Review by VicksVice
"Black sheep, or miracle of nature?"
Guild Wars is like a beautiful collage. It takes many of its cues from the RPG (specifically the MMORPG) genre, yet it has many aspects of a strategy and even an action game. Don't believe anybody who says it's "truly innovative", it's not, but the way it grabs good pieces of other games and melds them into one is truly astounding.
Guild Wars has amazing graphics for the most part. There are a few wrinkles that need ironing out but when you move the camera around an area and can't hold your jaw closed, you know the game has something working for it. My only beef so far is that some of the grasses and plants are just two intersecting 2-Dimensional "sheets" of grass or plants. From the right camera angle it doesn't look quite as pretty. That's something they could easily fix with some better forms of mapping textures, which I already see them starting to implement with the roses. Another small qualm is how the mouths don't move (yet) when characters are speaking. Overall this game's graphics and animations still blow me away.
The sound is also far above average. There aren't enough songs right now in my opinion, but I can forgive that seeing as how the full version of the game or any expansions aren't even out yet. What few songs they have are very well done. The voice acting is also top notch, I think I even recognise some of them from Blizzard games which makes sense seeing as how ArenaNet has many ex-Blizzard employees. Sound effects make sense and carry a sense of realism to this otherwise fantasy game. Your hammer isn't going to go *boing* but it's also not going over to the other side of the spectrum and making a smash so loud it's unrealistic; the sound effects are perfect the way they are. Ambient sounds change with your position in an area, another small little detail I like.
Here's the game's most precious aspect. The game play is very reminiscent of RPGs yet it incorporates more strategy aspects and a small number of action aspects through a combination of factors.
First there is the strategic selection of skills before a battle. Your skill library can have approximately 150 skills (or more if they impliment the ability to switch secondary jobs) yet you can only carry 8 at a time. You must choose your skills wisely for each mission, exploration, or PvP battle. You can be specialized and hope that you don't run into a skill build that counters you, you can be generalized and be moderately prepared for anything, and you can even end up somewhere inbetween to augment multiple aspects of your team. Skills that mesh well both with your other skills and those with your team or even the enemy team's skills are important. You may have a skill that does additional damage on a knocked down enemy, and your partner/s may have lots of knockdown skills. You may have a skill that interrupts your enemy's action and disables it for some time but you have to time it right for it to work. You may have a skill that provides you something in return for the loss of something else, and you or your team may have another skill that makes up for the loss. The possibilities are endless, and it's no wonder that the best Guilds who win consistently are very well coordinated.
That's another thing, one cannot attribute their success to their level or equipment or just luck like in other online RPGs, because the max level is so low anybody can reach it in mere days, the concept of "uber loot rare items" is foreign to Guild Wars, and luck plays less of a factor because there are less variables left up to chance with the removal of base accuracy and skill damage brackets. Only your weapon damage bracket remains, and the gaps are usually small anyway.
Another positive aspect is the reworking of many traditional values of RPGs to be more streamlined. The mana pool, magic points, energy, whatever you call it system has been altered so that your point maximum is considerably lower than other games yet recharges at a fast rate. They don't want you to get bored by not using skills often, so they make skills so important you won't survive any battle of comparable level without them. They make it so that you'll be unable to use your skills for mere seconds before it recharges, but you still have to manage your energy as a few seconds without your energy can be costly. You can even design your build to allow you to spam certain skills or to have a chain of skills you can use without a gap in time. Skills the manipulate your energy or you enemy's energy can have dramatic effects on the battle. Overall the gameplay is much more fast paced and exciting than other games, battles actually don't feel like a chore!
Missions themselves have been altered from very large, very open maps to mission areas with definite paths to take as you progress through the mission and set off triggers, sort of like your typical action game. They don't want you to just sneak around to the boss fight or to the objective, if that swamp is in your way you gotta go through it. Some people complain about the invisble walls but they're just there to keep us on the mission path. And come on, most of them make sense. You're not going to go scaling a cliff or jumping down into a ditch. Explorable areas you may notice have less invisible walls and even more paths to take as it is less important for you to stay on track in an explorable area. However, since quests are often located in explorable areas, they still make it so you don't have complete freedom of movement. If you want freedom of movement, go play my second favorite online RPG, City of Heroes. Nothing quite as free as flying or teleporting.
This game gets a 10/10 on gameplay. The small nuances pale in comparison to the good aspects.
This game is very well crafted in mechanics, has good graphics, and decent sound. It defies its MMORPG family and goes off to do its own thing. Those who try to apply the same standards to this game as they do to a typical MMORPG will be confused or frustrated by how different things are. If you're looking for something new, this might just be it. The mean average of my scoring gives us 8 2/3, so I'll round up and give it a 9. I think it's very deserving of such a high mark. It may not be perfect, but it's getting there.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 04/18/05
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