[GW2] Sylvari: Not so new, not that bad

I haven’t made a secret of my disinterest in GW2’s Sylvari on this blog and it seems overall I am in good company. I never liked the nightelves much in WoW either – the ethereal and detached thing they got going on, praying to Elune and generally living in pink forests. It’s not even that I dislike elves or any variation thereof per default; there are some awesome, badass elves and drows in fantasy literature, from complex and grim fighters to more merry and flamboyant characters. Much rather, it’s an issue of how elves are represented in many MMOs as these peace-loving, self-indulgent hippies who care more about their flower garden than the rest of the world. That is a general concern for all so-called friendly and pacifist MMO races: how am I supposed to choose any of them for a competent errr….fighter? Like it or not, you’re killing stuff in MMOs and lots of it. You are also quite meddlesome.

So, already from that point of view the Sylvari aren’t very appealing. As an aside, I didn’t particularly like their starting area either – it is pink and lush Teldrassil all over, just with a lot more shine.
What I will say in their defense though, after having played one for maybe 30 minutes this past beta weekend, is that ANet achieved a little more than just copying the MMO elf archetype. For one thing, there is the whole plant people concept; Sylvari ARE plants (sorta) which creates all kinds of interesting implications that have been discussed elsewhere. And although I wonder why they still need to hide all their “sensitive parts” in the character creation, the race design and customization achieves to transmit a genuinely unique and alien feel for this race. Their hair is straw, leaves or gnarly twigs, the shape of their limbs and body texture consequently fulfill the botanic premise.

What sets them apart from your staple elves too is that they aren’t ancient but in fact the youngest of all Tyrian races (I believe 25 years old). This “freshness” is even reflected in their looks, the way they move or stand still and their facial expression; it’s as if they beheld everything around them for the very first time. The Sylvari are noobs.

Alas, none of that will entice me to play one, but I feel ANet deserves that much: they’ve put some thought into their last race (which got completely re-designed very late into development) and the thematic coherence in design. Not that the plant people idea was actually so new either – in fact I’d bet my little finger that there was at least one lead designer among ANet’s “Sylvari camp” who happens to have enjoyed a very old RPG by Capcom!

Enter Spar – The plant creature

Once upon a time there was a very classic JRPG on Super NES called Breath of Fire. I remember this with fond nostalgia because its sequel, Breath of Fire 2 was the very first RPG I ever bought with my own money and played through. That was endless painful hours of grinding levels, excruciating random encounters and praying for a save-point….and oh, did I love it! It was also a time when I didn’t have English classes yet in school and so I ended up playing the game with a dictionary in my lap. Yes, here in Europe we actually often had to deal with imports (or else stare at ugly PAL bars on our TV screens). Breath of Fire 2 opened the world of RPGs to me – the rest is history.

It so happens that one of the most awesome characters you can recruit for your party in BoF2 is Spar, the plant creature. You meet him (/her) the first time at a traveling circus where he is actually up for display. Later on, he sends you on a quest to wake the Wise Tree (figures) from an unending nightmare, which is when you recruit him. Spar is generally indifferent and devoid of emotions. He has grown from a sapling and looks forward to becoming a tree himself one day. He’s a weak fighter, his best abilities revolving around support and use of environment; his Nature spell will actually grow a flower bed or sprout cactuses depending on where you are. Then, there are his shamanistic alter egos: the onion sprout, the leafy drake…..and a girl wearing a mushroom cap.

….Sound familiar enough? Well, Spar also looks like this:


If this is not the direct Sylvari inspiration, I don’t know what is (I c wut u did thar, ANet)!


  1. This was my first (and therefore only) Beta weekend in GW2, so it was all new to me. I loved the Asura race, but I quite enjoyed the Sylvari as well. (Admittedly Spar really does look like an inspiration!) It wasn’t really about their story or looks though, but just because somehow I felt that their movement was smoother than that of the humans/norn.

    It’s probably just me, or having something off in my graphics settings (I didn’t really bother looking at it too much), but I found the humans/norn to move a bit stiffly/oddly. Whereas I found the Sylvari and Asura to have a much better feel to them while moving around. Again, it’s quite possibly just some setting on my side, but it has me quite certain I want to play one of those races. I just haven’t quite decided which one yet. The Asura is definitely awesome, but I’m not sure I want to give my friend the satisfaction of having me play the “little ones” that he’s so fond of.

    1. Nah, a few of us commented that Sylvari, Asura and Charr all run better than Human and Norn characters. No idea why, but it’s leading me towards one of the better movers in the world.

    2. @Saga

      Oy, I had no idea you were looking into GW2, nice! 🙂
      and I thought the exact same thing as you – the movement and stances of the Asura and Sylvari is a lot more polished than for the other races. I think it shows that they spent significantly more time on them, not just in terms of duration but cracking their heads how to give them proper looks and feel. the issue with human races is everyone thinks they’re easy enough without taking the same care. but who knows, maybe the will improve them at some point (I remember a similar overhaul of movements at the end of vanilla WoW).

    1. I came here to say this! Loved Sylvans in DAoC…except for animists…. screw those guys.

      It’s totally not a new idea, but ArenaNet did a bang on job with the art direction of a plant based humanoid, and the story of how they are born mixed with the idea that they are young and want to learn everything they can about the world is pretty great. Not for me, I’m going Norn, but really cool.

    2. I never played DAoC but I keep hearing about this race; indeed they look a bit like the Sylvari too. obviously nobody can claim to have invented the idea of plant people, Spar form BoF2 just strikes me as particularly close to the Sylvari, down to even small details.

  2. The 70ies are definitely before my time! 😉
    thing is, the Sylvari don’t actually remind me of elves so much which is kinda cool. they have the same overall theme going on and character similarities, but in terms of pure looks they really feel more alien in GW2. they did a good job on that.

  3. BoF2 was one of my favorite SNES RPGs! And the Spar connection occurred to me too — it’d be cool if the mushroom hat was a homage to them.

  4. It’s been said, and with a surprising deal of accuracy, that in Guild Wars 2 the HUMAN race is actually the one that hits most of the tropes normally associated with Ye Olde Galacticke Standarde Tolkien-Breede Elves. An elder race in its decline, clinging to the shreds of its former grandeur and nobility and acting all high-and-mighty haughty towards the younger races who’ve come along and usurped its place. While I had a great deal of fun poking my buddies about how the Sylvari were totally green elves when the first driblets of information came out about them – an activity helped by all the Celtic and Arthurian myth seeded through their lore. I mean god damn, gimme MORE ammo for the elf launchers, whydoncha? – after their redesign and after playing them in Bwee Three, they don’t really remind me of elves. I consider that a triumph of GW2’s race design.

    Humans, however, DO remind me of Ye Olde Typickale Elves. Possibly because, much like YOTE, humans and the human race in general in GW2 are gigantic throbbing douchebags. Charr for the friggin’ win.

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