Guild Wars 2: Free to Play Guide & Review

by Cirian, 13th day of October 2015.

Lion's Arch
Lion’s Arch

Who I am.

I’ve played the Guild Wars franchise for over 10 years now, so I know the game and I know the company. I even got to meet the developers in 2007 at PAX, Seattle, way back in 2007 and they were a really great bunch of people. ArenaNet have traditionally marketed Guild Wars 2 as buy-to-play and this hasn’t changed, so their entry into free-to-play is a little different to normal.

My Guild Wars Profile

Keeping the entry barrier low for new players.

ArenaNet are pushing their latest expansion, Heart of Thorns, but they don’t want this massive paywall turning people off. Imagine when Guild Wars 2 is on it’s 10th expansion or something, a brand new player having to buy the previous 9 expansions plus the core game just to join in. The paywall would be formidable! ArenaNet have foreseen this problem and have decided to charge for their latest expansion only, with the previous version going free. For now that means you can join in on the original Guild Wars 2 for free, but with certain restrictions to prevent mischief.

An opportunity for old players to relive the newbie experience.

I confess to making a second, free account to have a bit of nostalgia. But you know, I was also keen to experience the game again from scratch. The new player experience has changed a lot in 3 years since I started playing and new characters on my main account get spoiled a lot by all the resources I have to offer them. What would the game be like with nothing? At time of writing I have my fresh sylvari ranger at L75, 5 levels away from the L80 cap. I did cheat a bit by mailing some crafting supplies over from my main account to help me with leatherworking and jeweling, but these things are easy to gather anyway even without trading post access.

The main drawback of a free account is the lack of trading and guild bank access. Many players including myself have a private “storage guild”, with a guild bank serving to add extra storage space and a way of moving certain goods between accounts. This is a lot cheaper than buying extra bank space using gems. Your free account won’t have access to your private guild bank even if you give it guild bank permissions, nor can you use the trading post to buy crafting supplies or anything else such as weapon sigils to help you level. Nor can free accounts send items or gold through the mail system, but they can receive items and gold this way. So, if you have a main account and you want to give a boost to your free account, it’s possible to mail things across. Just be aware that whatever you send, you won’t be able to get back without upgrading the free account to a paid one!

Protecting the economy from free accounts.

As I just wrote, free accounts cannot use the trading post or indeed any trading methods at all. This means that they are isolated from the economy, which is mainly to keep botters and other abusers out of the hair of real players. New players don’t have much to worry about however as it’s so easy to thrive in-game with what you pick up and what you can make or buy from vendors.

Back to Square One
The Wardrobe

Thriving on a free account.

So, what are my recommendations? Guild Wars 2 is an easy game to fall in love with and I do have a few pointers for new players, and indeed old ones who might be irked by some of the defaults they changed years ago.

Change your keybindings!

Some of the defaults feel pretty clunky to me, so here’s what I did and why:

  1. Put strafe on A and D and dodge on Tab.
    • Dodge is a super-important key, make sure you choose a big one. You can dodge in combination with a direction key to dodge sideways etc.
    • Unbind turn left and right, they’re useless.
      • You can hold both mouse buttons down to move in the direction the camera is facing. You don’t need keys.
      • If you’re panning the camera with left or right mouse button, tapping the other one as well will make your character face the same direction as the camera.
  2. Tick the autoloot box and set your AoE loot key to C.
    • This lets you vacuum up all the loot within a generous radius with 1 button push.
  3. Set “Use Free Camera” in the camera options and set autorun to V.
    • Left mouse and right mouse both pan the camera, with differences:
      • Left mouse panning won’t change your character’s direction.
        • Lets you run in a particular direction while looking around left, right and behind.
        • Critical for situational awareness in any high level play.
      • Right mouse will steer your character in whichever way the camera is facing, perfect for driving them around.
        • You can drive your character around just by holding both mouse buttons down and steer them at the same time. This is both lazy and fantastic.
  4. Disable “Autotargeting” and anything else you dislike under Combat/Movement.
    • This lets you use leap moves for movement, which aids getting around.

Everything else is up to you. Be sure to revisit your binding and options to find your magic formula, it will add a lot to your experience.

Master your currencies.

On a free account and with a target of hitting L80 with a good loadout of equipment, it’s important to know what you can get with the different currencies in-game. Your equipment can be broken down into 4 categories:

  1. Weapons
  2. Armour
  3. Trinkets
  4. Bags

The highest tier worth mentioning is “exotic”.


