Reviewed: June 12, 2005
Released: April 28, 2005
Welcome, young hero, to the great Northern Wall.
Our kingdom of Ascalon is a shadow of its former greatness. The demonic Charr wander the ruins of our cities, looking for new victims to sacrifice on their flaming altars.
So you would be a savior to a fallen kingdom? Most likely you shall leave your bones to bleach in the wastes like so many before you. But just perhaps, you will walk amongst the gods in the Hall of Heroes.
Are you ready to fight for glory in Guild Wars?
In the month since its release, Guild Wars has attracted quite a few gaming heroes tired of the monthly fees and major time investment required from many massively multiplayer online games.
This new title from ArenaNet and NCSoft offers a whole new take on fantasy online games – first and foremost by not charging membership fees. Players don’t have to shell out $15 a month like fans of Everquest and World of Warcraft. Instead, the developers plan to keep the franchise running by releasing expansions every few months.
Guild Wars is an interesting hybrid of a game that tries to be part role-playing adventure, part first-person shooter. The storyline campaign that can provide 60+ hours of game play, but the real action comes in the arena. You can jump into random pick-up battles, fight multiple teams on sweeping battlefields, or attack heavily fortified bases held by rival guilds.
Even without monthly fees, Guild Wars is an incredibly well-crafted game. The graphics are stunning; the game play fast-paced and fun; server performance almost lag-free. Guild Wars uses a streaming technology model so you don’t have to wait a half-hour for updates. The game also has one worldwide server, so you can play with friends living on the opposite side of the country, or even in Europe and Asia.
One should expect such innovations from the developers at ArenaNet, considering Patrick Wyatt, Mike O’Brien, and Jeff Strain founded the company after working on the Diablo, Warcraft and Starcraft series for Blizzard.
The tough thing about reviewing Guild Wars is it doesn’t fit into any neat category. The game has less content than Everquest or World of Warcraft, but far more depth than role-playing titles like Dungeon Siege or Sacred. The PVP system is fast enough to appeal to twitch gamers, but also requires strategic thinking. Even the game’s community is hard to pin down, since this game seems to attract both quality players and obnoxious morons in equal numbers.
For every thing I absolutely loved in Guild Wars, there was something I wished the developers had done differently. But throughout my first month of play, I could see ArenaNet is trying hard to breathe new life into a genre where games are all starting to look alike.
There are so many things I love about the gameplay, including character customization, fast-paced adventuring, and PVP showdowns. The campaign has some of the best cooperative missions I’ve ever played to boot.
In case you’re wondering why I’m not giving a 10, Guild Wars falls short of a perfect score on several accounts. The game is too tough to play solo. You can hire henchmen for some extra muscle, but they are no match for live players and become useless at higher levels. I understand that massively multiplayer games should be about teamwork and grouping. But there were times when nobody was going my way, or I just wanted some “me time” while running a minor mission.
The world of Kryta also lacks the depth of Warcraft’s Azeroth or Everquest’s Norrath. As I wandered around the map, I found myself running into invisible barriers that kept me on a pretty straight path. There was also no jump function for getting over obstacles or getting off a hill without backtracking. Guild Wars takes a step back to Dungeon Siege or Diablo II in the way it restricts a player’s freedom. Many missions will require you to zoom through several portals before reaching your destination, which further limits the feeling of immersion.
Fortunately, the game offers great freedom when it comes to creating the best character for your playing style. Your first choice when loading up the game is whether to use a pre-made PVP character, or create a “role-playing” character for the campaign. PVP-only characters start at level 20 with decent gear and can immediately start fighting in arena battles, even venturing into the elite battleground called the Tomb of Primeval Kings. What they cannot do is participate in the story campaign.
I cannot stress enough that new players should NOT make a seemingly all-powerful PVP character and jump into the fray. The templates all have their limitations and the best PVPers know just where to hit your weak spots. I highly recommend leveling up at least one character before trying this feature. Yet the “build your own” PVP character system is a brilliant concept for veteran players, since you can use all the skills and equipment you’ve found in the campaign to create a battle-ready alternate. If you played a warrior throughout the campaign but discovered some nice spells and a powerful staff, you can field a viable mage without having to grind a new character from level one.
