GW2 Explained To WoW Players

Jumping from one MMO to another is not as easy as it sounds, many feel confused and lost. Here we aim to use your current knowledge of retail World of Warcraft to make the transition to Guild Wars 2 easier.


Let’s start with clearing up a couple of important questions most players have when they start out.

Is this game casual or hardcore?

The answer to this question depends on the type of content and your definition of hardcore. Is open world easy? In general yes, not harder than WoW’s, but there are also certain world bosses and map-wide meta events that require tight coordination of 100+ players. 

Raids are about as hard as an average Heroic encounter on WoW, but there are notable exceptions especially with challenge mode activated like Dhuum that are closer to what you’d expect from Mythic raiding.

PvP is arguably more hardcore than on WoW. The skillcap is insanely high for some classes and many new players struggle at first – it’s worth the effort though, as the combat itself is very satisfying once you get the hang of it.

Overall GW2 is more on the casual side of things. It’s generally easy to get into PvE, there is next to no gear grind, PvP doesn’t even require you to level a character in PvE, it’s very alt friendly and not at all time consuming. At the same time it also offers some challenges for the more hardcore crowd both on the PvE and the PvP front.

Does race matter?

In combat no, not really. Races don’t provide stat bonuses or any combat benefits and there are no race/class restrictions. While they do have their unique skills, racial skills are designed to be weaker than class skills. They are nothing but flavor and you can’t even use racial skills in sPvP. That being said, there’s been precedent for racial skills finding their niche with some unforeseen synergies surfacing, but ArenaNet always ensures that these do not stay viable for long.

Pick whatever race you like, but do remember that there is no race change option in GW2 so your choice is permanent!

Do story choices affect endgame?

No. Every character has its own personal story that you progress through while leveling, and while the choices you make here could have an impact on future story steps, these choices don’t affect your character’s performance or access to endgame content.

Example of a GW2 waypoint

Fast travel

GW2 doesn’t have flight masters, instead there are waypoints. When not in combat, you can click on any waypoint on the map that you discovered and isn’t contested to teleport there for a small fee. A waypoint becomes contested and thus temporarily disabled usually when there is an ongoing event nearby. To unlock a waypoint, simply walk up to it.

GW2 waypoint statuses illustrated

Skill, trait, mastery unlocks

As you level up you get to choose which skills and traits you want to unlock first. Don’t worry, none of the choices you make should lock you out of options in the future. Any max level character can have every skill, trait, and mastery unlocked at the same time.


80 is the max level in GW2 and there is no sign of that ever changing. Leveling really is just a learning experience for new players and not something that a raid geared player would ever have to go through again.

In terms of length it’s comparable to retail WoW’s as of Shadowlands, but there are many factors to consider. While GW2 doesn’t have heirlooms or rested XP, it does have stackable experience boosts from consumables such as food, gem store boosters and guild perks. 

There are also many ways to level a character. PvP/WvW are on the slower end of the spectrum, open world PvE is average, and crafting is the fastest albeit requires quite a bit of gold to pull off. Spamming dungeons to max is not a thing.

Example of a GW2 event


Don’t go looking for quest hubs because there aren’t any. GW2 doesn’t have traditional quests, instead there are open world events

Once you’ve contributed to the success of an event through killing mobs or doing other specified objectives you’ll be rewarded with experience, karma and gold based on your level of participation. The 3 participation tiers are gold, silver and bronze.

Example of GW2 event completion

These are kind of like a mix of WoW world quests and scenarios on a massive scale. Where to find events? Everywhere! Just go out and explore, that’s what the game is all about.


The other important category of open world objectives other than events are renown hearts. These are a bit more similar to traditional questing with just a touch of reputation grind.

gw2 heart quest in progress
gw2 heart merchant unlocked

Completing a heart grants you a significant amount of XP as well as access to the goods of the associated heart merchant.

Personal Story

Last but not least we have the story. This is single player instanced content very similar to scenarios.

Every 10 levels you’ll unlock a new set of story chapters, we recommend you do these as soon as they become available. Story chapters do wonders for XP gains.

gw2 new player story

Most story chapters are fairly easy and all of them should be soloable, but you may also enter with a full group of 5 players if you want. Friends who are on the same story step can gain credit for doing the story in your instance, but only if they accept the decisions made by the group leader. They have the option to reject progress, in which case they can still tag along but will have to do the story later on their own.


