Review by Terence

"The ultimate MMO competitive game ever"

Introduction

Guild Wars is an MMORPG developed by ArenaNet. While most ORPG developers promote their games based on practical player interactivity, a vast game world, abundant quests or maybe even advanced graphics, ArenaNet's Guild Wars takes a different approach: it instead touts its capability to offer customers a free online play experience. In fact, the phrase ‘Free Online Play' is the only enticement displayed on the original game box to attract gamers.

With such an unusual marketing tactic, one can expect an even more unique gameplay experience in Guild Wars. And indeed, right from the start you as the gamer can already discern, from the promising and simplistic game interface layout flaunted on the inside flap of the game box, that this is no ordinary online game.

Also, the game, like the majority of other MMORPGs, has two aspects to it: Player-versus-Enemies (PvE) and Player-versus-Player (PvP). Both facets will be covered in the review.

And lastly, minor in-game bugs will not be covered in the review since, this being an online game the errors can easily be rectified by the game developers.

PvE Plot (8/10)

While Guild Wars (GW) does not boast of the finest of storylines, its plot is still worthy of praise. It is shrewdly engineered in a fluid manner that simultaneously introduces you to the various adversary factions and game locales without breaking stride or losing focus of the story's ultimate intent.

The once-peaceful kingdom of Ascalon is under heavy siege by a race of furry, lupine humanoids known as the Charr. In a bid to repel those dreadful fiends from his land, King Adelbern, ruler of Ascalon, has issued a plea for the best fighters and spellcasters in the realm to step forward and defend the nation. And you are one of them. Together with your party, you will eventually embark on an epic journey spanning the entire world of Guild Wars in a gargantuan effort to rid humanity of evil after malevolent evil as confounding mysteries, doubtful allies and insuperable enemies combine to ruthlessly rend your heroic quest for world salvation into infinitesimal bits.

The plot, in my opinion, does sound a little cliche, like a “hero-must-defeat-evil-mastermind-before-latter-annihilates-the-world” kind of thing.

PvP Plot (6/10)

The plot of PvP is rather vague and obscure (since it is not covered much in the game) but nevertheless exists with most of the information being obtained from the accompanying game manuscripts.

The origin of the guild wars stems from a rather unsavoury and bloody episode that occurred at an earlier period. Simply put, in the past rivalry between guilds within the three kingdoms of Ascalon, Kryta and Orr were commonplace. And one such rivalry ultimately led to an open free-for-all war between the assorted guilds of all three nations. Rather predictably, countless lives were lost. As a result of this event, the rulers of the three kingdoms abolished all guild-owned lands and banned future guilds from possessing any of them, and this law lives till today.

Now, since it is quite illegal to set up a Guild Hall – which is required for guild battles – in any of the above-mentioned kingdoms, players can only opt to erect one on one of the many different Canthan isles located in the south part of the world map. This is the setting of guild battles, where wars are fought for status and prominence.

I have to say that I am quite surprised and somewhat disappointed by the indistinct plot of GW's PvP aspect, seeing that how guild battles are supposedly the main theme of this game. But still, both are credible storylines that would undoubtedly benefit from being improved upon in future expansions. In fact, I would have given this section a ‘fail' rating if not for the outstanding quality of the writers who penned the GW manuscripts, making it an enjoyable read.

Gameplay (PvE) (7/10)

First of all, you will be able to choose your character's primary profession from the six core classes – namely the elementalist, mesmer, monk, necromancer, ranger and warrior – in the game, as well as a secondary profession from the remaining five classes. By utilizing the skills from two of the six professions, this dual-class system allows for an exceptional depth in a character's ability customization.

Each class has in his repertoire dozens of skills divided between four different attributes, but you are only allowed to bring eight skills into battle at any one time, and skills can only be switched while in outposts. This forces you to ponder over the pros and cons of the various skills in your repertoire carefully before equipping them for adventures, for, once outside of outposts, they cannot be changed. By combining different skills from not only your primary profession but your secondary one as well, a plethora of different character builds can be achieved, each with its own potencies and flaws.

