“Anything you can do I can do better.” The Asura are a race of tiny mad scientist geniuses. They are short of stature but they make up for it with a profound understanding of the magics of the world and with a titanic arrogance. They are powerful mages, brilliant thinkers, and they will stop at nothing short of enforcing their will upon the world and bending it to their wills.
From the depths they rise
Long before they encountered any of the predominant races in Guild Wars 2, the Asura lived under the surface of Tyria. As a subterranean race, they evolved to have several physical characteristics one might expect: large eyes, lightly pigmented (gray) skin, large ears, and a small stature. It is unknown how or when their great intelligence developed, or if indeed they were always extremely intelligent, but we do know that even as of 250 years ago they were extremely advanced in their knowledge and workings of magic. Back when the other races were barely discovering gunpowder, the Asura had already created and lost a great civilization with floating buildings and automated golems.
Until the events of Eye of the North, the Asura had lived almost entirely underground. However, the awakening of the Destroyers and subsequently the Elder Dragon Primordus drove them from their subterranean world. In fact, had they been located in a different part of Tyria, say under the Crystal Desert or under Ascalon, they may have never been displaced and could have continued living underground to this day. Among their many innovations, the Asura civilization had been spread around and connected via Asuran Gates. Arguably, these gates are one of the most powerful devices that the Asura have created. Their potential for communication, supply, warfare and travel is immense. Unfortunately, all of these strengths are what lead to the widespread destruction of their underground civilization. The gates were unsecured and the Destroyers used them to spread through Asuran civilization and systematically attack the Asura.
Where many races could see this as a world ending catastrophe, the Asura merely think of it as a new reason to come up with more flexible and powerful designs. Given the free space of the open above-ground world, they have opted for more tactically constructed buildings. Aside from being aesthetically fantastic, the fact that new buildings can float gives them the ability to literally be moved to new locations without undue difficulty. It wouldn’t be easy, but it is certainly within the ability of the Asura. If I recall correctly, even the gates are more secure and wouldn’t be able to be used by invaders without the assistance of an Asura.
We’re Pinky, they’re The Brain.
Asura are always trying to improve things. Where many would see something that works, they see something that can and should be improved. To the Asura, nothing is ever beyond improvement. As a society they constantly form groups based on whatever project they collectively want to create. These groups are called krewes and they work like small focused task forces. When the project is deemed complete, the krewe disbands and the members go start something new.
Many concepts that we frown upon in real life are considered to be not only common place, but expected in Asuran society. Things like espionage, idea theft, likely even real theft and sabotage are all expected between rival inventors and krewes. After all, if one Asura can take your design and do it faster and better, doesn’t that make them superior? Along with this competitive nature comes a very abrasive and arrogant speech pattern. An Asura can’t help but point out the flaws they see, both in people and in their designs. After all, how would allowing anything short of excellence produce any sort of superior quality? This attitude can certainly cause tension with other races, especially given that the Asura all feel that they are the most intelligent race around. However, as mean-spirited as their words may seem, they don’t seem to bother other Asura; they see it as banter similar to trash talk among friends.
Although they have looser morals in regard to espionage, they do have their limits. For example, Asura generally frown upon things like experimentation on sentient creatures or with organic augmentations that are not to address an injury or disability. Further, the success of a krewe is typically meant to be shared among the public, both for prestige and potentially for improvement. However, as is usually the case, there is one group of Asura for whom these limits do not hinder them.
The Inquisition: The same thing we do every night, Pinky—try to take over the world!
The Inquisition is essentially a large, permanent krewe with a different set of morals. Where the Asura feel that power is a means to greater understanding and knowledge, the Inquisition feels that power is a goal in and of itself. They are not afraid or disgusted by things that other Asura would disapprove of and they constantly push the envelope to learn new and often dangerous things. Further, the Inquisition does not share its ideas, and unlike other krewes where an idea is credited to it’s originator, all ideas belong to the Inquisition. Essentially, they are the first “corporation” of the Asura, and anyone working for them does not own their own work.
Operating much like a mafia or a gang, once you join the Inquest, you join for life. The Inquest would never permit a member to share what they know of the internal workings of the organization or to share any of the knowledge they have gained. They aim to be a super-power in Asuran civilization, and likely they desire to one day take over the entire culture. Similarly, it would be well within their ideals to rule all living races under an iron fist. Every race has some form of rival faction: the Nightmare Court, the Flame Legion, the Sons of Svanir and the Centaurs/Ministry. The Inquest is the Asuran equivalent. Interestingly, compared to the others, the Inquest is probably the least evil per se. On the other hand, unbridled ambition can lead to some of the worst atrocities imaginable, so I would say they actually have one of the most potentially dangerous and evil outlooks.
