Since the game's announcement in 2007, NCsoft's Seattle-based developer ArenaNet has been quiet about what's been going on behind its doors with Guild Wars 2. With today's trailer, we get our first glimpse of the developer's re-imagining of this phenomenally popular online RPG. A lot has changed, but the developer's vision remains true to what made Guild Wars such a refreshing experience in the first place: accessibility, flexibility and incomparable value for money.
Guild Wars: Prophecies was a shot in the arm for the MMO market at the time of its release in 2005. It married a flexible, story-heavy, varied and hugely enjoyable campaign with a revolutionary player-versus-player system that has since grown to be one of the most fiercely competitive in the world, and it didn't force its players to pay a monthly sum for the privilege. Instead, two subsequent campaigns and an expansion pack were what drove the series' revenues, and there are no plans to dispense with the "pay once, play forever" business model. Once you've paid for Guild Wars 2, you'll be able to play it for as long as you like.
Set 250 years after the last Guild Wars campaign, Guild Wars 2 thrusts you back into a Tyria that's been taken over by big, bad Elder Dragons and their undead armies. The game's five races have been pushed back into their own territories, and the player's role will be to unite them in the struggle to reclaim the continent. Good news about the dragons, too - we definitely get to fight them. "Primarily the game will focus on one in particular," says designer and writer Ree Soesbee, "but the others are present in the world. Their activities will be have an impact on Tyria, and players will have the opportunity to experience the real danger that all of these creatures present."
Guild Wars 2's switch from an almost entirely instanced game-world, where you would adventure with only your party members, to a persistent, fully-populated one like those in more conventional MMOs, is the driving force behind most of the changes in the gameplay. The quest system, for instance, has been completely overhauled, and will offer something quite different from its competitors. "I think I can safely say that you won't see a single exclamation mark floating above a character's head in Guild Wars 2," claims lead designer Eric Flannum.
"We actually don't have a traditional RPG/MMO quest system," Flannum continues. "Instead what we've got are Events. Think of them as group-orientated activities. This is one of the many things that will encourage the player to explore the world - you can wander through and never quite know what you're going to see. You might come across a fortress that's being attacked by centaurs, or it might be that the centaurs attacked half an hour before you got there and they hold it now. You might start walking along a road you've walked a hundred times and suddenly there's a caravan travelling along that road that you may not have seen, and you can go help that caravan out."
These are bold claims for a persistent-world MMO. Guild Wars' heavy use of instancing made setting up dramatic storytelling much easier, but how is that narrative strength going to carry over to the sequel? "While our game is persistent, one of the things we learned from heavily instancing GW1 was how to really use instancing to our advantage," says Flannum. "The story will take place through a combination of instancing and persistent areas. We're really throwing our entire bag of tricks at the storytelling in GW2. I think we're going to be doing some things, especially with narrative, that people haven't seen before in an MMO."
There's also an attempt to introduce more variety into how the players can interact with this new, living world - and not just the welcome addition of a jump. To say that Guild Wars was combat-focussed would be something of an understatement; the absence of crafting and non-combat professions meant that there wasn't a whole lot else for players to take up on a whim if they felt like it.
"We're definitely introducing crafting, as well as a few other things that are going to provide players with other things to do," assures Flannum, although he can't say what those other things are. "I don't want to say it'd take the focus off combat, but it's definitely not going to be the case that the only way to interact with someone in Guild Wars 2 is to hit them on the head with a sword."