the Junkyard: Guild Wars

Starsiege Series Tribes Series Halo Series
Guild Wars
Guild Wars
Posted by: IVIaedhros on Wed Sep 14th, 2005 at 10:17 AM
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Genre: Role-Playing
Release Date: 04-28-2005

When someone says, "RPG", what do you think of? I would come back with either rocket propelled grenade or a story-driven game involving leveling and lots of monsters/bad guys. Add the prefix "online" and I get monthly fees and other people to romp around with. Guild Wars is something new. While it obeys some old RPG laws, it has also broken or bent others and introduced a few new ones. The end result is something unique and, if I may, something pretty frickin' awesome.

Click for the full picture!Before I go any further I'd like to make something clear: The true heart ofGuild Wars is not the role-playing portion. It is the player-versus-player. The RP portion's function is to add additional content and reward players who decide to invest more energy into the game by giving them better equipment and skills. It's as if ArenaNet gives you 2 games, one really good one, one so-so one, but they decide to stick them together and make you play both. Surprisingly they end up making each other better. Now, is the RP of Guild Wars bad? No, in fact, I've burned many long and happy hours running around Ascalon completing quests. Is it of exceptional quality? No, it is not. Comparisons with the Diablo series have been made and I since I feel that, for the most part, they are justified, I'm going to use them as well.

RP'ing in Guild Wars can be summed up as: talk to NPC, receive quest, follow linear path to point X and kill tons of monsters along the way, talk to NPC, receive reward. In order to survive, you click your mouse a lot and use 8 chosen skills to wipe out baddies and keep yourself and your teammates alive. That was the essence of Diablo and the formula was and still is a sound one. However, unlike Diablo, GW is much shallower. There is nothing beyond that simple experience. Diablo had this, but it also gave you an excellent story line, superb cinematics, and rare items and equipment sets. If nothing else, there was always the fundamental pleasure of moving up another level. Guild Wars' has none of this; there is no ROLE to fill, nothing beyond completing X quest. The story, beginning in cookie-cutter fantasy city Ascalon, is hardly worth mentioning. Presented in cut scenes before and after missions and as text based quest briefings the story is little more than a required afterthought. I never, not even once, felt like I was being drawn into the game's reality.

Click for the full picture! Part of the blame lies in the poor presentation. The cut scenes are rendered in-game and while character models are, on the whole, superb they can't convey anything. Faces don't move at all except for eyes and only a few mechanical gestures are ever used. The written dialogue is really quite bland and the voice acting isn't much better, what with unnatural speech, over-exaggeration in tone, etc. you never feel as these are people you're dealing with. A note about the voice acting; I feel as I've been too hard on it because they really don't have anything good to work with. I even recognize a few of the actors and I know they're good, but they aren't enough to redeem it... where was I?

Ah yes, complaining about the problems of Guild Wars' RP'ing aspect. Ok, so the story and its presentation are not what you might call exceptional, but good game play is what it's all about right? I mean, look at Mario. Does the game play in Guild Wars' case make up for mediocre immersion and story? "Only partly," would be my response. I mentioned earlier that I had spent many happy hours questing and this is certainly true.

Probably the biggest selling point on the RPG aspect was that it was designed to fix many of the problems inherent with MMORPG's, namely endless level grinding, lack of teamwork, pk's and spawn camping, monthly fees, etc. With the exception of grinding, the developers have successfully eliminated all of the problems that plague the typical MMORPG. PK's (Player Killers) and spawn campers were eliminated by starting everyone in towns and by putting you and your team out alone in the outside world with the monsters; every team gets the world to themselves basically until they return to a town. Teamwork was made necessary because of a level cap at 20, stupid and usually underpowered AI teammates and powerful+numerous (if extremely stupid) monsters. Level grinding was eliminated to a degree as you only have to get level 20 and little to no extra effort beyond questing is required to get that. However, it's still very much alive in that you have to spend long hours if you ever expect to get many elite skills, the best armor, or runes. You don't need to grind to beat the game, but if you just beat the game and don't' bother to get extra skills, runes, etc you'll find yourself outclassed in PVP and without much else to do in role-playing. Still, it's good gameplay... for a while. However after a period of time I became sick of it because I was never rewarded for going the extra mile. Because there is a level cap at 20, there's no real reason other than the occasional farming for runes or salvage material to go out on your own and kill stuff.

The areas are so linear that you rarely get an opportunity to venture off a path into an open area and it's almost never a good idea because there aren't many cool hidden areas or powerful drops to be had. Bottom line is any activity outside of questing is almost always redundant and when the questing gets old, what are we left with? Why we're left with the PVP portion of the game, that's what.

Player-versus-player is a whole new animal and that is to be expected as you now deal solely with human opponents in a small and fast paced arena. Fighting comes in two main categories: 4v4 and 8v8, each distinct.Click for the full picture! 4v4 involves either random or picked teams (all 4v4 teams fight together) or 8v8 the Tombs or guild versus guild. Combat is fast enough to get your adrenaline going, but slow enough that in-game tactical thinking will help you succeed. It's extremely satisfying, even if you lose, to know you're part of a well-oiled and motivated team and that feeling is made all the better because there's so much emphasis on the Guild in Guild Wars. The best analogy is really a sports team, both for fighting with guildies and regular buddies as well as random people who organize themselves for a quick pick up game. You personally begin by either creating a PVP only character who begins as a level 20 with maxed out armor or you can enter the arenas with your role playing character by simply walking into them just like any other town. Normally you will be creating PVP-only characters. You either select pre-made characters and tailor them as you please or you create you're own custom character by combing 8 skills from 2 out of a total of 5 professions.

