The beautiful kingdom of Ascalon is in grave danger. The massive Charr invasion seems to be getting worse with each passing day. The beasts descend from the north in endless numbers. No matter how many of them are slain by the brave Ascalon soldiers, the Charr continue their relentless assault. The only thing protecting the human kingdom from complete and utter destruction is the Great Northern Wall. Behind the wall, the citizens of Ascalon seek solace. But in the troubled world of Tyria, safety is only a dream.
Just as promising new recruits complete their training and get ready to face the Charr on the other side of the wall, Ascalon is shattered. The Charr unleash incredibly powerful magic, bringing fire and destruction all over the human kingdom. The land is scorched and many people are instantly killed. The proud kingdom of Ascalon is left lying in ruins. The humans eventually manage to take back the Great Northern Wall from their enemy. However, two years after the firestorm known as the Searing, the lands are broken, the people locked in a desperate conflict. In this darkest hour, only true heroes can bring back hope and perhaps even restore the kingdom to its former glory.
ArenaNet’s first game, Guild Wars is an absolute triumph. This online RPG not only delivers an amazing gaming experience, but also sets a new standard for its genre. Every aspect of Guild Wars feels professional and sophisticated. Guild Wars is the kind of immersive game that will make you lose track of time and keep you coming back for more. Very few other titles can expect to match the lasting appeal and thrilling gameplay of Guild Wars.
In typical RPG fashion, your adventure in Guild Wars starts with character creation. The game allows players to choose from the available professions and configure their appearances. The six currently available professions include elementalist, mesmer, monk, necromancer, ranger, and warrior. Each profession has unique characteristics that make the gameplay significantly different and call for unique strategies. With their incredible endurance, the warriors lead the charge, get up close to the enemy, and direct attacks toward themselves. Elementalists on the other hand have to stay back, avoid contact with the enemy and wreak havoc with their spells. Meanwhile, monks keep everybody alive with their healing skills.
Guild Wars also lets players acquire secondary professions. Players can select any of the five professions that remain after determining their primary ones. Thus, a total of 30 primary and secondary profession selections are currently possible in Guild Wars, giving players a number of different gameplay styles to explore. Since players might find some combinations more effective than others, the game is built to let players explore each of the available secondary professions before making the ultimate decision. For instance, players who start the game as rangers can go on an early quest that will let them try out two mesmer skills. If they do not like the ranger mesmer combination, they can go out on other quests to try out the remaining professions.
There are only two restrictions for the secondary profession. The players have to use armor that belongs to their primary professions. Each profession also has a unique attribute that is only available to those players who have the profession as primary. For instance, only elementalists can have the energy storage attribute that allows them to have a greater amount of magical energy than any other type of character. Similarly, players that have mesmer as a primary profession can have fast casting, which reduces their overall spell casting time.
In addition to the large number of primary and secondary profession combinations, each profession has a diverse set of attributes players can freely explore. For instance, the elementalist attribute set constitutes of air magic, earth magic, energy storage, fire magic, and water magic. Developing your ability to cast under the different schools of magic improves the effectiveness of the corresponding spells. Since fire magic has the most effective direct damage spells, having a high ranking in this attribute makes for an elementalist that can bring significant destructive power upon their enemies. On the other hand, there are a number of water magic skills that hinder the enemy’s mobility. Thus, playing as an elementalist focused on water magic as opposed to fire magic can make for a significantly different experience. Similarly, necromancers have blood magic, curses, death magic, and soul reaping attributes. While blood magic can offer spells that inflict damage upon enemies while healing the player, curses diminish the combat effectiveness of enemies, and death magic can be used to raise enemies as undead creatures. A necromancer focused on each of these attributes will play with a different style.
Guild Wars does urge players to put the vast majority of their attribute points into one or two attributes. Upon gaining a new level or completing certain quests, players earn attribute points. While these points can be used to increase the effectiveness of certain attributes, each player can only gain a finite number throughout the course of the game. As such, it is not possible to distribute points across many attributes and expect to be an effective character. Instead, players will benefit far more from focusing their character development. Fortunately, Guild Wars is extremely forgiving about character development decisions. At any time players are in a town, they can redistribute their attribute points. It is possible to remove points from one attribute and put them in another. This allows players to easily modify their characters and prevents them from getting stuck with a character development decision they might later regret.
