Since 2005's Guild Wars, ArenaNet has produced two stand-alone "chapters" that revealed more of the game's fantasy world, Ascalon, as well as introduced whole new gameplay features. Guild Wars isn't a massively multiplayer role-playing game, such as World of Warcraft, but it is played entirely online, it has no subscription fee, and you can adventure with other players or battle against them. With the recently announced Guild Wars: Eye of the North, ArenaNet is developing the first true expansion pack for the series. You'll need to have a previous Guild Wars game to play Eye of the North, but the reward will be lots of new, high-level content to explore. To learn more, we turned to Ben Miller, ArenaNet designer and the lead on the expansion. Eye of the North will ship later this year.
GameSpot: How does Eye of the North differ from the previous Guild Wars chapters, Nightfall and Factions? We understand that this isn't a traditional, stand-alone chapter like those, but something new.
Ben Miller: The biggest difference is its focus on content for existing Guild Wars characters. It packs new, exciting adventures for all those characters you already have and love. The expansion itself is much more open, with an emphasis on the feeling of exploration of new lands and new peoples. It also combines a lot of what people loved from everything we have done in Guild Wars, Factions, Nightfall, and our free live update, Sorrow's Furnace.
GS: What's the reasoning for making Eye of the North a true expansion rather than a stand-alone chapter? Was it to provide more high-level content for existing players?
BM: There are a couple reasons we chose to do an expansion rather than a stand-alone campaign. One is that with each new campaign, the game gets more and more complex and the tutorial areas become larger as we need to explain the new professions and the new mechanics. Instead of reinventing the "tutorial wheel" yet again, we are using that energy to develop more content for existing characters. This brings me to point number two, which is that we have been seeing players wanting content for their existing characters. Players have invested an incredible amount of time building their existing characters, and we want to provide those characters with new adventures, experiences, armor, items, and so on.
GS: In terms of content, how does Eye of the North measure up against the previous chapters? Is it about the same size as its predecessors in terms of both the size of the world and the number of quests and adventures?
BM: That is actually a difficult question to answer, as expectations of value are subjective. Added to that, expansions in general vary greatly in terms of both value and quality. With that said, Guild Wars has delivered games above and beyond what people have expected in many ways, and I see Eye of the North continuing that trend. Will it surpass player's expectations in terms of gameplay and visual aesthetic? Absolutely! It is by far the most gorgeous thing we have done to date. Will it have engaging content that will keep players entertained for countless hours? Absolutely.
GS: What can you tell us about the story and setting?
BM: The setting takes place in four major areas that sweep across the original map of Prophecies as well as to previously unexplored areas in the North. For the first time ever, players will get to see the Charr homeland, which is a beautiful, verdant land similar to what they experienced with pre-Searing Ascalon. The Far Shiverpeaks is home to the independent, Viking-like Norn. Everything about the Norn is huge and epic. Players will journey to an area of the southern Maguuma jungle known as the Tarnished Coast, where the magical Asura are coming above ground for the first time in centuries. Finally, players get to delve into the depths of the world itself and explore multilayered dungeons.
The story actually comprises several arcs that can be done at the players own pace and that tie into a much larger overarching narrative. Without giving too much away, I can outline the premise: Violent earthquakes have been shaking the world. This has opened up entrances into previously unexplored underground areas. Being the intrepid hero, the player explores them and gets swept away as a new peril stirs deep below. There are terrible mindless creatures that must be stopped at all costs. Along the way, we will be tying up loose ends with all sorts of previous characters, as well as foreshadowing the events that will set up Guild Wars 2. In many ways this is a prologue to Guild Wars 2. In general, players can look forward to fully voiced cinematics and an engaging, character-driven narrative.
GS: We understand that the three new races that appear in the expansion will be playable in Guild Wars 2. Is their appearance now just a teaser of things to come? What can you tell us about the races?
BM: What you see of them in Eye of the North is definitely just the tip of the tip of the enormous iceberg that is Guild Wars 2. The Asura and the Norn definitely get the most face time.
