[floatleft]http://www.snackbar-games.com/images/reviews/guildwars/cover.jpg[/floatleft]There is a lot to be said of ArenaNet’s [i]Guild Wars[/i]. What do you get when you combine MMORPGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games), free online play, and [i]Diablo II[/i]’s former team? You get a game with all the benefits of an MMO without all of its weaknesses. Those benefits include free play (it costs you nothing except an e-mail account and the cost to purchase the game itself), interacting with tons of people across the world, a long and drawn-out game that never ceases to entertain, and a definite ending-which most MMOs lack. Once you create your character’s (you can have up to four) gender, appearance, and starting class (there are six: Elementalist, Monk, Ranger, Warrior, Mesmer, and Necromancer), you are thrown into the game, and from there the exhilarating ride to the top begins.
[i]Guild Wars[/i] is a game that starts out in a world (known as Pre-Searing Ascalon) where you are aspiring to become a powerful combatant by choosing both a main class and a second class to learn as you progress through the game. Your warrior joins several in a battle against the Charr that literally leaves the world scarred and ashen. However, as you progress, you learn that the world extends far beyond the seared Ascalon, and the world battles vastly exceed that of just the Charr.
[floatright]http://www.snackbar-games.com/images/reviews/guildwars/ss02_thumb.jpg[/floatright]Typically in [i]Guild Wars[/i] you will find the game progress through missions, which can be accomplished by visiting a town where a mission starts, forming a party, and clicking the ‘Enter Mission’ button. If you fail, you simply return to the town and are able to then start over whenever you want to. If restarting a failed mission doesn’t suit you, you can take your party out to complete quests given to you by various NPCs across the world. If you don’t want to form a party but can’t manage to fight alone, the game provides computer-controlled henchmen to help you balance out the fighting so that you can still play alone but battle with help, or you can just go out hunting for spoils. As you level up, you can assign points to skill sets in which your skills belong-for example, as an Elementalist (the mage), you can either level up fire, earth, air, or water magic. Leveling is not very hard, as you gain experience from both battles and quests/missions. The max character level (for now) is 20, but there is still quite a challenge after level 20 is reached. The level does not affect your character’s classes at all except to allow you those points to assign to your skills and increase your health bar. Other benefits of questing include money, items, and skills (which can also be learned from skill teachers spread around the world).
In a battle system similar to [i]Diablo II[/i]’s mixed with a little MMO, you run around, click on what you want to attack, and your character enters auto-attack mode. It will continue to do that until you tell it to use one of the eight skills you’ve assigned to your skill bar. Once you defeat a monster, spoils such as gold, salvaging items, or weapons drop to the ground for you to pick up. You can then sell the spoils to merchants, salvage them into crafting materials, or simply use them if you wish. Your henchmen attack whichever enemy you are fighting, employing the strategy that everyone focused on one monster will kill a lot faster. The other cool thing about this game is that when you die, [b]nothing permanent happens to you[/b]. I repeat. [b]Nothing permanent happens to you[/b]. You suffer a temporary reduction in hit points and magic points, but that reduction is cleared when you either enter town or kill enough to boost your morale back up. Dear Blizzard, Square Enix, and every other MMO company. Take notes. That is the way to do it. The game is still very challenging without the tedium of having to re-level over and over if you keep dying and losing experience.
You can buy armor and weapons from crafters, or you can find items in the wild and take them to collectors who have pieces of your armor to offer in return. As you change armaments, your character changes appearance to reflect what it is wearing. Another cool (but rare and kind of annoying) thing is the use of dyes that drop very infrequently in battle. Dyes can be combined to make new colors or simply applied to your outfit as is to alter the colors of your wardrobe, thus further customizing your character.
[floatleft]http://www.snackbar-games.com/images/reviews/guildwars/ss05_thumb.jpg[/floatleft]If you don’t want to play the roleplaying part of the game, you can construct a level 20 character to jump right into Arena and Guild battles and completely bypass the long roleplaying campaign. The only drawback to that is you have to unlock all skills and items from the roleplaying section before they can be used in the multiplayer section, so if you are not at all interested in playing the game itself, your battle experience will be very limited. Regardless, the battles are fun, taking two teams of four and letting them slaughter each other. As you win Arena battles, you are given faction points that can be used to buy skills and cool items. As you win Guild battles, you are given rank, esteem, and glory. Winners of both battles find themselves the owners of cool items and rewards.
Let’s briefly talk about Guilds. Similar to [i]Final Fantasy XI[/i]’s Linkshell system, you can join a Guild in [i]Guild Wars[/i] where you can easily communicate with a segregated community to coordinate missions, quests, or Guild battles. A Guild leader can purchase a cape that all members of the Guild wear; so non-Guild members can be easily identified by those not wearing a cape. They can also purchase a Guild Hall, where Guild members can meet easily to exchange items or just hang back and converse. Other benefits include item, dye, and gold sharing, so that you don’t have to always go to a dye trader, weapon crafter, or rune trader to get something that your Guild may have for you.
Like any other MMO, you have the use of silly commands that make your character act, such as /dance or /guitar, after which your character will either dance or play an air guitar. These are humorous, but commands such as /bow and /sit help the roleplayers out a bit. This game differs from a traditional MMO so much that people refuse to call it one (but let’s face it, this game is MMO straight up). Instead of servers that contain thousands of people, there are town districts which act as different chat servers. There are several servers in the same town, and you can easily change servers with the click of a button. When you go out from town into the world, you (and anyone in your party) enter into your own private ‘copy’ of the game. This removes trying to find enemies to hunt due to server overpopulation or the strain of having too much lag due to too many people connected to the area. In town, there are only dozens of people at a time, not hundreds. The single greatest thing about [i]Guild Wars[/i] is that you can pull up your map, double-click on a town, and you are instantly there. This means, once you have taken the time to travel to a place once, you can now return there at any time, from anywhere, instantly from the map. That was the final indicator to me that this game is just wonderful.
[i]Guild Wars[/i] is the next big thing, like [i]Diablo II[/i] and its expansion. In fact, [i]Guild Wars[/i] has already had one expansion (that was a FREE download, I might add) called [i]Sorrow’s Furnace[/i] that just came out on September 7, 2005. This expansion has two new questing and hunting areas, new quests, and a few tweaks to make the game play a little smoother. I’m telling you, this game is doing everything right and nothing wrong. The tedium is gone from the game, replaced by hours and hours of missions, quests, and battling. No monthly fees. You can play for 15 minutes and actually accomplish something tiny-be it finish up a quest or just slay a few monsters for some loot. Do yourself a favor and buy this game, and when you do, look up Matain Amarai. My level 20 Elementalist/Monk might just be willing to help out some of you new people.