Reviewed: October 16, 2007
Released: August 31, 2007
It's rare to ever feel a true sense of completion when playing MMOGs. There are always new zones to conquer, new expansions to buy, and new uber gear to rip from the cold dead hands of monstrous foes. But the latest Guild Wars expansion Guild Wars: Eye of the North will indeed mark the end of the Guild Wars series.
For those who are unfamiliar with Guild Wars, here's a recap: a group of former top Blizzard developers launched the first Guild Wars box set in 2005, only a few short months after World Of Warcraft went live. Several gameplay features set Guild Wars apart from other MMOGs, including lightning-paced combat, a relatively low maximum character level of 20, and the ability to customize your character by choosing from hundreds of skills. But the biggest difference from other MMOGs was Guild Wars charged no monthly fees, relying instead on fans to buy chapter expansions on a regular basis.
Eye of the North is actually the end of the beginning if you will, as game studio ArenaNet has decided to focus on Guild Wars II instead of continuing to pump out new chapters. The good news for longtime fans is the expansion wraps up quite a few loose ends, including what happened to the little girl Gwen who you saved in the first Guild Wars tutorial. It seems Gwen is now all grown up, an officer in the guerilla army that seeks to free your former homeland of Ascalon from the merciless Charr. You'll also be introduced to some cool new gameplay features, including 18 multi-level dungeons to explore; new mini-games like Dwarven boxing and Polymock; and a customizable Hall of Monuments where you can display your hard-won gear and greatest accomplishments.
The expansion does have some weak points, including a bit of grind and not enough new PVP content for a game that calls itself "Guild Wars." But all in all, Guild Wars veterans will enjoy returning to their homeland for one last round of adventuring.
First and foremost, Eye of the North is an expansion solely aimed at Guild Wars veterans. Whereas the past two expansions had extensive starter areas for new players, Eye of the North's content is meant for max level 20 characters. The expansion does not add any new classes, although there are plenty of new weapons, armor styles, and about 150 new skills.
The main storyline is pretty straightforward: strange earthquakes have opened massive fissures across the world of Tyria, and the desperate locals call for a group of heroes to venture underground and investigate. Players soon discover that their old allies the Dwarves are fighting a shadow war against a group of demonic titans appropriately called the "destroyers." Not content to simply have lesser mortals serve them as slaves, the destroyers seek to snuff out all life. The Dwarves tell you that only a hastily formed alliance of humans and other mortal races can hope to turn the tide.
Bringing that alliance together is easier said than done. The Norn are shape-shifting Viking warriors who will expect you to prove yourself in combat. The Asura, a strange race who act like gnomes but look like furry Pokιmon creatures, will expect you to help them with extremely dangerous magical experiments. But perhaps the hardest task of all will be to broker peace between the last survivors of Ascalon and their sworn enemies the Charr. Your character too has little love for the vicious monsters who destroyed your homeland, but a Charr shaman offers to help your cause if you can sneak into the Charr fortress and kill the hierophant.
Your base of operations during the campaign will be the mysterious tower called wait for it the Eye of the North. The Eye contains the Hall Of Monuments, which serves as your personal little vanity chamber. Here you can create monuments to your character's exploits and put on display weapons, armor, and pets that you have collected during your travels. Certainly the Hall has some drawbacks; including some of the monuments are very hard to achieve and only top weapons and armor can be displayed. But there is something to be said in finishing a certain title track or gaining a new weapon and then rushing back to the hall to display it.
The main story arc provides about 15-20 hours of gameplay, which makes it the shortest of all the Guild Wars chapters. This is certainly a drawback but not a complete gameplay deal breaker since the expansion still offers plenty of content. For one thing, the new dungeon system is a blast. You can fight lichlords in the crypts of Orr; battle the mother of giant wurms with a Norn hunting party; and recover powerful dwarven artifacts from ancient ice caverns.