The skill system lies at the heart of Guild Wars. Each profession has different skills associated with its attributes. For instance, skills like orison of healing or rebirth belong to the healing prayers attribute available to monks. On the other hand, spells like immolate, fireball, or meteor shower are grouped under the elementalist fire magic. While there is no limit to the number of skills players can learn, they can only equip eight of them at any given time. Depending on their strategy, players equip different skills which dictates their role in combat. A warrior wants to focus on sword mastery and tactics will acquire and equip different skills than a warrior who prefers axe mastery.
The selection of skills is perhaps the most important factor in determining the outcome of battles in Guild Wars. The game is designed to encourage players to come up with an effective skill configuration. Even a full eight-player party of highest level characters can be easily defeated if they do not have the right skills. In order to have a functional character in the game, players have to try out different skills and design a combination that best fits their strategy.
The acquisition of skills is fairly straightforward. Upon gaining a level or completing a mission, players earn a skill point. These points can be used to purchase new skills from trainers found in various towns. Guild Wars does not have different skill vendors for each profession. The generic trainer of the town will automatically only display the available skills your character can acquire and use. Characters can also acquire new skills by completing quests. While a lot of quests reward the players only in experience and valuable items, other quests teach players new skills. Thus, before buying a skill from a vendor, it is a good idea to make sure the same skill is not also available from a quest.
In Guild Wars, the story progresses through quests and missions. Assigned by non-player characters, quests constitute of small adventures that will challenge the player to complete objectives like delivering an item or defeating a specific foe. Each quest is recorded in a log and can be completed at any time. On the other hand, missions take place in specifically designated areas. Players can gather at these areas, join mission teams and attempt to complete a series of objectives without letting the entire team die. The missions typically take longer than individual quests and move the story forward with cutscenes. The game currently features a large number of story missions as well as multitude of side quests. Furthermore, certain side quests are only available to specific professions. The large number of story quests and missions available coupled with the massive size of Tyria, provides players with an incredible amount of content to keep them occupied. Going through the game by completing all of the story missions and a fair number of the side quests can easily take over 50 hours. Exploring every single area of the game would take a truly daunting amount of time.
Guild Wars includes many features that have been specifically designed to counter problems that are commonplace in other games of its genre. The first problem countered by the design of the game is kill-stealing. Earlier games featured shared player versus environment zones where it was possible for different groups of players to combat the same enemy. Thus, it was possible for one group to weaken the enemy while a second group landed the killing blow and stole the experience points. Guild Wars prevents this problem by creating private mission and quests zones for each group of players. Every time players leave a town in a group or on their own, a private area gets created. Within the confines of this area, the group is at liberty to fight enemies and attempt to complete objectives without getting bothered by other players. This structure not only prevents kill-stealing, but also allows mission and quest areas to be better customized to the experience level of the characters in the group.
While there are a massive number of enemies in each privately created zone, the enemies do not automatically respawn a few minutes after they are killed as they do in other games. In order to fight the same group of enemies again, players have to at least leave the area and come back. Similarly, quests and missions award experience to an individual player only once. It is possible to help other players complete the quest or mission once you finished it. However, players cannot keep playing the same mission over and over again and expect to gain experience each time. The experience award at the end is only granted once. Furthermore, as characters gain levels, the amount of experience gained from lower level enemies diminishes and ultimately reaches zero. The players are required to move forward into other areas of the game, they cannot stay at the earlier locations indefinitely to gain experience.
Guild Wars also effectively deals with the item sharing problem that is common in other online role-playing games. When enemy creatures are killed, they often drop valuable items or gold to be claimed by the players. These items and money is the primary way for players to accumulate wealth that can be used to buy new equipment for their characters. In other games, one traditional problem was that the items could be picked up by any player. Thus, certain players could rush in and accumulate unfair amounts of items, leaving the other players with no loot. Guild Ward responds to this problem by assigning each item dropped to a specific player. The assignment may not always be fair, some players may occasionally get more valuable items than others. However, over the course of a number of missions and quests, each player should have the opportunity to accumulate their fair share of items. Any cash dropped by the enemies is automatically shared by the party when any of the players picks it up.
