We were fortunate enough to receive an advanced copy of Ghosts of Ascalon last week, which I tore through at record speed -- not because of this embargo deadline today, but because it was just that good. Follow along after the jump to read my impressions of the first book in a series that will introduce us to the lore of Guild Wars 2.
First off, a disclaimer: I love Guild Wars lore. Not only do I love it, I've studied it for five years now. I find ArenaNet's land of Tyria to be on par with other predominant game worlds and it's just something that has captivated me strongly. This discerning palate could work either way on something like this: I could be turned off by inconsistencies and inaccuracies, as any Tolkien scholar may do while watching a Peter Jackson movie, or I could completely fanboy out about it. I remained aware of these contrasting distinctions and approached the book with an open mind.
I refuse to give any big spoilers in this article, because I don't think that's fair. But I do realize that there's a certain bit of information already out there about it (as in the book's official description), so I won't wander too far from that. Plot twists will remain intact.
Ghosts of Ascalon is based around a band of characters who were commissioned by Kryta's Queen Jennah (in a roundabout way) to find an ancient charr artifact in the ruins of Ascalon City. This artifact, a weapon named The Claw of Khan-Ur, is said to be hidden well, with only one man fairly certain of its whereabouts: Dougal Keane. We follow Dougal and the unlikely group through such familiar sites as Divinity's Reach, Lion's Arch and a heavily ruined Ascalon City.
The reason this ancient weapon is so important is it's said to be the last remaining pawn in the struggle for peace between the charr and the humans. This peace is so important because both sides realize that the only way they'll be able to do anything against the newly-risen dragons is to combine forces. With a charr, two humans, a norn, silvari and asura making up the party, you can imagine that there's a bit of internal conflict along the way as well.
Overall, I think Ghosts of Ascalon will appeal to anyone who has been following Guild Wars at all. If you're a hardcore lore nerd, you'll appreciate the detailed references to historical legends, such as that of Gwen, and how differently the charr tell the legend versus the humans. The description of each new playable race was done in such a way to keep us interested and struggling over which one we'll make as our first character when the game launches. We see some fairly descriptive examples of the weapons we can look forward to, including a liquid flame-spewing rifle (think flamethrower here) and an Ebon blade with damage bonuses against ghosts. Although at this point, ArenaNet has only officially revealed the warrior, elementalist and ranger classes, we also see specific mention of both the necromancer and the mesmer.
I'm particularly excited about the gadgets and potions concocted by our asuran pals throughout the book. Everything from mechanical golems to elemental giants to health potions that "may or may not work", we get a telling look into how useful they'll be in Guild Wars 2.
If you're more into the gameplay itself, you'll be pleasantly surprised at how well the other little details -- such as spell descriptions -- play out during the battles. It's not even done in a cheesy way, such as trying to awkwardly fit in casting durations or energy usage. The spells used in the book truly relate to how the game's skills would be explained without the boring math to muck it up. And I found myself chuckling a bit when the main character was forced to drop a sack of treasure because he didn't have room in his pack. We've all been there.
Most importantly though, I think Ghosts of Ascalon can effectively appeal to those who have never set foot in a Guild Wars game, but are anticipating Guild Wars 2 based on everything we've seen so far. It takes place roughly one year before Guild Wars 2, and almost 250 years after Guild Wars 1, so it's certainly setting the stage for what's to come, more than anything else.
There should also be no question that the book is well-written. That shouldn't even be a concern. Through the combined forces of Matt Forbeck and Jeff Grubb, we get a perfect example of why they're at the top of their game. Forbeck's writing credentials include such top companies as Atari, Games Workshop, Ubisoft and Wizards of the Coast. Grubb, aside from being ArenaNet's King of Lore, is also an award-winning author who has helped create wildly popular fantasy worlds in Forgotten Realms, Dragonlance, Magic: The Gathering and more.
These authors weren't simply commissioned to throw together something based on the game, as Jeff Grubb actually wrote the story for the Guild Wars: Nightfall campaign, Eye of the North expansion and currently, Guild Wars 2. This absolutely guarantees that things will be done right, as they prove in this first book. I was excited to make my way through the lands of Kryta, Ascalon and Rin, and I look forward to exploring more of Tyria with the remaining books.