You initially start the game as one of six professions: warrior, ranger, monk, mesmer, elementalist, and necromancer. The warrior is good with melee weapons and battle tactics, the ranger a shooting expert who can tame pets, the monk a basic priest with an oriental flair, the elementalist an all-around wizard, and the necromancer a creepy goth skilled at raising undead minions. Only the mesmer is an unusual class that specializes in illusions that weaken and disrupt opponents.
Guild Wars is all about collecting the more than 600 skills that allow you to cast fireballs, heal yourself, or simply knock the other guy to the ground with a really big hammer. You gain skills by questing, buying them from trainers, or killing certain high level bosses and stealing their elite powers with a “signet of capture.”
I absolutely love the character customization in this game. Even two players with the same profession often have vastly different specialties. A fire mage may be good at dropping area nuke spells, while an air mage is better at blinding single targets with lightning spells. You can pick a secondary profession for even more flexibility. Warriors with healing spells seem to be the most popular build, but a sword-wielding monk is just as playable. Keep in mind you can only go into any mission or PVP battle with eight skills – so it’s important to have a well-thought out strategy beforehand.
Let me talk a little about the role-playing campaign before going into the PVP. All adventuring in Guild Wars is instanced, meaning it’s just you and your team fighting for survival on a private map. Players can meet and interact with each other in public cities and outposts, but once you enter a mission you never have to worry about random jerks stealing your loot, killing the same monster you are hunting, or otherwise griefing you.
Some of the missions are pretty standard. You may be asked to kill a certain boss or deliver medicines to war orphans. The nice thing about delivery missions is you can return to a town or outpost by simply clicking on your travel map.
Guild Wars also has a central storyline you can complete by doing a series of team quests. The game opens in the idyllic land of Ascalon, a prosperous kingdom with bustling cities, proud castles, and peaceful hamlets. A hill giant is terrorizing the farmers over at the Barradin Estate, and those pesky undead are trying to escape from the crypts below Ashford Abbey. Most people go about their merry little lives unaware the world is about to end.
Early in the game players witness their beloved homeland overrun by the Charr hordes. You can never go back to old Ascalon after finishing the tutorial, but you can see what happened to your favorite places and personalities after the Searing. It’s quite an experience visit once-peaceful villages now blasted into ruin.
Progressively harder missions take you on an epic journey to drive the Charr from Ascalon, a journey that will lead over mountains infested with warring dwarven tribes, through jungles haunted by the undead, and across the Crystal Dessert to seek the counsel of the gods. These main missions are a blast to play, often requiring strong teamwork to succeed. In one mission, various players have find parts to repair a trebuchet your besieged army needs to even the odds against the Charr. Another mission set high in the Shiverpeak Mountains requires players to sneak into a dwarven fortress and open the massive Frost Gate.
A lot of MMOGs pay lip service to making you feel like the star of the show, but that illusion is shattered as you wait your turn among dozens of other stiffs outside Dark and Stormy Keep. When you accomplish a critical mission in Guild Wars, the cut-scene shows your character saving the day alongside princes and legendary heroes.
If you want to take a break from saving Kryta, you can always head over to an area. All battles are consensual and level-based, which means you never have to worry about a level 20 zapping your newbie character. Every zone has its own arena, which means you can get in on the action beginning around level 6 or 7.
The first battles you will likely fight will be as a randomly selected group, and the lower-level arenas offer only last man standing missions. At higher levels, you actually get to choose your team and victory conditions get more complicated. You may have to protect an NPC, capture a relic and return it to base, or score the most points in a timed event.
The most brutal competition takes place in the Tombs of Primeval Kings. Groups going into the tombs have to fight successfully harder opponents in a ladder-style tournament. This area also offers sweeping battlefields where up to eight teams at a time battle it out to reach the Hall of Heroes. The final reward for winning the competition is a celestial sigil, which can then be used to create a guild hall.
Your guild’s private little kingdom is not entirely safe however, as other guilds can try to storm your fort if you challenge them in a guild-versus-guild battle. Both guild armies battle it out in a no-man’s land, and if one guild assaults the other’s hall, the defenders get to use siege weapons.
Combat against other players is fast and a little “twitch-based,” as nimble players can even dodge some spells or attacks. As a real-time strategy fan, I loved the thinking aspect of PVP, deciding in a split second whether to unleash an all-out attack or save some of my energy for a quick heal or getaway. I appreciated the squad-based tactics of Guild Wars, especially coming from World of Warcraft where one side or the other tends to win using sheer mob tactics.
