Sylvari – The Elves of Guild Wars 2!

The sylvari, together with the asura, are the races we haven’t yet gotten to play either in the closed beta or during the first beta weekend event. They both were playable during some gaming conventions (like GamesCom 2011), so we know they exist in a playable state, at least! But of course, not having been able to play them myself, I am very curious about them. I know I will love asura. There’s just no doubt about that. But what about the sylvari?

For me, they come close to what elves represent in other fantasy games. Think of your standard fantasy settings and now think of how many games include some kind of elves: Lord of the Rings Online, World of Warcraft, Everquest, Rift,… the list goes on. Elves are usually the fragile, elegant, gracious, wise and oooooold race. The sylvari are all of that with one exception; They are a very young race with the oldest sylvari being 25 years old. I’d assume that sylvari will most likely be the race to play when you’re usually an elf-lover because of their looks. But from their personality and their background, they’re rather unique.

They are a tree’s interpretation of humans. (Kristen Perry in Talk Tyria’s lore interview)

Let’s take a look at the sylvari: They can have elf-like ears (pointed, that is, in case you didn’t know). You can find a video showing the early sylvari character customization here (it starts at around 3:30). Their ears are pointed because they’re leaf-shaped. Which, oddly enough, is what Tolkien had in mind for his elves (see Wiki entry above). But it’s not that easy. Sylvari aren’t simply “the elves”. You have to look a bit closer to see the differences between elves (or humans) and sylvari. They are, in fact, plants that were built after humans because the Pale Tree, out of which they were “born”, knows what humans look like and modelled the sylvari after them. ArenaNet had published a blog post about Kristen Perry’s redesign of the sylvari (they did actually look very much like regular elves before).

“You’re five years old. How do you know so much?” (Riona to Killeen in “Ghosts of Ascalon”)

Sylvari have a basic understanding of the world that the Pale Tree gave them. But the Pale Tree only knows what it has seen and what was left written on a tablet in front of it. So of course, sylvari don’t know everything and especially not the finer nuances of relationships, conversations, humour and so on. Some concepts don’t exist for them. Something like “normal” is a foreign word if you haven’t established yet what the “norm” actually is. There are things they don’t know about themselves like ‘how old do they get?’. Will they age or whither?

At first, they didn’t understand humor too well, but over the years, the race has begun to show a sense of fun. (Ree Soesbee in Talk Tyria’s lore interview)

So all in all, we have a race here that is still developing and exploring – not just the world around them but their own existence and personalities. Sylvari are trying to find their place in the world. And they’re curious and eager to learn.

What piques my interest in this race is, apart from the gorgeous and unique looks, the opportunity to play a race that is exploring and discovering the world while I, as a player, am doing exactly the same. I can already see myself walking through the world, through the cities and up to the highest mountains (I always do that in every MMO where I can climb on mountains) and I, as well as my character, will get to see all of this for the very first time. I will figure out who I am in this game just as my sylvari character (most likely a necromancer, thanks to Killeen) will find out more about herself and the world around her. At this point, I also assume that the personal story will reflect that but I haven’t heard anything about their story yet.

I’m going to end this post with a gallery of sylvari. Those screenshots were all taken in Lion’s Arch and you can see that they’re all wearing their race’s clothes with the exception of one sylvari who’s a guard on a tower. Click on the pictures to see them in their full size. The thumbnails don’t always show the actual sylvari. 😉

If you want to read more about the sylvari, check out these links:
Sylvari Lore Interview with Ree Soesbee & Kristen Perry
Sylvari on the official GW2 page
Wiki entry about Sylvari
Angel McCoy on Writing the Sylvari
Dream and Nightmare
Kristen Perry on Designing and Redesigning the Sylvari

Further reading:

  • I completely disagree that the Sylvari are anything at all like classic elven races.

    In Lord of the Rings, elves are a superior old race posessed of great magic and wisdom that is weakening and dying or leaving.  The hobbits are the new naive race learning about the bigger scary world.  If any race is elven, the Asura are culturally more like the classic Lord of the Rings elves.  The Sylvari are far sociologically closer to new  race of hobbits just learning the perils of the larger, older world.

    • I think it’s more of the idea of the elven races which is rather similar to the sylvari. A swift and nimble creature of the jungle/forest which is magical, mysterious, graceful and elegant. The asura couldn’t be further away from the elves; the only common factor being that they’re both intelligent.

      Although for the elves, it’s more of wisdom than smarts, though yes, they’re both not mutually exclusive.

      • Paeroka

        Yes, exactly. Swift and nimble but not necessarily old and wise. It’s their look that will make elf-players want to play them and you may expect both races to live in a forest. Asura… not so much. ^^

        Hmm… maybe asura and elves also have that “magic comes to them naturally” in common. 

    • Paeroka

      Hmm… how far did you read? I compared the way elves appear (slender, elegant, all that) to the way sylvari look and I think that if somebody likes playing elves because of their appearance, then sylvari will be something they might like.
      Then I go on about the differences and what you’re talking about is exactly what I’m writing. Their society and (cultural) background is exactly what is different from the typical elves. 
      Edit: I’m sorry. I don’t go on literally about their differences. Maybe I should have added that sentence instead of just thinking about it. 😉 They *are* very much different from a cultural point. I just don’t mention that I think the similarities end with the way sylvari appear. 😉

    • Verene

       Tolkienesque elves are not the only type of elves that exist, though. If anything, the sylvari are the most like the sidhe of Irish/Celtic myths.

      • Paeroka

        Ha, when we start comparing elves with elves, we would probably find a huge difference between those alone. Which is why I concentrated on the look that elves usually have in MMOs. Much easier. 😉

        I’ve heard of sidhe but don’t know much about them. But I think I saw it mentioned somewhere together with sylvari. 

        • Verene

           I actually wrote about it pretty in-depth last year, before the redesign was revealed. I’m something of a sylvari aficionado 😉

          • Paeroka

            Oh, will have to look at that then! Too bad I didn’t see it before I did that post. 😉

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  • ArcherAvatar

    I find this race infinitely intriguing, and after the re-design by Kristen Perry, they are equally appealing aesthetically.  The truly “alien” nature of the sylvari draws me to them, and inspires my imagination.

    In recent days (since the first public BWE) I’m leaning more and more towards a soldier class (warrior or guardian) for my first sylvari character… someone with a bit of bark on ’em, ya know?  My necro will most likely be an asura now, although at one point I was strongly considering sylvari for that profession.

    There were numerous sylvari in the BWE, scattered all over the world of Tyria, but the most interesting “first contact” with them for me was down in the southern portions of the human lands where they share a “border” with the sylvari lands.  The small encampment of sylvari there who were fighting off constant waves of undead invaders was one of many “atmospheric” accomplishments of the game.  I can’t wait to experience more.

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