Norrath to Tyria: Races – Walking a Mile (or a Hundred) in Someone Else’s Shoes

As with their classes, EverQuest 2 has a massive number of race choices available.  More than most MMOs, in fact.  There are the variations of human-looking races (Elves, Humans, Erudites, Barbarians, Fae, Gnomes, Halflings, etc), but there are also more fantastic races available (Ogres, Trolls, Lizards, Rats, Cats, Frogs, etc).  There’s a ton available.

Multiple races in MMOs give players a chance to step into the shoes of a person with a completely different experience, and therefore lends itself to a lot of fun roleplaying different beliefs and attitudes.  Even if that’s not for you, just looking different than normal can be enough to make your playtime refreshing.

For this post I’ll only be going over the playable races in GW2 and similarities with EQ2 races.  Guild Wars 2 brings a distinct feel to every race in the game.  Even the non-playable races have their own unique feel, although that’s not really the point of this article.  Let’s see what we have available in Guild Wars 2.

Drastic Change

One major difference you’ll notice right away is number of races available.  There are only five races in Guild Wars 2: Humans, Charr, Norn, Asura, and Sylvari.  Having such a low number of races compared to EQ2 shouldn’t be considered a negative though; in this case the low number means a lot of effort has been spent on each race to flesh out their lore and make them have the depth and atmosphere a unique race deserves.  For example, each race gets its own racial city and racial skills, as well as highly fleshed out culture, identity, and belief systems.  In addition, the specific race you choose determines a huge part of your Personal Story, encouraging you to play every race at least once to see the permutations.

The second major point is that unlike EverQuest 2, there are no split factions like Good/Evil, Qeynos/Freeport, etc , and instead all playable races have only one faction.  Players can enter any racial city without conflict and deal/group/whatever with anyone from other races.  That’s certainly not to say that everything is hugs and kisses on the lore side, nor will you receive pleasant reactions from everyone.  The humans and charr, for example, have hundreds of years of bloodshed that players will still find lingering despite their current truce, and the sylvari do not trust the asura very much due to some…unfortunate incidents that occurred when they first met.

As a third point that is more minor, there are no such thing as “Racial Traditions” in GW2.  Instead, players get racial skills that provide significant flavor towards the races as well as allowing the distinctness into the gameplay itself, and can work as a sort of secondary profession to provide specific benefits unavailable to the character’s actual profession.  (These racial skills do not carry over into structured PvP.)

There is one major similarity, though.  Just like EverQuest 2 you are not limited in your profession choice based on your race.  Each of the 5 races can be any of the 8 professions…even if it doesn’t always make perfect sense.  Some races do not like or are less inclined to be certain professions, to the point where that race/profession combination may be uncommon or even very rare in-game as far as NPCs are concerned.  Players are considered to be the exceptional members of each race though, and rise above the general feelings that race may have.

ArenaNet goes a long way towards making each race very distinct and separate from the others.  EverQuest 2 players may notice that certain themes seem similar, so it may be easy to find a comfortable place in the new races if you look properly.  Let’s go through some general characteristics of the races.  These previews below are only a glimpse at the amount of information available for each race, so I’ve also provided links to the website and wiki info for them.


Humans are relatively normal humans with a strong European medieval flavor, although 250 years have somewhat advanced their technology.  As expected, they are most similar to the humans in EQ2.  They are the underdogs in GW2, having lost two of their three kingdoms and are currently being beaten back by centaurs and bandits, along with political tensions in their rulers.  Their lands are Kryta, with the great city of Divinity’s Reach as the last bastion of hope for humans as their other kingdoms have been destroyed.

Just like Qeynos and Freeport, humans are ruled by a single person, Queen Jennah, with a representative democracy known as the Ministry supporting the government.   Humans are also the most religious of the races, believing in a pantheon of gods known as The Six: Dwayna, Balthazar, Melandru, Lyssa, Grenth, and Kormir.  The Six have been silent for a while though, leading some to question their devotion (although, unlike EQ2, this did not cause massive cataclysms).  Their racial skills are prayers to each of the gods, with Prayer to Balthazar summoning two massive fiery hounds and Prayer to Melandru transforming the player into an Oakheart (a living, four-legged mass of branches).

