarer than in previous games, and legendaries and set items are currently just not that powerful. Some people may be put off by how the stats have been condensed -- damage and health are paramount, and people are generally just looking for items that boost their primary stat (which increases damage), their damage, and their health pool, and nothing else. This is essentially how itemization worked in Diablo II as well, except it was more obscured, and Lord of Destruction added a lot of variety with items and runewords that gave you other class' skills or offered unique abilities (these were almost always secondary to +skills or magic find, though). It wasn't readily apparent how, say, a plus to a skill or an increased attack speed affected your damage output, so items with those properties felt different. In Diablo III, all the calculations are done for you -- it's immediately apparent that your 10% attack speed increase will add 300 to your damage. Transparency has trade-offs, and here, having a solid sense of how items affect your character without being hidden behind complex calculations comes at the cost of feeling a sense of homogenization among items -- everything generally comes down to an increase in damage dealt, a decrease in damage taken, or your health pool, and it's right there in your face. Making gear decisions at this point (and, again, we're only a week since launch, so it's possible that builds will be discovered that stray from the stack damage/vitality formula, like the just-nerfed Wizard No-Vitality Force Armor build) seems to revolve mostly around balancing your total damage output against your health pool, with almost everything else being a complete afterthought. I've taken my wizard to right before the level cap, but I've yet to see a set or legendary item drop, although I have found a number of rares that ended up being a significant upgrade from what I'm carrying. Generally speaking, I don't find the item scarcity to be a bad thing -- the game has only been out a week, and I'm under no delusion that I should be rolling in powerful items already. (In fact, I'd be disappointed if I already had acquired the top-tier items.) I'm personally willing to deal with the scarcity if it means that the game isn't distilled down to running the same boss over and over again as fast as possible because I know they have the highest chance to drop uniques or set items. The scarcity can, however, make you feel like you're not making much progress. Almost all of the items that drop for you will be functionally worthless -- unsellable on both the Auction Houses, and unusable by you simply because the stats are bad. If you're particularly unlucky with drops, you can conceivably move through entire acts without finding any substantial upgrades for your current items outside the Auction House. It seems clear that the scarcity serves to drive people to Blizzard's Auction House. Clearly, no one is being forced to use it -- and I'm currently leveling a Barbarian who is avoiding the Auction House entirely and is still enjoyable to play -- but those who don't will likely run into problems on Hell and Inferno difficulty, unless they've been extremely lucky or spent significant time grinding for gear. For many people, including myself, playing the Auction House is something of a metagame unto itself. I personally don't mind the Auction House at all, and I'm not bothered by the fact that a lot of my gear upgrades have come from it (and they've been mostly paid for by items that I sold there). I do mind, however, the restrictions Blizzard has placed on it. Currently, you can only list a maximum of ten items, and there's no way to cancel any item you've placed unless it's a commodity. It can be really frustrating to have a great item you know you can sell, and have to wait a full two days to put it up because you've run out of auction slots. Diablo III is something of an enigma. Virtually all of my friends who have been playing it agree -- there are definitely things that could be improved. No one agrees on exactly what those improvements should be, and we're unsure if this feeling is simply a result of us misremembering fundamental aspects of what Diablo II was actually like. It just feels like Lord of Destruction added so much to the Diablo experience, with jewels, runes, charms, synergies, etc., that it's a bit of a surprise to see so much of that missing here. That's not to say the current system is bad, because I really don't think it is -- it's just different. What we all do agree on is that, while we all have things we'd like to see changed in future patches or expansions, Diablo III is fucking fun. Period. I honestly haven't had as much fun gaming in years as I've had this last week, jumping onto Skype with three of my friends and blowing demons away while we talk until the early hours of the morning. Soloing the game is fun, and I sometimes enjoy playing alone because I find it almost hypnotically relaxing, but Diablo really shines when you're playing with a group of buddies. Even if it's not a perfect game, there's something special about Diablo, and it's something that keeps people playing beyond just a basic addiction to loot. That I've already sunk over 40 hours into the game in just over a week and I'm not even close to being bored of it yet is a testament to the magic of Diablo, and something that can't be ignored. At the end of the day, fun is what gaming should be about, and Diablo III delivers.
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It took almost eleven years after Lord of Destruction, but Diablo III finally released, and it was met with immediate controversy. Always-online requirements; a rough first couple of days for the servers; a real money auction...

