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Guild Wars: Eye of the North

The North will rise again. Just not off the floor

Even a couple of years after launch, Guild Wars remains unique in the pantheon of online RPGs. No monthly fees. No perpetual level grind. No integrated PvP. No races. No open communal adventure areas. No jump button.

For these and many other reasons, Guild Wars is mocked and often dismissed as a minor player and not 'real', perpetually overlooking the fact that it's also the only online RPG launched in the last couple of years without a licence or lineage that's managed to sell some serious copies.

But there are enough new and oddball things to talk about here without reiterating why, exactly, Guild Wars is mechanistically so far above everything else and (Yeah, Gillen, stop it already - Ed). For a start, this is actually Guild Wars' first expansion pack. While you could freely move characters between all three previous games - Prophecies, Factions and Nightfall - they were standalone, allowing you to start from level 1. Not this time. You'll need a maxed-out character to begin North's quest. Of course, being Guild Wars, the level cap is a highly achievable 20.

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Eye of the North is set in Tyria, while the original Guild Wars was set, in - as the title implies - the far north, where the players have retreated, trying to find a solution to the problem of the creatures who've emerged from beneath the earth and are trying to destroy everything. With a typical flair for nomenclature, these have been named by the powers-that-be as 'The Destroyers'. Cue lots of overground, underground, wombling free adventures.

Multi-leveled dungeons, new equipment, new heroes (the controllable, playable henchmen introduced by Nightfall, who remain great fun) and so forth. It's an expansion pack. Y'know.

It's also trying to fulfil a secondary purpose by providing more adventuring content for Guild Wars veterans. Guild Wars 2 has been announced, and Eye of the North is a bridge between the two. As well as adding open communal areas, races and jumping - while wisely keeping the no-monthly-fees, apparently - Guild Wars 2 will also be set in a future where the world has changed considerably.

Eye of the North links the past with that future. Firstly, it's introducing some of the characters you'll become familiar with later. For example, two of the GW2 playable races: the Asura and the Norn. The latter are your barbarian-archetype sort, twice as big as normal humans, with the ability to assume the form of bears and spout unconvincing philosophy. They're actually quite fun.

The Asura are your (abstractly) hyper-smart magical race thing, looking like how someone who'd never seen a koala bear might draw one, given a brief description of what one may look like after being irradiated. While their Incan-style architecture is impressive, the Asura are, frankly, a bit annoying, and make you hunger for a chance to PvP the smug gits.

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The second bridge between the two games is a more mechanistic one. When you reach the Eye of the North, you gain access to the Hall of Monuments. As you complete quests, you acquire the ability to decorate it with tapestries and to immortalise your achievements.

For example, lob up the Tapestry of Fellowship and you can add statues of any of your team-mates who've earned Hero armour upgrades. Then when Guild Wars 2 arrives your descendants will receive unique bonuses. Apparently. We're taking it on faith this will happen - and if it doesn't, there are enough Guild Wars players to raze Arenanet's Seattle headquarters.

Ah, expansion packs. So easy to damn with faint praise, so hard to damn. The content counts and here - at least mostly - Guild Wars excels. Based around instanced private areas as it is, more scripting can come into play, and with three packs' experience, there's some genuinely imaginative stuff to get stuck into, from the serious (enormous Charr migrations) to the experimental (gaining different powers when taking beast avatars) to the ludicrous (herding pigs while drunk out of your tiny little mind).

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