Now on to the weapons: Weapon choices in the game, I feel, are rather dull, most notably due to the fact that the four spellcasting classes of elementalist, mesmer, monk and necromancer all wield just about the same class weapons (either a wand & a focus, or a staff). Rangers by default handle bows (nope, no crossbows or dual-wielding travesties found in D&D), albeit several different bow choices, each with varying capabilities, are available for selection. The warrior is the only class that has access to more than two different weapon sets, having the aptitude to brandish sword, axe or hammer (with a shield to accompany the former two). Also, the warrior is the only class with skills that has direct association with his weapon of choice: a slashing sword attack skill cannot be made with an axe or hammer, and a bludgeoning hammer assault skill can be executed with neither sword nor axe. The other classes, on the other hand, can switch between their own weapon types at whim, since it has no genuine consequence on their capabilities.

Additionally, it is possible, and occasionally desirable, for a profession to wield weapons of another class. A warrior, for example, might favour a focus over a shield for the additional energy that a focus grants the wielder.

GW also features an ‘outpost' aspect. You can only interact with other players whilst in one of the many such outposts located in the game. Once outside, your game world is instanced: no one except your party, which must be formed in outposts, will be able to communicate with you (except via the ‘whisper' chat command). This has been a cause of ire for some players, who feel this system to be a significant hindrance to game sociality. ArenaNet's reason for implementing this feature is that it completely eliminates the concepts of unauthorized ‘player-killing', where typically stronger characters will intentionally beat the crap out of comparatively weaker ones for sport; and experience denial, where, similarly, a powerful character will stalk a weaker one with the aim of killing all the enemies the latter comes across, ensuring that he does not gain any experience from slaying foes – again, for nothing more than personal satisfaction. I feel that this ‘outpost' concept, although somewhat unorthodox, is nevertheless clever and creative, as apart from eradicating the above-mentioned concepts that have plagued many an ORPG, ArenaNet can also save on customer support service due to a lack of client complaints.

Furthermore, other common ORPG problems like ‘kill-stealing' and tormenting someone with incessant private messages are also addressed in this game. The former, which involves a player snatching loot dropped by monsters that were killed by another person, is non-existent in this game because whatever goods an enemy drops will be randomly assigned to one of the members in your party; no one except that person can pick them up. The latter problem is stamped out by implementing a simple ‘Ignore' function: a player that has been Ignored by another cannot send him private messages (aka ‘whispers'). Again, these initiatives only reflect the sheer ingenuity of the game developers.

Battles in PvE are basically a hack-and-slash affair. Most enemies will simply fling whatever attacks they have at you, be it sword, spell or arrow. Their sense of survival is also dismal, as once an adversary is provoked he will launch an assault, even if he is only a lone figure against your party's eight. This makes picking off isolated enemies a relatively simple affair.

Now on to the actual gameplay: In the PvE aspect of GW you often do one of four things: missions, quests, item farming or elite skill capturing. Missions are operations that you embark on to advance in the game storyline, while quests are, well, sidequests that will grant you rewards in the form of either items or skills upon successful completion. Those familiar with ORPG jargon will know that item farming simply means killing enemy masses in the hope that they will drop a particular object you desire. Elite skill capturing refers to the usage of signets of capture to ‘capture' the elite skill from certain defeated (and very much dead) bosses. Elite skills are relatively more potent and/or practical than regular skills, and you can only have one elite skill on your skill bar at any time. These are pretty much trivial stuff, nothing that truly sets GW apart from its peers.

And lastly, the level cap: The maximum level you can attain in this game is a miserable 20, which is enough to put many an ORPG addict off. But since success in GW depends on one's skill rather than the amount of time invested in the game, I feel that a level cap of 20 would encourage more players to spend time honing their proficiencies with various character classes rather than engage in a monotonous enemy massacre in a bid to gain character experience and advance in level.