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[When we're looking for blogs on a specific topic, we'll put out a Bloggers Wanted call. Check out the blog prompt, write your own response in the Community Blogs and...
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[When we're looking for blogs on a specific topic, we'll put out a Bloggers Wanted call. Check out the blog prompt, write your own response in the Community Blogs and t...
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Preview: World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria

Mar 19 // Aerox
World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria (PC [previewed], Mac)Developer: Blizzard EntertainmentPublisher: Blizzard EntertainmentRelease: 2012 The events of Cataclysm (World of Warcraft's most recent update) have caused the southern continent of Pandaria to emerge from the fog that has hidden it for the last ten thousand years. World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria tells the story of what happens when the Alliance and the Horde discover this new continent, its resources, and the people who live there. Unlike previous expansions, Mists of Pandaria will not feature a single "big bad boss" at the end of the patch cycle. As Lead Designer Cory Stockton explained, the central story arc of Mists of Pandaria concerns the tensions between the Alliance and the Horde finally coming to a head and erupting into an all-out war. Mists of Pandaria begins with the Horde and Alliance both landing on the continent of Pandaria, and conflict breaks out between the two almost immediately, as each group fights to rally the Pandaren to their side as they prepare for war. The future patches for Mists of Pandaria will be heavily story-focused, with each update being described as essentially a "story sequel" to the one before it. Instead of just introducing another dungeon that brings you one step closer to defeating the "ultimate boss," the patches will advance the story as the war moves from Pandaria to the mainland, culminating in a full-blown siege on Orgrimmar. Greg Street, Lead Systems Designer, told me that one of the major priorities for Mists of Pandaria was to provide much more end-game content for players, particularly since the primary focus of Cataclysm was revamping much of the original world and the starting areas. In addition to the seven zones on the Pandarian continent that will take players from level 85 to 90, nine new dungeons and three new raids, and multiple end-game faction quest lines, Mists of Pandaria will also feature a number of new systems designed to appeal to end-game players. To encourage players to revisit older dungeons and to increase some friendly competition within a player's own server, Mists of Pandaria is introducing a dungeon challenge mode. Essentially a timed dungeon run, the challenge mode will automatically scale players' equipment to the proper item level of the dungeon. Beating dungeons fast enough will earn players a spot on the leaderboard, and will provide cosmetic, visually impressive equipment for players to use in transmogrification. The pet battle system that was announced at BlizzCon was also shown to us in more detail, although we unfortunately were not able to get hands-on play with the system. The pet battles will be 3 vs 3, and they appear to play out like a typical turn-based fight in an RPG like, say, Pokémon. Battles will be cross-server and simple to jump in and out of, but competitive players may be disappointed -- this system is designed to be low-key and casual. You can't see the name of your opponent, you can't speak to them during the battle, and there are no rewards for winning. Mists of Pandaria is also introducing a new quest type: scenarios. Street explained that when people end up with a group quest in their quest log, they tend to skip it -- players find it too difficult to get together a proper group just to run and do a short quest. Scenarios aim to solve that problem by replacing standard group quests with short, instanced content designed for three players. Rather than spamming general chat looking for party members, you can queue up just as you would in the dungeon or raid finder. The content is specifically designed to not require the holy trinity of tank-healer-DPS; the idea is that viable groups can form quickly, and people can jump right into the content. While the examples we were shown were all combat scenarios, Cory Stockton suggested that there may be some entirely non-combat story scenarios for players more interested in Warcraft lore. And, as anyone who has been following Mists of Pandaria knows, this expansion will be introducing a new race -- the eponymous Pandaren -- and a new class, the monk. Mists of Pandaria will also include a complete overhaul of the talent system. Street told us that the original talent tree concept essentially ended up creating cookie-cutter builds, as the community identified an optimized build for each tree. Many of the previous abilities granted by talents have been rolled into the abilities themselves, and talent choices now provide smaller, situational abilities or bonuses, regardless of specialization. For example, when I made my Paladin, my first choice was choosing between one of the following three talents: a flat 10% movement speed increase in all situations, a moderate movement speed increase that lasted for eight seconds but only triggered when I used Judgement, or a significant movement speed burst that was its own ability on its own cool-down. The idea behind the new system is to make each talent choice viable and to eliminate "must-have" talents that virtually all players end up taking. There's no specific release date yet, but Blizzard says that five of the seven final zones in Pandaria are content-complete, and that they're trying to get Mists of Pandaria out as fast as possible. This expansion doesn't appear to be fundamentally altering the core of World of Warcraft -- you'll still be doing quests where you kill ten jaguars, and returning players will likely only find minor tweaks to their existing rotations -- but Blizzard is hoping that the expanded focus on end-game content and the looming war between the Horde and Alliance will keep existing players entertained and entice lapsed users to return to Azeroth.
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It's been out for a little over seven years now, but World of Warcraft is still going strong. Last week I was invited over to Blizzard to take a look at Warcraft's upcoming expansion, Mists of Pandaria, and I was able to get some playtime with the game and speak to some of the members of the development team about what's in store when Mists of Pandaria is released later this year.

