Guild Wars Expansion Review - Eye of the North
We're sorry it's coming so late, but Jeremy Star has just completed his review of the only true expansion for the Guild Wars franchise, "Eye of the North".
Guild Wars is back, but this time with a different concept. Instead of a whole new campaign, we are being served with a good old-fashioned expansion this time around (good being a subjective term). Unlike all the other Guild Wars releases (Prophecies, Factions, and Nightfall), this one requires that you own at least one other Guild Wars game to play it. Also, you'll need to have at least one max level character in order to enjoy Guild Wars Eye of the North (or GWEN, for short).
Honestly? Not much. GWEN ships with a little over 150 new skills, which breaks down to about 10 new skills per class plus some shared skills. It also features 40 new armor sets and 10 new heroes. There are, of course, new weapons and items, but – like the 40 new armor sets – they are all mostly cosmetic upgrades.
The biggest addition to GWEN is the Hall of Monuments. It serves as a tribute to your existing characters and a bridge to the forthcoming Guild Wars 2. You can add in achievements, armor, and weapons that are supposed to net your GW2 character some benefits.
Graphics – Elvis has gotten fat and old
It's funny how in little less than a year Guild Wars goes from having some of the best graphics in an MMORPG to having graphics I would now consider average. Earlier this year, I was awed by GW Nightfall's stunning landscapes, and now I look around in GWEN and think “Eh, it's not bad.”
Now, I'm not saying that GWEN doesn't have pretty landscapes, interesting creature design (the Destroyers are pretty cool looking), or even good looking character models. It does. But after playing The Lord of the Rings Online and Hellgate: London and checking out the upcoming Age of Conan, GWEN just doesn't make my eyeballs pop like prior GW releases. I'm sure Guild Wars 2 will wow us all with its incredible graphics, but for now GWEN is stuck being average, though I do have to mention that I really liked the ice surrounding the Eye of the North.
Sound – The John Williams of video games
The sound design in GWEN is similar to the three Guild Wars campaigns. There is a decent amount of surround sound effects, and everything sounds fairly visceral and appropriate. The voice acting is decent, but although it features some well known voice actors (Steven Blum, is there any game out there this guy doesn't appear in?), the dialog is often stiff and clichéd, and at times approaches the truly goofy. There were some cut-scene moments in prior GW releases that weren't so hot, but GWEN took those moments and made them the standard.
Of course, once again Jeremy Soule contributes a fantastic soundtrack to a Guild Wars release. This guy is the John Williams of video games. Any soundtrack he composes is pure gold. I would have thought a lot less of the sound in this game if not for the soundtrack.
Roleplaying – Ye Olde LFG
Following in the footsteps of its older brothers, GWEN fails to induce much roleplaying. The story is there, but they break in to it with immersion killing real world references once again. I still have yet to run in to another player who was roleplaying anything other than a stripper.
“LOLZ – WTB life for u, stoopid nub rper, lol11!!!!11”
Community – Do I have to play with them?
Also, just like the other GW releases, GWEN doesn't foster much of a community, at least not in game. In fact, just like Nightfall, GWEN is set up to allow you to progress through the entire game without ever having to interact with another player, although missions later in the game are close to impossible to complete relying solely on the NPC heroes. Which is too bad, considering there are a lot of people who have no interest in helping you whatsoever.
Now, I know a lot of people consider this typical MMORPG behavior, and indeed a lot of game communities foster the “I'm anonymous so I can act like a jerk if I want to” attitude. However, some games have notably more helpful communities, or at least a larger percentage of non-jerks. LotRO and Vanguard both have a high percentage of players willing to answer newbie questions or help out others in need, in my experience. Guild Wars? Yeah, not so much.
Performance – Zoom zoom zoom
Performance is still one of Guild Wars' strongest suites. On a modest gaming machine, one can still crank up the graphics and enjoy smooth sailing. Even on a fairly old system with the graphics turned down, GWEN glides along, and it still looks pretty good. Pretty much the one exception in Eye of the North is the actual Eye itself. Sometimes it gets very crowded, and performance can take a nosedive. Otherwise, it's a very smooth experience.
Service – With a toothy grin
There are still no official forums, so there's no official place to publicly flog the CS department. They still handle problems with support tickets, and I couldn't find any major, valid complaints about the service. It's pretty typical of MMORPG customer service, with a lot of standard auto-responses. There's nothing especially good or bad about it.
Fun – Better than nothing, I guess
GWEN is a short trip for people interested in playing out the story portion. The whole expansion seems kind of rushed, and the missions really convey that. Sure, some of them feature fairly interesting puzzles that break up the “go here, kill that” mission design, but on the whole I was left wanting something meatier.
Playing through the first three campaigns was a blast, leveling up to 20 and collecting skills. GWEN has no leveling, you're already there. A lot of the new skills are available for purchase, and to be honest they didn't do much for me. Also, the loot is really tame. There aren't any major upgrades, so it feels like you are constantly finding stuff that's not much better that what you already had.
What we're left with is something that screams “I'm just here to try to tide you over!” and fails to do so.
Value – You didn't shop at S-Mart
GWEN fails to fill the gap between Nightfall and Guild Wars 2 for all but the hardcore GW fanatic. The story missions are short, and you can complete most of it in a weekend or two. What you are left with after that is a long grind to get faction (that's familiar...) and money to purchase things that will fill your Hall of Monuments so you can get bonuses in GW2.
It actually wouldn't be such a bad value if this tiny expansion didn't cost almost the same amount as the previously released campaigns. $40 US for a fraction of the material that was in Nightfall, which cost $50 US? Come on. If you think that's a value, I'll sell you my used Hyundai for 14 grand.
Final Say – When does Guild Wars 2 come out?
Here's where Guild Wars: Eye of the North falls flat: The whole expansion feels like exactly what it is - A giant advertisement for Guild Wars 2.
Hey, look at that! New races! The Asura are little magical guys you'll be able to play! But not now. Oh, the Charr are really misunderstood. They were just following orders, and you'll be able to play them! But not yet. And the dwarves are back! But you can't play them yet either. And Norn! They're barbarian shape shifters, and no, you can't play them either.
But hey! Here's a plot ripped straight from the pages of The Lord of the Rings! The Dwarves and Asura dug too deep, and now evil is creeping up from the depths! But this time, it's not a Balrog, it's...uh...Destroyers! Yeah, Destroyers, that's it.
Oh, and look! A Hall of Monuments, where you'll be able to display your achievements and get bonuses from them, in GUILD WARS 2!
The whole expansion beats you over the head repeatedly with what's coming, but you never get to experience any of it. This is the first Guild Wars release that I would recommend you skip unless you really need something to play until GW2 is released. It's not bad, it's just not very good.