There's no denying that Guild Wars 2 is one of most hotly-anticipated MMOs on the market. ArenaNet and NCSoft have the potential to shake up the genre with all of the innovative concepts that they're putting into their new MMORPG, a true sequel to the original Guild Wars. Mobin Koohestani recently re-reviewed Guild Wars Trilogy, which is a compilation of the original three campaigns of the game, and with the release of Guild Wars 2 coming in 2012 and hopefully a beta this year; we're of the mind that now would be a great time to take a look at Guild Wars: Eye of the North.
Unlike the standalone Prophecies, Factions, and Nightfall campaigns that comprise Guild Wars Trilogy, Eye of the North (EotN) is a traditional expansion in that it requires a level 20 character from one of the previous campaigns to play. It returns to the original setting in the Prophecies game and is meant to serve as a bridge between Guild Wars and Guild Wars 2, along with the out-of-game novels currently being produced. Rather than adding new professions and PvP modes like the previous expansions, EotN focuses on PvE content, offering 4 new explorable regions, 18 multilevel dungeons, 150 skills, 10 customizable heroes, 40 armor sets, and your own Hall of Monuments. It's more Guild Wars and introduces some key concepts that will appear prominently in the sequel, so if you like ArenaNet and NCSoft's style, you might want to check it out.
The art of Guild Wars has always been very well done, and EotN is no exception. Considering that Prophecies released in 2005, it's a wonder that the game still looks as good as it does, but the environments in EotN are simply beautiful. EotN's new regions range from the snow-capped Shiverpeak Mountains to the lush Maguuma Jungle and war-torn Charr Homelands, and each are splendidly detailed. Combat animations are fluid and varied as ever, and the lighting in the game is among the best in the genre.
The sound and music in all of the Guild Wars games are also excellent, although you'll recognize most of the themes in EotN from previous campaigns as they've been used again here. There's some good voice acting for the in-game cutscenes that go along with the main story quests, which is also one of the series' strong points.
Ah, Guild Wars, with your fast-paced skill-based combat and your instanced exploration areas. How can I resist the allure of customizing my deck of skills and those of my heroes before jumping into dungeon after dungeon with assorted henchmen that round out my party? Never mind that your content is designed in such a way to not allow jumping, or that your world isn't "persistent" in the sense that players associate with most MMORPGs. I've come to earn titles and weapons that I can hoard for Guild Wars 2!
Seriously, if you've played any of the Guild Wars campaigns, which you'll have to before digging into EotN, there's not much here that will surprise you, but you might be pleased nonetheless. The main campaign is interesting enough and introduces the new playable races of Guild Wars 2 through a struggle with the Destroyers, an underground group of monsters who have begun boiling up to the surface of the Prophecies, Factions, and Nightfall regions. You'll start the game with a quest from a local NPC in whichever campaign your level 20 character belongs to, which will funnel you to the EotN content and require you to gain the support of the game's different factions.
Guild Wars' hero system, first appearing in Nightfall, returns in EotN and adds a fun party-based element to the gameplay. Rather than just using NPC henchmen over whom you have very little control (which is admittedly an awesome feature of its own), you can earn 10 new heroes to add to your party, each with their own customizable skills, ability points and items. You can't control them directly, but can give them waypoints to direct their movement and micromanage their skills if you like. It's also nice that they each have personalities and are involved in the main story, adding a level of depth that is sometimes missing from solo content in many MMOs.
EotN also boasts the addition of minigames, which are a surprisingly fun diversion from the main content. You can engage in dwarven brawls, Norn fighting tournaments, and Asuran Pokémon-esque "Polymock," which each are interesting enough to try out between running dungeons or engaging in PvP.
Speaking of PvP, there aren't any new modes here, and considering how big of a role player-versus-player combat has in the Guild Wars universe (it's even in the title), it's clear that ArenaNet and NCSoft mostly have the story bridge to Guild Wars 2 in mind with EotN. The best you'll get in updates to PvP and combat in general are the new skills, which have some decent variety.
