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Guild Wars: What keeps fans coming back

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Spring is in the air in Guild Wars! I can hear the pitter-patter of speed-enhanced feet coming from the Dragon Arena, the roar of the crowds watching Rollerbeetle races, and the endless grunts of unlucky players on the Nine Rings. It's a celebration -- the celebration of the seventh anniversary of Guild Wars, to be precise.

In and around the annual birthday cupcake hoarding that's going on for the duration of festivities, this year has a few other exciting tricks up its proverbial sleeve. For one thing, a new and limited-edition pet has been made available; the Hound of Balthazar can be unlocked for free by having a brief chat with Ceira, Sworn to Fire, in Embark Beach. For another, the bonuses from all weekend events are active for the anniversary, so players will have to go pretty far out of their way to not reap sweet, sweet rewards for any time spent in-game between now and May 8th.

Seven's a pretty nice number, don't you think? This is something of a special event, as ArenaNet's promise to get Guild Wars 2 shipped before year's end means that this'll be the last birthday that Guild Wars gets to have before the sequel comes along and grabs everyone's attention -- if, indeed, that's not already happening, what with the beta weekend that's going on right this moment. Even with Guild Wars 2 soaking up some limelight, though, Guild Wars is doing its creators proud and aging with grace and dignity. Let's take a look at some of the building blocks of the game's longevity.

Guild Wars -- Hall of Monuments
50/50 and GWAMM

Ever since the release of the Hall of Monuments reward calculator and the quantitative and qualitative promise of Guild Wars 2 shinies for Guild Wars effort -- golly, that was in October of 2010! -- a large portion of Tyria's active population has been made up of 50/50 (or perhaps more realistically, 30/50) chasers. Since the first 30 points in a player's HoM translate into nostalgic and exciting goodies for her Guild Wars 2 character, many folks have been highly motivated to get back on the Guild Wars horse to fill up some monuments. Others have been drawn into the game for the first time because they can't stand the thought of missing goodies, because they don't really want to play a sequel without having first tasted the original, or because hall-filling is as good a way as any to pass the time until release. However you look at it, the ability to pay some effort forward into Guild Wars 2 seems to be a pretty good incentive for some players.

Filling up the Hall of Monuments and grinding Kind of a Big Deal all the way up to God Walking Amongst Mere Mortals aren't technically the same thing, but they can go so readily hand-in-hand that it's only sensible to lump 'em into the same category. Kind of a Big Deal is a title track that tracks titles a player has earned. It serves as a focal point for some players, as one of the self-set goals to fill the void after campaigns have been completed and stories experienced.

Guild Wars
Niche interests

Games need to scratch itches, and people have very different itches in need of scratching. Guild Wars happens to scratch a few pretty specific and compelling itches for some folks, including me. Maybe it's heavy instancing. Maybe it's seven jillion skills and the ability to carry only eight at a time. Maybe it's the team of NPC heroes at your beck and call. These certainly aren't exclusive to Guild Wars, but they're all there, and they're accompanied by a host of other delights. This, of all the reasons to keep coming back to a game, is perhaps the most permanent. Once you've found something in a game that suits you particularly well, you become a lot more willing to forgive the slow but sure encroachment of age on the game itself. As long as there's a chance that I'll find someone hanging around in Umbral Grotto for a VSF or leaving Longeye's Ledge for vaettir farming during event weekends, Guild Wars will fill a very special place in my heart, and that's true of many different special places in many different people's hearts.

Guild Wars -- Razah
The world

This one's another two-fer because the world of Guild Wars is very much grounded in both its story and its aesthetics. Those happen to be two super-subjective categories. I know that people react very differently to the assertion that the game has aged well graphically. As a fan of ArenaNet's visual sensibilities, I've pretty much always been on board with the idea that Guild Wars is lovely, and it hits the spot quite well for many people. The lore of the world, too, can be immensely attractive to folks, whether it's because they're really just lit up by the storyline around the Destroyers, because they've spent so much time listening to Mhenlo and Cynn bickering that they've actually forged an emotional investment in whether the couple is on-again or off-again, or because they enjoy walking up to random NPCs and being greeted with dialogue lines like, "There is a song at the center of the world, my friend, and it sounds like razors through flesh."

Guild Wars: Eye of the North

Despite the loving care and attention being lavished on Guild Wars 2, ArenaNet hasn't really let its first-born fall into neglect. Although the campaigns and the single expansion came out fairly early on in the game's lifespan, the Live team has been constantly supporting the game with ongoing balance, bug fixes, and content production. Guild Wars Beyond is part of the efforts to support existing content with new storylines, not to mention that it helps bridge the 250-year gap between Tyria as we know it and the Tyria of Guild Wars 2. An update about a year ago brought in other big content changes: the Embark Beach outpost, seven-hero party options, and improved minion and spirit UI -- it was pretty massive. Each time one of these update crops up, we see the in-game population spike a bit as players come in to see what they think of the changes.

On top of just balancing, the team has also been dedicated to doing fairly thorough overhauls of professions when necessary. The not-so-recent Dervish and Elementalist updates made substantive changes to their respective professions. Guild Wars might not be getting biannual expansions any more, but it's far from stagnant.

Guild Wars Factions

I'll let Mr. Colin Johanson take the lead on this one:
One of my most fond memories of the Guild Wars community comes from the holiday festivals, especially for having been tied in to the Live Team for as long as I was. Everybody would pour back in the back whenever the holiday festival would roll around. There was just this feeling of joy and community between all the players. It was amazing how little content people played and how long they spent in the game, talking to each other, putting on costumes and having dance parties. We had no idea what the community would do, that they would strip down in their underwear and do conga lines everywhere, or dress up and put on plays. Every holiday festival after the first would be created people working extra time to put this together. Seeing how the community came together was so special and that's really when we realized that we had a community that wasn't really like any other game community out there. There's such a bond between our players and seven years later there's still this bond and people still playing the game. It's fantastic.
MMORPGs are very much defined by their communities, and Guild Wars is no exception to that. Not only is the community as a whole typically fairly excellent, but everyone loves playing with his or her guilds and buddies -- that's why we have guilds and buddies. The number of people who mill around the game for no apparent reason other than to help out newbies is pretty heartwarming.

This can't be an exhaustive list. So, current players: What keeps you coming back? What's the irresistible lure of Guild Wars?

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