Monday, September 03, 2012

Guild Wars - Eye of the North

In Guild Wars: Eye of the North, players encounter two new races: the enigmatic Asura, masters of magic who were driven from the depths by a great danger, and the fiercely independent Norn, who are more interested in contests of personal prowess than the troubles of the world around them.
Review By Philip Feidamion
If you've been following the Guild Wars series up to now, you will have been accustomed to the disclaimer that Factions and Nightfall are standalone campaigns rather than expansions. You would be right to assume that Eye the North will have a similar disclaimer, and you're right, but not in the same sense. Unlike the previous releases, Eye of the North actually is an expansion in the true sense – it requires any of the previous games to access its content. EOTN is essentially an add-on that provides high-end content for experienced players – as well as a bunch of half-hearted gimmicks.

From the beginning, EOTN is designed to act as a bridge between the GW universe and its impending sequel, and in doing so attempts to tie all the loose ends of the three campaigns and introducing new races that will be featured in Guild Wars 2. Players are introduced to EOTN through a bridging quest, introducing the stalwart Dwarf, Ogden Stonehealer, and his small-but-arrogant accomplice Vekk, of the new Asura race. It soon appears that a new threat looms over the world of Tyria – known only as the “Destroyers”, who intend to live up to their name. Once again, the heroes of Tyria, Cantha and Elona set forth, exploring new lands and facing new challenges that will push players to their limits.

EOTN adds nothing significantly new to the GW interface and gameplay. Players, as usual, form parties of up to eight players, using a limited number of skills in any given instanced area. New to some players is the availability of Heroes – AI-controlled party members that can be customised with skills and equipment, in the same way as the Heroes found in the Nightfall campaign but were unavailable to players who didn't own it. The level cap is still at 20, although the relative level of the enemies is significantly higher, making EOTN challenging to even the most experienced characters.

The mission structure of EOTN is slightly different. While the other campaigns followed a linear mission sequence, EOTN offers players a choice of three paths, all of which must be completed, but the order of progression is up to the player to decide. The choices correspond to the three new regions: the Far Shiverpeaks, where the giant-like Norn roam; the Charr Homelands, where the Ebon Vanguard continue to avenge the Searing of Ascalon, with clear references to the nostalgic setting of the original Guild Wars; and the Tarnished Coast, where the mysterious (and very arrogant) Asura devise strange mechanical contraptions.

These regions are located on a greatly expanded Tyrian map, connected directly to the Prophecies campaign (although players cannot access it without the actual game). Real estate seems to be at a premium though: EOTN boasts dozens of dungeons – underground instanced areas with numerous levels and mighty end-bosses, offering the richest rewards for players who are brave and strong enough to overcome new dangers such as rolling boulders, dart traps and larger-than-life foes. For all it offers though, EOTN's level design is disappointing.

There are few explorable areas, instead the few that are introduced are very large and often tedious and painful to navigate. The dungeons obviously use the same scenery, and each dungeon feels the same as the next. For all the effort the developers put into the expansion, you would think they would spend the time to develop exclusive scenery for each dungeon instead of a lazy copy/paste job. Credit does go to the boss design, which extend the game beyond its own limitations and offers a wider variety of challenges.

Aiding players in their quest is the introduction of new titles. As players go through the new areas, they can accumulate “reputation” points that contribute to title ranks, in the same way as the Lightbringer and Sunspear titles in Nightfall. Getting ranks in these levels gives players access to and vastly improves PvE-exclusive skills, and confers area-exclusive bonuses, such as increased health or bonus damage against a particular enemy type. This too, unfortunately, has some drastic shortcomings. Because the bulk of the reputation points is obtained by killing foes, EOTN introduces the tedious element of grinding to a game that otherwise avoided the chore quite well. Thankfully players can record their mission completion in “books”, which can be turned in to NPCs in exchange for reputation points, giving players a less tedious alternative to grinding. On the topic of titles, the original titles of mission completion and cartography have been combined into a single title that is based on mapping percentage, mission completion and dungeon completion, in both normal and hard modes.

To cement the wider range of achievements possible, EOTN comes with a player-exclusive area known as the Hall of Monuments. In this area, players are able to set up trophies to record their achievements, such as progress in titles, minipets, elite armour, end-game weapons and elite hero armour. The organisation of the Hall is a bit clumsy, but ArenaNet is making it a huge selling point by connecting it with the future GW2, possibly unlocking exclusive content if players carry over their character or account. It's a fairly addictive feature that many players have taken too well, spurring people to max out titles for the sake of perfectionism.

Alas, there are a few new features which clearly should not have belonged in the game, but somehow made it into the final product – and in fact were marketed as selling points. Players can try their hand at dwarven boxing, using a special skill set for some bare-knuckle fights against NPCs – something that is cool once, but you'd never touch again. Then there's Polymock, a GW version of Pokemon, involving the control of a monster duelling against other Polymock masters around the world, and gaining new Polymock pieces. Like boxing, it's a one-off gimmick that might have some more appeal if players were allowed to duel each other, but that is simply not possible.

Probably the biggest point of complaint is the introduction of some PvE skills and items that make the game far too easy. By now the worst of the problems have been addressed and patched, but the new consumable items provide massive buffs such as long duration increased attack and movement speeds, considerable health and energy bonuses, and removal of party-wide death penalty. These items are rare and expensive to craft, and to be fair, many players will appreciate having these uber-items when tackling the more difficult dungeons. On a related note, EOTN offers no new classes and no new PvP modes, but it does come with new skills for all professions, making it desirable for PvP-orientated players to gain for the sake of getting more abilities.

Eye of the North is clearly the last hurrah for the original Guild Wars franchise, and in most aspects it is a worthy and epic way to finish the series and lead onto the sequel. Unfortunately, some might see it as a nail in the coffin for a game that is widely popular and had a successful formula. EOTN tries many new things, to the extent that it comes off as an experiment instead of an expansion. It is nonetheless worth owning, and definitely a purchase to complete the series. 




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