If you’re looking for new player tips and general leveling advice (including cheap XP boosters) check out our beginner guide.


A combat system can make or break a game. GW2’s gameplay is often praised by the game’s playerbase and for good reason – it’s incredibly fluid with barely any restrictions, fairly easy to get into yet has a seriously high skillcap.

That being said, it’s quite unique and may not be for everyone. Couple of basic things to highlight:

  • There is a downed state between life and death. 
  • Players can move while casting almost any skill. You should constantly be on the move!
  • Instant skills can be used in the middle of casting.
  • There is barely any GCD (global cooldown) in GW2 bar a few exceptions. 
  • Mana’s not a thing, although there are some class-specific resource systems like initiative for thief. Most of the resource management revolves around cooldowns.
  • You can’t target allies. Support skills are either AoE or ground targeted. This is part of the “play the game, not the UI” design philosophy.
  • There are no diminishing returns on CC, but there are more options to counter it.
  • Dodging is a core game mechanic and everyone’s supposed to use it to avoid the right things on encounters. 
  • There is an underwater combat system. Whenever you submerge, your terrestrial weapons change to your equipped underwater ones, along with the left side of your skill bar.

To learn more about the combat mechanics of GW2, click here.

Skill bar

Unlike in WoW where every skill of your spec is always available, in GW2 you have a wide variety of skills of different types of which you may only equip a limited amount at a time. Skills can be changed free of charge while not in combat or in a competitive match, but during combat you are limited to what’s on your bar.

Example of a GW2 skillbar

At the top left you’ll find the unique mechanic of your profession (classes are called professions in GW2, you’ll see both terms used interchangeably in this guide).  This is the bar of a necromancer. The green bar is life force (their profession resource) and F1 is their profession mechanic.

Below that is the active weapon set. In GW2, skills 1-5 are determined by the weapon you have equipped. An axe has different skills than a dagger, and a necromancer’s dagger skills are very different from say, an elementalist’s. Left of that is a toggle which allows you to swap weapons in combat. You may have a maximum of 2 weapon sets.

In the middle you’ll find a globe representing your HP, and above that the endurance bar. Endurance is the resource used for dodging.

On the right side skill 6 is the healing skill, 7-9 are the utilities, and the rightmost skill is the elite. Above the right side of the bar are the active buffs and debuffs.

The icon to the right of the skill bar is the mount selection.


Talents in GW2 are called traits, and traits are tied to specializations. This system may seem very different from WoW’s at first glance but they are actually rather similar.

In WoW an average class can choose 1 of 3 specs to use at a time, and each spec has a certain amount of talent rows where you have to select 1 trait to use.

In GW2 each class has 5 core specializations and 2 elites, with every expansion adding a new set of elite specs that change how a class works. You have to select 3 specializations to be active at a time – either 3 core ones or 2 core and 1 elite. Elite specs can only be equipped in the bottom row, marked by a gold border.

Specialization selection panel
GW2 specialization example

Each spec has 3 “minor” traits that can’t be changed, and 3 “major” traits that can. 

There are 3 options per major slot where you have to pick the trait you want to activate. This is very much like picking a talent from a row in WoW, except here we have columns not rows, and there are 3 smaller specs instead of 1 big.

Borrowed Power

In WoW it’s becoming a trend for each expansion to introduce new systems that expand your character’s toolkit. Artifacts in Legion, azerite gear in BfA, covenant abilities in Shadowlands, etc.

If you’re not a fan of these systems then you’ll be delighted to hear that there are no such things in GW2! Not quite, at least.

Yes, there is a mastery system which can grant you combat benefits, but these are almost exclusively map specific in the open world and never something that you have to incorporate into your rotation or have to alter your gear for.


No gear grind

This is quite possibly the most fundamental difference between the two games and something that could make or break the game for you.

Getting better and better gear has been an unfailing carrot on a stick eversince Vanilla WoW. You always have a goal, always a reason to keep pushing forward, yet it’s only in the moment. Gear in WoW could lose its relevance after a single major release, resetting player progression. If that’s something you dislike about WoW, you’ll be pleased to know that there is no gear grind in GW2 (for the most part, more on that later).

