The Game Archaeologist looks at Guild Wars Utopia

Guild Wars Utopia
Aztecs. Chronomancers. Mounts. Halberds. Golems. Dual wielding.

These are all but a hint of what a fourth Guild Wars campaign could have been, a campaign that was under development in the mid-2000s but was scrapped by 2007. Replacing it was the expansion Guild Wars Eye of the North and the workings of a super-secret sequel to the game (which you've probably never heard of). It was the forgotten campaign, swept under a rug while it was still under the rug.

But what if, in some alternative timeline, ArenaNet had gone ahead with this campaign? What if it became an established part of the Guild Wars legacy, as familiar to us today as Nightfall and Factions?

What if Guild Wars Utopia had lived?

Guild Wars Utopia concept art
Frozen paychecks

From the get-go, Guild Wars had a much different business model from anything else in the MMO field. In a time when most every game was subscription-based, ArenaNet decided to go a different way by making its cooperative RPGs subscription free -- charging the player only the sticker price of the box.

To make a profit and stay afloat, the studio created a platform that was cheaper to run than traditional MMOs and then vowed to release a new "campaign" -- a stand-alone Guild Wars title that was integrated with the rest -- on a regular basis. The idea was that players would be paying for new content, not the time it took to play it. And it worked.

The initial title, Guild Wars Prophecies, released in April of 2005. Exactly a year later, Guild Wars Factions came out followed by Guild Wars Nightfall in October 2006. By then, players were assured that the ArenaNet content factory was up and running strong, and if you consider the millions of copies sold, making serious bank.

But then the process stuttered and halted. Rumors and information slightly stronger than rumors floated that ArenaNet was deep into development on its fourth campaign for 2007. Then the news came out that the campaign was not going to happen but that the franchise's first expansion was to be released instead. Following that, ArenaNet announced Guild Wars 2 and the cessation of any new Guild Wars campaigns.

Guild Wars Utopia concept art
Campaign four

I've always been fascinated with Guild Wars Utopia ever since hearing about it a year or so back. I was never as deep into the Guild Wars scene as some, so while this may have been common knowledge for many, it was news to me. As you well know, the possibilities of "what if?" always torment and tease me so, which is why I've been dying to do an article on this aborted fourth campaign.

The truth is that what we do know is patchy and fairly incomplete. Unlike some other canceled-before-their-time titles, ArenaNet never showed Utopia to the public, and apart from a mention in a single publication and some concept art, the studio's never seemed overly eager to talk about it.

However, from this 2007 issue of PC Gamer, we did learn a lot about why Utopia was canned. To sum it up, the team was starting to realize that by churning out campaign after campaign, the game was quickly becoming insanely complex and difficult to balance. On top of that, many of the ideas that the devs wanted to implement simply weren't doable within the framework of the game itself.

These ideas quickly morphed into something larger and more breathtaking than a new campaign. "We kept changing the scope of what we were doing, until it became Guild Wars 2," Game Designer Eric Flannum said.

Guild Wars Utopia concept art
South American party people

The Guild Wars world tour, starting with Europe (Prophecies) and going to Asia (Factions) and Africa (Nightfall), was set to visit South American themes with Utopia. From the gorgeous concept art that was shown, it's clear that Aztec themes ran rampant throughout this campaign. One of the pieces showed a combat arena with a cheering crowd surrounding strange pillars.

The main villains of the campaign were to be a bloodthirsty race known as the Tannecks. Some have speculated that when the game's assets were repurposed for the expansion, the Tannecks became Eye of the North's Destroyers.

As with the previous two campaigns, Utopia was to introduce a pair of additional classes: the Summoner and the awesomely named Chronomancer. (It's important to note that these are purportedly fan-given names based on concept art and not necessarily what ArenaNet had in mind.) Between the Chronomancer class and some of the images of futuristic, clockwork-like settings, it's reasonable to speculate that themes of time and possibly time travel were involved.

The Asura and their golems were probably part of this setting as well, and fortunately, they survived the transition to the expansion. The Sylvari possibly had their roots in Utopia as well in the form of a similar race called the Sidhe that had Irish and Scottish roots.

Another possible idea for the campaign may have been -- gasp -- mounts. This seems exceedingly strange, as Guild Wars has always been a mount-free title. How different would it have been if players could hop up on a horse or beetle or fire dragon and gallivant across the landscape? Sadly, we'll never know.

Guild Wars Utopia concept art
Shelved for greater things

So what would the gamescape look like if Utopia had released? Considering that the sketchy information we have is more or less from one source and came out after the title's cancellation, I think it's hard to make that call. Given the past campaigns' successes, we can reasonably assume that it would've sold well and been embraced by the Guild Wars community. But past that? I'm not sure.

The biggest elements that stir my imagination are the inclusion of mounts and the Chronomancer class. Both feel like something we certainly never experienced before in the game, and in the case of mounts, it could've had a huge ripple effect on how we would've played it. I do like the Aztec theme, even if it sort of seems similar to the tribal themes of Nightfall.

However, I'm not mourning the loss of Utopia for two reasons. First, ArenaNet was right: The game was quickly becoming over-complicated with too many skills and classes, and at some point, that was going to drag everything down into a huge morass. Second, Utopia's death was the birth of Guild Wars 2, and I'll take that any day of the week and then some.

Ultimately, Utopia remains a curiosity that ArenaNet doesn't appear to want to discuss much and that most of its fans have since forgotten. Yet as we sit on the verge of a Guild Wars 2 launch this year, I think it's important to honor this project that helped to create this impressive sequel.

When not clawing his eyes out at the atrocious state of general chat channels, Justin "Syp" Olivetti pulls out his history textbook for a lecture or two on the good ol' days of MMOs in The Game Archaeologist. You can contact him via email at justin@massively.com or through his gaming blog, Bio Break.
This article was originally published on Massively.