You may be pleased to know that it hasn't been all intricately documented whining about really brilliant videogames this August Bank-holiday weekend at Rock Paper Shotgun Towers. As I said a couple of posts back, I've been playing Guild Wars: Eye of the North on its preview weekend. And I've had a lot of fun. Let's see a picture of my character, having a lot of fun.
Yay! It's like Rainbow Islands, except with less Rainbows or Islands or Rainbow Islands.
Eye of the North is the first actual real add-on pack for Guild Wars. All three other Guild Wars could be purchased alone, with you starting a new character from level 1. You could bring in characters from the other Guild War games if you purchased them, but you didn't have to. I found it more fun to start a new low level character, and quickly take him to the Maximum. This is the key element of Guild Wars - in that you hit the level cap relatively quickly, and continue playing long after that. The Level Cap is basically the maximum level of abstract power, and from then on in you gain flexibility. I ramble about that a lot more over in my review of the first one, from several years ago, so I direct you there rather than continuing here, if you don't mind.
The relevant point being is that this is the first pack which all the content is designed for players who've hit Level 20 in a previous pack. Since every single player starting it will be abstractly at the same level of power, it changes the way it challenges and entertains you. This came most into focus by the point where the main plot of the game branched. You're given three major objectives to follow, and it's up to you which one you do first. No, this sort of hub-structure is pretty common - the difference being that if they dropped something like this in the middle of a standard RPG, the three quest parts would be small things. If they were too long, the characters would have leveled in ability too much when doing one, rendering the other two paths a push-over (The possible solution is to scale the enemies according to the player level... but it never quite works in the way a designer hopes. You're sacrificing the ability to actually design a challenge and leaving it to an equation to sort out). Now, compare to how Guild Wars does it - in the preview weekend, only one of the forks of this challenge was open. However, it was still long enough to last a good days-play (i.e. Normal play, not obsessional crazy play). It was a proper quest rather than a brief aside.
They can do this because since the player is already maxed out in levels, so they don't have to worry about fucking up the other two forks. Instead, they work out ways to make the quest be novel outside of the typical ability-chasing and, at least in the bits I've played, they manage it. The quest is about reuniting the Norns - typical norn pictured below, being barbarian-viking warrior sorts but twice the size - so you get temporary access to all manner of Norn-Beast-Deity abilities to mix it up a little.
Perhaps the key way which this expansion pack changes the Guild Wars experience isn't in what the maxed-out-character-to-start approach allows them to design - but it's the stuff they don't have to design at all, and is just different by being different. 99% of RPGs feature characters growing in power as you progress (including the other three Guild Wars), with you starting as a fledgling sheep-herder and ending up as Gandalf the Motherfucker. Even in expansion packs to trad RPGs, it normally just starts the climb later, with you beginning as Gandalf the Motherfucker and ending as someone who makes Balrogs look sheepish and say they're staying in washing their whips if you even show your point-hat.
But in eye of the North, you start as the mature hero. And while you learn stuff on the way, it doesn't make you any "greater". Cooler, perhaps, but not any greater (Looking around the starting areas of Eye of the North certainly makes me want to go and get some new armour for my poor little Necromancer). Point being, more than anything else even in Guild Wars, it shows that the leveling mechanism really isn't the only game in town. Except it is, alas, and more people should be trying to think their way around it. I mean, what's wrong with a game where you start as Strider and end up as Aragorn: King of Gondor, if you see what I mean?
(SPOILERZZZ!!!! - Ironic Lord of the Rings Ed)
And as a random aside, in the most childish way imaginable, I still like the Gulid Wars naming paradigm. Since the game plays with every single server in the world in contact with either other, players are forced to choose more unique names. For example, in World of Warcraft, there's probably a character called "Travis" or "Marcos" on every server. But, in Guild Wars, everyone is forced into choosing a first and second one, which leads to a certain theatrical ring to characters names, like Travis Marcos or Marcos Travis or things which don't even include "Marcos" or "Travis".
It's hard to imagine, I know, but Guild Wars makes such demands of you. You can handle it.