Guild Wars 2 will also still be fully soloable. As with the Heroes in Guild Wars Nightfall, players will be able to use their own customisable companion as a henchman to help them through the game, and will receive buffs if they decline to use this option. "We can't fully explain the companions system yet, but we can say that the game will be soloable," says studio head Mike O'Brien. "This goes back to that accessibility issue - we want players to be able to pick up the game and play it in the style that they want to play it. If they want to solo, we want to enable that... if they want to play with a group of specific people, we want to enable that as well."
Guild Wars 2 is attempting to show us a lot that we haven't see before, but as the trailer demonstrates, Tyria looks rather familiar - we've seen a lot of the trailer's environments in Guild Wars 1. "Whilst we're indeed trying to improve the visual quality of the game, we do plan on maintaining the sensibility that made the first game what it was," says art director Daniel Dociu.
"What differentiates Guild Wars 2 is the more stylised approach to a lot of the aspects of the texture work, grander spaces, more epic environments - all these enhancements go hand-in-hand with advancements on the engine front, so we are trying to parallel the advancements on the tech front with steps forward artistically... But there will be continuity, definitely," Dociu says.
There are significant new areas, of course: most excitingly, the prospect of exploring an underwater continent. Flannum claims that there will be "a lot" of underwater exploration, and it will be possible for all races and players. "It's going to be really easy and accessible for players to go underwater. In a lot of other games you see the underwater environment as this really hostile environment where you have to worry about running out of air constantly and you're always on the verge of dying, and that tends to make the area less fun. We really want to emphasise the fun, the differences, the change of pace of going underwater, to encourage that exploration."
Players are still going to be able to have multiple characters on one account, and though the professions system is still shrouded in secrecy, ArenaNet has been willing to share a few details about what differentiates character types. Instead of the original's one, obscenely beautiful race of humans, customisable through the player's choice of professions and skills, Guild Wars 2 offers five races.
We know four of them from the Eye of the North expansion: Humans, their eternal enemies the Charr (whom Guild Wars 1 players will have spent an awful lot of time clubbing over the head), northern warriors the Norn, and the magical Asura. The last race, the Sylvari, an earth-magic race with a strong connection to nature, is new to all of us. ArenaNet can't tell us exactly what each race's special skills will entail at this stage, but we already know that the nine-foot Norn can transform into a bear for a huge boost in combat, and that the crafty, technologically-minded Asura will be able to use golems to fight for them.
"There's going to be a slightly different story for each race," says Soesbee. "To start off, everyone knows that there is this great threat, but at the beginning the races are operating on their own, they don't understand that the threat is so great that they simply must come together... It's going to take the player character being a hero to get these races to overcome their pasts: the humans who hate the Charr, the Asura who are naturally sceptical about every other race, who think they're better, the Sylvari who are young and new and don't understand the nature of the world, and the Norn who are just naturally independent. Someone has to bring them together, and that someone is the player character."
Despite their differences, we won't be fighting players of other races. "Competition has always been consensual in Guild Wars, and we've retained that as one of our core tenets. It also goes along with accessibility and being able to play with your friends," says Flannum. "We looked into dividing the races early on, and we decided against that, specifically because we want you to be able to play the race that you want and also be able to play with your friends. We didn't want to fracture our player base by having a good-versus-evil vibe going on between the players themselves."