Gameplay (PvP) (10/10)

In this game PvP can be fought in one of four battlefields: random arenas, team arenas, Heroes' Ascent and of course the Guild Halls.

The Random Arenas (RA) is a popular stop-point for players who wish to test out their character builds or simply want to hone their own battle skills. This arena is a basic four-versus-four battlefield, where the game will randomly group participants into teams of four. This makes matches somewhat interesting as you will have a chance to witness the effectiveness of different player class combinations, since you will never know who will be in the team with you. But there is a downside to this system: since it is theoretically possible for one team to get a favourable composition of say two warriors, one elementalist and one monk, and the other squad to be made up of a downright dismal cast of four mesmers, it does not take much intellect to predict the winning side. Hence it can occasionally get frustrating when you want to experiment with various character builds, only to be drafted into a miserable team where the notion of victory is all but evaporated. This arena is suitable for those who want to jump into a PvP brawl with minimal delay.

On the other hand, the Team Arenas (TA), which is also another four-versus-four battleground, has a distinct difference that sets it apart from the RA: you get to select your own teammates. This allows you to experiment with various team combinations, as well as to hone team strategies and tactics. As such, this arena is a favourite site for guild members who want to buff up their teamwork skills.

But even the blistering competitiveness of both the RA and TA combined is still not sufficient to rival the thrill of a full-blown Guild Battle. A duel between two opposing guilds, a guild battle is the true test of the very essence of PvP in the game of Guild Wars that pits two eight-a-side guilds against each other in a comparatively much larger battleground. The fact that there are eight members in a side allows for near-unlimited team build variations, ranging from a mass-warrior ‘thumper' build to an all-monk smiter union.

Another site for genuine PvP specialists who are aching for a locale to pit their combat prowess against worthy opponents is the Heroes' Ascent. There, teams of eight duke it out in various battlegrounds tournament-style, with the winner advancing to the next tier of the competition. The final stage is none other than the famed Hall of Heroes. The team that emerges victorious there will earn their region the favour of the Gods and be awarded rare items. Fame is also granted to you whenever you win a match here. The further you are in the tournament, the more fame you gain when you are triumphant. This is a brilliant place for you to test your battle competence, not only individually but also in a proper team (unlike RA and TA), as well as to socialize and acquire new friends. Many of the top guilds in GW originated here, where competent, like-minded players in successful teams realize they could extend their tournament accomplishment to the realm of GvG as well. The Ascent is also a favourite recruiting spot for competitive guilds wishing to swell their ranks with more combat veterans.

In fact, the skills of the various character classes are so balanced that actual tournaments are brazenly held annually to truly recognize the best of the best guilds in the game.

However, one grievance I have about the Ascent is with regards to fame. Fame is an indication of a player's rank (both of which are displayed in the character window). You gain a rank whenever your fame points meet a fixed threshold (to obtain a rank of three, for example, you must have garnered 180 fame points.) For every three ranks you attain you will be granted a special ‘rank emote' that will signify to others your prestige and experience in the tournament. My point is that most serious groups will only accept players of a certain rank or higher (like “Team looking for more rank 3+ players”) and requires potential members to display their rank emote before they will be allowed into the group.

This is both a boon and a hindrance. It prevents inexperienced players from bluffing their way into teams demanding skilled players, but it also simultaneously frustrates players who believe they have a respectable caliber in PvP and are desperate to attain a higher rank, but cannot do so because they do not meet the rank requirements of competent groups (which typically request rank 3+ players) and are as a result stuck with inept, ‘emoteless' teammates. Such a team can only hope for a similarly incompetent opponent in the tournament for a chance at victory and getting fame, for they stand all but no chance against teams composed of all veteran players. As a result, obtaining fame points and consequently gaining rank is an extremely tedious process for newcomers to the Heroes' Ascent.

Challenge (PvE) (8/10)

By and large, I would only say that GW is moderately challenging. This category only gets an eight with respect to the immensely exigent post-game sidequests.

