Guild Wars has become one of the major successes of 2005, and it's easy to see why. This online role-playing game from ArenaNet offers countless hours of excellent gameplay, requires no monthly subscription fee, and features innovative streaming technology that allows the developers to update the game automatically every time you log on. Now the team at ArenaNet is preparing the first major update to Guild Wars, the so-called second chapter. This update will introduce a ton of content. But don't take our word for it. Gaile Gray, Guild War's community relations manager, was kind enough to answer our questions regarding chapter two.
GameSpot: What's the official name of the next chapter, if there is one at the moment? When is it planned for release, and how far along is it?
Gaile Gray: While we don't yet have a name for the next chapter of Guild Wars, we're well on our way with content development. Various members of the team have been active in startup for level design, quest scripting, programming, storyline exploration, global network expansion, and the creation of all sorts of concept art as well. The chapter will release in the first half of 2006.
GS: Can you give us an overview of what's planned for the second chapter of the game?
GG: The continuation of the Guild Wars story will contain all the things that players love from the first chapter, and a whole lot more. We'll have a bunch of spanking new regions that offer new missions, new monsters, new items, new quests, new skills, and new professions. Yes, "new" is the recurring theme here. And all of this sparkly newness will take place in a setting that continues the compelling story of Tyria that was begun in the first installment.
GS: How have players reacted to the single-player aspect of the game, and how have their reactions affected the planning for the second chapter (and other chapters of the game further down the line)? Are there specific things that you've noticed players really tend to enjoy, and other things that players just don't seem to focus on?
GG: One of the things I like best about Guild Wars is the fact that you don't have a lot of limits on how you play the game. You can play in one of many modes, depending on your mood, the time of day, whether your regular gaming partners are available, and the amount of time you have to spend in the game. If you're up for a guild battle, fine and well! If your guild isn't available, you can play some cooperative gaming with a couple of friends, or you can form a pickup group and head out for a little player-versus-player action in the arena. And of course, at any time you can take off solo into the wilderness areas with henchmen. Players seem to enjoy the variety of choices very much, and single-player reaction has been great. The Guild Wars henchmen system allows you to play on your own if you choose to do so, but it deepens the experience of individual play by allowing you to participate in real missions and quests that matter, not quests that are "dummied down" for single-player players.
GS: And how have players taken to multiplayer play? Did multiplayer turn out to be everything you expected? What tweaks do you think need to be made to multiplayer in the short and long term, and how will the second chapter help push things in the right direction?
GG: Multiplayer has been very well received. For some players, Guild Wars has offered them their first experience with an online game. For others, it is one of a long list of multiplayer games they've played. Judging from the player response, media reviews, and sales figures, and taking a peek at the e-mails we receive on a daily basis, Guild Wars is fast becoming a favorite of a large number of players. And we've just begun! We have added to multiplayer gameplay for both the cooperative and competitive player even while we have been gearing up for the continuation of the Guild Wars story.
For PvP players, we held the PvP Extreme (PvPX) Weekend in late August that provided increased rewards for combat, allowing players to gain skills and levels more easily. After gathering feedback from the community about the weekend's increases, and after listening to what players would like to see for PvP options in the future, we rolled the boosts into the game as a whole. We also added several high-end quests for veteran players. Since the increases and quests were made a permanent addition to the game, players have been leveling and acquiring items more quickly and easily since that date.
For the cooperative gamer, we released cool new explorable areas in the form of our Sorrow's Furnace update. The update offered two large new regions--Grenth's Footprint and Sorrow's Furnace--which featured a bunch of innovative and challenging quests with unique rewards. The update provided the content in a form that allows interesting replayability options, and it proved incredibly popular with Guild Wars players. Oh, and did I mention that PvPX and the Sorrow's Furnace update were both free?
GS: How will the second chapter advance the game's overall story? How, if at all, can we expect to see the world of Tyria itself change? We assume that new parts of the world will be unlocked to explore--but are there any plans for changing climates, landscapes, or ecologies as a result of story progression?
GG: Jess Lebow, our world designer, says, "We don't want to give away too much about the upcoming story, but count on seeing landscapes that have been irrevocably changed by world events, meeting cultures only alluded to in the first installment, and facing challenges that could change the face of the world forever."