One of my favorite dungeons involves battling rampaging magical golems in a mad Asura's laboratory while at the same time not trying to set off the many elemental traps. Hidden treasure chests and side passages offer some replay value, and the dungeons are perfectly designed for group play. In my mind this is a good thing as the NPC hero system makes it almost too easy for players to solo most non-dungeon quests.
If you really want some alone time, the new mini-games are worth investigating. The Norn have a series of mano y mano gladiatorial contests were you'll face ever more difficult computer champions. The dwarven boxing mini-game reminds me a lot of old school Street Fighter, where you'll need to be quick with both blocking and counterpunching in order to win. But the most original and interesting mini game is the Asuran pastime called Polymock. In this collectible card game come to life, you collect magical polymock pieces that shapeshift into imps, gargoyles, elementals and other magical beasts. Each Polymock piece has its own strengths, weaknesses and special abilities, so you will need to watch carefully what pieces your Asuran opponent uses against you.
My biggest complaint is the expansion adds grind to a franchise that prided itself on requiring little to no grind. If you want to take advantage of some of the faction specific skills or new armor/weapon sets, you'll need to rack up considerable faction points with the Norn, Asurans, and Dwarves. But I will give ArenaNet credit for at least giving you a choice in how you earn those points as hunting, doing repeatable quests, and winning mini-games are all valid ways to earn points. Also, how much you grind is completely up to you as faction rank really doesn't really affect core gameplay.
The Guild Wars series is known for its stunning art, and in this area Eye of the North does not disappoint. The graphics engine may be two years old, but Guild Wars looks as fresh as it did in the first chapter. Some of the expansion highlights include the sweeping mountain halls of the Norn, the lost ice caverns of the Dwarves, and the magical cities of the Asura that float high above the jungle. I also loved the new Ice Age inspired beasts of the Shiverpeak Mountains and the hulking destroyers made of volcanic rock. Cut scenes are decent quality although not stunning they get the job done reasonably well.
Longtime Guild Wars players will be happy to know it's easier than ever to customize their characters. In addition to dozens of new armor styles, you can now outfit your character with eyeglasses, bandanas, Braveheart-style woad facepaint, and elemental gloves that give your hands a glowing chaos, fiery, or stone appearance.
Famed soundtrack composer Jeremy Soule once again returns to do the Eye of the North soundtrack. Although there are a few new scores, much of the music is recycled from the original chapter. The voice acting is solid and a huge improvement over earlier chapters. The sound effects haven't changed at all.
Eye of the North is a reasonable expansion at a reasonable price, but it's also the victim of previous chapter successes. With a $40 price tag, Eye of the North should have come with more content than it does. By comparison the last chapter Nightfall offered two new character classes, a much longer campaign, and a new form of PVP for only $10 more. Also, there is little content to appeal to the many PVP players who could care less about the story line or faction quests.
That being said, if you've ever liked any of the Guild Wars games and have thought of coming back to Kryta, the expansion is worth buying. The dungeons and mini-games add quite a bit of replay value, and the Hall Of Monuments is a nice way to commemorate all your accomplishments. As I said before, this expansion is only for experienced Guild Wars players. If you're interested in picking up the series for the first time, I recommend either buying Nightfall or waiting for the inevitable bundled edition to get both the original Prophecies and Eye of the North.
As the series draws to a close, I now realize Guild Wars has become one of my favorite MMOGs of all time. Even though I've taken long breaks from playing World of Warcraft without looking back, I've found myself returning to the world of Tyria time and time again.
Certainly the Eye of the North ended far too quickly for my tastes, and even though I'm a casual PVPer, I would have liked to have seen more PVP content. But on the plus side the expansion did answer some long burning questions about what happened to key characters from the first chapter, as well as continues to offer extended fun in the form of dungeon crawls and mini-games.
According to the Guild Wars developers, everything you leave in the Hall Of Monuments will be inheritable by your characters in Guild Wars II. If that's the case, I can't wait for the day when the descendant of my current ranger takes up his former armor and heroic name and sets off for new glorious adventures.