Release Date: February 2005
Pre-order 'GUILD WARS': PC
Not Your Father's EverQuest
This is not a traditional MMORPG, at least not in the style that we've grown accustomed to when we think of EQ and all the clones that have arisen since its coming.
Leveling? 20 is the cap, and it isn't going to take you a half a year to get there. The idea is that level 20 is where the game begins, not the end goal.
Classes? There are only six, but you get to pick two of them, allowing for several different combinations.
Skills? Each class has 75 skills, and two classes per character allow everyone access to 150, but you can only ever have eight readied at any time. Some skills are Elite, and you only get to have one Elite skill in your chosen eight. You can only reconfigure your skill choices in cities or in loading areas, so pick wisely before you embark on a dangerous mission.
Crafting? You simply collect drops off mobs and use them plus gold to get new equipment. There are no tradeskills to speak of; everyone can make what they need.
Quests? Every quest is instanced for your character's party, creating your own little world to traipse about in. Just pick a quest you have access to on the world map, and you are dropped into a loading area where you can group up with other players or take on computer-controlled henchman to fill out your party.
PvP? No Zerging allowed. PvP takes place in special arenas designed for that purpose, and that purpose only. Again, you get dropped into a loading area, pick up a team, and are pitted against other teams.
Sound goods so far? It really depends on what you are looking for in an MMORPG. Character customization is very limited compared to other games in this genre. Choose class, gender, mix and match a small number of hair and facial features, and dye your clothes in a few different colors. There really are only 15 different combinations of classes to choose, and no racial choice - everyone is a human.
You get attribute points at each level, which you pour into your disciplines – each class has three disciplines that almost every skill off of which that class is based. Raising a discipline's levels makes skills associated with those disciplines slightly better. While this allows you to specialize your character towards doing certain things, thereby differentiating yourself from other people with the same class as you, it also alienates you from skills in the disciplines on which you are not focused. Since you can only use eight skills at once, you usually want to pick the ones out of which you can get the most "bang." This can severely hamper your options, and in my opinion, is going to lead to rampant templating once people figure out what the best combos are. It's a double-edged sword, and one of which I'm not particularly fond.
Equipment comes solely from crafting, which is just a matter of playing through the PvE (Player vs. Environment – killing computer-controlled mobs) portion of the game until you get enough drops to make something better than what you already have. Tradeskills find no place here, and it's a shame because that's an aspect of MMORPGs that I genuinely enjoy.
In all reality, this doesn't even feel that much like an MMORPG since the only time you are interacting with large groups of other players is inside of cities and in the loading areas before quests and PvP arenas. These areas act more like a huge chatroom where people can hook up and trade goods; granted, it's a well-rendered, beautiful 3-D chatroom, but a chatroom nonetheless because no actual "gaming" takes place here. Everything else is instanced, so the moment you set foot outside, it's just you and your party in your own private world. More apt comparisons would be between this game and Dungeon Siege, or perhaps a less intense Diablo 2. From the get-go, I could tell that the main thrust of the game is team-based PvP, not leveling and questing.
Boy Meets World
Speaking of the PvE, it seems almost an afterthought, as though the designers realized they needed something of that sort to add some "depth" to the game. This isn't really a huge problem for me, since I firmly believe that you aren't going to create a game that's strong at both PvE and PvP simultaneously (although WoW is trying to, and I pray they succeed). There are too many things we like to do with mobs, such as mes, stun, charm, etc. that just doesn't fly in the PvP arena without either massive artificial nerfing (which maddens players) or game-breaking cheese (which maddens players). If PvE is what you are after, there are plenty of other games out there to provide it in abundance, but this is not one of them.
The world is vibrant and beautiful, but surprisingly narrow and confined. If you see something cool in the distance, odds are it's just eye candy and there is no way to approach it. It's like someone created an amazing fantasy world and then scrawled a bunch of criss-crossing paths through it, and set it up like a carnival ride through which people can tour. This may be a new theme for modern gaming – Fable suffered from exactly the same flaw. To me, an immersive world requires the player to be able to get to any area that they logically should be able to – invisible boundaries and Super-Dense Foliage of Pathblocking +5 need to take a hike, as they completely ruin the experience.
