The flow of information coming out of ArenaNet on Guild Wars 2 doesn't look like it will be stopping anytime soon, as today we're treated to a full overview of the game's personal story system, something we've only heard of in bits and pieces so far.
Guild Wars 2 Lore and Continuity Designer Ree Soesbee opens up with ArenaNet's philosophy when approaching storyline in an MMORPG, believing that the current reality of having to choose between a "game that you can play with your friends, or a game that has a satisfying personal story" will no longer be true with Guild Wars 2 as the team intends to provide players with both. The intention is to make player characters the star, to provide players with meaningful choices and decisions that impact the game world, and to surround them with NPC characters that are believable, possessing character flaws and resonate motivations, while ultimately fostering relationships with the player.
The running theme with Guild Wars 2 appears to be making an impact on the game world, whether it be in your own personal story, as it is described here, or in the dynamic events that we've learned much about recently.
Your personal story's path begins at character creation, where most games may ask you simply what race and class you'd like to be, Guild Wars 2 will up the ante by allowing players to shape their character's personality and history through what ultimately becomes their character's biography. Players' choices here will result in vastly different experiences when going through the game's personal story content, offering players another layer of replayability in addition to what the dynamic events system promises. The ultimate goal here is for players to "build a character, not a character sheet."
Ree provides some examples of the types of biography choices players will make at creation:
Some of these questions are defined by earlier choices - a character's race, class, or heritage. An asura will be asked what college they attended (Synergetics, Dynamics or Statics), while a human will be asked to define their social background (Gentry, Commoner, or Streets). Other questions might establish that your character has sympathy for a particular lesser race. A charr would have little opportunity to meet the peace-loving quaggan, as quaggan are sea-creatures and Ascalon has no coastal territory. So, while the game may have stories that focus on the quaggan, skritt, ogres, hylek, and grawl, a charr character chooses between grawl, skritt and ogres. A sylvari character, coming from the coastal Maguuma jungle, instead chooses between hylek, skritt and quaggan. In this way, we've made certain choices distinct to each race.
In order to develop your character's personality, the biography also has questions that are applicable to all races and classes. If you describe your character as intimidating and unfriendly, the reactions of NPCs will be different than if you choose to portray yourself as charming and kind. If you are simply making an alt character to see if you enjoy a class or race, you can choose 'random selection,' and these questions will be instantly filled out for you. But if you take a moment and answer, your character's story will be tailored to meet your interests, and match your vision of the person you have created within the world of Tyria.
Continuing on, we learn that each character will also be given a "home instance", yes, housing! However, the character's home serves more than a purely decorative purpose, instead it is tailored to the choices players made in their biography, and more importantly, and this is the really neat part, the player's home will change as a result of their character's progression, reflecting the results of the various choices made.
Ree explains that there are many stories ongoing in the world of Tyria, such as the fact the Elder Dragons are awakening and the adventuring party known as "Destiny's Edge", who we have witnessed in the trailers of the game shown so far, has fallen apart. As part of the main storyline, players will be tasked with reuniting the Destiny's Edge members, who consist of "iconic" characters that players will develop relationships with, befriending them or even becoming a trusted confidant. Helping reunite the team is crucial, as the threat of Zhaitan, the dragon of Orr is looming.
Players can also join an Order, which are groups or factions that recognize the threat of Zhaitan, and there are three to choose from, each with their own "flavor" and differing approaches on how to deal with the dragon, and this choice will impact how the player's story develops.
The three Orders are:
The Order of Whispers - This group doesn't seek to destroy the dragons, instead, it simply wishes to slow their awakening in order to figure out a way to put them back to sleep. The Order of Whispers employs "spies, thieves and black-ops agents" which have infiltrated Tyria's nations up to the highest levels of power.
The Durmand Proxy - This group has focuses on amassing knowledge and lore, and instead of participating directly in armed conflict or responding to the threat at hand, they share their knowledge with those who intend to tackle the world's challenges so that all of Tyria's races may benefit.
The Vigil - A direct opposite of the Durmand Proxy, the Vigil are sworn by an oath to "protect those in need, fight the darkness, and offer help to others who cannot aid themselves." The Vigil wish to face the enemy head on, seeking out the minions of the Elder Dragons wherever they are sent in the hopes that what can be learned from battle may help in the ultimate conflict with Zhaitan himself.
Finally, Ree breaks things down to the "nuts and bolts" of how this will all work. For starters, there will be thousands of story combinations, and at least currently, players can choose from 10 biography questions, each with about three to five possible answers. Each race will have its own unique story, and while class choice will factor into this, it will only offer "minor alterations" at this point. Stories will also at least one, but perhaps multiple major choice events, which will significantly affect the chain of events that follow, and this even includes the Order storylines.
Eager fans have also been curious as to how this personal storyline will work in group situations, and Ree explains that while the personal storyline content is designed to "be fun for a solo player", it is also capable of scaling up and so players can definitely bring a group along.
Rewards for completing personal storyline content will come in a variety of flavors, as well. Ranging from tangible rewards such as special NPCs or merchants in the player's home instance, to receiving "pretty town clothes", and even viewing special cinematics. Some of the less tangible rewards will come in the form of titles or lore reveals. ArenaNet is intentionally shying away from providing gameplay altering rewards as part of the personal storyline content, so you won't receive anything that will make your character more powerful as a result. No one wants to feel like they have to make X or Y choices in order to be viable, it would ruin the story experience.
Guild Wars 2 will also feature a personal journal, similar to Warhammer Online's Tome of Knowledge, which tracks your characters progress through the storyline, however, it also reflects the choices your character has made along the way, beginning with the biography choices made at creation.