Another interview with Jeff Strain confirms the same approach that I identified:
When we started working on Guild Wars and especially when we started pursuing what has kind of become the modern incarnation of the art style for the game, we really said, you know, obviously there are lots of different fantasy traditions in the world. And the fantasy tradition for the original Prophecies campaign was kind of your, very unique, but basically European kind of look, especially the early areas of it. As you point out Factions draws on an Asian fantasy theme, it’s not really Chinese or Japanese or Korean but kind of a shared cultural history between all three of them that we tapped into. And what we want to do is pursue that with future campaigns. Pursue specifically branching out into other cultures, other mythologies, other settings that are drawn from and inspired by cultures from all around the world. Guild Wars really truly is a global game, I mean one of the things that makes it different is that everybody plays together on one big virtual seamless server network, instead of being divided into shards and zones. And so we wanted to reflect that international flavor of the game itself in the art style. And so what you will see with future campaigns is we’ll pick another culture or mythology from around the world and then kind of explore that as the foundation, not only for the architecture but the character designs, costuming, the dialogue, even the quests in the story is going to be driven by that.
That’s exactly the trait I underlined with my early “review” in beta.
To be honest it’s not completely true that Guild Wars isn’t divided into zones. Europe and America are still seaparated and I think you can join foreign players only if you move to the “international districts”, which are always empty. You can port the whole account to a different zone, but even this transition isn’t smooth within the game and you can only switch an handful of times before your account gets locked permanently. A smoother travel system would be welcome in the game, considering that the technology can easily support it. In particular beween euro/american zones.
The choice to not bind the game to a precise setting is both a strength and a weakness. From a side there’s the possibility to explore freely every myth and culture, from the other it reinforces a generic feel. The player becomes a “traveler of worlds” but the strong use of the instancing and the setting-independence make the game feel rather inconsistent. I’ll return on this point but the basic problem is that there’s very little persistence, so very little immersivity. The whole game is focused on your own character and this is not the best way to feel involved with something. It is already a weak-bond.
I also continue to see the release of the stand-alone expansion packs as something not simple to sustain. It surely puts much stress on the developers and requires an high creative commitment. It is a bold choice. We usually think just about the new content added but we forget that a game isn’t just about that. With the original Guild Wars we even bought brand new technology and game systems. Those aren’t rebuilt with the new expansions but just brought over. I’m skeptical about the actual possibility to keep the game always fresh with this type of restless development. See this discussion.
It’s important that the development focuses also to expand and polish the game systems instead of exclusively on the content. The commitment to release (and depend) on these semestral expansions could be problematic to work on both fronts. It’s an incentive to reuse the same tools and patterns to optimize the production instead of allowing to shift the resources to attempt new solutions.
Considering that they need to release full-priced standalone products it may be a good idea to reverse the model and lower the price of the previous exapansion as the new one comes out. I think this could convince more players that arrive now in the game to pay another 20$ to eventually get the first chapter, instead of expecting them to spend 100$ for both.