The children of the forest

If you know me, there’s something about GW2 that you know I’m waiting very impatiently to hear about (well, two things. This is about one of them). If you don’t know me well, then it should be clear, at least, from this blog’s name and design that there’s one race in particular I love.

Yes, the sylvari. That mysterious race of human-like beings, born from the Pale Tree in the Grove. But just who are they?

Concept art of a sylvari

At this point, we don’t know a huge amount about them. They’re a brand new race, not appearing at all in the first Guild Wars game, though you can visit the area that becomes the Grove and that houses the Pale Tree seedling in Eye of the North (it’s on one of the islands in the middle of Arbor Bay, if you haven’t yet seen it). We’ve yet to see their race week. In fact, at this point, we don’t really know how they’re going to look!

So, then, what is the allure of them?

The fact that they are so new and different is certainly part of it. We know that it’s possible, and probably likely, that the idea for the sylvari originally came from the sidhe, a race that was designed for Utopia. That, in turn, they were likely inspired by the aos sí/aes sídhe of Irish mythology.

That in itself makes them unusual; while fantasy games always draw heavily from legends and mythology (and Guild Wars is no different), usually if there’s an elven or fae race, they are based on Tolkienesque elves. Here, that is not the case. Irish fae are not Tolkien elves, even though there are elves amongst the fae. Irish fae cover a number of different types of faeries and elves, some of which are generally good and peaceful, some not so much. They were often referred to as nature spirits, care was taken to not offend them, they were often seen as fierce guardians of their homes (often a special tree or grove, faerie ring, or mound), and they were described as inhumanly beautiful, but sometimes terribly so.

Another sylvari concept art

It’s not really a mythology that’s been used much in games. Sure, Rift has the Aelfwar, which draw from Irish myths, but for the most part, elves in that game (and any game) are based more on Tolkien’s elves. Mysterious, aloof, ancient, unchanging. The sylvari are most certainly not that. They are a brand new race; as of the time of GW2, the oldest sylvari is only 23 years old. They may seem a bit apart from the rest of the races, but that is simply because they are so new and do not have the prejudices that the other races have build up. Mysterious, yes, but also curious. Endlessly curious. A sylvari, newly born from the fruit of the Pale Tree, will want to do learn about everything she can see. They are born with the knowledge and intelligence that those came before had, but they want to learn things on their own. Experience things themselves. Become their own person.

They tend to be very direct and honest, and somewhat lacking in tact; if there’s a subject that another race would tiptoe around or not mention at all, you can trust a sylvari to bring it up anyway. They take things at face value and are seen as naive. Death is not something they completely understand; their fascination with it and trying to understand it can come off as slightly disturbing to other races. They hold an agnostic view of the human gods, wanting to see proof of their existence before believing.

And then there is also the Nightmare Court. Within the Dream of Dreams, the connection with the Pale Tree that gives a newborn sylvari their knowledge, there are terrible nightmares, which they do not understand. There are some sylvari who have chosen to embrace those nightmares. They attempt to understand them, while committing acts of evil. They wish to eventually corrupt the Pale Tree itself with this evil and depravity that they embrace.

Definitely not very Tolkienesque, right?

Sylvari, before being redesigned

Of course, the biggest thing everyone is waiting for is the reveal of their redesign. We don’t know how they’re going to look yet! Supposedly, the redesign was completed back in October 2010, but no news has been released about it. No images, no new concept art, no videos, nothing. Every release has very conspicuously excluded the sylvari. We don’t even know how much was redesigned; if it was just something small like redrawing the faces to look a little less human and more fae, or if they were completely redone from the ground up.

Personally, I am hoping for something less human and more fae. I like the green and brown of the skin colors and leafy hair shown in both concept arts and screenshots of their old design, but I’d like that to be pushed further. Exaggerate their facial features further. Make their eyes larger and maybe have the iris be all that’s visible. Smaller noses, sharper cheekbones. They’re human-like, yes, but they should be immediately recognizable as non-humans.

The only sylvari tidbit I saw from the fan open house was that in character creation, you can select sylvari patterns. I’m assuming that this means facial markings and skin patterns, something which you can see a lot of in concept arts. I sure hope so.

I wish there was more information on the sylvari. I wish we could see the new design already, and I do hope that it’s announced soon. And I’m sure I’m not the only one. And so, I leave you with a question – what do you think of the sylvari, and what are you hoping for when they are officially revealed?

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4 thoughts on “The children of the forest

  1. I share your hope that the redesign of the sylvari results in a more “alien” looking appearance, and less of a “human with green skin” appearance.

    Like so many others, I find even the concept of this race to be completely fascinating, and a member of it will certainly be among the very first characters I create once GW2 is released. I especially like how you touched on the difference in their perspective in your article. My better half shares your opinion on this quite strongly. Her first, and quite possibly only, (she tends to get quite attached to her characters) character will be a sylvari necromancer because, as she says, “It’s perfectly natural for a plant to see the corpses of animals as ‘useful things.'” And, as you pointed out, the sylvari are more than a little curious about this whole “death” business.

    Although every sylvari is an individual, I see their race in general as a perfect fit for membership in the Durmand Priory (which is the order I suspect I will end up preferring as well) The RP possibilities are tantalizing.

    Hopefully, the race weeks for the asura and sylvari, as well as the 8th and final profession, are just being held until the big Gamescon and PAX Prime conventions this summer, at which time we will all have at least some of our curiousity satiated.

    • I’ve always loved fantasy, and have always been very big on fae lore and mythology, so I was drawn to the sylvari from the very start. I’m personally holding out on Mesmer being announced as the last profession, because sylvari Mesmer is what I intend to play as my main character.

      I think they will be just a really, really fun race to play, since they have so little history and you can pretty much do what you want with them.

      Most of the big announcements with GW2 (profession reveals, HoM, race weeks, etc) have happened on a ~6 week schedule so far, and it’s been about 5 weeks since the Engineer reveal. So while I down the sylvari redesign will be the next big thing, we should be getting something new very soon, and as Gamescom and PAX are about 6-7 weeks away…maybe sylvari will be revealed then. I sure hope so!

      • I’m curious if you listen to the Guildcast, episode #47, (http://guildcast.wordpress.com/) and if so, what did you make of the few details Rubi was able to give on the “glimpse” of the sylvari redesign she thinks she might have spotted at the fanday?

        To me it sounded like they probably didn’t go as far towards the more *alien* look of the Sidhe (Irish/Celtic fae) as I would have liked but, they at least moved their appearance further away from “cartoonish.” Rubi was also quick with the caveats that she did not get confirmation from any of the DEVs there. If what she saw was a redesigned sylvari, it sounded like it might have been the “new-look” Caithe that she caught a glimpse of.

        I’m still holding out much hope as far as the appearance of this race but, I’m actually so curious about them in general that I will almost certainly be playing a sylvari on day one even if they aren’t as aesthetically pleasing to me as I would hope. Can’t wait to learn more of their lore in-game.

  2. Pingback: Sylvari fangirl, reporting for duty! « Under the Pale Tree

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