Joe Richardson touches on the history of one of the most successful MMO's on the market; Guild Wars. Where has this series taken gamers, what has it done differently, and where is it going? He also gets to ask NCSoft representative Chris Lye some questions about this wildly popular franchise.
Please note that this article is by no means meant to be an exhaustive history of Guild Wars. Touching on every innovation ArenaNet has created, and each deatil of the Guild Wars universe would take months. It is meant only to celebrate four years of a game that has made its mark on the industry.
Four Years ago, the gaming world was introduced to Guild Wars. Billing itself as a CORPG or Competitive Online Role Playing Game, it separated itself from the crowd of MMORPGs with a focus on a very accessible role playing component, engaging PvP, and a distinct lack of subscription fees. Since then the world of Tyria has grown, with two additional campaigns and a full expansion in August of 2007. Now having passed 6 million units sold, and with the forthcoming release of Guild Wars 2, we take a look back at the history of this established franchise.
Guild Wars first campaign, later named Prophicies, placed players in the lush kingdom of Ascalon. There they ventured from town to town, fought monsters, and engaged in typical MMORPG fare. This time serves to familiarize players with the game mechanics and allows them to meet the main players in the RPG, but upon completing the main quest this training mode abruptly ends and gamers are thrown into the true universe of Guild Wars.
The Searing sees the Kingdom of Ascalon attacked by a ruthless enemy, the Charr. The lush countryside and green fields are replaced with a barren wasteland, and a true sense of foreboding for the towns and outposts the character previously felt secure in. From here players follow chapter after chapter that adds political intrigue, betrayal, exploration, and the manifestation of a true enemy to the Guild Wars lore.
This story is one of the things that fans gravitated towards when Guild Wars was released. While most games in the genre relied, and still do rely, on backstory and information garnered from reading quest dialogue, Guild Wars placed players in the heart of the story. When the Searing begins, you are on a quest with Prince Rurik. You frequently rub shoulders with main characters, and the world of Tyria is changed by what you do. This is due to one of the game mechanics that sets Guild Wars apart from many other games.
Outside of towns and outposts the entire world of Tyria is instanced. This means that you and your party are the only ones facing the monsters in your way. While this can lead to an isolated experience, it also means that you are never competing against other players for a random drop or specific mob to take down. You are also able to recruit henchmen in towns to take the place of party members if you aren't feeling terribly social on a particular day. If you had to compare this style of gameplay to another game, it seems closest to a MMORPG Diablo. All this led to a very single player friendly experience, but that was only half of what Guild Wars had to offer in terms of gameplay.
From the beginning, ArenaNet sought to provide a new type of Player vs Player experience. The PvP world is entirely separate from the PvE one. When you create a character you are given the choice to enter the PvP version, or the role playing version of Guild Wars. If you choose PvP you are automatically given a level 20 character, the max for the game. While you could outfit your character with preset classes and abilities, to have access to every last spell, you need to gain them in the PvE version of the game. There were a number of match types available, including 4 on 4 and 8 vs 8 combat. The PvP side of the game had that "just one more match" feeling to it that developers live for.
Prophecies came with six core professions: the Warrior, Necromancer, Monk, Elementalist, Ranger, and Mesmer. Each filled a specific role, but in an interesting twits, players could take on a secondary profession as well, with most of the skills and abilities included. With three different specialties in each profession, hundreds of combinations were possible.
Critics praised its accessibility and the lack of a subscription fee, and awarded Guild Wars with a number of awards including IGN's "Best RPG on PC" and Gamespy's "Best MMORPG" for 2005.
ArenaNet expanded on the Guild Wars universe exactly one year after the initial release with Guild Wars Factions. The Factions Campaign followed the monk trainer, Mhenlo, in returning to the land where he was trained. The Asian inspired Cantha offered players new lands to explore and new gameplay mechanics to go with them.
In addition to the two new character classes which were introduced, the stealthy Assassin, and the mystic Ritualist, gamers could declare a faction allegiance to either the Kurzick or Luxon. Guilds could also unite for the first time with up to 10 guilds forming alliances which fight for either faction.
The plot this time was only loosely connected to the land of Ascalon, and overall the critical reception for the story was less positive than for Prophecies. Still the game was popular and influences from the faction allegiances can be seen in other MMORPG's to this day. With Factions Guild Wars was able to surpass 2 million units sold.
Nightfall was the next Campaign in the Guild Wars universe, released just seven months after Factions. It took players to the land of Elona, a mostly desert environment, and introduced new character classes as well as gameplay mechanics.
The new character classes introduced were the scythe wielding Dervish, and the implacable Paragon. This raised the total number of classes to 10, and with the secondary professions there were hundreds of possible character combinations, and thousands of different specialties.
Where Factions introduced the Kurzick and Luxon, and the dichotomy between the two factions, Heroes were the main addition to Nightfall. While in Prophecies and Factions, players used henchmen to fill in roles that other party members might take, this mechanic evolved with heroes. These NPC's were able to level up with the player, be assigned gear, and even told when to cast spells depending on how much the player wanted to micromanage. This opened up a lot of different ways to play the PvE portion of the game, but a Hero Duel was also added to the PvP side of the game.
Eye of the North
Having visited the far corners of Tyria, ArenaNet saw fit to conclude the story of Ascalon with Eye of the North. This was the first addition to Guild Wars that required a player to have one of the previous three campaigns. They also had to have a character above level 10 in order to experience the new content.
Much of the new content was in high level dungeons where players could venture to gain the best loot and fight the toughest monsters. It also introduced three new races, all non-playable, but which will become playable classes in the upcoming Guild Wars 2. The Norn, shape shifting giants , the diminutive Asura, and the plant like Sylvari all provided content for high level players.
