Reviewed: December 19, 2006
Released: October 27, 2006
The world of Tyria has never lacked for heroes in its darkest hour – brave adventurers who thrust the Titans back into the gates of Hell and laid to rest the malignant spirit of the warlord Shiro. But now a new threat rises in the sun-drenched lands of Elona, where the cruel Warmarshall Varesh rules her people with an iron hand, crushing all who oppose her.
But even Varesh’s closest allies do not suspect she secretly serves a banished god of indescribable evil, or that she plots to hasten the final apocalyptic battle known as Nightfall.
Thus begins the third expansion of the MMORPG series: Guild Wars: Nightfall. If you’re a MMOG fan, you’ve probably heard how the Guild Wars series has sold 3 million copies worldwide, making developer ArenaNet a major player next to Blizzard or Sony. For the uninitiated, Guild Wars is a massively multiplayer game that has no monthly fees but instead offers new expansions every six months or so.
Each expansion is also a stand-alone game, meaning new players can start with Nightfall without buying the previous titles: Prophecies and Factions. Veterans can easily transfer their old characters to the new continent of Elona, or try one of the new character classes of Dervish and Paragon.
There are a number of other ways Guild Wars sets itself apart from other MMOGs besides no monthly fees. The character level is set at 20 and powerful gear is available even to casual players, meaning Guild Wars has a lot less mindless grinding than other games. (Unfortunately, Nightfall requires a certain level of grinding but I’ll talk about that later) What makes playing your character challenging is the skill-based system. Each character can only have 8 skills active at any one time, so you must carefully choose which skills work best together.
Nightfall also introduces a new hero system, giving you the chance to command and equip up to three NPCs. You choose what skills your heroes have and can also loan them weapons from your character’s stash. Heroes are the perfect solution for those players who want to casually explore the game or who love to solo.
But what does Nightfall have to offer hardcore competitive gamers? Well, one of the biggest draws for Guild Wars is the challenging PVP, with guilds from across the globe competing to reach the top of the Guild ladder or win the Hall of Heroes tournament. Those gamers who complete the Nightfall campaign can also explore the Domain of Anguish, an elite area filled with treasure and extremely powerful demonic creatures.
Nightfall’s features include:
The first thing I’d like to give ArenaNet kudos for is creating a vibrant Middle Eastern/African setting. Quite frankly, I’ve found other fantasy titles to be one-dimensional by comparison in their treatment of non-European settings. I just can’t take The Barrens in WOW or the Egyptian levels of Titan Quest seriously after visiting the magnificent palaces, sprawling fortresses, and cruel deserts of Elona.
Nightfall’s campaign progresses across three provinces – the jungle island of Istan, the desert lands of Kourna, and the merchant cities of Vabbi. You join the ranks of the Sunspears, the legendary protectors of all Elona. The early missions of hunting down corsairs and local widlife feel too slow-paced at first, but once you get past the “newbie” zone the campaign plunges forward at full steam.
After investigating the wholesale slaughter of an expedition in the lost city of Fahranur, you learn that Varesh has unearthed some dark and powerful force from the ruins. But bringing the Warmarshall to justice will not be easy since she controls both a demon force and the largest mortal army in Elona. You’ll spend much of the campaign fighting a guerilla war against Varesh’s forces, trying to rally both the commoners and powerful Vabbian princes.
Nightfall’s mission maps are very well done and present a wide variety of challenges. In one mission, you will find yourself storming a coastal fortress amid the crash and roar of catapult fire. In another, you will find yourself trying to organize a breakout from a prison work camp, dodging guard patrols as you free other inmates. The missions in Guild Wars series have always been instanced, meaning it’s just your small group of players (or henchmen/heroes if you prefer to fly solo) exploring the wilderness or performing critical tasks to move the storyline forward.
In previous expansions, I loved being the star of my own storyline but hated how the game dictated what path I took – both figuratively and literally. Past mission maps had invisible walls preventing players from free form exploring, and the campaign story was pretty much set in stone.
Nightfall gives you a great deal of welcome freedom. The new zones tend to be wide open, allowing you to maneuver around mobs or take multiple paths when trying to beat a mission. There is also some freedom on how the storyline progresses. For example, halfway into the campaign you must choose to join the agents of the Master of Whispers or instead sign up with a group of corsairs turned freedom fighters led by Magrid the Sly.
The storyline diverges at this point and you’ll experience very different missions depending on your choice. The Master of Whispers will lead you in a fight against demonic elementals while Magrid will accompany you in a rescue mission of an old friend from the clutches of Varesh’s veteran troops. Although Nightfall’s gameplay isn’t as wide open as say Elder Scrolls: Oblivion, I appreciated not feeling like just another tourist in a virtual theme park, doing the exact same thing as 3 million other people.