Since everything outside the loading areas and cities is instanced, you aren't going to find people out in the wilderness, only mobs, so the world feels a bit barren, but you aren't competing with anyone over kills. Again, this is something you'll either love or hate. Quests tell a story, something about two rival groups at war with each other over something or other – I wasn't paying much attention since the quests bored me after I did the first few.
One thing WoW did right and Guild Wars is doing oh-so-wrong was to provide sufficient rewards for completing quests. Give the players a bunch of bonus XP, or a cool item, or something that makes the questing effort worthwhile. Going back to town after a quest that took a half-hour and receiving as a reward the same amount of XP I'd receive from killing a single mob is disheartening, to say the least.
Combat versus mobs is tiring and boring in this game, and has been done before and much better. They aren't going to be using any sort of smart tactics against you that you might expect from a human opponent, so you pretty much just heal yourself and throw damage at them until someone dies.
I Stab Your Back, You Stab Mine!
The combat is supposed to be skill-based, but that really only applies to the PvP. The PvE is quite frankly boring and tedious. It is going to get old fast, which probably makes the game's low level cap, 20, a good thing. Fortunately, the PvP does require some skill, but randomly participating in it with pickup groups becomes a lesson in patience. Get a group with a brain and you probably will do well; get a bunch of morons and you're going to get ganked.
More than anything, it feels like a numbers game, with each side pitting its DPS (damage per second) against the other until one side emerges victorious (not all that different from fighting mobs, at times). There could be more here, however, because in my opinion, the real skill and fun is going to rely upon groups of players working together and developing strong team tactics and team builds in order to minimize weaknesses and maximize strengths. The goal will be to break the curve, or find some combination of abilities that does so. Unfortunately, one weekend is not enough time to explore this to my satisfaction, so I can only speculate that this is the case.
Eye Candy, You Candy
The graphics are awesome, let there be no doubt. Detail is in abundance in just about every part of the environment, and character models look pretty good too (I especially like the female necromancer, rawr!). Spell effects are lacking, however, making it hard to tell exactly what is affecting who, and who is doing what. For example, a spell called Chaos Storm sounds very powerful and ferocious in the skill description, and the spell icon looks absolutely vicious, like powerful purple lightning of death and doom and destruction. When you cast it, it creates a few purple circles swirling around a few feet off the ground, which is lackluster and sad, when you consider how beautifully the environments are rendered.
To Be Or Not To Be An MMORPG
When I first heard about the game, I liked that they were trying to do something different with the MMORPG genre, but after playing I'm not sure if this really even qualifies as a MMORPG. I suppose if you consider Planetside to be an MMORPG, then you'd probably think this fits under that tent as well, but in all honestly, I would classify this as a multiplayer action RPG. Coming from the standpoint of say Diablo or Dungeon Siege, I think they may be on to something here. Perhaps this can be Diablo done right, and on a massive scale.
However, to judge this as an MMORPG, it fails on many levels. It has a world that, while beautiful, is very limited in terms of what you can explore. It has horrible PvE, no tradeskills, limited character customization, little or no focus on obtaining "phat lewt," and practically everything is instanced, severely limiting player interaction. Of course, it all boils down to what you, the player, are looking for in a game.
Boiling It All Down
So did I enjoy playing the game? Yes and no. Some parts of it are fun, and I like that they are actively trying to make the game based around PvP. They need to implement some better rewards for winning, because competitive people often like to have a reason to compete. Currently, you gain fame which puts a number next to your name to showcase just how awesome you are. Floaty numbers may do it for some people, but I think most are going to want more. Just one weekend was not enough time to try out all of the different skill combinations I would have liked, and I am thoroughly convinced I would only play this game if I were a part of a large guild of good players that worked well together and played strategically. Team tactics is where the skill-based combat comes into play, and that's what may be fascinating about the game.
This may easily be your type of game, and I know many people had a blast playing it. I can totally see where they are coming from, but my experience with games of this sort makes me leery whether it can keep a massive player base coming back for more once the uber-guilds figure out how to break everything. I'll be keeping my eye on this one to see how things develop, but my money is still on WoW.
More articles about Guild Wars