No one character build dominates, because a good group needs flexibility. Frontline warriors must rely on rangers and elementalists to soften the enemy at a distance, on necromancers and mesmers to flank and harass opponents, and on monks to keep them alive. Secondary professions make fights even more interesting. The monk who looks so tempting to your warrior may have powerful earth spells for protection.
Right now the learning curve is steep, especially since many hardcore PVPers have been practicing for months during the open beta. Medium-sized guilds have been complaining on the boards about the large guilds dominating the Tombs and the worldwide ladder simply with numbers. At least guild battles are limited to eight players on each team, keeping big guilds from zerging the smaller ones.
Guild Wars doesn’t make it easy to train before you fight. There are no private battlefields where you can hold friendly matches among friends, or even try out new strategies with guild mates. There are also no designated areas for beginning, intermediate, and advanced players. Your opponent may have started today with a pre-made character, or you may be fighting against a pro. (Guild Wars tournaments are now offering thousands in cash prizes, especially if you live in South Korea.) The random arenas are especially frustrating, because the server has a knack for stacking one team with a good mix of warriors and monks while the soon-to-be losing team gets all support mages and mesmers.
My only advice is to start with the low-level arenas to get a feel for PVP combat, then look for a good guild if you want to battle in advanced areas. On a scale of 10 I would have to give the overall "community" a 6 at this time, but before I rip into the Guild Wars community, I have to say I play with a great guild called the Crusaders. Our leader runs a well-known fan site called Photics.com, and we have mature and fun-loving gamers in our ranks. The Crusaders have helped me immensely in working on this review, including answering my stupid questions.
There are plenty of other quality guilds and players out there… Too many of them are overshadowed by a horde of idiots who love spamming general chat with F-bombs and racial slurs, or the ever-popular perverts who dance around half-naked in the town square. Did I mention the pleasantness of trying to recruit a team in general chat while the “necromancer temptress” and the “lonely ranger” are getting their cyber-sex on?
If you’ve ever been in a Diablo chat room or a high school locker room, you know the worst to expect walking into Ascalon City. Part of the problem could be the one-world server, which maybe creates the illusion that far more kindergartners are playing Guild Wars. I also recognize no monthly fees and a PVP-centric system probably attracts a rougher crowd than other MMOGs, where a moderator would quickly lock down Miss Necro and Mr. Ranger. But it’s sad when neither the developers nor gamers really expect better behavior in a game without monthly fees.
I don’t blame the developers completely – trying to police a worldwide server is an impossible task. A few improvements would help, especially adding an auction hall. Some of the worst spammers on the general chat aren’t trying to offend anyone, they’re just trying to buy and sell loot. While the game offers a trade channel, few people actually use it.
The fact that you can never meet new people out in the wilderness makes it tough to make new friends or learn about the coolest guilds. This is where a “looking for group” window is badly needed, so you can easily find other players your level. City of Heroes, another NCSoft title, has that exact feature and it works very well.
I would also like to see a "report abuse" function, even if I knew the administrators are going to take a lot longer to get to my complaint than in a pay-to-play game.
The Guild Wars website has plenty of links to guild forums where you can find like-minded gamers who match your playing style. But it’s a bad sign when much of your initial contacts have to be made out-of-game.
Guild Wars is truly a work of art as much as it is a computer game. From the soaring Shiverpeak Mountains to the lost Maguuma cities hidden in steaming jungles, the settings are simply stunning in size and detail. The graphics possess the same beauty and imagination seen in paintings by the likes of Frank Frazetta or Allen Douglas.
Falling leaves, gathering storm clouds, tendrils of swamp mist – these are just some of the eye-catching details that brought Kryta to life for me. The lighting effects are marvelous, especially in dungeon scenes where shafts of sunlight glint down into catacombs. I especially enjoyed the hidden art within the game, such as frescoes on temple walls or soaring statues of famous heroes alight with magical flames. I found myself several times wanting to stop in the middle of an adventure and snap dozens of screenshots of the majestic landscape.
The stunning landscapes are fortunately not limited to the campaign. The various PVP arenas all look terrific, and guilds can choose a custom look for their base from almost a dozen layouts. You can select the oriental fortress-style of the Isle of Warriors, the moonlight ramparts of the Isle of Hunters, or the gothic cathedral look of the Isle of the Dead. There is even a guild hall layout that reminded me of Yoda’s home on Dagobah.