I can add that the look and feel of the coming installment is very impressive--quite different and yet equally engrossing--and that judging from our early testing, from concept art, and from the design documents, it's going to be an incredible continuation of the Guild Wars story.
Global Guild WarsGS: Can you give us an update on the game's streaming technology and how it's planned for use in the next chapter? Now that ArenaNet's online streaming engine has been tested with both beta testers and with the retail game, are there any interesting new features or challenges that you plan to undertake using the streaming technology?
GG: Well, as you're aware, streaming technology means that the dreaded "patch day" downtime is a thing of the past. We've updated Guild Wars more than a dozen times since release. In each case, the player has downloaded a tiny group of files and has been back in the game within minutes, rather than hours. A few weeks ago, we did an update that fixed some spells that were not functioning as originally planned. The update also improved the drops in a mission, fixed a broken teleport, took care of a minor user interface problem, and addressed a few rare crash issues. All this for a few seconds' worth of download! Even downloading the Sorrow's Furnace update was painless.
One way in which we'll be using streaming technology more and more in the future is in adding content for special events. We might have an event in the world that takes place for just a few hours, as we did at the end of our final beta weekend event. Or we might offer seasonal art that lasts for just a week or so. We can roll in this content and then return things back to the way they were with tiny updates that make even a dial-up user smile.
GS: Guild Wars was released worldwide for players in North America, Europe, and Asia. This means that the game caters to different audiences with very different preferences. What have you come to observe about these various Guild Wars fans? What are fans in different parts of the world looking for, and how will this figure into the next chapter?
GG: You know, all around the world, a good game is a good game. RPG players look for universal qualities in their games, and if you're a gamer, there really aren't that many differences in what you're looking for, whether you come from Albania or Zanzibar. If you want great pickup PvP play, fun cooperative gaming, or a chance to help your guild make its mark on the world through the global ladder, Guild Wars has options for you.
However, it is fun to address different world cultures within the game as well. You may have noticed we have armor and weaponry that is representative of different traditions, and that we offer character models that appear to come from all parts of the world. Tyria is filled with the unusual and fantastical, but also incorporates the feeling of "home" in certain places. These unique features can be seen in everything from outfits to architecture. This melding of the fantastic and the familiar is an element we enjoy presenting in Guild Wars and intend to explore at greater depth in the future.
GS: Aside from the content in the second chapter, can you give us an idea of what other improvements, tweaks, or changes are planned for the game in general in the short run, or even the long run? Has the way players are approaching the game given the team ideas as to what directions the game should eventually go toward, and directions that the game should avoid?
GG: It's absolutely true that player feedback is considered with just about every decision we make. We will always focus on our overall vision of what the game is and will be. But the finer details of Guild Wars have been greatly influenced by players. This started back in February of 2002 when we kicked off our alpha test, and it continued through the beta weekend events. That influence is as current as today, when several of our team members were reading fan and alpha test forums to keep up to date on player input.
In the short run, we are working on a significant expansion to cooperative play in a sort of side-by-side development phase with a lot of notable improvements to PvP options. We'll continue to assess both PvP and cooperative gameplay options, and make changes as needed.
We have mentioned previously that observer mode will be rolled out soon. This is an essential part of future global tournaments, and we're excited about the capacity that this feature will offer and the enhancement it will bring to PvP play as a whole. Observer mode will be great for individual players, for guilds, and for the community as a whole.
GS: Finally, is there anything else you'd like to add about the next chapter of Guild Wars, or about the game and its status in general?
GG: We'd like to thank gamers around the world for embracing Guild Wars as they have. It was an incredible experience to have more than a quarter of a million copies fly off the shelves in the first week, and to see those numbers rise with every succeeding week. I can't think of another first title from a new studio that has gotten such strong support and has developed such a great community. We continue to analyze the game every day, and we are committed to making improvements and expanding the experience. And of course, we're really excited about the future of Guild Wars and are looking forward to taking the game and the story in terrific new directions with a wonderful new chapter next year.
GS: Thank you, Gaile.