The missions in GW, with the exception of a couple of tough ones, are the least challenging of all. As long as one player or two brings a speed boost and a resurrection spell, he can simply retreat when the situation gets ugly, return again when the circumstance simmers down and resurrect every fallen party member. Most enemies in GW, who move at an average speed, do not pursue hastened players. Sure, there are no resurrection shrines in missions, meaning if every member falls it is game over, but all it takes is a few responsible, experienced and cool-headed players to lead the pack and make missions an exalting success.

The existence of resurrection shrines, which will resurrect the entire party should everyone get wiped out, naturally makes quests a notch less demanding than missions – which is true, until you complete all missions and get to the final concluding quests. Those quests are comparatively much more challenging and severe – even more so than missions – and understanding of tactics by the entire team is needed before tackling them; even with the aid of resurrection shrines, they are tough nuts to crack.

Challenge (PvP) (10/10)

The fact that in PvP you go against human players is enough to justify the perfect score I have given.

The random arenas pose the least of a challenge; since the contestants there are made up of both veterans and novices, you never know who you will get. Battles there almost always evolve from a composed march towards the enemy into a disorganized dogfight where every killing class wants a share of the enemy's meat (poor monks). I am not saying that that fact makes RA battles less challenging, but since everyone relies on their own individual abilities more than teamwork, it would not take much effort for a competent meddler to toss the opposing team into disarray – although the same goes for your own team too.

The team arenas are an entire different story. Since you get to know your team members beforehand and plan strategies before entering battle, TA is surely a tad more challenging than RA.

Guild matches and Heroes' Ascent battles are the true definitions of challenge in PvP. In an eight-versus-eight match, teams that do not have a tactic will almost certainly be trounced by one that is organized any day. In such battles, skill understanding, positional play, team tactics, an ability to read the game, a competent leader and complementing skills are just some of the numerous factors that determines whether your team will march out of the battlefield in glorious victory, or shamble away in abject defeat.

Graphics (7/10)

Realistic character models, remarkable in-game animation and a beautiful rendering of the environment indicate that ArenaNet's artistic departments are certainly no slouches. Object details are incredibly rendered down to the creases and grooves, while game physics like water ripples and entity shadows are done with careful precision – which, however, is nothing remarkably impressive, considering the advanced technologies of today. The only flaw – and one that is undoubtedly very plainly clear – in GW's graphics has to be the fact that characters' jaws do not budge at all when they talk during cutscenes. This is indeed puzzling: I am no animation expert, but considering the commendable amount of artistic effort put into the game's graphics, could the developers not do just a little more as to animate characters' mouths enough to stimulate the cyclic motion of talking?

Music (8/10)

The music of this game has been remarkably polished up in the update, with each region having a different, distinct melody, ranging from the haunting and weighty tune of Ascalon City to the lush and diversifying Kryta hymn, from the deep and lonely symphony of the Crystal Desert to the evocative and mystifying drone of the Ring of Fire Island Chain. There is also a distinctive Guild Wars intro piece played at the game login screen. Overall the music is exquisite and meritorious, with nothing much to gripe about, although I sometimes feel that most of the game's music relates somewhat more to ambiance than to battles. Perhaps it would be even better if the game could play separate tunes during battle engagements and nonviolent journeying.

Controls (7/10)

The controls in GW are satisfactory, but can be glitchy at times.

For movement, you can either left-click on wherever you wish your character to travel to with your mouse, or move your avatar in conventional third-person style with the WASD keys. In my opinion, it is more practical to use the latter mode of movement because the cursor also has to be used for targeting other players; hence it would be fiddly to juggle between movement and targeting should you utilize the former style of mobility.

To select any in-game persona, move your cursor over him until his name appears and he ‘lights up'. Then, click on him. However, this can sometimes be frustrating, as your cursor has to be in a certain, precise spot in order for a particular individual to be targeted. To alleviate this problem the game has come up with command keys that, when pressed, will highlight all the interactable objects and enemies respectively (by default, they are the ‘Control' and ‘Alternate' keys). However, since it is much more convenient, I find myself pressing those keys every time I want to select an object, making matters somewhat unconventional.

