Guilds Wars 2 is fast approaching, and while I’m resisting the urge to get lost in all the information out there, I can’t help but feel nostalgic for the original Guild Wars.
There were two things I loved about Guild Wars. First was the system — many skills/few slots, dual classing, early max level, varied monster tactics, top-level gear that made you different not simply more powerful…
The other thing was the scenery. That’s what I want to reminisce about now.
(I was foolish not to take copious screenshots at the time, so I’m pinching images from the internet at large. I hope I don’t accidentally include any Guild Wars 2 images. Click any image to see the source.)
Scenery really boils down to three things.
The first is beauty. My favourite spots in Guild Wars were the beaches. In the original there was one area that was simply a single long strand. In the expandalone Nightfall there’s a sun-drenched archipelago in the corner of one of the continents. Makes me want to slip into the sea.
But that’s not to say there aren’t other beautiful areas too. The Maguuma Jungle is a reddish, dry, rocky environment whose canyons are filled with lush greenery (not unlike the coastal Kimberly area of Western Australia). Pre-searing Ascalon has some very pretty European-style forests.
Even the “ugly” environments — the swamps, the deserts, the volcanic islands — they look great. Post-searing Ascalaon was especially grim, and it only got grimmer the further you got from Ascalon City’s ruins, in either direction. Go north into Charr territory and it felt oppressive, stifling, like you could actually choke on the ash. Head south and the air might be clearer, but all you’ll see are ruins and monsters. Depressingly lonely.
That brings me to the second thing I love about Guild Wars’ scenery. The real sense of isolation. Much of Guild Wars is set a long, long way from civilisation. And that’s not just what the NPCs tell you. Unlike MMOs like World of Warcraft, you’ll find no convenient stores, or camps, or people of any sort littering the environment. Thanks to Guild Wars’ fast-travel-to-town system it might not actually inconvenience you much, but I felt it really added to a feeling of wilderness. A feeling I only ever got once in WoW — after trekking through Maraudon pre-Cataclysm on a level 80.
And the third thing? The explorability. Granted, most of Guild Wars is a well-disguised maze. You can’t wander in any direction like you can (mostly) do in World of Warcraft.
But unlike World of Warcraft, the world isn’t a homogeneous smear. WoW feels rather small. Stand in any location and look around. You’ll see at least three landmarks or ruins, often glowing with magic (this is especially true in Northrend). In the very unlikely event you discover something tucked away then nine times out of ten a quest will have guided you there eventually anyway.
Guild Wars, for all its maze tendencies, feels big. There are places off the beaten track that sometimes have something interesting (some special monsters, or a unique NPC) but are just as likely to be nothing more than a plesant vista or unusual scene. Guild Wars also doesn’t feel crowed: there’s not a ruin or town every few paces. Exploring and going off the beaten track may be mostly pointless in Guild Wars, but at least it is possible.
Will Guild Wars 2 deliver the same wonderful scenery? Graphically, I think almost certainly — probably better. In spirit? I’m not so sure. The original Guild Wars was instanced so heavily that you’d never see strangers in the wild. I wonder if a lonely desert will feel so lonely with jumping, dancing heroes scattered throughout it?