The first thing Mike O'Brien, ArenaNet Studio Head and Co-founder said to me was, "Guild Wars 2 - Still Free!" when we spoke about Guild Wars 2 at PAX 2009. At this point in game development, there were not a lot of details they could speak of, but instead of giving out signed posters of Guild Wars art this year, they were giving out a beautiful hard-cover art-book of the art of Guild Wars 2. One book per attendee.
ArenaNet is justifiably proud of their game art team and their accomplishments, having won many awards over the years from prestigious juried competitions such as Into the Pixel, Ballistic, Expose and Spectrum Fantastic Art.
"We've got some of the best artists we could find on our team," said Art Director, Daniel Dociu. "They are all incredibly talented. Some are young and others are veterans, but they are all passionate about what they do, and we encourage them and challenge them to test themselves and share their talent by entering these competitions."
Guild Wars 2 is the evolution of the aesthetic values of Guild Wars 1, as the technology is now available to take it to another level. A natural progression of the "Handcrafted Quality," said Daniel.
"Guild Wars 2 is the concept art come to life," he continued, pointing to the trailer playing that was the handiwork of Cinematic Lead, Horia Dociu's team.
Mike O'Brien expounded on the philosophy behind Guild Wars and Guild Wars 2. "We focused on the story telling in Guild Wars and are evolving all that people loved about it into Guild Wars 2."
Guild Wars was a mould breaker. There were great debates over whether it really could be considered an MMO being that only the town areas had persistence and all the adventure / quest areas were instanced. The main difference in Guild Wars 2 is that it will all be a single, persistent world.
"We will still use instancing for some quests and raids - especially in the high-end adventuring, but instead of just having only one area where players can congregate, you will be able to run across each other across the world," said Mike.
The focus again is on story telling and Game Designer Jeff Grubb was on hand to expand on the story. Guild Wars 2 is set about 250 years after the original timeline and we've seen some new races introduced since launch, and some of them will be playable in Guild Wars 2.
"Humans have not weathered well and other races have evolved to fill niches," said Jeff, letting us know that four non-human races will be playable.
- The Charr - the large beast-like creatures of the feline variety, conquerors of Ascalon will be playable.
- The Norn - introduced in Eye of the North, the half-giant shape shifters have been driven down from the north by the wakening of Drogus the Ice Dragon and settled in the Shiver Peaks
- The Asura - a short, smart magical race that used to inhabit only the underground tunnels and caverns beneath Tyria have ascended to the surface, driven there by the dragon Primodus. They believe in eternal alchemy, command golems as their pets and live in fantastic floating buildings.
- The Sylvari are the youngest race, having only evolved in the last 25 years. They were a plant race discovered in the Eye of the North and are born fully formed from the fruit of the great tree, sharing the memories of a dream. They are a response to the threat of the dragons.
I was beginning to get a clue by then and Jeff was pleased to elaborate. "Yes, the greatest, most powerful of dragons has risen. To give you a clue as to how powerful he is, the Dragon Xytan lives in the City of the Gods. He raised the drowned city from the depths of the ocean and has raised the dead again as his undead minions." That is the overarching storyline of Guild Wars 2, the war against the dragons. The more powerful Elder Dragons have arisen and new Heroes are needed to combat them.
That the team is excited about Guild Wars 2 was obvious, the passion almost palpable as they all spoke about their plans. "Guild Wars grew to have 10 professions and over 1,300 skills and these things happen. Games evolve and grow. In Guild Wars 2, we will be focusing on the quality of skills and a way to make these skills deeper," said Mike.
"It will be a full 3-D game," said Horia. "There will be underwater dungeons and you will be able to swim underwater."
ArenaNet will be taking the core of what's fun in Guild Wars and enhancing it for Guild Wars 2, putting in more "Joy of the Moment" content for players.
"There will be much more growth of the player character," said Jeff. "Starting areas are different and separate. Players will be playing with others of their own race before they move out into the world and meet players of other races."
"We've spent two years re-writing from the ground up," said Mike. "We've rebuilt and enhanced our game engine. We have a radically enhanced graphics engine, day/night cycles, new physics, animation and movement through the world."
They are also planning a "Side-kick" system to allow players the freedom to play together, and the in the organized PvP arena, players will be able to engage in balanced PvP without first having to level up and gear up. In those arenas, the players will be the same power level and will have access to the same equipment, so player skills will be the telling factor.
Content is also being designed so that it scales, and players will be able to solo if they prefer although end-game raids will still require many players banding together. Finally, the question every developer is asked when a new version of a game is being designed was also answered. No, it's a new game. Your old Guild Wars character cannot be transferred over. However, players will be able to reserve their original Guild Wars name in Guild Wars 2. Details are not yet available, but The Hall of Monuments in Guild Wars 2 will recognize the achievements commemorated in original Guild Wars and provides unique rewards to showcase those accomplishments.