E3 '07: Guild Wars: Eye of the North Impressions

The first true expansion pack for the Guild Wars franchise will serve as a bridge to the upcoming Guild Wars 2.

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With a little over two years since the original Guild Wars shipped, ArenaNet has few reasons to complain. According to co-founder Jeff Strain, the series has sold more than 3.5 million copies since release, a figure that he attributes to the non-subscription nature of Guild Wars. Since you don't have to pay a monthly fee to play the game online, you can come and go into the game as you please. In addition to the original Guild Wars, ArenaNet has released additional "chapters" to the series, and these are stand-alone games that offer complete experiences on their own. Now ArenaNet has two Guild Wars games in production. One is Guild Wars 2, the full-blown successor to the franchise, and the other is Guild Wars: Eye of the North, which is being geared as both an expansion pack and a bridge to the upcoming sequel.

Eye of the North is the first true expansion pack for the series. The chapters, such as Guild Wars: Nightfall, were separate games unto themselves. Eye of the North will require you to have an existing Guild Wars character. If you do, you can explore the relatively high-level content in Eye of the North. It's set on the continent of Tyria, the continent featured in the inaugural Guild Wars, and in many ways it will bring that storyline to a close.

Click to enlarge!
Click to enlarge!

Strain showed off several of the new environments in Eye of the North, and these are arguably the prettiest and most imaginative yet. We saw huge caverns adorned with glowing crystals, a fire raging in a massive forest, and the lost continent of Orr, a magical place where even rocks hang suspended in the air. Orr serves an important role in the game, as the presence of so much magic helps to introduce the Asura, one of the two new playable races. The Asura look a bit like gremlins or goblins; they're a short, gray-skinned race that hails from the underworld. However, the mysterious Destroyers are pushing the Asura out of their underground home, so they have come to Orr to harvest the magic to build an army of golems to fight back. The other new playable race is the Charr, which was the enemy race in the original Guild Wars. The Charr are tall, humanoid wolves.

The major function of Eye of the North is to provide a wide range of adventures that you can take your existing Guild Wars characters on. There are many dungeon crawls that you can partake in, and we saw fearsome opponents ranging from giant scorpions to fire elementals. One of the boss battles sounds like a mix of both action and slapstick, as the boss (a fire elemental) rolls giant balls of fire at you. So you must battle his minions while at the same time trying to avoid getting bowled over. Since there's more of an emphasis on quests and adventuring, Eye of the North introduces 50 player-versus-environment skills. These can't be used in player-versus-player combat, but they should help against computer-driven opponents. There are also 40 complete armor sets and 10 new heroes to unlock.

There will be around 18 dungeons in the game, along with all the other areas that you can explore. It's not just dungeon-crawling and high-level combat in Eye of the North, either. There are minigames, such as polymock, a variant on chess that's also influenced by Pokémon. It also reminded us a bit of the classic PC game Archon.

Finally, Strain showed off the Hall of Monuments for the first time. Since Guild Wars 2 will require you to create a whole new character, ArenaNet wanted a way to cushion the blow to its biggest fans. After all, if you spent hundreds or even thousands of hours creating an awesome Guild Wars character and learn that you can't play them anymore, it could be a bit distressing. The nice thing about the Hall of Monuments is that it displays all your major accomplishments: weapons, armor, heroes, and more. These are represented by virtual display pieces on your many mantles. Each will also be tied to a unique item in Guild Wars 2, so when you create a Guild Wars 2 character, you can basically "inherit" a lot of cool stuff from the previous games. It's an elegant workaround to an otherwise ugly problem.

Eye of the North looks like a fitting cap to the original Guild Wars series. It'll be released on August 31.

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