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Guild Wars 2 Previews: The Sylvari Experience

By William Murphy on July 16, 2012

These aren’t your everyday elves, that’s for sure.  Like Garrett, I had the special chance to play as the Sylvari during this past week in Guild Wars 2. I didn’t really expect to have but a passing interest in the plant-like creatures of Tyria, but now having had the chance to dabble around Caledor Forest and Grove (their home city) I can’t help but think I’ll be rolling an Elementalist or Ranger as a Sylvari at the end of August. Make no mistake, the Sylvari are ArenaNet’s answer to the elven race in its fantasy setting. But as a player who’s long grown tired of the Legolas mystique nerd culture seems to be caught up in, I’m happy to report that these beings who are quite literally one with nature are gorgeous, haunting, and downright fun when you get down to brass tacks. 

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CHARACTER CREATION

As you’ll see in my sleepily narrated video below, the character creation for the Sylvari is suitably varied as is ArenaNet’s style.  That’s not to say you won’t find someone playing a plant-man that looks like you, but it’ll be difficult to find someone who matches you precisely.  The hair is one of the coolest parts, with different styles that are all made of different sorts of leaves… there’s even one that’s a mushroom head. It’ll quickly make any Sylvari look like Mortal Kombat’s Raiden. And then there are the ears. I’m pretty sure one of them is an avocado. Enough said: the art direction on this race is above and beyond what I expected. The idea for the race is silly, bordering ridiculous… and yet through the dev team and the art team taking their world seriously and handling it with care they’ve created a truly unique take on the Sylvan aesthetic. They’re absolutely beautiful creatures.


CALEDOR FOREST AND GROVE

The Sylvari are in stark contrast to the game’s other races.  They’re not fueled by war such as the Charr, or the struggle to remain relevant and alive like the Humans. No, they’re a peace-loving society, born from a giant tree, called to protect the world of Tyria in its most dire hour. There’s something awesome about that. They’re all used to sleeping, living in the “Dream” world, and not bothering to care much about what else goes on in Tyria.  But when the Nightmare Court and Zhaitan threaten not only their peace but the livelihood of the world around them, the Sylvari move to action to defend her.  What’s really cool about their personalities is that they don’t know much at all about the world’s other races. They’re just awakening, and so they’re learning as they go about the ways of everyone else, and even their own nature as a living and interacting race. It’s funny when you overhear a couple of women talking in the city of Grove, one of whom is explaining what kissing is and how a friend of theirs began kissing everyone she could when she discovered it.  These guys are about as pure as you can get, and that makes them immediately appealing.

The city of Grove, in the video below, is wide and open, and far less cluttered than say the bustling Divinity’s Reach. Some will say it reminds them of Avatar, but for me it’s more like a children’s fantasy novel I wrote when I was about seventeen. Instead of a giant world’s tree housing a race of small indigenous people with the ability to harness and bend nature to their will, the Sylvari do exactly that in this massive sprawling system of roots, bark, moss, flowers, and more all centered around a giant bloom.  From the GW2 Official Wiki:

“Hundreds of years ago, the Grove was the site of a human village, amongst whom was a Shining Blade member by the name of Ronan. Ronan, a soldier and a warrior, went out to war, and in his travels came across a cavern full of seeds the size of a man's fist. With one of those seeds stowed away, Ronan arrived back home, only to find that the villagers, including his daughter and the rest of his kin, had been massacred by mursaat. In grief, Ronan made a vow of non-violence and planted that seed upon the graves of his family. It was this seed, tended by Ronan and the centaur Ventari in a small sanctuary until their passing, which would later become the Pale Tree that anchors the Grove today.”


Everything is built into and as a part of this giant tree. It’s absolutely gorgeous, and I loved how you can take flight in a blossom that floats gently through the eaves to reach other layers of the cityscape.  Everything you’ve come to expect from the cities in GW2 is here: crafters, walking and talking NPCs, merchants, fluff, and all that good stuff.  The potential for roleplay is at its highest in these spaces, and I was surprised just how peaceful and happy I felt walking around Grove. They nailed the aesthetic yet again.

Caledor Forest, the starting zone for the Sylvari is more densely laid out than the others in my experience. Meaning it doesn’t seem to cover as much ground as the Human or Norn area, but there is just as much content packed into every crevasse.  As you’ll see in the video at the bottom of the page, you’ll fight underwater, in caves, behind brambles, in shallows, around giant worms, and you’ll even become a Treant. As Garrett says in his article, if you’re a fan of anything remotely Elven or “Sylvan”, you’ll absolutely love the Sylvari.

For me? I didn’t expect to find myself enjoying the race at all. Even with GW’s stellar gameplay, the plant-people are the one race I didn’t think I’d care much about. Now? Now, I find myself definitely psyched to make my own little peapod next month. But first, I’ll most definitely be rolling an Asura.

William Murphy / Bill is the Managing Editor of MMORPG.com, RTSGuru.com, and lover of all things gaming. He''s been playing and writing about MMOs and geekery since 2002, and you can harass him and his views on Twitter @thebillmurphy.

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