Sept 30 2007
When it comes to online RPGs, none have successfully done away with as many conventions as the Guild Wars series from ArenaNet. Among a host of other things, their approach to expanding the game's content has also been unique, in that there are now three releases that are actually stand-alone games, making Eye of the North (GWEN) the first true expansion for the franchise. Unlike the first three campaigns, Eye of the North is strictly high-level content for maxed-out characters.
The story picks up where the first campaign, Prophecies, left off. You access Eye of the North through a quest that becomes available in the major cities once you reach the level cap of 20. Before long you'll hook up with Gwen, the little girl from Prophecies, who is now all grown up and fighting Charr in the mountains. It turns out that there's a bigger threat at hand, in the form of the Destroyers, who want to destroy pretty much everything, including the Charr. It's a little on the predictable side, but not without its moments.
New Races and Heroes
One purpose of Eye of the North is to introduce some of the new races that will be playable in Guild Wars 2. This includes Dwarves, the Norn, who are giant, shape-shifting humans that fight in freezing cold temperatures wearing bikini armor (sure to be a popular race in the sequel), and the Asura, who look like extraterrestrial gnomes with an extra helping of cuteness. Heroes from these new races become available as you adventure, broadening the AI Hero element that arrived with Nightfall.
In a departure from the other campaigns, the expansion breaks the central quest line into three branches and you can switch between them at will. This makes GWEN a little less linear than the previous games, although the core quest mechanics remain the same. Despite a graphics engine that is over 2 years old, GWEN has plenty of visually stunning environments.
You don't actually have to complete one of the other campaigns before venturing into the expansion, but it's highly recommended that you do so. Most importantly, it will give you more attribute points and an elite skill, without which you'll find the new content quite a challenge. I tackled it with a Dervish that didn't have these things, and while it can be done, you need to select your party carefully, and hooking up with other players rather than AI-controlled heroes and henchmen can make a big difference.
Another one of those unique things about Guild Wars is the way levels and items are handled. The level cap can be reached very quickly, and maximum stat armor and weapons can essentially be purchased from a vendor. There are "prestige" armor sets, but their base stats are the same, so they are sought after simply for their appearance. Typically, you can have these items crafted after gaining reputation with certain of the game's factions. This applies to all the new weapons and armor in Eye of the North, as ArenaNet chose not to raise the level cap with this expansion.
Given the competitive nature of PvP combat in Guild Wars, it's understandable that they didn't want to tinker with additional levels or items that would throw that aspect of the game out of balance. While commendable from the perspective of PvPers, it makes the rewards in Eye of the North seem almost insignificant relative to the amount of effort it takes to acquire them. In fact, the only thing in the expansion of any consequence to PvP is a few new skills.
Dungeons and Mini-games
The dungeons, differentiated from other instances primarily by being subterranean, are impressive and well-designed. Often involving several stages, they can take a bit longer and present more a challenge the average Guild Wars encounter. As long as you're doing them for the adventure rather than the loot, you should find them quite enjoyable.
GWEN also offers the Hall of Monuments, which is basically a gigantic display case for your trophies. All of your major Guild Wars achievements and titles are represented here, and they will give you access to certain perks in Guild Wars 2. It's a nice touch, although it has no impact on gameplay, much like most of the items it exhibits.
If you grow weary working up your reputation with the various factions, which does get tedious a times, GWEN includes several mini-games. You can try your hand at Dwarven boxing, fight one-on-one battles against random heroes from any of the campaigns in the Norn tournaments, or play Asuran Polymock, a clever game that pits creatures of predetermined skills against each other. While simplistic, these mini-games are thoughtfully implemented and provide a welcome distraction from questing. About the only thing missing from them is a PvP component.
The Bottom Line
There's some quality content in Eye of the North, but with no new classes, nothing new on the PvP end of the game, and rewards that are largely cosmetic, it feels sparse compared to the other campaigns. Of course, if you've conquered that lot and you still want more, you're bound to find things to like about this expansion. The new Heroes give you more ways to customize your party, the dungeons are engaging, and long-term fans are sure to appreciate the Hall of Monuments. It's also nice to get to know the playable races in the upcoming Guild Wars 2, which definitely has a tough act to follow.