Guild Wars: Eye of the North Review

by Cody “Micajah” Bye

From the beginning of their existence, roleplaying games have essentially been focused on players interacting with monsters that they find in their environments. Originally tabletop RPGs featured a Dungeon Master that controlled the action, sending wave after wave of enemies at characters as they desperately tried to fight their way to the treasure hoard. When roleplaying games made the transition onto video game systems and computers, the formula remained the same. The DM or game designer would send players on a quest to find an item, kill a monster or save a damsel; the players would then encounter a variety of monsters on their way to rescue the captured maiden, recover the item or slay the dragon. Take this formula, rinse and repeat.

Taking down one of the Norn.

When the first MMORPGs were introduced in the 90s, the formula was generally the same. Programmers had basically shifted the gameplay of the older style RPGs into a massively multiplayer format, allowing players to meet up with random individuals to go on the quests to slay the monsters. The foundational principles of the RPG remained in tact.

However, several of the original MMORPGs (Ultima Online and a number of the MUDs) had also included an option that gave players the freedom to kill other players. Player versus player combat was born, as thousands of players killers, shrouded in their veil of anonymity, descended upon a populace that was largely unused to competing with other players for the same items, loot, and house properties. While these early MMORPGs had a sort of “free-for-all” style of combat, it was still only a mechanic in the game rather than a full-blown game feature.

It wasn’t until many years later in early 2005 that this would all change. Enter the realm of Guild Wars, the first RPG that was created specifically for player versus player combat. While it still included the same sort of quests and monster-killing adventures that were in the first MMORPGs, Guild Wars had also created a complex player versus player and guild versus guild ranking system that created a much more competitive environment than what was previously seen in MMOGs. They matched this system with a free-to-play component, creating an incredibly successful game system. This success is still evident today as the four millionth copy of Guild Wars was recently sold.

But creating the competitive environment didn’t come without its drawbacks. Despite including incredibly well-developed roleplaying game scenarios in each of their subsequent stand-alone expansions, ArenaNet had never focused exclusively on developing high-end roleplaying game content for their player base. Instead, development of Guild Wars typically focused on creating more balanced PvP gameplay, adding more skills to each characters skill selections and generating more scenarios and arenas for players to compete in during their PvP battles.

While this didn’t upset those gamers focused on the PvP side of Guild Wars, it did cause a great deal of aggravation to those players that had really enjoyed the quests, missions and storyline in the three stand-alone packs Prophecies, Factions and Nightfall. After taking a momentary step back from their development, the lead designers and executives behind the Guild Wars series decided that it was time for the first true expansion for Guild Wars to hit store shelves. Thus Guild Wars: Eye of the North was born.  

The High Level Juice

As an on-and-off player of the original release (Guild Wars: Prophecies), I was instantly intrigued by an expansion focused squarely on high-end content and PvE gameplay. Thought the PvE in the Guild Wars stand-alone games is solid, it’s certainly not the focus of the first three stand-alone products. On the contrary, player versus player combat has always been the main target, and I knew that I had to explore the newest realm of Guild Wars to discover – for myself – if an PvE expansion pack was the right direction to go for the Guild Wars team.

A shot of a dwarf, human, and an Asuran.

Taking my newly minted level twenty character (you have to be level twenty to enter the Eye of the North expansion content), I set out to find the NPC that would deliver me to the new area. Like all the cross game travel in Guild Wars, going to any game outside of your current play area requires players to find an NPC and do a short quest to access the next area. Although having the characters perform a quest to access the new area does help with the storybook type feeling of the roleplaying element of the game, I found it incredibly annoying to be forced to search an area for minutes before diving into my newly installed expansion.

Complaints aside, the introduction to the Eye of the North expansion is very captivating. To start, you climb down into a chasm that has ripped open in the heart of your home city. As you explore the ruins and ancient tunnels, you happen upon a band of Dwarves that are lifting kegs of explosive powder and stacking them in piles, preparing to blow their way out of the tunnels. Apparently they’ve gotten trapped down there with no way out. As you’re conversing with the leader of the Dwarves (via cutscene) a strange looking creature steps forward. It’s an Asura, one of the four new races that are introduced in Eye of the North.

The other three races, which you happen upon shortly after leaving the subterranean caverns, are the giant-like, shape-shifting Norn, the mysterious Sylvari, and the bestial Charr. Unlike some of the other Guild Wars games, these races play an integral part in the storyline and the gameplay of the expansions and although you can’t play as these new races – you can expect them to show up in Guild Wars 2.

A Bridge Between Games

In essence, Guild Wars: Eye of the North is more of a prequel feature to ArenaNet’s upcoming full-figured MMORPG, Guild Wars 2. The developers in numerous interviews have announced that Eye of the North really attempts to blend the two games together from a story standpoint, but they’ve also included some features that have never been explored in MMORPGs before.

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