Humans are not actually native to this world.  They were brought here by their gods and then spread throughout the world.  The humans were also the ones who started the Guild Wars, a long series of bloody wars that gave the games their name.  Much of known Guild Wars lore is from the perspective of humans alone, as they were the only playable race in the first game.

Further information on the humans can be found at the following links:


Charr are a race of cat-like beasts that focus on industrial power and military efficiency.  The closest EQ2 races would be the Sarnak in culture, but the Kerra/Vah Shir in appearance (vaguely).  The charr have strong roman themes, using titles such as Gladium and Legionnaire.  They also have the highest non-magical technology in the game, having already devised cannons, flamethrowers, and vehicles as war machines.  They were an antagonist in Guild Wars 1, but have been fleshed out and included as a playable race in Guild Wars 2, having reached a tentative truce with Queen Jennah.  Their main city is the Black Citadel, a mass of metal and machinery.

Charr are separated into four Legions: Iron, Ash, Blood, and Flame.  Each legion has a specific focus:  Iron focuses on machines, Blood trains the troops, and Ash deals in secrets and reconnaissance.  The Flame legion is a disgraced shamanic legion that previously had controlled the entire charr culture during Guild Wars 1 due to allying with beings known as Titans, but was overthrown in a rebellion and they now seek mainly to reclaim their previous level of power over the rest of the charr.

Due to their experiences with the Flame legion, charr do not worship anything at all, believing it to be weak to rely on beings more powerful than themselves.  Instead, they focus on the strength of their legions and industrial power.  Their racial skills reflect this focus on war and technology, allowing them to use battle roars, call in a member of their warband, lay mines, or call in an aerial barrage on their foes.

Further information on the charr can be found at the following links:


Norn are a race of proud, large, and boisterous shape-changers, similar to a cross between vikings and native americans.  They are most similar to the Barbarians in EQ2.  The norn are a very individualistic race, with each member working to build their own heroic legend to be retold by the storytellers, known as skaalds, and by extension gain immortality among their people.  The focal point of norn society is the homestead of Hoelbrak.

The norn do not really have a leader, as they are a race of heroes who carve their own path.  Hoelbrak itself is run by the Master of the Lodge, Knut Whitebear, who keeps the lands around it safe.  The norn do not worship gods, but instead revere and venerate the Spirits of the Wild.  These spirits each embody certain virtues and lessons to teach the norn: Bear teaches Strength, Raven teaches Wisdom, Snow Leopard teaches Cunning, and Wolf teaches unity in numbers.  The norn racial skills give them the ability to call upon these and other spirits for aid and even transform into forms related to these main four spirits.

The norn originally lived in the north, but after the Elder Ice Dragon Jormag awoke the Spirits of the Wild led them south to avoid certain destruction (as the entire norn race desired to fight Jormag to prove their strength).  Aesgir, anscestor of Knut, fought Jormag and broke his tooth which now resides in the Great Lodge in Hoelbrak.  It is legend that one day a norn will shatter the tooth and lead their people back north to re-take their former lands.

Further information on the norn can be found at the following links:


Sylvari are a race of humanoid plants that that first started appearing only 25 years ago.  They embody many themes from Arthurian legends, despite being child-like and naive.  They have a strong sense of learned chivalry and honor to balance their curiosity and eagerness.  While many may be tempted to link them with the elvish races in EQ2, I actually feel they’re closer to the Fae/Arysai and are not very elvish at all (despite the pointed ears you can choose).  They make their home in the Grove, where their mother, the Pale Tree, resides.

The most influential member of the sylvari is the Pale Tree, who gives guidance to her children.  Following her, the  Firstborn act as leaders for the sylvari people.  The Firstborn, as implied by their name, are the first group of 12 sylvari that were born from the tree and therefore have the most experience.