There is a very clear cap to how good your gear can be, and once you hit that cap that’s it, you’re done! This makes GW2 incredibly alt-friendly.

Comparing an exotic weapon to a legendary in GW2

.. maybe a little grind?

While a full set of exotic gear is perfectly viable for most endgame content and fairly easy to get, there is a tier above called ascended. Ascended is entirely optional for most content and only about ~5% better than exotic, but it does provide some extra progression for true minmaxers who want to push the limits of their character.

And if even that’s not enough for you, there’s also legendary gear. In terms of numbers legendaries are the same as ascended, but have unique skins/effects not to mention the convenience features like stat swapping. Getting a legendary is a serious time and gold sink and the endgame goal of many players.

Endgame PvE

Progression in GW2 is finite and much less linear than in other MMOs. There’s no real “flow” you have to follow at level 80. Whereas in WoW you’d have to do world quests to get gear for dungeons, farm dungeons to get gear for raids, and farm normal/hc raids in order to do mythic raids, in GW2 you have much more freedom.

There is no difference between a piece of exotic dungeon gear and exotic crafted gear, and you could even deck a character out in best in slot gear through crafting. There are many ways to get the best gear possible, and how you do it is up to you.

The true endgame of GW2 is skin/title/achievement hunting and not gear grind, and as the level cap never goes any higher, old content never truly becomes obsolete.

Example of a GW2 meta event

Open World

In WoW, players quickly outlevel or outgear the world from which point they only venture back to do a quick daily or two, if even that.

In GW2 open world makes up the bulk of endgame content with a heavy focus on meta events. On endgame maps you have to work together with dozens of other players performing various tasks in order to progress map-wide events.


Endgame 5 man dungeons in GW2 are called fractals, these are a bit similar to Mythic+ in WoW. They have a difficulty scale and various instabilities (affixes). Regular dungeons have a story mode which can be done while leveling, and explorable paths that are tuned for max level players.

fractals loading screen art

Fractals are quite possibly the only place in GW2 where you are required to upgrade your gear past exotic, as only infused ascended gear can protect you from a debuff called agony which could otherwise kill you in seconds.

Raids And Strike Missions 

Raids are 10 man content and one of the hardest things you could do in GW2. Beside just the challenge, raids offer unique cosmetic rewards as well as titles. Strike missions are single boss encounters that are a bit easier than raids, about as hard as a normal mode raid boss on WoW.

GW2 raid art

Endgame PvP

sPvP And Even Footing

As a competitive gamemode, it’s important to provide players with equal opportunities. Structured PvP (sPvP) is like a game within a game. Everyone here is the same level and has the exact same access to gear, traits and skills. All that matters is your own skill.

GW2 pvp art

sPvP has 3 main join formats: unranked, ranked, and automated tournaments. Ranked is where solo and duo players compete on the ladder while automated tournaments are for premade groups.

GW2 wvw art

World vs World – All Bets Are Off

WvW is a set of massive battlegrounds where 3 servers fight for dominance over the course of an entire week. Take towers, lay siege to keeps, hijack camps, cut enemy supply lines, and vanquish your opponents in the name of your server! What sets WvW apart from sPvP isn’t just the scale but also the ruleset. Here your PvE gear takes effect and although you get upscaled to 80, you will not be as strong as a real level 80.

You may even use consumables which means there are many ways for you to gain a numerical advantage over your opponents or discover new synergies.

To learn more about the endgame options in GW2, come check out our endgame guide!

Release Schedule

GW2 tried breaking away from the conventional MMO model a couple of times, but eventually landed on one that should be familiar. Every couple of years an expansion is released, and between those major releases we have something called the Living Story (or recently Sagas, which is kind of the same).

Expansions in GW2


You know what an expansion is, it doesn’t really have to be explained. New skills, new specs, lots of new endgame content and brand new systems, all the good stuff. As of now GW2 has 2 expansions with a 3rd one currently in development (source).

Living Story/Sagas

These are content drops that keep the game fresh between expansions. You can expect a new chapter every 2-4 months. New story development and open world maps are a given, but occasionally raids, fractals, new features and PvP/WvW updates also arrive with the same patch.

Icebrood saga art
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