So, you made a character and are ready to journey out into the world, are you! Not so fast! Each character will have a short introductory mission that should last a few minutes; this will usually culminate in a fight against a large foe, which you and your fellow players will have to defeat before moving on. Do as much damage as you can, and be sure to look for any players that have fallen; helping them will net you experience, and is just plain nice, to boot!
When you do find yourself in the starting zone and are able to explore freely, you might be a bit befuddled, in that there aren't a bunch of people with exclamation marks over their heads, waiting to give you quests. That's because there aren't "quests" in Guild Wars 2 as you may be familiar with the concept from other MMOs. You do have a personal storyline, which is effectively a very long quest that will guide your character through your adventuring career, but Guild Wars 2 encourages you to explore the world and discover tasks for yourself, rather than forcing you to run back and forth to towns, dropping off five baby elephant skins here and killing twelve rabid wolves there. There are a few different things that you'll encounter in the game world, and you'll want to ensure that you clear most of an area out before you move on to the next, as each of the areas of interest on your map are going to give you experience, as well as the chance to help out NPCs.
It’s a big world out there. Go and blow it up!
You'll note on each loading screen that the game keeps track of how thoroughly you're exploring. If you can tick off all of the following items in each zone, you'll net a large experience bonus, as well as an assortment of random, but usually quite excellent items.
As you travel the map, you'll come across NPCs with small black hearts over their heads. These hearts indicate that the NPC has a task that he or she could use some help with. When you get close enough to the NPC, you'll automatically see the tasks that you can perform to help pop up in the upper right corner of your screen. (In most cases, you don't even need to talk to the NPC if you don't want to!) Take a second to read what they wish you to do, then start looking for the relevant items, enemies, or animals, and start helping out. Before doing so, though, check the number in the corner by the quest. That's the level the quest is designed for; if it's a red number that's higher than your current level, you might want to go somewhere else and level up a bit before tackling it.
Most heart quests will have a variety of ways for you to help. There'll usually be enemies to kill, items to collect, and NPCs or animals to interact with, although there are more esoteric tasks in some heart quests, as well. You can do a single task, or mix and match as you wander around near the questgiver; anything you do will count towards your progression in the quest. (Note that if you stray too far from the questgiver, the quest will disappear from your quest log in the corner of your screen. When this happens, your activities stop counting towards that quest. Move back closer to the questgiver, though, and you'll be able to resume right where you left off.)
Completing heart quests nets you money and experience, and also counts towards daily and monthly achievements, so you'll want to do them whenever you spot a new one on your map. Completing a heart quest will also convert the quest giver into a karma merchant, as well, and some of them will sell you rare items or upgrades. But how do you get karma? Well, that's where Events come in.
Wander around Tyria long enough, and you'll come across a large number of Events. Events are spontaneous and often random occurances that will pop up on your minimap, often with an orange circle indicating where the event is currently transpiring. Events, like heartquests, can often entail killing a bunch of enemies (or one strong one), gathering items and returning them to an NPC, or any number of other tasks. Unlike heartquests, though, all players in an area can contribute to the completion of an event. For instance, if an NPC asks you to pick up magical shards of ice and return them to him, then every time any player in the area does so, the completion bar for the event will get that much closer to filling up entirely. Thus, there's a mild element of competition when engaging in events, and the events will rank you either as a gold, silver, or bronze participant when it concludes, depending on how much you helped out.
Hope you’re not afraid of big creatures, because you’ll see plenty of them in events.
Some events actually begin chains of events, which you can follow through to earn big rewards. One of the early Norn events, for instance, sees you escorting a sculptor into a cave (event one), killing ice elementals and gathering ice shards from them for the sculptor to work with (event two), and then guarding the sculptor while he creates a statue (event three). Each event will net you experience, cash, and most importantly, karma. Events are the only way you can earn karma, an important alternate form of currency, so it's well worth your time to participate in every event you come across! What's more, events are repeatable, so if you wander around the same zone long enough, you'll probably participate in the same event multiple times, each time earning more rewards. Do this, then spend the karma that you earn at karma vendors; they'll often sell accessories and items that fit in item slots that you might not otherwise fill so early, as well as consumable items that'll give you an edge in battle.
Vistas are marked on your map with a pair of red mountain peaks. All you need to do to fill in a vista and get the experience from it is walk up to it and use it; like the towers in Assassin's Creed, these will give you an aerial view of important places nearby. The catch is that most vistas are in very difficult-to-reach spots, and will require you to find sometimes quite obscure paths to reach them. Expect to see quite a few vistas that you'll have absolutely no clue how to reach initially! When this happens, give the area around the vista a good once-over, looking for hidden paths and jumping puzzles. Some vistas will even require you to speak to NPCs to be teleported over to them. While vistas aren't a major source of experience, you'll still get a little bump for them, and they're worth clearing off for that reason alone. If you can't figure out how to get to one, don't hesitate to ask in your map chat channel.