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Bloggers Wanted: Browser Games


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// Aerox
[When we're looking for blogs on a specific topic, we'll put out a Bloggers Wanted call. Check out the blog prompt, write your own response in the Community Blogs and t...
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Bloggers Wanted: Promotions


Feb 27
// Aerox
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Hot on the heels of last weekend's closed press beta, ArenaNet is now taking applications for all future Guild Wars 2 beta events. Sign-ups will only be open for the next 48 hours, so if you're interested, you should put your...

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Bloggers Wanted: Endings


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// Aerox
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Guild Wars 2 isn't like any MMO you've played before

Feb 20 // Aerox
Guild Wars 2 (PC)Developer: ArenaNetPublisher: NCsoftRelease: 2012After creating my first character of seven, a Charr Warrior, I began in the Charr tutorial area. My first glance at the screen suggested there wasn't much new going on. I saw an NPC with a glowing green star above its head standing in front of me, some combat skills down in my hotbar, and quest details in the upper right corner. After completing the area and slaughtering a giant possessed statue with the help of about ten other players, I started to see what made the game unique. I tend to be a loner in MMOs; in World of Warcraft, I usually just quest by myself. I made it to level 85 with a Paladin, and I think I did maybe two instances. In Star Wars: The Old Republic, I did one Flashpoint and then spent the rest of the game completely by myself. In Guild Wars 2, I found myself working consistently with other players, and for the first time, I didn't mind. While, as I mentioned earlier, there are still quest givers and floating green stars, that mechanic is only used for your Story Quests -- a quest chain that is personal to your character, instanced, and based on your race and the decisions you made at character creation. Every other quest and event, which will likely make up the bulk of your Player vs. Environment experience, are world events that just naturally happen. You'll hear that a farmer needs help tending his field, or will be informed that a group of harpies is launching a raid on a nearby rock quarry. And as you start running towards these battles, you'll see that most of the other players in the area are, too. When you start fighting or assisting, all you have to do is jump in and start working on quest objectives. You don't need to group up or join a party, you don't need to worry about mob tagging or kill stealing, and you won't miss out on experience or loot as long as you participate in some way. Because it's so easy to work together, and because there aren't any negative consequences, Guild Wars 2 is the first MMO I've played where I actually feel connected to the rest of the player base. Rather than hide from other players, or compete with them for quest spawns, I found myself actively looking for opportunities to help others. Instead of running the other way when I saw large groups of people, I'd start following them, since I assumed they were heading somewhere interesting. Social aspects aside, it didn't really strike me how fundamentally different Guild Wars 2's philosophy was until I ran the Ascalon Catacombs dungeon. The trinity as you know it is absent -- there are no tanks, no dedicated healers, and no classes focused entirely on DPS. Every class feels unique both in terms of weapon skills and mechanics, and every class can contribute significantly in terms of dealing damage and helping the party with support and utility. You don't need any particular party composition to complete the PvE dungeons in Guild Wars 2 -- my group was made up of two Rangers, two Guardians, and an Engineer. According to the developers, the game has been explicitly designed so that you can grab anyone around you and run a dungeon, without worrying about which classes you have in attendance. Don't mistake this design choice for a decision to make dungeons easy, though. They're not. They're actually quite difficult -- even with three developers in our group, we wiped four or five times. Not because the dungeon was unfairly difficult or because the bosses had an unfair advantage, but because we often simply weren't paying attention and/or didn't quite have a handle on our classes yet. While Guild Wars 2's combat will generally feel familiar to MMO veterans, two mechanics set it apart from most other games: the ability to move while using most attacks (even many channeled ones), and the ability to dodge. Having to maneuver during combat, while a simple addition, adds a new tactical level that requires more attention. At early levels, you can get away with standing still and rhythmically pressing your hotkeys in rotation order, but you'll quickly learn that your position in relation to your enemies is important. Knowing when to dodge and how to position your party appears to be critical to success in Guild Wars 2. Since you don't have tanks, and you don't really have healers, anyone can be attacked at any time. Monster AI goes beyond standard threat/hate generated by damage, and we were told that it also takes into account a combination of things such as position (apparently the most important determinant) as well as who's already hurting. You can't just plop a tank on a boss and consider everyone safe -- because everyone is vulnerable, everyone has to know when to advance, retreat, or dodge a massive attack that could take them down in one or two hits. Because of the limited time frame of the beta, I had to make a choice between whether I wanted to dive into the World vs. World