Guild Wars: Eye of the North (or GWEN, as players affectionately refer to it) is the first true expansion for the popular online role-playing game. Factions and Nightfall were both standalone products; Eye of the North requires players to own an existing Guild Wars game, and the content is available only to players who have reached the level cap of 20. This sounds limiting, and indeed, the expansion isn't going to bring new players into the fold. However, fans of the original Prophecies campaign in particular will find a great deal of content to sink their teeth into. There are new skills, a pleasant return to the story, minigames, and fantastic new dungeons. Sure, it's more of the same in some ways. But in the case of the addicting and satisfying Guild Wars, more is never a bad thing.
You can access the content from three different cities, and explore the campaign from three different perspectives. Eventually, you'll be joining Gwen (remember the little girl with the flute from Prophecies? That's her, all grown up) to fight creatures known as destroyers. The dialogue in the Guild Wars titles has never been all that great, but the narrative is interesting enough, and the cutscenes are attractive and acted well. At the very least, it's nice to see some familiar faces, and the story serves the new campaign nicely. After all, what would a return to form in gameplay be without a return to the story that started it all?
Of course, there are a bunch of challenging side quests in addition to the central mission. The ensuing exploration is great, and the quests are splintered into multiple parts that take you across new regions such as the beautiful and snowy Far Shiverpeaks. The game engine may be over two years old, but it still looks lovely, and the new areas are full of stunning architecture and gorgeous vistas. Furthermore, the missions are often full of easygoing charm. How often do RPGs form quests around Office Space references, anyway? These gusts of fresh air are found everywhere, and they complement the game's unique action-focused battles, as well as its intricate character and team builds. In other words, Eye of the North is, like the other Guild Wars products, a constant surprise. Throw in tons of new skills, and suddenly you have new and exciting ways to crush monsters and other players.
Keep in mind that the content is all geared toward player-versus-environment questing; player-versus-player enthusiasts will find little of interest aside from the new skills. However, cooperative grouping is expanded and enhanced in Eye of the North, thanks to some of the hardest dungeons the series has seen. You might be able to get through some of them with some AI-controlled henchmen and thoughtfully formed hero characters, including the famous Gwen herself. Nevertheless, with dungeons such as Raven's Point--which requires you to defeat hostiles while staying shielded in the radius of a slowly-moving golem--the severe limitations of the henchmen AI is a hindrance. On the other hand, two or three players with some decent heroes and a little patience should be able to eke through, if a decent adventuring party isn't to be found.
In addition to the continued story and new content, the lore is deepened considerably. Eye of the North introduces several new races, such as the shape-shifting Norn and the gnomish Asura. The new races include several new AI-controlled heroes, such as the Asuran elementalist Vekk, and the necromancer Livia. As before, you can customize hero characters with skills and equipment just like you can your own character, and you have some limited control over their movement. There is also the addition of the Hall of Monuments, a towering structure in which you can display high-level armor, weapons, and other items. In turn, these monuments will earn you bonuses if you play Guild Wars 2 when it's released. In fact, Eye of the North's role as a bridge between the original Guild Wars and its upcoming sequel is blatantly obvious. Not that this minimizes the quality of the new content, but in light of the major additions of Factions and Nightfall, it's a pity that there weren't more updates designed to bring brand-new players into the fold.
There are some other new ways to experience the fun as well. You can don a pair of brass knuckles and test your melee skills in Dwarven boxing, for starters. Or play Polymock, a unique Pokémon-style game in which you put creatures with predetermined skill sets into one-on-one battles. There's also the Norn fighting arena, which features a progression of single battles that pit you against a number of familiar characters. These may sound like slight diversions, but not only do they provide many more hours of quality play, they also let you experiment with skills that may further enhance your main character's build.
The most negative and positive things that can be said about Eye of the North are things that could be said about the previous games. The dumb henchmen AI, inconsistent pathfinding, and incomplete follow command are the same as they always were. Of course, if you've played enough Guild Wars that you would consider purchasing the expansion, you've learned to deal with those minor quibbles. Nevertheless, they're still there, and they still occasionally get in the way of the fun. Yet as always, the action itself is visceral and exciting, which isn't exactly something that can be said about the combat in most RPGs. It's also remarkably tactical, requiring smart choices that enable you to take just the right eight skills into battle. This is the stuff that makes the expansion worth every penny, and reminds us that getting more of the same can (albeit rarely) be a wonderful thing. If you're still playing Guild Wars, Eye of the North is an easy purchasing choice because it was made just for you, and it rarely disappoints.