In the beginning, any fine (blue) or masterwork (green) weapon will do. I certainly wouldn’t recommend spending a lot on any gear while levelling as the content is more about playing well than your gear. Eventually however you will aim at a L80 exotic weapon set, consisting of your favourite weapons slotted with the best upgrades you can find. Exotic weapons can be bought with dungeon tokens, WvW badges of honor, or crafted. I’d aim to use WvW badges of honor earned in Edge of the Mists, leaving my other currencies for other gear.

Edge of the Mists opens to free accounts at L60, and it offers a lot of gold, karma and badges of honor when the going is good. Typically this means being on the green team, but blue and red have their good days too. You can expect to die a lot in Edge of the Mists if you’re new, but this is why the rewards are high. High risk, high reward! There isn’t any penalty for dying in Guild Wars 2 so just try to have fun, and if it’s a bad day for rewards then maybe concentrate on something else. There’s always something to do.

Once you are level 80 and have a decent number of badges, you can go to your home WvW borderland to spend them. Visiting your home borderland places you in the Citadel, which is stocked full of excellent vendors for free-to-play accounts. Note that what these vendors offer changes depending on your level, so be sure to visit them at L80 for their end-game selection. The vendors will offer you exotic weapons, armour and trinkets with various stats and skins that you can use to customise your gear without having to use the transmutation charge system. While you can get a full loadout of weapons and armour in the Citadel, it takes quite a few badges to get everything. Start by buying your weapons as they are most important.

Once you have your exotic weapons, you’ll want to slot upgrades. While it’s possible to slot jewels, what you really want are sigils! However, the trading post is locked out and that means making do with what is commonly available. For a physical character such as the sylvari ranger I made, they inflict a lot of critical hits and can make good use of the major air sigil, which is a very common salvage item from world boss events. My personal preference is to pair the major air sigil with a minor air sigil, both of which I keep stocked in my bank. Whatever sigil combination you prefer, you’ll want to try salvaging them out of drops with a master salvage kit (the yellow rarity one bought at merchants). All of these good sigils that you salvage during your level-up process you can then keep for your final L80 equipment.


Exotic armour is actually more common than weaponry, but it’s expensive. If you earn WvW badges then you have an excellent selection available in the citadel of your home boderland, or if you manage to do dungeons or play PvP then there’s the dungeon token route, but it’s also worth mentioning the Orr temples in PvE. You will need a currency called karma, which you earn by doing good deeds… well, actually just by participating in events the karma will be rolling in pretty much all the time. You may as well spend it on something!

Orr temples are the main karma sink in Guild Wars 2 when it comes to exotic gear, and all of these temples are found in the later stages of the core game far to the south on the map. While they don’t sell decent weapons, they do each offer a set of armour with a unique skin (often referred to as “temple armour”). Each temple offers armour in a different stat set, so for example if you want berserker armour then you will go to the Cathedral of Silence (aka the Temple of Grenth). However, the temples are not always open for business! Being in dangerous areas, it may be necessary to participate in dynamic event chains to conquer the temples and open the merchants. This has always added something special to me for this gear because it adds a bit of story to getting hold of it.

Finally, armour has some upgrade slots. Buying Orr armour has the advantage, if you like the rune set, of having a complete set of exotic runes built-in. If you don’t then there are two options: craft your own runes or slot jewels, like ruby orbs. I like orbs myself, but be aware that armour will only take basic orbs and not exquisite ones made by a jeweler. Jewels are easy to acquire from mining nodes. Exotic runes on the other hand normally require lodestones to craft, plus a high skill level in the appropriate craft.

A longer-term goal may also be to craft your own armour, with an appropriate craft for your class.


The Orr temples also sell exotic trinkets and it’s particularly worth getting hold of a L80 back item here. Note that none of the trinkets sold at the Orr temples, nor the ones in the Citadel in WvW have any jewels in. This is where crafting comes in, and I will strongly recommend picking up the jeweling craft.

Jeweling offers many advantages for the first time player that have become redundant to seasoned veterans. Firstly, it’s an easy craft to max out and it gives a lot of experience levels in the process. All the materials you need are mined from ore nodes you’ll see in the world, and mining these also gives you experience. Between mining and crafting you’ll easily get 10+ levels just from pursuing this, and you will have a lot more control over your stats at level 80. Plus, you can also make unique back items that look pretty good. Admittedly the later back pieces can get over-the-top, but you can always use a transmutation charge to get the look you want.

The final target with jewel crafting is to be able to make exotic trinkets yourself, with the stats that you want. You won’t be able to make a L80 back piece (L78 is the highest you can craft), but you will be able to buy one from an Orr temple and then slot an exotic jewel that you have crafted. While it’s possible for a non-jeweler to slot a basic jewel like a ruby orb into a back item, a jeweler can upgrade the jewel into an exquisite one before slotting it to give higher stats. That’s exactly what you want!


