Sunday, October 14, 2012

This Land Is Our Land: GW2

Way back in April when we picked Yak's Bend as our server for the first Guild Wars 2 beta weekend, we didn't just pull a name out of a hat. Yak's Bend is where the world begins to open out in the original game, the point at which, after days of desperate struggle, hard-fought every yard through Charr hordes that never stop coming, at last you find a moment to catch your breath.

See this bend? This bend is mine.
Two abiding memories from the first run through the original Guild Wars are my complete shock on the fall of Ascalon and my immense sense of relief on reaching Yak's Bend. I played GW1 from launch but buying it was a late and somewhat spontaneous decision. I'd read little about it and had no foreknowledge of the plot. I loved pre-Searing Ascalon from the moment I arrived there and had no idea it would be snatched away from me so soon.

Come Guild Wars 2, I was always going to play a Charr. From the moment I realized, years after wading hip-deep through Charr blood with Prince Rurik, they were cats not demons as I'd thought, I was forced to re-evaluate and from that moment on there was no choice. Still, I didn't imagine I'd get what I'd always wanted; Ascalon back.

The orange is nice but I preferred it how you had it before

There are people, crazy people, who stay in pre-Searing Ascalon until they're fully grown. These are the Iron Men and Women of Guild Wars, ennobled with a title: Legendary Defender of Ascalon. Here's what they went through to earn that name. When players unfamiliar with the elder game question the design ethos behind GW2's Legendary Weapons, behavior like this is a factor they may not have taken into account.
Read it and weep, human.

I tried it once. I got to level 12 before I came to my senses. Life is quite literally too short. I gave up any hope of living in the eternal summer of pre-searing Ascalon. How ironic, then, that the door to that lost past should be re-opened by the same Charr who slammed it shut in my face all those years ago.

Go North-East from Lion's Arch and there, between the Shiverpeak and Blazeridge mountain ranges lies Ascalon. From Black Citadel, the great Charr capital built on the ruins of the human city of Rin, east through the Plains of Ashford to Blazeridge Steppes and north across the Diessa Plateau through the Iron Marches to Fireheart Rise, the Charr hold it all.

Being a cow doesn't give you a pass on training
Um, over here?

Every step is filled with wonder. The high summer idyll of the pre-Searing has ripened into an eternal Autumn, the fall after The Fall. The colors burnish with copper and gold, red poppies flag against the sunburned grasslands, white clouds mass the bluing sky. Ascalon is a land patched by farms, ribboned with ruins, haunted by ghosts figurative and literal. Its lakes are blue and deep, its caves dark and beckoning. There's treasure everywhere.

Out of these golden lands rise the cobalt holdings of the Charr. With all the dwarves gone Charr engineering stands unchallenged (quiet now, that Asura at the back...). Rather than scars or blisters, these massive edifices fit the land like giant puffballs, muted bluetones melding into the umber, soft curves blending into rolling hills, jagged edges natural as thornbriar.

This beautiful country has its dangers. Ghosts and devourers rise from the ground, bandits and revolutionaries bar the paths, ogres and harpies cleave to their own wild ways and may the gods that don't exist have mercy if you cross them. The Dredge, the Grawl, the Skritt pursue their own oblique agendas. Still, these are lands that can be explored with pleasure, if with care.

You can laugh now but in fifty years they'll be listed

Some must fight so all can live, as they say, but maybe not right now. Unlike Orr and the south, across Ascalon there is time to stop and take a look around between battles, to lie down in the long grass once in a while and rest.

Even the dragon, The Shatterer, had the good sense to set the mark of his Lordship on these lands with a scar instead, like Zhaitan, of flinging all to chaos. The Brand runs livid in the purples of a bruise across the back of Ascalon, but the Branded, unlike the Risen, keep to their rut.

Could have sworn I heard an Asura...

At the southern limit of the Charr's influence, Ascalon's, maybe Tyria's, loveliest city waits. Ebonhawke, thick-walled fortress with its wide streets going down to grass feels old as its honey stone. Saved the brash assertion of Rata Sum or the wild imagining of Lion's Arch, Ebonhawke stands more solid, evokes more empathy than either.

Does no-one in Ebonhawke own a scythe?

To the far North autumn gives way to winter as it must. Despite thick fur, Charr are cats and do not like the cold. The Norn may have the snow and welcome. As for the Baelfire, let the Flame Legion skulk among the cinders there, planning their plans. Few would envy them. No, the Charr fought for the heart of Ascalon, and now they have it, revel in it and will hold it long.

Had Guild Wars 2 been only Ascalon and only Charr I would have been more than satisfied. I am more than satisfied.


  1. Almost makes me want to play GW. Almost.

    That's honestly a great piece of writing; eloquent, articulate, passionate. Thank you.

  2. Eloquent indeed. I too remember loving Ascalon and the shock of the sudden fall. So it was with sheer delight that I recognised the ruins of the Great Northern Wall near the dungeon entrance. I didn't have time to explore beyond that but I'll go back on my Charr when I get around to playing him.

    ArenaNet really have some amazing design talent.


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