Review by video_star

Reviewed: 05/09/05

Unfortunately, you can't fish, mine, or skin in this game.

In recent years, NCSoft has made a name for itself by releasing surprise titles such as City Of Heroes that were anything, but the norm. They've since tapped ArenaNet for GuildWars, the long anticipated antithesis to the traditional MMORPG. In a field inundated with World of Warcraft and Everquest clones, ArenaNet decided to take a vastly different approach to developing a profitable online rpg. They've essentially gotten rid of much of the fluff, meant to maximize play time and subsequent fees, that comes with many MMORPGS. Furthermore, they've completely done away with monthly charges and the result is a title full of tight gameplay, stunning visuals, and pure action that is unadulterated by most of the things we've come to loathe from the standard MMORPG.

First of all, it's important to make a crucial distinction: Guild Wars is not an MMORPG. Although it does feature a very clever network that divides all players up into particular lobbies when visiting towns, much of the action takes place in instanced fields. This means that there are no chance encounters with random players while questing. Although this does eliminate the problems of spawn camping and ganking (just to name a few), it takes away from the overall social feel of the game. In essence, the developers didn't seem to have social interactions in mind at all. Although you can certainly meet new people in town or even keep a friends list to aid in the creation of parties, these processes aren't very streamlined. In fact, almost none of the chatter in the towns is in character and is mostly inane and mute-worthy. By far, the greatest effort by the developers to create social interaction, is the formation of guilds. As the name implies, this game focuses a great deal of attention on guild achievements and guild building.

Once you've purchased the game either online or from a retailer, install it , and enter your unique key, you'll have the option of creating a new pvp or pve character. The PVE system is very similar to many of the MMORPGS on the market. You build an avatar by choosing its initial profession and giving it a distinct name. I appreciated the naming system in that it encourages the use of a first and last name using letters from the alphabet only. This means that there are no "l33t" numerical names and no single names. It also adds to what could have been a great roleplaying potential by rolling characters with proud family or clan names. Although all avatars are human, you'll have a number of professions to roll.

The initial professions are elementalist, mesmer, monk, necromancer, ranger, and warrior. Though this may seem like a thin selection at first, you eventually have the option to pick a secondary profession. For instance, you can decide to be a pure monk and build upon that monk's attributes throughout the game, or you can be a Monk/Warrior and utilize both Monk and Warrior skills to vanquish your foes. The latter is not only encouraged, it's recommended as pure characters are often underpowered in the various guild, PVE, and PVP events that you'll encounter with your role playing character. Also, the different combinations account for classes that would be found in other titles. For instance, the Guild War analog to the Warcraft paladin is the Warrior/Monk, whereas a priest would be similar to a monk/warrior.

I addressed the flaws in the social system before, but they become far more apparent when you choose to build your pvp character. Unlike your role playing character who starts at lvl 1 and slowly progresses upward through missions and quests, your pvp avatar begins at lvl 20 and you can either choose from a list preset profession combinations or manually configure a character to your own tastes. A word to the wise: if you choose to manually configure your own pvp character, be aware that many profession unique skills will be locked to your access unless you've already unlocked those skills with your RPG characters. If you choose to use a preset, many skills will be unlocked regardless of whether or not you've done so with your RPG characters. After choosing your profession combination and outfitting your fighter, you'll name your avatar and enter the pvp arena. The waiting lobby is a very basic landscape peopled by hundreds of avatars standing around. You can't choose your partners, and there isn't much to do but read mind-numbing chatter, look at beautifully rendered models, and wait for the next fight.

Once you're matched up and the fight begins, it's an unmistakably unique and satisfying experience of strategic combat and teamwork, and when your team's efforts result in a win, you'll finally begin to understand what the appeal of Guild Wars is really all about. The random assignment of teammates often challenges you to quickly come up with a strategy to defeat the opposing teams cast of profession combinations. Half the fun is in being grouped up with three casters against a hulking team of warrior/monks and using quick thinking and strategic mastery to earn yourselves a hard fought victory. The random assignment of teammates also means that you could be matched up with anyone from a wily veteran to a skittish newby clueless to the game's nuances and every team member's role is crucial to the team's success. The social shortcomings show themselves especially here as you'll often find yourself with a precious set of teammates that simply cannot lose only to have them lost to you forever once your party loses and is forever disbanded. It's like making friends at a new school only to learn that you have to move the next day. If only there were a way of choosing your teammates.

I wish there were a menu that streamlined some social functions, but aside from that, the dialogues, fonts, menus and borders are all intuitive, streamlined and easy on the eyes. The option button works a lot like that MS "Start" button and most of the menus are hotkey accessible.
Score: 8

Gorgeous representation of game world. Beautiful renders replete with bloom effects, reflections, and glimmers. Animations are also, far beyond, more organic than most MMORPG games and the terrains are stunningly drawn with flora, fauna and geographical details. Some speech dialogues could have used speech animation, but it's a minor gripe in comparison to the rest of the game. Avatars are also uniquely represented--flowing guild tabards and all.
Score: 9

When I first played WoW, I sometimes thought that many of the sounds from the game such as the birds chirping or animals in the woods were actually coming from outside my window. That wasn't quite the case with Guild Wars. Although the score is wonderful and contributes to the overall feel of the world, there aren't many nuances as such. In fact, most of the sounds are apparent in combat and are mostly of an arcade-y variety of "whirrs", "grunts", and "woosh"-es.
Score: 7

The real meat and potatoes of the game. A very intense pvp experience, coupled with a divinely pure roleplaying experience that is free of all the nonsense that so many games on the market will have you do. At no time do you ever feel hindered by an oppressive economy that has you gathering resources for tens of hours just so you can buy a handful of skills or equipment. In addition, Guild Wars is made for people who don't enjoy having to play for long periods in order to be satisfied. Although, the game is exciting and addictive in some ways, it doesn't require an inordinate amount of effort or time in order to be fun. The fact that you can instantly travel from town to town, obviating the need for mounts, walking, or any other time wasting and tedious transport, means that most of your time spent playing will be spent playing and little else. Some social refinements would be a much welcomed plus though.
Score: 9

Lasting Appeal:
Like most rpgs, there's always something to find. Since there will also be updates, there'll be plenty to hold on to your attention. The effort to unlock all your character's skills and get elite skills will take up plenty of your time in and of itself, but don't feel the need to rush, it's free to play online after all.
Score: 9

So I give it a 9 overall, which isn't an average by any means, but a fair evaluation of the game as a whole. I've only managed to touch on just a few of the things that the game has to offer, but it's most prevalent strengths lie in it's visual luster, strategy driven gameplay, and free online play. Guild Wars is most definitely a game worth playing.

Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

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