Once you start throwing in attribute points, armor selection, weapons+upgrades, and runes you have a nearly unlimited variety to choose from. However, you only start out with the preset characters and in order to put anything on custom characters you must unlock all of the skills, runes, etc. that you might wish to use via either winning faction points in PVP or directly unlocking by questing/trainers in role playing. This restriction often proves an annoyance, especially since it takes longer to unlock stuff with faction as compared to role playing, but I feel that the developers took the right course when they decided to do it as the decision forced me to experience both worlds when normally I might not have.

Now, unfortunately PVP isn't perfect and its major flaw is that it's hard to find teams to play in, especially if you're new. The fact that it is extremely team-oriented nature of Guild Wars can be a double edged sword. This orientation often leads to frustration because you have to get into a team in the first place and you're always depending on other people, people who you might not know, might not be as good as you need them to be, or might not Click for the full picture!care about what you do. Joining a good guild is the best remedy, it's not too hard since there's a lot of them out there. Fansites have also pitched in by giving players a place to voice their needs, but you'll still be hard pressed even with the help of a guild or fansite to be able to reliably find an enjoyable team. Hence, you often have to go into the public channels and either join one that is being created or start your own. As a newb, you don't know enough to start an effective team so you'll lose quickly and people leave. However, as a newb, you're not going to be attractive enough to get a spot in a good team where you genuinely have fun.

A further problem that occurs in the 8v8's, is that many times the team leader will require you to have a microphone equipped headset so you can talk with other team members. This can lead to problems since not everyone has the equipment and not everyone or their parents is especially receptive to talking to strangers personally online via a voice program. In other words, PVP can be irritatingly hard to get into and while it becomes easier as you grow more experienced, it's still there because even if you're good enough to be wanted by everyone, it's still hard matter of figuring out where you're needed.

As I stated earlier, guilds and fansites help, but ArenaNet should have done something to fix the this problem a while ago. I swear that even a simple GUI pop-up where team leaders in a certain domain could voice openings would do wonders for PVP'ing.

All right, so in terms of concept and game play PVP is great, RP'ing is ok, and together they rock. I would now like to look at two subtopics of what I've just been talking about, namely tech and balance. First, the tech... superb. Drawing again to Diablo and in fact all of, (the network on which GW is run) is extremely smooth and efficient. Auto-updates come quickly and without excess user effort, the network code is extremely lean, updates come when needed are well thought out (*cough* Tribes: Vengeance, Vivendi *cough*), and the interface is clean and intuitive. All that nonsense basically means you never notice the guts of the online system because they're so good. Once my craptastic college laptop finishes loading an area for the first time, I will rarely ever have lag.

Now, my graphics are turned all the way down and I'm running in a downsized window, but keep in mind that this is a horrible gaming system and that, even on the lowest detail settings and the screen scrunched down, the world of Guild Wars still looks gorgeous. And if you're one of those lucky fools who has a decent desktop system, the graphics Guild Wars are absolutely amazing for the amount of power they take, especially the scenery. A final bonus is that since the audience of Guild Wars is smaller and it's a team oriented environment, you get less asshats then you might see in and believe me, that's a very good thing. However, before that last comment gets you thinking I don't respect Blizzard's games I'd like to make another comparison to one of their games for my next topic, balance. In that true classic StarCraft, you had 3 races, each distinct in terms of strengths/weaknesses and strategies; each with units that were always useful. In Guild Wars, you have those 6 classes I talked about earlier, each with over 30 unique skills and attributes which can be mixed and matched. Because of the sheer volume of possibilities, there was a ton of ways they could messed things up. But they did not. No one combination of anything has long proved dominant and everything has a potential use, either in role playing or both. If something does become too dominant or useless, the surprisingly vigilant developers step and issue a patch. As a testament to the balance of the game and the developer's post-release work, there are only a few skills that are genuine stepping stones, meaning that their sole purpose is to hold you over until some better version comes along.

Fin: Final Thoughts:
The Breakdown

The Good
*Exceptionally well-balanced while still allowing for many variations in character types
*Excellent technology behind the gameplay as well as good post-release support; meaning how often the developers update, how good patches are, responding to the community, etc
*Lots of replay due to the way the distinct, but interrelated role playing and PVP elements interact and the amount of content in each individual game type

The Bad
*The role playing aspect is lacking in depth
*It can be frustrating to get into PVP initially and lack of any system for finding teams other than watching chat messages compounds the difficulty

Related Links: Related Links: Information

Additional Reviews

  • The Fireborn A Guild Wars extension of the StarSiege:2845 community
  • POW Tang Competitive and friendly PVP focused Guild, must be 18 years or older

Thanks to GameSpot and Google image search for the screenshots.

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