Both do area damage with their basic attacks and have some additional AoEs; greatsword has a gap closer and an enemy-herder although the enemy-herder doesn't always work (if enemies are moving they tend to cancel it I think?). GS in general is much higher damage, but mace+shield is insanely survivable.
...I mostly run with signets and forget that I have virtues. The virtues are a lot like signets in that they have a nice constant effect that you can turn off for a very long time in return for a minor immediate burst. Sometimes I swap in spirit weapons for the signets; it looks like my build kinda sorta will support spirit weapons in the long run (I was mostly building for symbols which both mace and greatsword use constantly).
As for the Charr starting area... ugh it's set up horribly, with long runs to get between what should be successive quests. Sometimes with bands of level 15 monsters separating level 10 quests if you take the direct route. And it's huge. HUGE. They took the whole first act from GW1 (which was itself several zones) and turned it into the Charr starter zone. You can recognize a lot of the landmarks.