A big draw to the expansion is the Hall of Monuments, which is a personal achievement instance that keeps track of and displays your accomplishments across the campaigns and particularly in EotN. You can only access it through the EotN expansion and earning your rewards will take some doing, as most of them require completing various story, dungeon, and faction-based objectives to attain. The cool thing is that once you achieve certain goals, you can apply them towards your Guild Wars 2 characters in the form of weapons, armor, pets, titles, and other rewards. It'll take quite a lot of grinding to earn some of the higher level items, but knowing that they will give you bragging rights in the sequel is pretty neat.
Most everything that you've already seen in Guild Wars is present in EotN, save the new minigames and Hall of Monuments. That's not to say that ArenaNet and NCSoft haven't perfected their formula, as the expansion is an excellent Guild Wars experience, but if you've played any of the campaigns (particularly Nightfall), you won't be surprised by anything here.
ArenaNet and NCSoft have a knack for developing and publishing highly polished Guild Wars content, and EotN is no different. The game is stable and runs very smoothly, and should do so on a large range of PC hardware, given the game's optimization and age. The UI is the same as it has been for the past six years and is still very clean and user-friendly, and it's as easy to hop between campaigns and in-game regions as always.
The main quest is decently long and there are plenty of side-quests and minigames to keep you amused along the way, but the main endgame content has to be the long-term draw of EotN. Tackling the 18 new dungeons and earning the 40 new armor sets will take you a good long while, alongside grinding achievements for your Hall of Monuments. If this doesn't sound interesting, the main campaign is compelling enough, but if you like Guild Wars, there's a lot more of it here.
If you have a level 20 character, you're likely familiar with the way XP works in the Guild Wars endgame. You'll continue to gain experience without "leveling," per se, instead earning points to spend on your attributes, and those of your heroes. You also probably know by now if you're a PvE or PvP player in Guild Wars, so if you're only here for the PvP, you'll have to wait for Guild Wars 2. If you're here for both or just PvE, there's a lot to do and explore, especially if you're looking for a fix in anticipation of the sequel.
Like the other Guild Wars campaigns, the social scene is what you make of it in EotN. You can play through most, if not all, of the main story with your own henchmen and heroes and never speak to another player if that's what you're into. Or, you can do everything with a full party of other people, or some players, some henchmen.
Some of the endgame dungeons are much more complex and will most likely require a full party of players to complete, so if you're interested in running them, you might have to come out of your shell and make some friends. Fortunately, Guild Wars players seem to be pretty friendly and knowledgeable, and there are always a lot of people online in the quest hub areas. The community in general is also pretty active and lively.
You simply can't beat ArenaNet and NCSoft's Guild Wars pricing model: buy the game, and you own it. You can purchase in-game extras like pets and missions if you'd like, but nothing crucial to the core game experience. Plus, EotN is 20 bucks on the NCSoft Store, which is only slightly higher than most MMO subscription fees.
If you haven't played the original Guild Wars Trilogy, I'd absolutely recommend picking it up, as you'd be getting three great games for 30 bucks, and would have to level a character to 20 anyway before you can jump in to EotN. Either way, both Guild Wars Trilogy and EotN are very much worth your money.
At this point, hopefully pretty close to Guild Wars 2's release, the decision to pick up Guild Wars: Eye of the North depends on a few things. If you haven't played any of the Guild Wars campaigns, or if you have, but feel like you've gotten what you wanted out of them, you can pretty safely wait until the sequel comes out next year. One the other hand, if you love everything about Guild Wars, are looking for more, or are so eager to get your hands on Guild Wars 2 and want some in-game items and bragging rights when the game launches, EotN might be just the ticket to tide you over until then.
Frankly, after playing EotN I'm even more super-excited for ArenaNet and NCSoft's sequel, which I suppose means the expansion has done its job pretty well. I'm a big fan of the Guild Wars lore and story, and if you are too, you'll probably like what EotN has to offer here. Heck, even if you haven't played any of the games, you can get everything for $50 and have a pretty good time with it. If you've played Prophecies, Factions, or Nightfall and are looking for something entirely new or more PvP, you can probably skip EotN, but if you're looking for more Guild Wars, you'll be entirely content with this expansion.