The follow-up to the highly successful (and at the time, groundbreaking) subscription-free Guild Wars (and its add-on packs Factions, Nightfall and true expansion Eye of the North), Guild Wars 2 has been in development by ArenaNet for, seemingly decades, but in reality since early 2007.
The original Guild Wars was a critical and commercial success, but was far from the perfect game. In particular, criticisms were aimed at the fact that the world is so highly instanced that you sometimes forget that it is an MMO at all. In essence, it was lacking the "massively." Also, each of the 10 classes (or "professions" as they are known in the GW universe) had literally dozens of skills available, each needing to be bought or otherwise obtained from various high-level monsters in the game.
ArenaNet seem to have taken these and other criticisms on board, and have stated that, although GW2 will still use instancing, it will be at a more toned-down level to the first game. Hopefully the accumulation of class skills will likewise be addressed, as it is something that got slightly out of hand in the first game.
In another departure from the first game, players will be able to create non-human characters. While there were other races included in the first game, none of them were playable, so everyone was a human. Playing a human is still an option, only now it isn't just the only option.
The other playable races are:
Each race will come with its own racial bonus to characters that choose that race (think WoW racial bonuses) but will hopefully not be as overpowered to make everyone who wants to play class X pick race Y.
Speaking of classes (sorry, professions) Guild Wars 2 will sport eight of them, down from the 10 of the original (when adding up all of the extra professions from the expansions) which I suspect will make balancing and testing a fair bit easier.
So far only four of the eight have been announced and they are four that should be familiar to anyone that played the first game. They are the Necromancer, Warrior, Elementalist and Ranger. No love so far for my favourite class from the first game, the Mesmer, but I still have hope of seeing them in the sequel in one form or another.
If you've seen anything that interests you then I'd strongly urge you to take a look at a couple of the videos that ArenaNet has released regarding Guild Wars 2. First off there is the introduction to the new races of Guild Wars 2 (216MB, 1080p, WMV format) and the more recent "manifesto" video where some of the core concepts that ArenaNet wished to build GW2 around were detailed (319MB, 1080p, WMV format).
Graphically the game looks impressive, even though it's still running on the same core engine that the original Guild Wars was built on and that is a game that was released five years ago. Obviously ArenaNet are heavily modifying the engine for the sequel with added bells and whistles. This is far from a bad thing, as I was extremely impressed by the visuals in the original game.
So when are we likely to get our sweaty hands on Guild Wars 2? ArenaNet and their publisher, NCsoft, are being coy, but a mid-to-late 2011 release date seems likely. There is the outside chance of the closed beta beginning before the end of this calendar year, although that is pure speculation.
Either way Guild Wars 2 cannot come out soon enough. The first game may have done well but it was lacking in certain areas, almost all of which seem to have been addressed in the sequel. ArenaNet's promise to "put the player first" has been repeated by so many developers that I'm sure many publications keep it set in type so they can easily roll it out again when the next developer brings it up, but perhaps in this case they actually mean it. I'd be all for an MMO in a persistent world where the decisions I made actually mattered both to me and to my character's story.
With luck we'll all get to see whether or not ArenaNet can actually live up to their promises in the not-too-distant future. Hopefully we won't all be flying space cars and eating meals in pill form by then.