In addition to the new story campaign, Nightfall also brings two new classes and the hero NPC system to Guild Wars. At first glance, the classes of Paragon and Dervish seem to have nothing in common. The Dervish is a lightly armored melee warrior who wades into battle with a giant scythe, while the Paragon is a well-armored support specialist who throws spears from a distance. What makes these classes alike is the fact they both strongly incorporate elements of magic and melee. The Dervish can call upon wind prayers to move quickly or damage foes with cold attacks, earth prayers to blind enemies, and mysticism to heal themselves or allies. Dervishes can also become a living avatar of the five gods for a short period. Paragons are the “squad leaders” of Elona, boosting the abilities and attacks of teammates with shouts and chants. Paragons also wear relatively heavy armor and make special spear attacks by building up adrenaline, just like warriors.
The original Guild Wars: Prophecies introduced NPC henchmen, but now you can unlock customizable heroes by completing certain quests. You can unlock as many heroes as you like, but only three can be present on your team at any one time. You also have a lot of control over how heroes act, from arming them with advanced weapons to setting the exact skills they use. A new waypoint UI allows you to order heroes to engage the enemy or fall back and cast spells from a distance. Finally, Nightfall offers a new form of mano y mano PVP called hero battles, where you and three heroes duke it out RTS-style against another player’s hero entourage.
To me the hero system is a double-edged sword for the Guild Wars franchise. On one hand, heroes make it extremely easy and enjoyable to solo. But that means fewer people are willing to group except to take on the biggest challenges. Heroes can also be a huge pain in the ass to train and equip. They can use any skill you’ve unlocked on your account, but that still poses a problem if you’re a new player or have never played a certain class. For example, I really liked the centaur hero but because I had few elementalist skills unlocked, I really couldn’t use him to his full potential. Trainers will offer to teach your heroes skills, but the selection is pretty limited.
My other complaint is how Nightfall introduces grinding to an otherwise story-driven game. Characters created in the Elona campaign must reach the rank of Sunspear general to advance in the campaign. This often requires taking missions and killing lots of corsairs and other beasties – you know, grinding faction. There is also Lightbringer faction, which is earned by killing demonic creatures. While the storyline does not force you to grind Lightbringer faction, higher Lightbringer ranks give crucial bonuses when exploring Nightfall’s endgame content.
The Guild Wars series has always impressed me with its fantastical landscapes and unusual looking characters/monsters, and Nightfall does not fail to impress. From ancient ruins reminiscent of the Valley of the Kings to sweeping desert caves to palaces straight out of 1,001 Arabian Nights, this game’s background takes me places I’ve never visited before in any previous MMOG. The world is also populated with wonderfully odd creatures, some inspired by myth and some born from the fevered imaginations of the ArenaNet design team. You’ll come face to face with giant insects, carnivorous plants, mystical djinn, and crocodiles the size of buses.
The new Dervish and Paragon armor are fantastic – with the Dervish robes accentuated by attached spikes/blades and the Paragon armor having the classic design of an ancient Greek hoplite or Roman legionnaire. Other character classes also get new armor to choose from, although I personally found the new armor styles a mixed bag. I loathed the witch doctor style armor for my necromancer but really enjoyed the new ranger “desert wanderer” look.
On the plus side, a DirectX 9.0 facelift makes Nightfall a far more dynamic-looking game than the original Guild Wars: Prophecies. What keeps this game from earning a perfect score in graphics is the fact that character animations are still limited – your character can’t jump or crouch, for example.
Master digital composer Jeremy Soule (whose credits include the Elder Scrolls series) is responsible for the excellent music in this latest expansion. The Nightfall soundtrack has a wonderful North African sound that’s as unique as the setting of Elona. The voice acting is of professional quality and every character has a unique voice, which was not always the case in previous Guild Wars chapters. Sound effects are on the whole good, if somewhat repetitive.
Any which way you look at it, Nightfall is a great value. This game delivers tons more content, options, and challenges than any other action RPG currently on the market (sorry, Titan Quest). It’s true that Guild Wars is still not a full-blown MMOG that can offer detailed crafting, player housing, mounts, etc. Yet Nightfall adds a lot of new depth to the series with its hero system and detailed storyline. ArenaNet has also done a great job in listening to the wants/needs of their customers, implementing a new party search feature, expanded storage, and templates where you can easily save/load different skill combinations.
Perhaps my greatest praise for Nightfall is how it allows players complete freedom to play how they want. Casual players can rely on heroes and henchmen for leisurely solo play, while hardcore players can take on the challenge of Nightfall’s elite areas. PVP remains a big draw but there is also plenty to do in Elona if you’re more of a PVE player.
If you’re a Guild Wars fan, you really should pick up the best expansion of the series so far. New players who are interested in Guild Wars should also start with Nightfall, considering all the improvements ArenaNet has made.
When I reviewed the first Guild Wars chapter in 2005, I said that only a few troubling details kept this franchise from reaching true greatness. ArenaNet has shown great innovation in Nightfall, fixing nearly all the trouble spots of previous expansions. I also appreciate how Guild Wars is becoming a robust action RPG, not just a PVP-centric title.
Guild Wars: Nightfall is the perfect choice for anyone who enjoys the multiplayer aspects of MMOGs but wants the detailed plot of a single-player RPG. Fantasy genre lovers also owe it to themselves to abandon the dank dungeons and frozen forests of traditional European settings and take a little tropical vacation in Elona.