Guild Wars eliminates excessive travel times that are a tremendous burden in other online RPG’s by allowing players to instantly travel between key areas. Each mission site or town in the game automatically gets labeled in the player’s map. Once they have visited a given key location for the first time, players have the ability to instantly travel to that same location by using the map. Players do not have to pay for special spells, wait for transportation vehicles, or run across large distances. Players still have to run between the towns and the location of their quest objectives. They may also have to discover new towns on their own if they are not automatically taken to them upon completing a story mission. However, the ability to instantly travel between visited areas is a tremendous timesaver and dramatically improves the gaming experience.
The game is very forgiving against the death of player characters. In past games, players would lose experience and be required to find their bodies upon respawning to retrieve their items. In Guild Wars, players only get a temporary death penalty when they die. The death penalty reduced the maximum health and energy levels of player characters. If a single character dies and another character is able to raise him or her, the only negative effect is the temporary death penalty. If the entire party dies on a quest, the group is automatically resurrected at a designated area and will most likely have to do some amount of traveling before being able to attempt the objective again. The maximum death penalty is 60% and it wears off as players kill enemies. However, occasionally the quest will become too hard to complete with a high death penalty and players will have to temporarily return to a town to get rid of it. Upon entering a safe player zone, the penalty is automatically removed. If the entire party dies on a mission, they have to start over. While this might be highly irritating if it happens towards the end of a mission, it does make the story portions of the game more challenging and prevents players from beating the story with little effort.
Guild Wars allows players to travel in groups of up to eight characters. However, players do not have this ability at the beginning of the game. The initial maximum group size is only two characters. Progressing through the game, the allowance gradually increases after key events. The increased allowance does have a noticeable impact on the game and challenges players to put together an effective group. A diverse set professions is required to make sure the group can overcome different kinds of challenges. Unfortunately, one problem with online RPG’s is that the right character types to create a group are not always available. In order to eliminate the time players can spend waiting for certain character types to enter a town, Guild Wars allows players to add henchmen into their teams. The AI-controlled henchmen are typically no match for human players. However, they do make fair substitutes when a specific type of player character is not available.
As implied by the game’s name, Guild Wars allows large groups of players to unite under more permanent groups known as guilds. It is possible for guilds to have capes and Guild Halls. The capes appear on the backs of the members, allowing them to proudly display a symbol of their membership. Guild Halls serve as meeting areas exclusively available for the members of a given guild. The guilds can help players make friends and meet other like-minded players. The members can also participate in competitions between guilds. Joining a guild does not permanently bind players. Members can still adventure with other players, join a different guild, or even create their own guilds.
The player-versus-player aspects of Guild Wars are detailed enough to make a complete game of their own. A number of major towns in the game offer access to arenas. Upon entering an arena, players can join a group of adventurers to participate in an event against a different group. Guild Wars offers a number of different events ranging from a simple battle to kill the opponent characters to capture-the-flag style contents. The game allows guilds to face off against each other in tournament style. Performing successfully in competitions increases the ranking of the guild. The game also has a recently implemented feature that allows all players to watch guild competitions as an observer.
Participation in player-versus-player portions of the game is completely optional. However, players do have the ability to create player-versus-player only characters. Using this feature, players can create a high level character using all of the skills they have unlocked through the regular game and get direct access to player-versus-player action.
It is worth mentioning that the incredible gameplay experience offered by Guild Wars comes without any monthly fees. Once purchasing the game at its full retail price, you will be able to enjoy it without making additional payments every month as required by many other games in the genre. Instead of the monthly fees, ArenaNet will release expansion packs to add additional content to this already richly detailed game. The first expansion pack has already been announced for release in 2006. Among other things, this expansion will introduce the new assassin profession.
Guild Wars features a truly remarkable degree of gameplay depth and astonishing lasting value. This is the kind of game you could play exclusively for months without getting bored. The graphics are gorgeous depicting not only detailed character models, but also a diverse set of beautiful locations. The sound effects and music are pleasant. The available professions and skills make for wonderfully diverse gameplay mechanics. The story portions of the game compel the players to get through all of the missions. The player-versus-player areas are greatly engaging. Overall, Guild Wars is a game that does everything right. It has everything that makes up an excellent gaming experience. Among hundreds of mediocre games, Guild Wars is set aside by truly exceptional quality. Anyone with an interest in online RPG’s can expect to find a lot to enjoy in Guild Wars. Upon completing the story missions with your first character, you will likely find yourself waiting for an expansion pack or wanting to go through the entire experience with a different profession just to try out a different style to play the game.
This flawless game more than deserves a 98/100.