vs. World stuff, or the more standard Structured PvP. Since the World PvP was new to me (and since it seemed that's what everyone else was doing), that's where I chose to spend my time. It was, again, unlike anything I had ever played before. Throughout the weekend, the World PvP was consistently compared to the Realm PvP system of Dark Ages of Camelot, both by multiple members of the press and even some developers. I haven't played DAoC, so I can't confirm just how similar or different it is, but the general gist is as follows. Three entire servers are pitted against each other in a two-week, persistent battle across four connected maps. Three of the maps are virtually identical, and serve as each server's starting base of operations. The fourth map is a unique one in the middle that generally serves as the central hub for the fighting. You can freely travel to any of the four maps at any time through portals, though, so raids and incursions into "home base" territory are common. The goal is to capture various structures such as supply camps, keeps, and towers, and hold them for as long as possible. The more structures you hold, the more points you earn. The server with the most points at the end of the two weeks is the victor. The basic idea may sound simple on paper, but in practice it's anything but. Keeps and towers can acquire fortifications and weapons that can be manned and fired. Players can repair gates and walls as they're attacked, and also have opportunities to purchase upgrades for the entire structure -- but only if they have the money and supply to do so. Supply camps send out supply caravans to keeps and towers, but are lightly defended. A keep that's well supplied can last for hours during a siege, as long as there is at least one player inside to initiate repairs. Cut the supply lines and blockade the entrances, and the gates will fall fairly quickly. Add another team into the mix beyond the traditional two, and you have a fluid, complex PvP system that I found to be quite enjoyable, and I normally don't participate in PvP scenarios. I tried the World PvP on Saturday afternoon, the battle having raged on for a little over a day. We were in second place: the Green team had a moderate lead on us, while the Blue team was lagging far behind. As I joined the fight, I was told we were grouping en masse to try to take back a Green keep near one of our own castles. I met up with my team at the front gate, which we were trying to batter down to no effect. Looking at the map, we realized that the Green team owned almost every supply camp across all four areas, and that the damage we were doing was quickly being repaired by someone inside the keep. Technically, with enough time, we would have eventually been able to wear it down, but a Green scout had alerted his team that we were assaulting the keep, and we ended up being driven off by a defense squad. As we tried to regroup, we realized we needed to take back the supply camps. Our commander noted that the Green team seemed to consistently travel in one single pack; because they could theoretically be attacked by two teams at once, this wasn't necessarily a bad move. We figured, though, that we could use this to our advantage. We decided to attack another Green structure -- this time a tower -- but we peeled off two small teams of four (one of which I joined) to go try to take back the supply camps while Green was distracted by this new assault. It worked. For the next hour, my small group ran across all four maps, liberating supply camps and taking down any Green caravans we saw along the way. Currently, you are only notified that one of your structures is under attack if you are near it, although you can look at the map and see who controls each point. If you watch the map carefully, you can see that you're losing ground, but you won't know anything about the size of the force or which direction they're heading in next unless you have players scouting the area. Green apparently did not do this, as we were able to take all but one supply camp for Red. With their supply lines cut off, Green had a much harder time defending their points. We all grouped back up, and went on a rampage across Green's home territory, capturing four or five towers and keeps before we were eventually located and repelled. I logged out that night in pretty good spirits, convinced that we had put ourselves in a great position, until I logged back in Sunday morning and found that Blue had mounted a huge comeback overnight, taking virtually all of the territory we had previously won. Oops. Guild Wars 2 seems to have kept many of the basic structures and tropes of the MMO genre (levels, five-man dungeons, distinct classes), but much of the core MMO gameplay has been tweaked or expanded to create a new experience. MMO fans looking for something new will, I think, enjoy how social this game is, and appreciate that ArenaNet has tried to make group questing and dungeon running smooth, painless, and natural. PvP fans, especially those looking for persistent and complex battles, should enjoy the World vs. World. vs. World gameplay. If you've never played an MMO before but are interested in the genre, the lack of a subscription fee and the accessibility of the game may make Guild Wars 2 worth checking out. In a genre that's filled with clones and rehashes, the beta of Guild Wars 2 was refreshing. While there's not necessarily anything wrong with any previous MMOs, it's nice to see that ArenaNet is taking Guild Wars 2 in a unique direction.
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This weekend, ArenaNet gave select members of the press a chance to see the current beta of Guild Wars 2. We had the opportunity to create Human, Charr, and Norn characters of any class, and play through each race's level 1-3...

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