Other than the aforementioned dilemma, the rest of the game controls are rather straightforward; if so desired, you can reassign commands to the various keys via the game menu.

Fun Factor (PvE) (7/10)

Certainly, missions and quests are enjoyable, but some of the more challenging ones may still frustrate you, especially if you have been investing a long period of time on a quest or mission run, only to fail at the closing part. Although I have never experienced such a dismal circumstance myself, I have seen people who (or so they claim) took weeks to overcome certain missions, thanks in no small part to outright inept teammates.

Fun Factor (PvP) (9/10)

Whether you enjoy PvP or not depends on which end of the winner-loser spectrum you and your team are usually on. Surely no one would enjoy being the loser in any occasion, but if you do find yourself losing on a regular basis (which is all but inevitable for PvP novices), take time out to reflect on what went wrong, and – especially in randomly-assembled teams – whether you are really at fault. There is truly no being more pitiable than one who blames himself for a blunder committed by his teammates!

Replay Value (5/10)

Most ORPG games tend to have a dismal replay value, and GW is no exception. The reason is simple: after spending countless hours in front of the computer screen polishing up your main avatars from vulnerable level 1 weaklings into sparkling, almighty heroes of astronomical levels, not many would want to invest that kind of time and sweat to replay the game with a fresh level 1 midget again.

However, the 20-level cap of GW makes it fare better in the replay value department than other ORPGs because pumping a new character from a level 1 to the maximum level (20 in this game) requires comparatively lesser effort on the player's part than other online games, where level caps can soar to three-digit figures (the late MMORPG Redmoon Online, where there is virtually no level cap, comes to mind).

Best Part of Game (PvE)

Tough one, but I would say it is the acquiring of a marvelously rare item, which can then in turn be sold for mountainous amounts of gold, or equipped (if possible) for the egotistical purpose of flaunting off (alright, I admit not everyone wields rares for showing off, but it is just my personal perception that some do).

My reason is simple: After months of playing this game I find GW to be teeming with loads of materialistic players who can be heard both in popular farming locales “looking for a trapper to complete a four-man farming team” (since the lesser players there are in your team, the greater the chance that a dropped rare item will be allocated to you)., as well as in key cities hawking their rare wares for astronomical prices. With such a materialistic in-game economy, it is indeed challenging for average players to resist the temptation of laying their hands on a rare item of their own and obtaining big money from its sale.

Best Part of Game (PvP)

The most fantastic occasion in PvP has to be when you triumph in the Hall of Heroes, as doing so is an admirable and definitive reflection of your PvP mastery and achievement. The victorious sensation becomes all the more poignant when you look back at the first time you ever played the game, when you were a total GW newbie wandering aimlessly across the Ascalon countryside, to the arduous and demanding path you endured in the hopes of one day accomplishing something significant in the game, to finally realizing that elusive goal.

Okay, maybe I was a little theatrical in my descriptions, but still, winning the Hall of Heroes is a great feeling.

Conclusion

Guild Wars is a definite must-buy for even the most critical of MMORPG players due to the game's sheer originality, as well as the audacity and ingenuity of the developers for coming up with such a game. However, GW's average plot might put off serious RPG enthusiasts who are into storyline-oriented games.

To wrap it all up, Guild Wars is the ultimate MMO PvP game in the market, highly recommended for serious, team-oriented competitive gamers. The game is also highly recommended for fans of traditional-style MMORPGs where PvP is merely a side feature of the game, since GW can also be played as such. The fact that GW is free of typical ORPG dilemmas like intentional player-killing is also an added appeal. This game, however, does not have much to offer in terms of graphical splendor (GW is certainly a nonentity when put beside visual greats like the Final Fantasy series) and auditory brilliance, so enthusiasts of those departments might want to give this game a miss.


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 02/01/06


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