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Guild Wars 2: The Five Races

Do you know which you should play? Don't make our mistake.

OK. Following those first few rickety hours where I was disappointed at how much of an MMORPG Guild Wars 2 is - as documented in our collective diary - I've since found that I do, in fact, have another MMORPG in me. This game twisted open my genre fatigue like a rich man presented with a cheap lobster, and has commenced slurping the free time from my reticent carapace.

But this wasn't simply a case of the game winning me over. Mostly, it was about my chosen race.

Though the game itself was certainly how it started. On Sunday I was so hungover I was crying every half-hour, on the hour, like a miserable Big Ben, and my one solace was spending the entire day with Guild Wars 2. I first turned it on with the intention of having my character crawl under a rock, then crawling beneath my own bed, because that might make me feel better. What actually happened was that I played Guild Wars 2 for some 12 hours straight.

For all of Guild Wars 2's multifarious innovations, it's the same lack of padding that blessed the original Guild Wars that I'm most in love with. The consequences of this not being a subscription MMO allow it to be ceaselessly generous. You don't travel through the content so much as cut downwards into it like a hot knife through butter.

Between questing, exploring, crafting and this mysterious world-versus-world PVP that some of Eurogamer's other writers have been bellowing about (and I'll be looking at in detail next week), you end up submerged in easygoing content. Here's how hospitable this game is: now that I'm aware of the full extent of what I can do to earn XP, levelling scares me. I'm worried that ArenaNet's expert hands are propelling me towards that level cap too fast.

But like I say, it wasn't the game alone that led to my change in tone. I also got so exasperated at my Norn character that I started a new character in a new race. What I want to share is what a massive difference that made, and why you should choose your race very carefully.

My grumpy Norn.

The Norn are OK. They're alright. Their thing is drinking and fighting, but also respecting nature, like a cross between Vikings and a hypocritical Greenpeace pamphlet. I mean, if all industry is bad, why build your pubs like the Sydney Opera House?

As far as I can tell, the Norn are also Guild Wars 2 at its most two-dimensional. If you ripped away those characteristics that define the Norn - the drinking and fighting, the bragging, the chastising, the respecting nature - there would be nothing left in all of Norn territory. It would be like somebody dropped an atomic narrative bomb.

There's no conflict to them, no lateral motion. My feelings came to a head when I was talking to the tiny Asura operating the teleporter in our frosty capital. He was whining about how outrageously cold it was, and wondered why all Norns were wandering around half-naked. My character's response?

"We wear furs to honour the animals, not for warmth."

Really? That's us? OK. I'm done. Stick a fork in me.

In our diary, Christian talked about how you have to make an MMORPG your own. That's exactly what I did. I drop-kicked my level 12 Norn into a bin and created a Sylvari. A walking, talking plant.

My beautiful plant. I mean Sylvari.

Oli says that if you want to see what Guild Wars 2's art team can do, you visit the cities. Well, I say that if you want to see what its content team can do, you go Sylvari.

Their set-up is by far and away the most interesting of any of the five races. Born scant decades ago, theirs is a species with a sparkly-eyed lust for life. Which makes them elves in reverse. Not old, wise and conservative, but young, wild and curious. The Sylvari don't even have genders. I mean, they do, but within spitting distance of the start of your story quest you're exposed to the ultraviolet joy of two male characters, deeply in love with one another. At about the same time in my Norn's career, she was carrying fallen eggs back into their nests.

Even the choices I made during my Sylvari's character creation seem to matter. It's not just that I prefer all of this, or that it plays like the developers letting their hair down to the point that you're running through great jungles of hair. It genuinely seems to have been made by different people.

But what's inarguably better is the difference in quality of my character's voice acting. The female Sylvari is Jennifer Hale. You get to hear Commander Shepard being a curious plant. This caused me to do some poking around, whereupon I discovered that the Human Male player character is sodding Nolan North. As in, Uncharted's Nathan Drake. To clarify, the female Norn sounds like she's reading her lines off a chalk board that people keep walking in front of.

