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Guild Wars

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  Reviewed by Erich Becker
May 20, 2005
NC Soft
In the mid- to late 1990s, the first person shooter genre was at its peak. Every which way you looked a new game boasting a new spin on the tried-and-true formula was busting out. From the countless Build engine clones to id's masterpieces, the first person shooter was the genre. Now things are a bit different. Sure, the FPS is alive and well, but now the "it" series of games are online RPGs (collectively called MMORPG) and with big guns like EverQuest II and Blizzard's World of WarCraft, would there be room and interest for a game from first time developer ArenaNET? There most certainly is.

Guild Wars takes a bold stab at the genre by eliminating the monthly fee and giving players either a chance to quest to a higher level or begin Player vs. Player combat immediately with a high level, pre-designed character. The choice is yours, but either way you win.

Besides the lack of a monthly fee, Guild Wars also challenges many of the tried and true conventions of MMORPGs as it sets out to not only break the mold, but obliterate it as well.

Players start off by selecting a primary profession, and customizing their virtual avatar. After that you're thrown into the world with some basic equipment and a few quests immediately available. Through your beginning travels you'll acquire more and more quests as well as choose a second profession, learn skills to buff up your character, and collect items to make yourself more powerful.

Having played EverQuest II since its beta last year, I'd become accustom to the monotony of fetch and gathering quests. When any company boasts "thousands of quests," it should be more like "about one hundred worthwhile ones, the rest will have you pulling teeth." Those of you who got used to picking up letters, barrels of beer, and water and delivering them to people (sometimes no more than 50 feet away from the quest-giver) will be surprised by Guild War's variety and freshness. The primary quest line follows the game's story which has you performing tasks for entrance into The Academy. Like any good RPG, along the way you'll meet up with many different NPCs who will offer experience and rewards for fulfilling tasks. While other games may make this seem like a mundane way to earn experience, Guild Wars changes things for the better.

As you progress your experience points move you from level to level while you also earn skills points which can be distributed to many different aspects of your character. Being a Warrior/Monk I was able to pump points into strength, sword play, hammer and axe skills as well as healing and harming spells. The addition of a second profession to your avatar adds a new dimension to the game as you create a unique play experience for yourself and lets you broaden the scope of the game, without creating a new character.

Each profession has over a hundred different skills that you can learn, but you're only able to equip eight at time (and can only switch those eight in town) so picking and choosing which ones will provide you with the most bang for your buck is a crucial strategy.

For the most part you'll be running through the world solo or with a small party as the countryside is an instanced affair with towns being the only place for you to confer with other players. With a game so focuses on guilds, parties, and groups, I was a bit hesitant at the prospects for solo play, but after making it nearly half the way to the current level 20 cap, I realized that Guild War's solo game is just as healthy as its group play, although the solo difficulty ramps up dramatically once you go "post-Searing."

The Searing breaks the game into two parts, pre- and post-. Pre-Searing is like the a tutorial where you can comfortably make your way to level eight or nine before being forced to move on. You enter the academy where you are pitted against another player in a PvP match. The outcome only provides bragging rights, but once it, and a short mission are completed, two years pass in the game as the world is nearly destroyed by the game's primary antagonists, the Charr. Post-Searing Guild Wars finally begins to kick it into high gear with higher level monsters, better item drops, and penalties for death.

It seems as though when the world ends, things really start to get interesting.

The game's namesake guilds are groups of individuals who decide to team up together much like a clan in Counterike or Quake III: Arena. Once a guild has been established the guild leader can design the guild's cape, organize battles, and bring a more honed sense of community as you join with your brothers and sisters in quests across the massive world.

To make things easier, ArenaNET has included the option to travel instantaneous to any town you've already visited, cutting down the monotonous killing of low-level monsters and admiring trees on the road to the next town.

When you do decide to admire the world around you, you'll find that Guild Wars is geared by a very powerful engine full of great effects and texture work. Even playing the game in 1024x768 and 32bit color the textures are clean, clear, and look great. Rushing water, reflection mapping, and particle effects, among other things, are top notch and may even rival EQ2 in some aspects. Dungeon design and architecture is also very well done with an early dungeon, The Catacombs, offering a series of routes complete with twists, turns, and a variety of monsters to dispatch.

Speaking of monsters, the world is littered with them, sometimes running solo and other times in mobs. After the first few levels, pre-Searing, you should be able to take on just about any baddie 1-on-1, but when they start to gang up on you; healing spells are your best friend. Lower level monsters will stop immediately attacking you on sight as you progress, removing the pointless battles that award no XP, but the ones that do attack seem to have a huge vision spectrum, sometimes picking you up before you even see them. Unlike EverQuest you have no idea which monsters will and won't attack, so always be prepared.

No package would be completed with out the orchestrated music playing throughout your adventure and Guild Wars has just that, although in the heat of battle and the quest for more armor you may not even notice it's playing.

While there is most certainly going to be updates to the game, either freely available by the game's invisible updating system, or boxed/downloadable expansion sets there are some problems that seem inherent at this time.

As I've mentioned many times before in this review, I'm currently still playing EverQuest II, a game driven by items and armor, and where you would expect Guild Wars to try and match the variety of Sony's game, it just can't compare. For the first eight levels of my experience I never upgraded my armor, simply because it wasn't possible to buy from merchants (although it could be had from collectors for gathering certain items). It isn't like every merchant is spilling over with gobs of stuff for you to buy, which may disappoint some. When you enter the post-Searing world the range of items seems to open up a bit, with the ability to craft new armor present, but the volume and variety of items is still lacking.

Another problem is the game's pathfinding and controls. Your character cannot fall from ledges or traverse steep hills, so staying on the beaten path is in your best interest. There were times, however, when I got caught up on either a small hill or bush. Early in the game is possible to have an NPC follow you around, there were times when I would come upon a dead end, turned around, but couldn't go back because the young girl was blocking my path just standing there. Usually the NPC will move out of the way, but other times I had to warp to a nearby town only to try my adventure again.

It is possible to hire henchmen if you decide to take on your quests solo, the problem here is the AI for your digital buddies seems to be a little on the slow side. For the most part your party will attack when you attack, but the characters are such a low level (I was level eight, they were level three) that once I was killed and entered observer mode it took all three of them to dispatch one level three monster. In relation to that, several escort missions have you leading a group of heavily armed men. When you're attacked delivering them to their destination they simply stand around and watch as your pummeled into the ground. Sure, these are some nitpicky things to point out, but they did start to detract from the experience a bit when you die four or five times in a row.

There's really a lot to cover about Guild Wars and while I could keep going, the game is best experienced than read about. With no monthly subscription fee, dynamically added content, and solo/team play, there's really no excuse not to dive right in. You won't have the added expense, besides the initial cost of the game, and the community is strong and growing daily. The low level cap may be a minor discouragement, but casual, two-hours-a-day players will take months to reach that goal while hardcore players can delve into PvP battles until new content is added. If you have the extra money, the Collector's Edition boasts a soundtrack, art book, and microphone for voice chat, as well as the game itself. Guild Wars has something for everyone right out of the box, so why not give the year's best online RPG a chance?

(Click to Enlarge)

Minimum Requirements...
Windows XP/2000/ME/98; Intel Pentium III 800 Mhz or equivalent; 256 MB RAM; CD-ROM Drive; 2 GB Available HDD Space; ATI Radeon 8500 or GeForce 3 or 4 MX Series Video Card with 32MB of VRAM; 16-bit Sound Card; Internet connection.


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