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Guild Wars 2 Column: More Than a Theme Park

By Guest Writer on July 05, 2011

The air moved through the lands, sucked between its teeth with each breath.  Its eyes watched and followed our every move.  Its rocky skin towered over us, drawing our attention to the dark, twisted sky dashing our hopes.  Pulsating with anticipation, the world was alive!  Every step was taken with caution as we felt the land preparing to unleash chaos on our party.

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This is what we, as a guild, felt as we ventured through Guild Wars’ Domain of Anguish.  This was not just the effects of game play, but more importantly, the use of environments mixed with game play; something I am very glad ArenaNet has taken the time to master.  They seem to understand that both game play and good environments can be mixed to create an experience that is very rich and deep.  Guild Wars 2 has some huge shoes to fill, but judging by the videos and images we have seen, it should have no problem surpassing the first game.  Let’s break it down, shall we?

 First, I really want to look at one of the most important new aspects of the game’s environments, and that, in my opinion, is by letting players explore underwater.  This opens up a whole new layer that hasn’t been explored yet in Tyria.  We get to see new types of structures, plants and wildlife.  Just look at our own world.  Things are different underwater and we didn’t get to see that in the first game.  That restriction is gone now and we get to interact with new races such as the peaceful and awkward Quaggan.  We also get to see a huge expansion to the race known as the Krait from the first game. By adding in this whole new layer the world becomes fuller and more realistic, giving us a greater playing experience.

Expanding environments into an underwater setting is a pretty big step up from the first game.  Another very important step that ArenaNet has made in the past for the first game is still being used now only it has been brought to the next level.  ArenaNet seems to have noticed that piecing together a good looking environment is like creating a piece of art.  And that is exactly how they treat it; so much so, that the concept art literally becomes the environment.

A great example of this is a piece of concept art with a great Norn city that we see sitting on a massive floating glacier.  This is a wild and crazy, yet unique and amazing idea that goes above and beyond what was expected of this environment.  They could have just had a city built at the foot of a great mountain, maybe going into the mountain a bit to add some character.  I am pleased that another element of the frozen lands was chosen.  Glaciers would be very common in cold, harsh lands, so this not just fantasy… it feels real.  By letting an artistic approach become a part of the process, we are seeing a world that takes what is real and mixes it with fantasy in a way that I have seen few games do.

There is another step in creating a great environment in not just an MMO, but in other games as well.  This tiny little step is often overlooked and ignored, and it bothers me.  I’m talking about the terrain.  To give an example, let’s look at a grassy plain.  In many games I have played this very large grassy area will unsurprisingly be almost completely flat.  This happens often, several times within the same game, even though I am supposed to be in a completely different region.  But, from what I am seeing in Guild Wars 2 is what I experienced in the first Guild Wars.  There are multiple levels of elevation in this single area.  It rolls up and down into rivers, ponds and rocky mountains.    By simply not keeping the land flat they have created something that is far more believable than just a few subtle bumps here and there.  They have needed to take it to the next level, now that characters can explore nearly anywhere without having to follow a path.  A huge task but based on the videos we have all seen, they are doing a fine job of it.

Let’s look at one more aspect of environments.  Strangely enough, it has to deal with the characters themselves.  It isn’t about the character art, though that is very important and something to discuss at another time, I’m talking about how characters and environments interact with each other.

We all know about the new dynamic events that can take place in the world around our characters.  The same example is used all the time by ArenaNet to explain how they work. This is the village under attack, which isn’t just another randomly placed village with a few buildings placed in the middle of nowhere.  This village is placed in the region strategically, and is changed based on what you decide to do.  If you save it, the smoke will begin to clear and the buildings will remain mostly intact.  The villagers will be alive and thankful for your heroic actions.  If you let it burn, it is the complete opposite.  This is truly an environment that you interact with, not just some lever you can pull and a door opens up.

There are a few more things that Guild Wars 2 brings to the table that lets environments truly take us to another world.  I’ve gone over what I think are the most important aspects, but if you think I left something out or want to add something, why don’t you leave a comment below telling what a rube I am?  Let’s get some discussion going.

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