Asura may be tiny, but this interview with ArenaNet's Jeff Grubb and Ree Soesbee (game and content designers for Guild Wars 2) was so large we had to split it into two parts. Part 1 focused on the magical floating city of Rata Sum. In this section we focus more on the lore of the minuscule warriors along with a few bonuses. Read on to get more info on the amazing race that connected all of Tyria.
PCG: Tell us about the Asura, who are they?
Jeff Grubb: The Asura first appeared in Eye of the North, which was the last of our Guild Wars product. They were a subterranean race that were driven to the surface by the Great Destroyer, who was one of the harbingers, the heralds of Primordus, one of our elder dragons. The big thing that happened between Guild Wars 1 and Guild Wars 2 is the awakening of the elder dragons, these very powerful, titanic elemental forces that are ravaging the world. Now the Asura were a refugee race. They were sent to the surface where they set up shop inside some old ruins, Rata Sum. Since then, it's been nothing but getting better for them all the time. They have taken Rata Sum itself and carved out a huge cube of stone and magically levitated it so it is hovering above the surrounding areas. Rata Sum is now honeycombed with colleges, the schools, the laboratories, the support network, the arcane council, and in the depths, the golems. Servitor golems are still mining out and building new rooms for everything. They've been a very successful race.
The original Asura are diminutive, they have long ears and big eyes that fits with their underground nature. They're the smartest kids on the block. Asura are magical but they approach their magic from an intellectual approach rather than a holistic one. They're a race of mad wizards, highly competitive and very proud. They do not suffer fools gladly, and they really don't hesitate before they throw you into the fools' bucket.
PCG: How have relations and social situations changed between Asura and the other races?
JG: I think the Asura have worked their way into the fabric of other races much more effectively than the other races have done so. The Humans and the Charr of course have been fighting for centuries, so when you see a Charr in Divinity's Reach, it's, “Oh my god, why is the Charr here?” The Sylvari are new, people still don't know what to make of them. The Norn leave a swath of broken beer kegs—ha, no, a swath of adventure behind. But the Asura have moved in. There are Asura Gates in all of the major cities, so therefore, they are part and parcel of the components of the world. They've actually worked very well as far as working with other races. Which is a little bit scary because Asura tend to be a little manipulative as well.
RS: Well, I want to add a caveat to that, which is that they're not doing that well with the Sylvari. They had terrible issues the first time they met a Sylvari, and they didn't understand it was a sentient creature, and they did a whole lot of tests on it before they realized the talky mouth noises it was making were actually language and that it was intelligent. Then they had to go and make reparations to some extent, as much as an Asura ever would. And that has caused tension between the two races for the 25 years of the Sylvari's existence. Because those two cities are very very close to one another, there has definitely been some squabbling. I wouldn't say they have the same war as the Humans and the Charr, but they get along in sort of a testy way.
JG: I always put out the idea that the Asura have intelligence, but not necessarily wisdom. Whereas the Sylvari is the reverse: they have the wisdom, but they don't have the knowledge of the world.
PCG: You also mentioned that Asura are kind of going to be an enemy in this regard with the meta-krewe Inquest.
JG: Well, you talk about being a krewe, the krewe being the basic unit of, you have a prop, you bring a bunch of Asura together for a krewe, and you disperse them—it's like movie production. The Inquest, at its core, is a method by which you organize so everybody gets knowledge. Which is to say, the Inquest gets knowledge. And in order to do that, they've made some major changes to the way Asura function. You no longer are working on your project, you're working on part of a project that we tell you to. You join us, you're part of the group, you've got the eternal NDA, you don't leave the Inquest, you belong to us, we will recruit you, we may recruit you even if you don't want to be recruited.
Most Asuras will not experiment on sentients. That's one of those things that's just not a good thing. The Inquest don't have that limitation. They are more willing to not just manipulate, but to harm others because they've made the judgment that they're superior and therefore have the right to do what they will without worrying about you. If and when they screw up, they don't hang around to deal with their messes. In Metrica province in one of the early areas, there's an area that was an Inquest base. They were experimenting with things no Asura should mess with. And the area is a magical Chernobyl right now, and yes, your story takes you into that. They are essentially knowledge without wisdom.
PCG: Are they a group of outcasts?
RS: Oh goodness no! They're very integrated and very powerful. When you have that many Asura working together toward a common goal, you really have a force to be reckoned with. The Asura as a people are ruled by an Arcane Council. In theory the Arcane Council is supposed to be the best and the brightest among us, but in reality it's, some of the best and the brightest that really couldn't get out of the politics and are stuck with it. The Inquest actively looks for those positions, they're actively trying to get the race as a whole to listen to their ideas and to sort of work for their krewe. In an Inquest magical future, the Inquest are the Asura—that's all there are.
JG: They see themselves as the future of the Asura, and the Nightmare Court are outcasts, and the Sons of Svanir are the rowdy guys that, if they don't make trouble, will be tolerated. The Inquest are Lex Luthor in Metropolis. They have tangible political power.
RS: And it's hard for any other Asura to really discount them. You can devalue their methods, you can disagree with their ethics, but wow, do they get results!
PCG: What type of player would enjoy the Asura?
JG: There will be a lot of smart people going into the Asura, a lot of people who have personal drives for making their character the best. One thing—and this ties in with what Ree just said—the animations for the warriors are really cool. We didn't expect this. Most of the Asura you're going to encounter will be from the magical side. There are Asura warriors, there are Asura guardians, but most of the guys you encounter will be from the elementalist, necromancer magic user-type school and professions. As a player character, you can play anything, and we saw a lot of people in the demos at GamesCom and PAX playing Asura warriors. In part because they look really cool as a little guy in full-plate armor with a huge sword!
RS: One time at GamesCom, I was standing and watching the people on the screen, and they were fighting the big dragon. The big demo dragon had come up, and someone had just made an Asura with a gigantic blue afro, and he was doing the roll on the ground. People were running over to his character instead of watching this gigantic fight going on behind him. “The dragon is going to kill you all—ooooh, afro!”
JG: The laugh animation is very good for the video story. He literally throws himself on the ground and rolls around.
RS: And wipes some tears.
PCG: Are we going to see any more of an emotional side to the Asura through this process? We've seen that with other races.
JG: Oh yes. There are Asura love stories.
RS: In fact one of the early Asura story chains has to do with a male and a female Asura who are in love, and the female Asura undergoes a horrible laboratory accident and they have to deal with it.
JG: There are Asura love stories.
RS: I think we said earlier that one of the things an Asura parent might say is that their child is their finest invention.