Really, though, gingerly probing the bushes and beanstalks of Sylvari territory, I was most enjoying how much was to discover. I kinda get what Oli's talking about when he says that the Sylvari capital city is the most traditional bit of fantasy imagery, but once you walk outside of its doors? Comedically verdant jungles, Stalker-esque magical anomalies, and the best underwear I've encountered in any game.

Seriously. Sylvari pants and bras are leaves that protrude from stalks that emerge, nauseatingly, from their bodies. The horror.

Since the Sylvari very nearly slipped me by, I'm gorging myself on the chocolate box that is Guild Wars 2's races, classes and starting areas. I now have a character for each of the five races, and they are named Quinnifer, Qulie, Quipps, Quarrie and Quilith. Yes, I am seeing a psychologist. Anyway, while nothing's lived up to the Slyvari, the rest of the races have still blown the Norn out of the water like a severed head in a paddling pool.

Let's start with the Asura, GW2's cutesy, techy... things.

My overachieving Asura.

I'd sworn off the Asura as the comedy option, like World of Warcraft's gnomes or goblins, but they're fabulous. The Asura are an entire race of overachieving schoolkids, sniping at one another from behind Coke-bottle-thick glasses.

Following an introductory cut-scene where you character refers to how, when the Asura were cast out from their subterranean home, they "excelled, of course," your tutorial area is a stretch of Asuran city where your people's enormous killing machines are running rampant.

What's great is that they aren't simply blaming one another. They all genuinely believe this is someone else's fault, because nobody can conceive that they made a mistake. Hard-working, witty and cripplingly misanthropic, the Asura are an exploration of the best and worst aspects of, for lack of a better word, being a geek. There's an intoxicating sense that they could absolutely conquer the world if they could just stop being such massive pricks.

My charming Charr.

After that I paid a visit to the Charr, GW2's race of stern war cats. Imagine steampunk Klingons and you're most of the way there. The Charr are interesting because they threaten to be as tedious as the Norn - but while the more I played the Norn, the more I wanted to insert my entire hand into my character's mouth and leave it there, the Charr simply charm.

Their capital city is (as Oli described) a steampunk death star, with all sorts of foundries, slums and arenas to pick over. Their society has problems with leadership, weakness and dereliction of duty, which hint that a couple of well-aimed assassinations could shatter the entire people. Most importantly, your story quest is immediately gripping, gifting you with power (your very own legion), choices and passable boss battles. While the fruity Sylvari and academic Asura might be acquired tastes, the Charr struck me as more of a crowd-pleaser. WAR! Swords! Cats! Duty! Leadership! Rrrowr.

My human. She's a human. What do you want from me?

Which finally brings us to Humans, who I certainly wouldn't choose to play as, though they did at least highlight my problem with the Norn. Left to portray the Norn, ArenaNet drove home their invented people's characteristics with the delicacy of an icepick. Humans, of course, are just... human.

They're everything we are. Which leads to the human quests drawing from the biggest palette of all, from politics to war, agriculture, exploration, friendship and, ultimately, the humans' fight for survival. Unlike all the other races, their back's against the wall, with monsters knocking down their doors, lending them a stiff-upper-lip and pleasant camaraderie. Which is lucky, because unlike the other races, they don't really stand for anything. If their back wasn't against something, they'd probably fold up like ragdolls.

That said, their starting areas, quest chain and capital city are on a par with anyone else's. But this is a fantasy, you know? Give me something fantastical, not just fantastic. I'm very happy with my plant.

So there you have it. A whistle-stop tour of Guild Wars 2's five races - which should hopefully function as a glimpse of just how much there is to discover, too.

If you take anything from this, just let it be that you don't make my mistake. Shop around before creating your character. In what's got to be the saddest truth for an escapist reality, all races were not, in fact, created equal.

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