Asura go to one of three colleges to refine their magical education. The colleges each represent a different ideal and a different mindset. The first of these colleges is the college of Statics. As the name implies, the college of Statics is focused on things that won’t change over time. They prefer to think in terms of long-lasting, powerful devices. As such, it is only logical that they are the college most concerned with the construction of Asuran buildings and devices like the gates. They are often the creators of golems that are meant to last, like construction golems. They are the largest contributors to Rata Sum, the new hub of Asuran civilization. They are practical and dependable.
The college of Dynamics is all about making change and progress. They tend to like things that are new, shiny, and most of the time very temporary. These are the tinkerers of Asuran society. They like to test out new designs so that they can find out what works, and then most likely make another, better device. Longevity is not as important as a learning experience or something that can be done quickly.
The final college is that of Synergetics. Considered in many ways to be more philosophical, Synergetics are more about understanding the nature of magic and its interactions with devices, people and other magic. These are more like the theoretical physicists of the modern world; they want to know how the intricate rules of the world work together, whether or not that leads to new inventions often.
Like the factions of other races, a new Asura gets to choose which college they attended. This has a really good potential for some cool personal story aspects. Do you want to be focused more on solid foundations, on philosophy or on innovation? The different personal quests could be extremely varied; statics could be about building things in your home instance, dynamics could be about creating a new gizmo, and synergistic Asura can make a fundamental discovery about the Eternal Alchemy.
Honestly, I’m really on the fence about the Asura. I don’t think they don’t belong or anything, I think they are fairly unique and fit in with the universe well. I guess I’ll start with the good. I love their architecture. They have fantastic buildings. Floating pyramids, energy crystals, magical golems, invisible force fields to create bridges and aquariums… absolutely stunning. The Tarnished Coast and Rata Sum were some of my absolute favorite zones in Guild Wars 1. They capture a very magi-tech feeling that I really love, and at the same time they balance it out with not looking too futuristic or utilitarian. They strike a great balance between high-and low-tech; for example most of their things are still made of stone and crystal instead of metals like many futuristic races might use. Indeed, the other technologically advanced race, the Charr, use almost entirely metal and oil/fire. I’m very glad that there are two very different technological powers in the world of Tyria.
I also like that they look kind of weird. Honestly, most Asura look kind of creepy, and I like that. Sure, they have somewhat comical ears, but most of them look like sort of strange little hairless critters. They aren’t over-exaggerated like say, Gnomes in some other MMOs. Also, I have commented on this before, but I really love their animations. They look like they are a little bit awkward dealing with physical activities, and that’s actually really fitting. They hold their two handed weapons across their back and shoulders as if they are a bit too heavy, they wobble a bit when they run and jump, and when delivering attacks they often have to do a bit of a jump to hit the target. All of these could look really silly but I think that they really hit them just right and they look fantastic. Similarly, their political structure is a big parody of the modern world, using satire to show how ridiculous and inefficient government bodies can be. They pull it off pretty well.
Now for the bad part. I really hate most of them. They are almost universally arrogant to a fault. They speak to everyone in an extremely condescending manner and act as if everyone exists to serve their every whim. The truth is, most people would be able to completely flatten an Asura if they had the inclination. They have a classical Napoleon Complex, feeling the need to constantly assert how superior they are. I don’t tolerate people speaking to me in the manner that they typically do to my characters, and if I were to meet most of the characters I have seen I would tell them very quickly that they don’t have the right to speak to me that way and that they should watch their tone. If you don’t treat people with decency and respect then it’s my opinion that you don’t deserve it yourself, and I guess that’s my biggest problem with them. Of course, there are standouts among the Asura- I actually liked Zojja and Snaff quite a bit. For the most part they (especially Snaff) were pretty decent towards their companions. If more Asura are like they are, I will be a lot more accepting of them. Characters like Clagg drove me up the wall. Things like the Asuran Advice for Bookahs and the Tale of Mr. Sparkles were very light-hearted and fun. I’m an altoholic, so I’ll have one either way. We’ll see how I feel later.