Lastly there are bags to talk about. Free accounts get a 20 slot backpack, a single 30 slot storage pane in their bank, plus two bag slots to expand their inventory. The most basic bag will expand your inventory by 4 slots each, which isn’t very much, but you can get bags that add an additional 20 slots each. That means that your carry capacity can go from the 20 you start with to a whopping 60!

So how do you get the bigger bags without a trading post to buy them from? It is possible to get a 20 slot bag through some very odd means such as by doing the Uncanny Canner achievement, but generally I’d say by crafting them yourself. Each armour crafter can make their own style of bag using their trademark material: armorsmiths make metal boxes, leatherworkers make leather packs and tailors make cloth bags. These can be enhanced with magical properties by adding certain ingredients to the basic bag recipe, like dust or bones.

In the case of my sylvari ranger I went with leatherworker, because I have a preference for oiled packs and invisible packs. These are special bag types that help organise the inventory and the cost of the 15 slot versions are rather modest: a “major rune of holding” from the crafting vendor costs just 50 silver. The rune used to make the bag is 2 gold for an 18 slot bag and 10 gold for a 20 slot bag, so you can see how the 15 slot bag is at a nice price point for a free player.

Make cunning use of your crafting disciplines.

You can have 2 active crafting disciplines per character, and it’s worth remembering that your account bank and wallet is there for all of your characters. You get 2 character slots on a free account, so just be aware that they share resources and can craft things for each other. The most important crafting disciplines for me are jeweler and leatherworker for the reasons laid out above, but certainly jeweler is the first one to get and master. An armour craft of some sort is a much bigger investment and aside from special bags, you can probably make do without it.

The elephant in the room is cooking. Cooking is the main source of consumable buffs and can give your character health regeneration, life-stealing attacks or various stat boosts that are otherwise hard to come by. Cooking is a longer-term craft that is worth picking up once your other disciplines are redundant. On the other hand, you can make a second character be your chef and have them put food into the bank for swapping onto your main. Whatever works.

The final crafting buff worth mentioning is the utility consumable. These are either sharpening stones, oils or attuning crystals depending on the weapon crafting discipline and boost power, precision (critical hit chance) or condition damage respectively. For the most part you won’t miss these on a free account should you be lacking the crafters to make them, and I suspect most players just buy what they want from the trading post. Obviously that won’t be an option.

It’s worth knowing that if you want more than 2 crafting disciplines, you can de-activate one without losing any progress on it. When you talk to a craft master to pick up another craft they will offer you which craft you want to deactivate, and to re-activate it you just need to visit that particular crafting master. Note that there is a re-activation fee of one-tenth of your skill, paid in silver, i.e. if you have 300 skill then the fee is 30 silver.

Join a guild!

Guild Wars 2 is a very social game indeed and you’d be missing out if you didn’t join a guild. You can be in up to 5 guilds at once, so you can have 1 for socialising, 1 for Edge of the Mists or WvW, 1 for roleplaying if that’s your thing, 1 for just you and your friends & family and so-on. There are often recruitment shout-outs in towns or you can just to chat to someone about their guild and maybe sign up that way. Either way, don’t be a stranger and join in the fun!

Level 80!

You have nothing to lose except sleep.

So there you have it, my guide and review to playing Guild Wars 2 on a free account. Going down from my main account to a fresh and limited one, the game certainly felt easier to play than I remember at launch. There were also plenty of new players about, and the co-operative nature of Guild Wars 2 made joining in with them a lot of fun. As a veteran player it’s great to be back in ramshackle equipment mucking in with random strangers to re-do achievements I last did years ago.

If you want my quick-and-dirty guide to an easy ride, I say this. Roll a ranger, get yourself a greatsword, a raven and a snow leopard, learn signet and survival skills, spec into Beastmastery and go to town. It’s a blast. Oh and get jellyfish for your underwater pets and a spear. Also, learn to dodge, evade and block. And remember to use F1-F4. Don’t use longbow #4 randomly. Why have you got a longbow anyway? Don’t even think about owning a bear when there are drakes. Well, haha, I guess I got carried away suddenly but anyway… it’s a simple class to pick up with a lot of hidden depth, like so many of the Guild Wars 2 classes, and it’s a ton of fun.

Regardless of which class you pick, the core game has a lot to offer and honestly a bit too much to cover in this review. In the end ArenaNet are using the free player account to tempt people into buying Heart of Thorns by showing off what the base game has to offer. If you want to play Heart of Thorns for free as well, then in theory you’ll be able to when ArenaNet come out with Guild Wars 2: Next Expansion.

Good luck and have fun.