The Norn is an extremely boisterous, independent race that lives in the magical and dangerous Far Shiverpeaks. Everything about them is on an epic scale. They fight epic monsters, build epic buildings, and drink epic flagons of ale. You would see a typical Norn standing in front of a giant ice wyrm in a torrential snowstorm laughing because the wyrm doesn't stand a chance.
The Asura are an extremely cute magical race that is being driven above ground by the menace below. Don't let that fool you, though. They are among the smartest races in role-playing game history. Traditional gnomes, goblins, and so on, have nothing on these little guys. Instead of being mad inventors that build fanciful mechanical stuff that sometimes blows up, the Asura make powerful magical creations that work. Creations that would make a giant ice wyrm scared for its giant ice hide.
We definitely have a few surprises in store for players when it comes to everyone's favorite enemy race, the Charr. Not only will players get to do what any red-blooded Ascalonian wants to do (and that's kill more of them), you will also get to see the great depth that Charr society has and explore a part of their homeland.
The Sylvari are by far the biggest tease in Eye of the North. So much, in fact, that I am finishing this sentence with ellipsis...
Inherit the Stuff
GS: Each new Guild Wars chapter to date has introduced a new gameplay feature, such as the faction war and heroes. Will Eye of the North introduce any major features, or will you take advantage of the existing ones?
BM: A good amount of both, actually. We definitely have a deep bag of tricks to pull from. So you can expect to see some cool stuff based on the things we have done in the past that we found to be really fun, as well as brand-new things that will surprise even the most jaded Guild Wars player. We are carrying over the hero mechanic into Eye of the North, so this is a chance for people who haven't purchased Nightfall to use the new system. In Nightfall, the Sunspear and Lightbringer titles were well received. We are going to be expanding that mechanic to include new groups that players can form allegiances with. These will in turn allow them to gain and power up brand new player-versus-environment skills. The biggest new feature, gameplay wise, is the multilevel dungeons. They add a whole bunch of fun gameplay elements that we have only glossed over in previous campaigns as well epic boss encounters and unique puzzles.
GS: There are 150 new skills in the expansion, on top of the hundreds that are already available. Is it becoming harder to juggle and balance all of these skills? Are there any notable new skills, or do they mainly just round out the existing skill sets?
BM: The more skills we have, the harder it has gotten over time, definitely. Luckily, we have some really talented people that know how to juggle like they were born in a circus. Eye of the North will have brand-new skills to help round out existing professions as well as some really exciting PVE-only skills. Some of these will be given away via quests. They will not only be superpowerful during combat, but also augment what players are doing outside of combat. A good example is a skill called Light of Deldrimor. It does a wide blast of area-of-effect damage to evil stuff, as well reveal hidden secrets with its magical radiance.
GS: How will Eye of the North tie into Guild Wars 2? And how exactly does the Hall of Monuments work? Is it a way to show off all of your accomplishments and also pass down your gear to a future Guild Wars 2 character?
BM: Eye of the North shows off the Norn and the Asura as well as foreshadows some of the plot that makes up the foundation of Guild Wars 2. Without going into too much detail, the Hall of Monuments is an instance that allows you to immortalize all your character has accomplished. The accomplishments reflected range from stuff casual players can earn to making sure the hardcore players get rewarded for the more spectacular feats they have done. Based on those accomplishments, we will have all kinds of neat stuff in Guild Wars 2 for newly created characters to "inherit."
GS: Finally, will Eye of the North represent the last product for the original Guild Wars before ArenaNet transitions to Guild Wars 2, or are there plans for future chapters or expansions? What will happen to the original Guild Wars and the characters that players have built up, once Guild Wars 2 launches?
BM: So far, Eye of the North is the only announced product we are doing between now and Guild Wars 2. The future of the original Guild Wars is just as bright and healthy as a player and developer could hope for. We will continue to actively support it for as long as players are actively playing it.
GS: Thank you, Ben.