The sylvari are agnostic, having no real concept of religion or worship when they are born.  The sylvari have a code of ethics guiding them, learned from the Ventari tablet that was left at the base of the tree by a centaur (Ventari), who preached peace and tolerance.  In addition, the sylvari have the Dream, a metaphysical existence that contains the experiences of the entire sylvari race.  They take various things from the dream when they’re born, though not everything, making each sylvari’s personality and knowledge different.  Their racial skills revolve around plants, allowing them to create plant turrets, trap enemies in vines, and summon nature spirits to their aid.

Why do they look human?

This is a common question that I wanted to include here.  While looking similar to humans, they are born fully formed adults from the Pale Tree, and are made up from plant materials such as leaves and vines for skin, petals for hair, and sap for blood.  Theories vary as to why they look human, but it’s assumed that the human form is just what the Pale Tree knows best, having grown alongside humans for most of her early life.  She was also planted on human graves as a memorial, leading the asura to believe the absorption of their bodies had a major influence.

Further information on the sylvari can be found at the following links:


Asura are a diminutive race of almost entirely mad scientists.  They are most similar to Gnomes from EQ2…very close in fact.  The Gnomes in EQ2 are based on the “tinker gnome” archetype from D&D, which were at least partly created by Jeff Grubb…the very same designer who created the asura in GW2.  Unlike that archetype though, asuran inventions tend to actually work.  Really well.  Asura are a race best summed up as being the smartest kids in the room, and not do they know it, but more importantly they want you to know it.  They are the most magically powerful race in GW2, even constructing golem servants to do heavy work.  Their central hub of operations is the floating city of Rata Sum.

Asura also do not have a leader, preferring to work in makeshift Krewes, a temporary arrangement pulling together asura with necessarily skills for a task and then breaking up afterwards.  There is an Arcane Council which safeguards Rata Sum, but it is made up of asura who were not smart enough to get out of the responsibility.  Most asura would rather be pursuing their own creative experiments rather than deal with bureaucracy.

The asura believe in a philosophy known as the Eternal Alchemy, which defines the world and everyone in it, and work to understand the interactions between it and how they fit into this philosophy.  They have a strict rule against experimenting against sentient beings, a rule one organization known as the Inquest does not follow, leading to much strife between the Inquest and the rest of asuran society.  Golems and inventions play a large part in asuran society, and their racial skills reflect this.  Asura can summon golems and even a battlesuit anyone can pilot.

Further information on the asura can be found at the following links:

Pick what you want to play

As you can see, each race is distinct with their own massive racial city, theme, history, political systems, beliefs, culture, and internal factions, resulting in a unique feel regardless of which race you pick.  Depending on how much you get into each race’s culture, it can really change your experience to pick a different one.

Each player’s personal story is also affected, as the early parts of the story deal with local issues as you rise in power, and continue to have relevance as you play when you interact with your own racial leaders to help fight against the threat of the Elder Dragons.

Do not worry if you pick a different race from a friend, though.  Each racial city has an asura portal leading to Lion’s Arch, a 6th major hub city which has portals to each of the racial cities as well as the WvW portals.  These portals are accessible immediately after the tutorial, allowing players to go to other racial areas and join up with their friends immediately.  Simply look for the purple swirl on the city map, or ask an NPC for directions (they will be marked with a “Directions” tag or something similar, not every guard can give directions like EQ2).

All in all, Guild Wars 2 may not have the wide range of racial choices from EQ2, but the choices they do have are extremely detailed to make up for it.  Take the time to try out each race, you’re likely to find one that fits well.

Side note:  As many know, Guild Wars 2 is launching tomorrow (maybe tonight if they start the servers early enough).  While I originally wanted to get through a lot more of these prior to launch, it didn’t happen that way.  I’ll still make some more going forward that I want to talk about, based on what I see from in-game, but this series of articles will likely slow down (as will all posts for a little bit due to unavoidable GW2 OMG-I-wanna-play-now).  What will likely happen is that they become more compressed, with fewer images and mainly just text going over the differences between various features.

Images are © 2012 ArenaNet, Inc. All rights reserved. NCsoft, ArenaNet,, Guild Wars, Guild Wars 2, and all associated logos and designs are trademarks or registered trademarks of NCsoft Corporation. All other trademarks are the property of their respective owners.


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