Exclusive interview: Guild Wars unveils Hearts of the North

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Exclusive interview: Guild Wars unveils Hearts of the North
When we last left our heroes, a distraught Gwen was crying in the Hall of Monuments, and Keiran Thackeray had disappeared. Thankfully, knowledgeable Guild Wars fans weren't too worried over the fate of the most prominent couple in the game. Logan Thackeray and Ebonhawke in Guild Wars 2 carry our assurance that the original couple reunited and married at some point.

That point has arrived with Hearts of the North, the newest content addition to Guild Wars. Hearts of the North brings new quests and missions to the game as you progress from the search for Keiran to the wedding festivities. There is plenty of variety, including a Bonus Mission Pack-style event in which you play as Keiran and a more lighthearted chance to help a Norn wedding planner arrange the ceremony. The highlight of all the new content, of course, is the wedding. There are five new costumes for you to choose from for the ceremony, so get ready to choose your favorite formal wear and help bring our lovebirds back together!

Hold on though, because we have so much more for you! We are as excited to see new Guild Wars content as the rest of the community, and we inundated ArenaNet with questions. John Stumme had plenty to say to all of them, even tossing in a few extra surprises for us. Follow along after the jump for the full scoop on Hearts of the North!
Massively: Will these events close the book on this chapter of Guild Wars: Beyond, sending us on to Cantha next? Will all the loose ends, such as King Adelbern's and Evennia's fates, be wrapped up in Hearts of the North?

John Stumme
: The upcoming story arc won't resolve everything that was introduced with the War in Kryta -- some of the things pertaining to Ascalon in particular are part of a different story that we're going to be telling down the line. We will, however, be resolving the questions of where Keiran has been and what he has been involved with since disappearing during the lead up to the siege of Lion's Arch. Hint: He hasn't taken up Zen rock gardening. Players will get the chance to experience his story firsthand, reliving what has happened through Keiran's eyes. Along the way players will cross paths and work with someone that will be a key player in the Winds of Change storyline that's still to come.

Is the content purely optional, or will it modify explorable areas past a certain point like War in Kryta did?

The content itself is optional and won't be permanently modifying explorable areas. However, it will be revisiting some of the areas in Kryta and the Maguuma Jungle for four new repeatable missions that are pretty different experiences!

Modifying what you'll encounter in explorables to show the progress of the story and how it's affecting the world is something we're going to be using more in Winds of Change. It's going to be a big story with some fairly important, well, changes -- and it just feels better when the game world acknowledges that and gives you a sense of progression. I want players to come away feeling like their actions mattered.

Can you give us some hints on what sort of quest and arc rewards we'll see?

By the time everything is all said and done relating to the return/wedding arc, people will have another Hero in their parties. We've added Heroes this way in the past, notably with M.O.X., and to a lesser extent, Zenmai and Olias got the same treatment, and it's something I'd like to carry forward with future content. As a player, I feel like it's pretty cool to invest the time in building up someone new, getting to know and work with them, and eventually having them join your side.

You know, this seems like as good a time as any to mention that we're going to be looking at making some improvements to melee Heroes in the future to make them more desirable companions. Koss misses you and wonders what happened to that sparkle he saw in your eyes when he was the first Hero to join your party. Maybe we can bring back that loving feeling.

Will the costumes be obtained in-game or through the NCsoft store?

Along the lines of the costumes we've released previously, the new costumes are going to be available through the online store. Costumes have proven to be a fantastic microtransaction item for us -- they're entirely optional, so players should never feel obligated to purchase them (although we appreciate it when they do), and they also offer some unique looks to players that want them. It's a goal of ours to not delve into the realm that other online games have -- selling things that feel required to play the game. Microtransactions are becoming more prevalent within the online gaming world as a whole, and they help the Live Team continue to exist and offer new content to the player. Just because that is a truth, doesn't mean we need to pursue things in a way that would alienate the very players we're trying to keep!

What can you tell us about the design and decision process behind the design of these latest costumes?

We've made it a point to associate the costumes that we're releasing with the content that we're going to be putting out, so that the two complement each other. While it is within the realm of the doable to say, "You know what would be awesome? A costume of a Mursaat/Seer hybrid." (Note to the lore forums: please do not overanalyze that comment.) I'm certain we could make something that would look fantastic, but how many people are going to want something that has absolutely no bearing in or relevance to their game world? In the case of the wedding, these costumes allow us to have a fitting end to a long-running story, while also offering up suitable attire for players that wish to get hitched on their own or just dress up. When I was originally working in Community Relations here at ArenaNet (this was approximately 50 years ago, back when my cane had only one leg instead of four) I would get e-mails coming in from time to time from players looking for support for their own weddings. For players like them, I really hope the new costumes are to their liking. And even if you aren't ready to make a life-changing commitment any time soon, at least you can look dapper and/or swanky with a top hat.

