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Guild Wars

Score: 95%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: NC Soft
Developer: ArenaNet
Media: CD/2
Players: MMO
Genre: Online/ RPG/ Action

Graphics & Sound:

To clear something up from the start, Guild Wars isn’t an MMORPG – at least not in the traditional sense. While you will be sharing adventures with other players from around the world, you’ll also experience your own personal game through areas that are generated just for you. This makes Guild Wars a unique offering that successfully combines several elements from other online RPGs, while taking away the one element that truly binds them all: monthly fees.

Guild Wars is easily one of the most artistically beautiful games I’ve ever played. Even before upgrading my video card halfway though my play experience, the game looked incredible and ran with barely a stutter, even with the settings turned rather high. It’s really good to see a game that looks great even on a “lower” mid-range system, especially since this is one of the few MMOs where the screen shots really do show what you can expect from the game. All of the game’s design elements are pulled from traditional fantasy archetypes while adding its own imaginative spin. Character designs lack variety at the start, but soon grow to really stand apart the deeper you get into the game. Like most elements in the game, it’s all about evolving into something much bigger and, in the case of your character, better looking.

Environments are what really make Guild Wars stand out. With the exception of World of Warcraft, Guild Wars is one of the few MMOs out there that really makes you feel like you’re in a living world. You’re not traveling through vast plains where you may see a random grouping of trees that is supposed to be a forest; instead you really are in a forest, complete with light peeking through the branches and even the occasional shower of dead leaves.

An amazing audio package compliments the impressive look. The orchestral soundtrack, composed by Jeremy Soule (Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 1 & 2, The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind), does a great job of giving you a feel for the area’s mood, while staying out of the way. As the sounds of battle begin to grow in volume, the soundtrack seems to melt away into the background instead of competing for your attention.


So, if Guild Wars isn’t a traditional MMO, then what is it exactly? The game’s core mechanics resemble Diablo, but calling it a “larger” version of Diablo’s online portion would be a misnomer since there are enough differences to really set it apart. If I were forced to categorize it, I would say it’s largely a single-player RPG experience that you’re sharing with your closest friends. Sometimes your paths will cross and you’ll share the journey, yet once it’s over, you’re back to your own personal quest.

If you’d rather, you can go through the entire game without ever interacting with anyone. One of the game’s real successes is that it offers content both for the social butterfly gamers who want to group up and tackle tasks or the more solo-minded sort who just want to enjoy their own little adventure and not be bothered with other gamers. For this latter sect, A.I.-controlled partners can be recruited to help you out with tougher challenges. The characters are competent, but really no substitute for a player-controlled companion.

Guild Wars is more about the journey than anything else. You are an adventurer from the city of Ascalon, an area in the world of Tyria. You begin as a humble adventurer taking on run-of-the-mill quests only to rise to the position of hero and help protect the world from the Charr – a race of creatures that have been attacking the city. Your adventures take you all over the world and lead you to what could be considered the game’s ultimate end-game, PvP. That is, if you choose to partake in it – it’s your journey.

At the start, you’re offered two player creation choices that will shape your gaming experience. These choices allow you to either start from Level 1 and work your way up through the game’s story or jump right into PvP with a high-level character. The drawback to starting with a powerful character is that you’re not allowed to enjoy any of the game’s co-op play or story elements, so the choice is better suited for the action-oriented gamers who thrive on competition. By starting as a PvP character, you’re also cut off from a majority of skills and custom weapons that the story side offers.

The game’s brisk pace makes it one of those rare MMOs that you can jump into for a few minutes of questing or play for hour; either way you’ll feel like you’ve made some progress either by obtaining a new level, skills, or completing a quest. The technology behind the game is a key element to the game’s speedy pace. Instead of creating vast worlds that you adventure in, Guild Wars instead generates your own little version of an area that only you, or the group you’re partied with, can explore.

Load times are quick when entering these areas, as is the downloading and patching of updates when you first enter the game. This system also leads to the game’s only problem, but even that labeling is based more on what you’re looking for out of an MMO. By generating your own instanced versions of areas, you’re cut off from the rest of the gameplay community for most of the game. This puts a stop to the problems of loot campers and grifters; yet at the same time takes away from the competition of playing an MMO. Then again, that’s what the PvP element is there for, so it balances out.


Guild War’s difficulty all boils down to how well you understand the easy-to-understand, yet surprisingly deep mechanics of the game – especially your class limits and how they factor into the combat system. More on that part later. Another factor that goes a long way to determining the ease of your experience is how well you work with others. While the game offers the option of playing through the entire experience alone, soloing isn’t a great idea. For starters, you’re completely missing out on the “massively multiplayer” aspect for the game. Second, the A.I. partners you will have to team up with when going into larger quests are no substitute for the real thing and are usually more concerned with saving their hides rather than looking out for the group. Still, you’re not always going to get the dream team when playing with other live players, so there’s something to be said for teaming up with the A.I. But, the more socially you play, the quicker you’ll find more like-minded players, making the odds of getting that dream group much better.

Game Mechanics:

The most interesting aspect of Guild Wars, at least for me, is the combat system, which ends up working out like a CCG. All of the game’s classes have access to class-specific sets of abilities. You begin with a primary class and handful of skills. As you progress into the game you learn new skills, giving you more actions to choose from. The catch to the system is that although you can select from hundreds of skills, which include special attacks, spells, and other abilities, you are limited to only using eight at any given time – thus the CCG element. Other than your auto-attack, which is always armed, all of your attacks come from this “deck” of eight skills. This forces players to have to think carefully about which skills they’ll use based on the area they’re venturing into or the monsters they expect to come across. More advanced players will even factor in their party members skills, working out skill combinations that compliment each other.

On top of the strategies available to individual class types, you can also pick up a secondary class, unlocking a host of skill combinations. Before settling on a secondary class, you are given the option of “test driving” select skills from each class which will keep you from choosing a secondary class you don’t particularly like. The downside to using two classes is that you’re still limited to only eight active skills, making skill selection a little more complex.

Because of the emphasis on strategy, Guild Wars is more about skill rather than character build. Not that there aren’t a few “killer” class combos, but overall any class can survive as well as another in PvP or combat when in the hands of a skilled player.

Another of the game’s few shortcomings once again brings into play the game’s “stand alone” gameplay model and getting groups. For a game called Guild Wars, it’s rather hard to put together a group – especially when you’re a rank newbie. There are few tools in the game that make team play easily accessible. Implementation of some sort of matchmaking tool would have really helped to push the system along. But, for anyone looking to start the process of becoming a “social” player or just looking for some friendly help, Keiran Raasec (or Ashlyn Raasec) are just an in-game message away.

Guild Wars is one of those rare games that offers something for nearly everyone’s play style and, best of all, it’s free of monthly charges, which should get the attention of gamers who have wanted to try out a MMO but were scared away by pricing. In the end, Guild Wars is a total package, offering single player, co-op, and competitive experiences all in one affordable presentation, making it one of the must-play games of the year.

-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

Minimum System Requirements:

Windows XP/2000/ME/98, Pentium III 800 Mhz or equivalent, 256 MB RAM, 2 GB Available HDD Space, ATI Radeon 8500 or GeForce 3 or 4 MX Series Video Card with 32MB of VRAM, 16-bit Sound Card, Internet connection

Test System:

Windows XP, Pentium 4 1.8 GHz, Radeon 9250 256 MB, 40 Gig HD, 640 MB RAM, DirectX 9.0, Cable Internet Connection

Sony PlayStation 2 Haunting Ground Microsoft Xbox Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

Game Vortex :: PSIllustrated