The last few weeks you couldn’t read a website nor a gamemag without noticing the Guild Wars advertising. Publisher NCSoft wants everyone to know that ArenaNet has finally made an mmorpg where you don’t need to pay a monthly fee to keep on playing. They’re exagerating quite a bit with calling this game an mmorpg, but frankly, Guild Wars can’t have enough attention as it still remains one hell of an addiction for anyone who loves online action rpg’s.
No mmorpg then? If this title is an mmorpg then Diablo 2 is one too, period. Change the Battle.net chat boxes with the neutral cities of Guild Wars and suddenly aspects like social interaction, quests and monster areas show a lot of similarities. Still, while Guild Wars gets much inspiration out of the Diablo-series (and in some cases out of real mmorpg’s) the game also has plenty enough of its own, unique strengths. Maybe even enough to call this game the first ‘Competitive Online Action RPG’ as developer ArenaNet puts it. One of those strengths is the character system. You get to choose a primary profession (Monk, Warrior, Mesmer, Elementalist, Ranger, Necromancer) with access to its specific skills and attributes (the latter influencing the skills and in some cases other characteristics of your hero too). So there are no same general statistics like Vitality, Dexterity or Intelligence for every kind of character like we’re used to from other rpg’s. Next to that you’ll eventually be forced to opt for a secondary profession. This grants you access to another wide range of skills but you won’t benefit of the real power of that profession as much as it would be a primary profession. A few examples; a Mesmer has the unique ability to raise the casting speed of its spells while only an Elementalist has a higher energy storage so he can cast spells for a longer time. Thus a Mesmer/Elementalist (Me/E) combo gives you the fast cast ability and E/Me will grant you higher energy storage. It’s one of the big plusses of the game that you’re always in search of the right combination, even more when you realise that most professions can serve multiple purposes because of the enormous amount of skills.
Also really helpful is the fact that you can’t ‘gimp’ a character.
Every point you spend on an attribute can be easily retrieved and used on another attribute via a handy refund system. This way you can try out different playstyles for one character. It also compensates for the fact that there are only 4 character slots available.
The story of the game is pushed forward through several missions.
Although, you won’t need to complete them in chronological order if you don’t want to. Each mission is set on a certain place in the world of Tyria and can be started once you get there (through mere exploration or via the accomplishment of a previous mission, an event that automatically takes you to the next). During the average roaming of the gameworld you’ll also find many safehavens between the monster-infested areas. These safehavens (cities, hideouts) are divided in Districts (copies of a safehaven) and there you can really interact with a lot of other players. Instant travelling between these cities is possible, if you can reach them first to have them marked on the world map that is. It’s the first real gripe I had about the game, to say it a bit rude; the world is one big labyrinth and it just feels like if your movement is limited through some badly placed invisible walls. The mini-map isn’t always that clear too about where you can go or not go. But the regions are permanent and not random generated like in Diablo which makes things easier when travelling through these areas again with another character. And the quest log automatically adds a marker where you’ll need to go so the navigation problem is mainly restricted to finding the safehavens.
It doesn’t change the fact that the monster-areas can get boring pretty quickly. No random generated world is fine by me but in most cases there weren’t that many random generated monster encounters too, perhaps a boss or two that’s different but that’s it. Every time you go back to a certain area (which is needed a lot for the normal quests) it’s mostly fully populated again with the same baddies of the same level, located at the same place where you left them dead and buried. It wouldn’t be a problem if you could sneak around them when you need to go through a region again but the labyrinth structure and the constant aggressiveness of the monsters make this impossible. Monsters can also take quite a beating so quickly rushing through isn’t much of an option. Even at a high level you’ll sometimes need to go back for something and then encounters will become really cumbersome, what use does anyone have with similar enemies which give 0 experience points? For areas which are instanced (and thus specifically designed for you) it’s a pity to see so much static stuff. On a positive note, enemies know how to hit you. Healers are getting a tough time if you don’t keep an eye out for them.
A lot of negativity in the previous paragraph but it’s more surprising that even with these flaws the game still ‘calls’ you back. The character system isn’t as boring as it first looks. You are only limited to using eight skills each time you go into a conflict area but that’s just the fun of this game; seeking the most effective combination. Those eight skills and your standard attack are all you got to inflict damage. If you want to be able to heal yourself you better take such a skill with you because healing potions are non-existent here. After the first few hours you’ll be mostly playing in a party of either henchmen, human players or a combination of both, which makes things more interesting. These henchmen are helpful but turn out to be not that intelligent. For example; Alesia, the healer henchmen, is often a lifesaver but not for herself when she tries to end up in the middle of an enemy group. You can’t issue orders, henchmen only follow and will attack your target. In the end, these AI-controlled party members are only helpful during exploring the average quest-areas but have no more use in the missions after you’ve completed the first three or four. Also disturbing is the fact that once in a while these lads get stuck somewhere (behind a chest f.e.) too. I had a sort of similar problem with my pet, playing as a Warrior/Ranger I had my snow wolf Jefke constantly backing me up but often I got stuck behind him even when I clicked several times on another target. As if my character couldn’t go past the pet. Nevertheless, playing the game with human players is an immense and challenging thrill. There is a wide variety of quests and missions to keep you busy for a while. And then there is still the Player vs Player (PvP) part.