Keiran and Gwen's story began with a series of Wintersday quests. How will this part of their story tie into Wintersday this year?

This is actually something we've gone ahead and changed to make it more accessible. Keiran's introduction and quest content are being split off from Wintersday and tweaked (for both story and requirements) so that they will function as normal quests now. Looking at it from the standpoint of a new or returning player to Guild Wars, they may have missed out on Wintersday Cheer previously, which makes it a bit confusing when this Keiran Thackeray character is suddenly part of the greater story. It also didn't make sense for us to have it functional as a repeatable festival quest since it served as Keiran's introduction -- although there would have been amazing potential for comedy there. Keiran could have been the first main character in Guild Wars to suffer from debilitating memory loss.

Will Gwen be actively participating in the search for Keiran?

Gwen will have a role to play at the end of the content in getting Keiran back. Most of the time, the two are going to be separate as the story unfolds. Looking at how their relationship had progressed up until this point, I felt like the best way to reconcile the two was to give them time to grow and reflect upon their situation independently. In Gwen's case, it's a very human thing to be annoyed by the person that's always hanging around you and trying to win your affection. In my own life experiences, I feel like I can say with a degree of certainty that most women aren't looking for a man who is devoted to just making her happy. I believe that, for a relationship to work, both people need to be able to stand on their own -- that way they can make each other better. If one person relies too heavily on another or lives for the other's happiness, there's an inherent inequality in the relationship that makes it unhealthy in the long run. For Keiran, I felt like he had some growing up to do. By the time this is all said and done, he'll have finally figured out this mess of feelings he has gotten himself into, and what needs to be done to set things to rights.

I'm hoping that people find the character development in the new content satisfying and enjoyable, because stronger characterization is something I really want to continue to push in future content. However, I hope people will be willing to indulge me in my desire to take a break from telling romantic stories for the time being. The thing is, I unfortunately don't get paid extra to serve as a relationship counselor to NPCs. Although it would be pretty sweet if I did, I think I could buy a boat with what I'd earn from sorting out Cynn and Mhenlo's problems. Not that I have any idea of what I'd do with a boat per se, it's just that I could have one.

A Norn wedding planner for a human wedding is going to make for an interesting ceremony, to say the least! How did you decide on this dynamic?

One of the things that was originally meant to be a bigger part of Keiran's character was that, as a hunter, he had great renown. He was respected among the norn, which for a human in the time frame of Guild Wars is unusual to say the least. Unfortunately, I don't feel like these aspects of his character were well communicated by the events of the War in Kryta, and Keiran ending up feeling less than heroic. The greater part of the decisions that I made for how Keiran's story played out (as well as why the player would be going through the missions as him) were to show him growing as a character, and to portray him in the way he was meant to be seen. So in the end, after Keiran has triumphantly returned, he is paid a visit by one of his old norn friends -- who, upon hearing the news of the wedding, he decides that it must be done in the norn fashion, as it's the only thing suitable for such great heroes. After all, who could do anything better than a norn?

Where will the wedding take place?

The wedding will be happening in a new version of Olafstead, suitably decorated in the spirit of the festivities. From a storytelling standpoint, I felt it made the most sense to have the wedding taking place in the north. Gwen and Keiran have both lost their families, which ruled out a return to Ascalon -- it lacks a certain emotional impact when there's no one there waiting for you. I also feel like that's an aspect of Gwen's character that we've already resolved by having her return home and face Dahgar in Eye of the North. Gwen and Keiran found a new purpose in life with the Ebon Vanguard, and their relationship began in the north. By having the wedding happen there, it felt like a good bookend to the story. Also, it's infinitely less creepy than having it happen in the Underworld so that Gwen's mom can attend...

What sort of long-term ramifications will Hearts of the North have on Tyria?

Without totally spoiling it, I'll just say that lorehounds will definitely want to be paying attention to what's going on in Keiran's story. You'll see the beginnings of something that will have story ramifications in Guild Wars 2.

Will we see any aftermath of these events in Edge of Destiny?

Our story establishes how certain things came to be – you'll find that what's happening in Edge of Destiny is going to have a lot of bearing on Guild Wars 2. That being said, I wonder if it's acceptable to refer to Logan Thackeray as an "aftermath" of these events?

Thank you for your time, John!
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