Every character in Guild Wars is really, really good looking. If you want the experience of playing a super-model who loves to dungeon crawl, this is the game for you. There are several different sets of armor and weapons to give your character an even more individualized style. While character faces and hairstyles are limited, but you can use dyes to color your armor any way you choose.
I’m happy to report the graphics are perfectly scalable, meaning they’ll look great even on mid-range machines.
It’s hard to outdo the visual artistry in Guild Wars, but at least the music of composer Jeremy Soule comes close. Soule’s previous credits include Icewind Dale, Neverwinter Nights, and Elder Scrolls III Morrowind, and he fails to disappoint in creating an outstanding musical score for Guild Wars. The game’s big orchestra sound gets the heart pumping during battles and cut-scenes. At other times the music has a haunting quality, a sadness that accents the story of a world teetering on the brink of destruction.
Sound effects are for the most part great, although the sound of clashing weapons and some flash-bang spells can get old to listen to. The voice-overs are also merciful on the ears, although characters start to sound alike toward the end of the campaign.
The Guild Wars haters love to say, “You get what you pay for with no monthly fees.”
That’s not true. For $50, you get a game with a storyline more compelling than many RPGs on the market, great graphics, and super stable servers. I have not experienced any long downtimes from server crashes, and ArenaNet has already added several new content areas. Compare this with some other MMOGs, where the so-called “regularly updated content” you pay for are little more than patches.
Playing the Guild Wars campaign was a highly entertaining experience. While most areas and quests do not regularly change with new updates, there is enough mission content to keep fans happy until the expansion pack arrives in a few months.
I perfectly understand not everyone is going to like Guild Wars, but gamers who liked the fast-paced action of Diablo II or Dungeon Siege really should buy this title NOW.
First-person shooter and real-time strategy fans will both be drawn to the PVP, but let me make a few things clear. There is still a time commitment to leveling a character and farming the campaign for good weapons than many shooter fans are used to. Do not expect to be competitive at the higher levels until you’ve put in at least 60-70 hours of non-PVP adventuring. Strategy fans should realize combat is far more twitch-based than most role-playing titles, at least until you develop some strong tactics.
It’s the MMOG fans who, ironically, may find the least to like. Diehard fans play MMOGs for two major reasons – they either love spending months building an incredibly powerful character, or they love building online communities. With a cap level of 20 and no impossible-to-find items, Guild Wars will never offer power levelers the sense of achievement they crave. Community-minded gamers will see there are no player cities, no player-run crafting system (you can have NPC crafters make items from raw materials looted from corpses), no way to advance in the community except through guild combat. Kryta can be a lonely place for anyone looking to meet new friends or role-play in-character.
Guild Wars does what it does with finesse, and if you want to play a fast action game with role-playing elements it’s a great buy. If instead you’re looking for your next big MMOG experience, this is not your game.
The big question on everybody’s mind is, will the upstarts at ArenaNet overthrow their former masters at Blizzard and claim the heavyweight title for best MMOG?
It would be tempting to think so, considering Guild Wars offers a unique PVP system and a really fun campaign for no monthly fees. I just can’t shake the feeling Guild Wars has some serious identity issues about whether it’s mainly a PVP title or a RPG with cool PVP features.
The developers are not shy about saying competition is what Guild Wars is all about, even calling their creation a “competitive online role-playing game.” But even the most hardcore arena fighter will need to spend many hours unlocking the choice skills and equipment in campaign mode. The focus on constant grouping and fighting team battles may likewise turn off the non-PVP fans.
In other words, I think Guild Wars is trying to find its prime demographic. It has some great aspects that appeal to almost every gamer, but the gaming experience is as dependent on who you know as much as what you know. If you have good guild support and are willing to train daily with your team, you will get the most out of this title. Otherwise, you’ll be pulling out hair as your pick-up group refuses to help you with a side quest or decides to split in three different directions in the middle of an arena fight.
I must commend ArenaNet for making some big innovations and offering those breakthroughs to gamers at a bargain price. Too many companies are happy to add their own little spin to the same old leveling treadmill. ArenaNet’s developers have tried to take the best aspects of games across several genres to see if they can make something new, something better with Guild Wars.
The world of Kryta is still evolving, as is the game of Guild Wars. This first Guild Wars falls short of legendary status, but from what I’ve seen the Guild Wars series may yet find its place in the PC Hall of Heroes.