Guild Wars is all about competition, there are plenty arena’s and game modes to provide in a lengthy life duration of the game, there is even an option to skip the story part and to start right away with a level 20 character (which only has access to PvP). Conflicts occur on a small scale which makes the matches even more intense. The outcome relies almost solely on pure player skill and teamwork, rather than on items or level. There are ladders, and a continent competition. Guilds can buy their own cape and guild hall, the whole picture is more than decent. No territory conquering, but the whole instanced layout of the world probably wouldn’t suit such an option.
The most heard complaint in the community is about the missions (especially) in the Player vs. Environment part. They always take a while to complete and you can’t replace players which have left during a mission. These missions may have some special (scripted) stuff and even nicely done in-game cut scenes in them but they aren’t that exciting when forced to do them again and again. Since missions lack a resurrection shrine the ‘Your party is defeated’ message can pop up quite often after which you need to do the whole thing once more. Sure, gamers want to have a challenge and there is a big satisfaction when you succeed at last after trying so many times but a reasonable mind says this is merely a waste of time and it just feels like someone wanted to stretch the lifespan of the game (which isn’t necessary at all since Tyria is really huge).
There are some usable objects, but mainly in the missions alone. Containers are present everywhere but lack that ‘Ooh, I want to see what’s inside’-effect like in other games. There are a lot of lootdrops after an encounter so itemhunt is present although not as prominent as in Diablo. In order to keep balance for the Player vs. Player part there aren’t much überitems. It does appeal when you can ‘unlock’ special items, just like newly discovered skills items can get unlocked and then your PvP-only characters can start out with these items/skills too. The yellow, purple and orange coloured items are still available, these usually have a unique item part in them which you’ll have to salvage if you want to apply it on another item.
And even then the effect isn’t that bewildering. One can live with this design choice because like I said before PvP remains fun for everyone this way and there is still a shitload of different looks to weapons and armour sets (not to mention that the character models look like… well, models). Loot drops consist more of things you need to collect (for quests or collectors). Most items can be salvaged into components for better armour. Main armour drops are non-existent, you always need to have an NPC crafter make it for you. It’s clumsy and overall not that interesting.
Guild Wars is a game that tries to throw away the common ‘I need to gain more levels’ mantra which you can find in most rpg’s. With a level cap of 20 it becomes clear that the focus has shifted towards skill acquisition (either through earning them as quest rewards, buying them or stealing them from bosses), unlocking items and attempting to beat the missions (with side objectives too) which surprisingly is easily as addictive as the average level grind, if not even more. Some people perhaps will need to make a mentality change because of this. Frankly, I think it is one of the better attempts to tackle the heavy statistics/levelling mechanics of role-playing games.
The graphics are just superb. It might not have the polygon count of Everquest II but GW surely makes up for that in terms of graphical atmosphere. This world feels right and extremely appealing. While looking on the world map it is a big maze but in-game you can easily forget that issue when you see some of the mindblowing landscapes and landmarks like ruined (or even floating) castles, enormous bridges etc.. It’s dreamland, full of oooh’s and aaah’s.
At times you are just staring and staring, and since the environments are quite diverse (desert, snow, greenish, blackened, …) you’ll never get bored soon with these sightings. The requirements aren’t even that high for all this eye candy and with a broadband connection I never had connection or severe lag issues. It sometimes lags yes, like in the case that you know you died but you’re still wandering several seconds with one hitpoint left. Other errors like momentarily floating characters are still there too but it doesn’t compare to the positive points of this engine.
What’s also definitely a pleasant fact is that you can start playing within less than 20 seconds from launching the game, something a lot of present titles can learn from. No intro which gets repeated (there is a beautiful CGI movie on one of the installer disks though) nor an obliged publisher’s logo, nope, just the login screen and short loading times, players don’t need more than just that.
Sound in general is well done, at release you couldn’t hear much music but that has been fixed already. Once again composer Jeremy Soule provides in the right tunes. I gotta say, it’s amazing how he can create a unique twist to his work for every game. Soule has composed a lot of tracks for other rpg’s as well but this still sounds cool, fresh and very suitable/specific for the environment in Guild Wars. Some small improvements and a couple of new areas have been added too since release.
Like you can read, there are enough things that can be done better. That however doesn’t mean I can’t recommend Guild Wars. It has kept me occupied for the last few weeks like no other game this year has done before. Simply gorgeous landscapes, a well-balanced, fast paced skill system and a lot of quests/missions which guide you through the large world are enough to appetite the taste of even the most demanding action rpg lovers. Add to that the very enjoyable PvP options and you get hooked to this game for sure. If you are quite the lover of stats and leveling up it might turn out otherwise since Guild Wars streamlines a lot of these aspects but if you ask me then the game is a most welcome change.