It’s been two short years since our first game, Guild Wars Prophecies, launched. In that time we’ve released two standalone campaigns that have expanded lore, increased the number of playable professions, widened skill sets, and have given players more control over their party members. Our current project, Guild Wars: Eye of the North, is our first true expansion, and one that we truly feel is a fitting coda that will guide players through the end of one epic story into the next evolution of the series, Guild Wars 2. We want Guild Wars to go out with a bang and leave a lasting impression on players, so we’ve decided to delve deep into RPG history in an attempt to recreate the thrill of the classic dungeon crawl.
Dungeons are a staple of the RPG genre. Ask any longtime roleplayer and he’ll get misty-eyed and recall tense adventures in underground civilizations, navigating shadowy passageways and unearthing untold fortune. We knew it was the next logical addition, but we had to be sure it was implemented in such a way that was new and relevant to Guild Wars fans. So, what makes a GW: EN dungeon more exciting than your average hole in the ground? Lots of things, actually.
The labyrinthine underground known as the Depths is comprised of a vast network of passageways that touch continents near and far. GW: EN dungeons are not your typical dingy caves, mind you. They are rich with plant life, decorated with ornate carvings and majestic statues, and home to fantastic creatures. One of the biggest challenges our art department faced was to make each dungeon feel unique, while at the same time capturing the sense of an enclosed, sometimes claustrophobic, environment. Unlike the wide-open plains of Elona, groups will have less room to maneuver around obstacles. Enemies travel in high concentrations, so there will be little time to think or relax while pressing onward to the next objective. That stated, some dungeons are simply huge. Your party might trek through twisting pathways one moment, only to be spilled out into a huge open cavern the next.
The very concept of dungeons carries a lot of baggage. We had to distill all the things that make dungeons cool while removing the parts that wouldn’t work for our purposes. New design, art, and programming challenges love to rear their hideous, hydra-like heads every step of the way in game development, and dungeons have been no exception. We got our bearings and started everything in parallel, quickly prototyping and implementing dungeon mechanics such as traps, while level designers roughed out the general layouts for the rooms that would be pieced together to form the unique layouts. Designers wrote up quests and stories to ground these places in the world with their own characters and worked hand-in-hand with the writers to polish the dialogue and make the NPCs live and breathe. The entire process was started simultaneously. The result was a sharing of ideas between different areas of development that will hopefully make this feature greater than the sum of its parts.
Each dungeon instance is connected by ancient magical technology called an Asura gate. These portals were developed by a race new to the Guild Wars universe—the Asura. Since players will have to the opportunity to adventure as Asura in Guild Wars 2, we had to think ahead about their design. How large would they be? As subterranean creatures, what should they look like? How do they talk? What societal rules should they follow? What gameplay experiences will they offer that people will want to play as them? After months of discussion, planning, sketching, and writing, the Asura slowly materialized into the stout, intelligent, cocky little buggers you see today. Some might come off as self-important—condescending, even—but as a race the Asura can back it up. They are crafty, resourceful, and adept at magic. And they are an integral component of Eye of the North.
The Asura have connected many races and cultures regardless of distance via the Asura gate system. Unlike a standard portal that links contiguous land masses together, an Asura gate is used to travel great distances not possible through conventional means or standard spell casting. So while the entirety of the Depths is broken up into segments, one can migrate from lands as far away as Cantha and Elona to Ascalon and beyond, provided the system is running in tip-top shape. Travel isn’t always easy, though, as recent events have transformed the once placid corridors into a veritable minefield of death.
Players stumble upon this mass transit system early in the game, only to find its creators fleeing madly from a cadre of Destroyers hell-bent on their demise. These horrific manifestations do not reason. They are ugly, angular, fiery incarnations resistant to heat and afraid of nothing. Their purpose is singular—to purge the Depths of all living creatures in preparation of the arrival of the Great Destroyer, a fearsome beast of Dwarven legend. Many battles will be waged below the surface, some for personal gain and others at the behest of new allies.
Where blood is shed, wealth is stolen. There are 18 unique multilevel dungeons that make up the Depths, each populated with its own monsters, environmental hazards and traps, and phat loot. Only the brave dare to harvest riches from the darkest corners of these caverns, and with good reason. End bosses are smarter, faster, tougher, and possess new and unique skills and cunning A.I. developed specifically for this expansion. For example, one chamber might be guarded by a colossal spider. Before you can attack you must first lure it into range. A quick scan of the area reveals several egg sacks of her young. Using a magical flamethrower acquired from an Asura ally, you set fire to her brood. Enraged, she drops from her perch with bloody vengeance and launches an all-out assault on your party. Conventional attacks are slow and cumbersome against the beast. Using a skill learned from a wise Norn shaman, you call upon the bear spirit, who supercharges your attacks and fortifies your Health reserves. This is just one theoretical example of what is possible in GW: EN. You will encounter many such situations while exploring the dungeon system. Since you’ll be forming alliances with different groups and characters, you’ll learn a plethora of PvE-only skills that, when combined with your normal abilities, will give you the tools to overcome the situation at hand. While you won’t always be required to use these skills to defeat a tough boss, employing these new tactics and harnessing elements of the environment will definitely give you the upper hand.
One criticism that often gets leveled at online RPGs is that actions lack consequence. When a follower bites the dust they are just brought back to life in the next zone. Not so in dungeons. Actions have permanence, so if your guide gets crushed by a rock trap, eaten by a monster, or immolated by lava, that’s it. You’re on your own.
This isn’t to say that if you screw up it’s time to shout, “Game over, man. Game over!” in your best Private Hudson voice. You can still exit a dungeon for another fresh attempt at victory or resurrect your own party members—a useful feature for the more casual player who might not get it right the first time. But while you are in the subterranean confines of a particular dungeon, the rule of consequence applies. In other words, dungeons are chained instances. Despite the many hardships and pitfalls you will encounter, there will be other opportunities for success. You might stumble across a secret prison camp in your travels. Should you choose to free the captives, you will earn new allies that will help you accomplish your goal. It’ll always be possible to trudge ahead regardless of what happens—you’ll just have to figure out the best way forward.
This is just a sample of the exciting features included in Guild Wars: Eye of the North. We’ll share more as the game nears release this fall.
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