The game opens with a character screen that allows you to choose from a small handful of character traits and character backstories. You’re the one that came from the street, you’re the one that watched their sister die, you’re the one that failed to get into a circus. Design your character to be a miserable hard-ass and NPCs will act accordingly. Walk through the street and kids will take one look at you and run in the other direction. But your persona isn’t entirely determined by the character editor. As you go up in level you’ll see the Vigil, a military order in the game that you can join which will set you on a different path according to the nature of the order you’ve chosen.
Even the system for chatting with NPCs has more meat to it. Where you’d traditionally head over to a NPC to accept or reject his quest, you’ll now take part in extensive conversations based around proper dialogue trees.
Like the original, Guild Wars 2 is free to play. "In Guild Wars 1 we had an in-game store where we featured microtransactions" Lye says, "With each introduction of microtransactions we’d get feedback from players with what they’d consider worthwhile, and we’ve taken that learning into GW2. But effectively the business model is the same: buy the game, play for as long as you like online and, yes, there are microtransactions in store."
The business model has been a hell of a step forward for a large-scale Western MMO, but the inclusion of a meaningful player-driven storyline is nearly as significant a leap in the genre.
"MMOs are very daunting projects - they are very expensive, they require large teams, large bank books and I imagine people want to minimise the risk as much as possible. [Many developers will] look at a gameplay model that is tried and true that has existed for years, like back to MUDs . And we didn’t want to stick to that in the way that so many other MMOs have been stuck in that rut for so long. We’re gamers, we play a variety of games and we didn’t approach Guild Wars as ‘we’re designing an MMO’. We took it from the standpoint of ‘we’re designing a game’. So you see components and say 'wait a minute; that looks like something from an action game', 'that looks like something from a RTS' - we’re trying to see how these aspects can be brought into the MMO space."
Guild Wars 2 is due for release on PC in 2011.