Minigames were also added in Eye of the North to break up the traditional monster hunting and PvP gaming.
Critical reception was not as great for Eye of the North as it had been for the first three entrants into the Guild Wars world, but it was priced lower and meant as an expansion rather than a standalone game.
Guild Wars 2
With the huge success of Guild Wars, and without having to justify taking a monthly subscripton from players, it seemed only Natural that NCSoft and ArenaNet would announce Guild Wars 2, which they did in March 2007.
Details have been slow to reach gamers, but certain things are known. Guild Wars 2 will take place 250 years after Eye of the North, and the land of Tyria is drastically changed. The characters which players created for Guild Wars and its followers will be long gone, and players will have to start from scratch. Professions have not been announced, but for the first time in Guild Wars, players will be able to play as different races. So far Humans, Norn, Sylvari, Asura, and even the vicious Charr have been announced as playable races.
While a maximum level has not been announced, ArenaNet did let players know that "sidekicking" ala City of Heroes will be included, which will allow both low and high level players to experience content together.
So with Six million units sold, millions of PvP matches had, and countless hours spent inside Tyria, gamers are anxious to see what ArenaNet has in store for them next.
I recently had a chance to ask Global Brand Director of NCSoft, Chris Lye, some questions about the history of Guild Wars, what players should be excited for now, and the future of the series.
Coming out of the gate as a subscription-free MMORPG seemed like a risky idea at the time, but here we are four years later and Guild Wars is going strong. How has your pay model worked, and do you think other companies will adopt a similar model?
Considering we’re looking at breaking 6 million units sold very soon, I think it’s safe to say that we’re definitely happy about how the Guild Wars business model has worked. Guild Wars is one of the most successful PC gaming franchises of all time and we’re all very proud of that. As for whether other companies are planning on adopting a similar model, we’re certainly not aware of any.
Guild Wars has handled PvE and PvP differently than many other MMORPG's. How was this decision made, how has it evolved, and where do you think the relationship between PvE and PvP is going in the future of Guild Wars?
Our approach to PvE and PvP gaming has definitely evolved over time. Originally Guild Wars was touted as a very PvP-centric game, but we found that because of our instancing technology, Guild Wars was a great platform for telling compelling stories—which has attracted a huge PvE audience. Some recent customer surveys have shown that the majority of our players are now PvE.
That doesn’t downplay the importance of PvP—these are some of our most passionate and vocal players, and Guild Wars remains one of the strongest PvP games on the market. What we have learned is that these two types of gamers want very different things from Guild Wars, and so recently we’ve made some changes to the game that allow us to balance the game for the PvP audience without negatively impacting the PvE audience, and vice-versa.
Moving forward, our position towards PvE and PvP play will be to continue to partition them off so that people can play the way they want, but at the same time provide incredibly well designed ways for PvE to get exposed to PvP and make the transition to PvP gameplay if that’s what they desire.
A common problem game designers have to deal with is the relationship between casual and hardcore players. What does Guild Wars have to offer to both types of gamers?
Well, for the casual player, the fact that Guild Wars doesn’t charge a subscription fee is a huge draw. Most of them aren’t looking for the kind of commitment that a subscription implies—they just want a fast game they can try out. Guild Wars provides a great fantasy RPG world with great graphics that runs on all sorts of PC hardware, so trying it out is really easy.
For hardcore players, there’s the depth of gameplay. Guild Wars really is one of those games that’s easy to get into and even finish the storylines, but to get really proficient with the skills, especially in PvP, requires a serious investment of time and effort. Our PvP community keeps us on our toes—it feels like we have to balance our skills every other month.
Why should someone new consider playing Guild Wars?
There’s really been no better time to check out Guild Wars. We have a free trial on our website, www.guildwars.com, that makes it easy to check it out. Also, last fall we released the Guild Wars Trilogy that provides the first three campaigns at a great price.
How has the game changed over the past four years? What have you learned from the expansions you have released? What changes will players see coming soon?
You can definitely see some changes in our approaches between the first three campaigns (Guild Wars, Guild Wars Factions® & Guild Wars Nightfall®) and the expansion (Guild Wars: Eye of the North®). Originally we believed that the best thing to do was to constantly keep adding on to the world of Guild Wars with new continents and spreading ourselves out. However, with the expansion we decided to really go deep—it was a real opportunity to go back to Tyria and flesh out some of the storylines from the original Guild Wars, like whatever happened to Gwen, the little girl you befriend early on in your adventures.
We also learned that having a separate and dedicated Live Team is hugely important for our game. It really does require a different mindset to manage, maintain, and grow a live online game, and I definitely think our community agrees. In that vein, the Live Team is always thinking of new ways, both large and small, to keep surprising the players. We definitely have something planned for later this year.
Do you have anything fun planned for current players in game to celebrate the 4 Year Anniversary of Guild Wars?
Our anniversaries are always super-important to us. The Shing Jea Boardwalk will re-open, so players can test their luck in the Boardwalk games, in the Dragon Arena, and in Rollerbeetle Races. Birthday Cupcakes will drop from monsters in Explorable Areas. Starting on April 28, characters turning four years old will receive the new miniatures from the fourth year birthday series. Any character that turns four will receive these presents on their creation date.
Will the team be doing anything special in the office to mark the day?
I know that this has been a huge update for the Live Team—I’ve promised to take them out drinking! We’ll probably also have cake at the office and play some Guild Wars 2™!
What is the team working on now?
The rest of the studio is working very hard on Guild Wars 2.
Many gamers are anxiously awaiting information on Guild Wars 2. Any breadcrumbs you would like to drop for them? When can we expect the next large batch of information, E3?
We can’t give you any hard dates right now, but we definitely will have more information to share later this year. Stay tuned.