While it's tempting to compare Guild Wars to any number of other fantasy-themed role-playing games, there's really never been anything quite like it before. It innovatively and successfully combines many of the best, most addictive properties of action RPGs, online RPGs, and competitive multiplayer games in one beautifully produced package, which offers a tremendous lasting value yet none of the monthly fees typically associated with online-only games. The first title from developer ArenaNet, Guild Wars threatens the entire online RPG establishment with its bold design. More importantly, it's a very impressive game that's rewarding on many different levels and can be tremendously appealing for any number of reasons.
In the world of Guild Wars, the men are men, and the women are runway models. Oh, and it's awesome.
In Guild Wars, you play as a hero from Ascalon, your typical fantasy province that's fallen on hard times, thanks to relentless assaults from fearsome creatures called the charr. Ascalon seems huge and wondrous as you begin to explore it and its outskirts. But it turns out to be literally just a tiny portion of the richly detailed and shockingly gigantic world of Tyria, which you'll explore during the course of an adventure that's truly epic. Meanwhile, the other half of the game consists of competitive battles between teams of players, set in various types of arena events. It's action packed, it's tactical, and it's sporting. It's definitely more involved than a pick-up-and-play first-person shooter, but it's relatively easy to learn and certainly difficult to master. Unlike many other online RPGs, which often take a lot of flak from their audiences for lacking a definitive endgame, Guild Wars gives the impression that it was built with the endgame competition as a primary concern. However, one of its big surprises is just how much noncompetitive content there is. Even if you have no interest in player-versus-player battling whatsoever, Guild Wars will still provide you with more than 100 hours of quality gameplay, which you can tackle either alone or together with other players pretty much every step of the way.
The core gameplay in Guild Wars is reminiscent of action RPGs like the Diablo series. It lets you navigate countless big, winding maps filled with enemies and treasure, and combat is frequent and fast. You can't climb or fall from ledges, so at times, the design of the maps feels pretty contrived. However, the generally linear layout mostly just helps to keep you focused. The game's interface is clean and intuitive, and offers a few neat perks like a minimap that you can scribble on to help you communicate with your team. You have free reign over the camera perspective, so you may choose to play from a first-person viewpoint all the way on out to a bird's-eye view. Although, a third-person behind-the-back angle seems to deliver the best of both worlds, because you'll get a close look at the game's gorgeous graphics and plenty of room to see on your character's periphery. When you see an enemy (whether it's a computer-controlled creature or an opposing player), you may target it with a hotkey or a mouse click, and then attack it with your ranged or melee weapons. Most of your combat will be focused on using your different skills, though.
You can have exactly eight skills readied at a time, which correspond to the number keys on your keyboard. Which eight skills you bring to battle and which skills you discover during your adventure is really at the heart of what makes Guild Wars such a compelling experience. It's what levels the playing field in PvP and keeps the action manageable even when things get really intense. Each of the game's six character classes has 150 unique skills, and each one has its own little icon graphic, description, and purpose. For the most part, skills are not inherently better or worse than other skills--they're just different. Depending on how you've developed your character or your role in a player team, the skills will be better or worse for your circumstances. Many skills have obvious uses, while many are much more specific to certain types of situations. Some will serve you better when exploring the role-playing portion of the game, while others will be better suited to PvP battling against real opponents. It's definitely an interesting selection process. It shares a lot in common with collectible card games, and similarly offers a very satisfying reward whenever you discover that great, new skill that makes you feel much stronger while also causing you to make significant changes to your overall strategy. Guild Wars' skill system is a resounding success.
Creating a character is a quick, straightforward process of choosing a gender, appearance, and character class. You'll quickly notice the game's striking character design right from this point. Even prior to that, though, you're asked to make an important choice: whether to build a standard role-playing character or a player-versus-player-specific character. If you choose the former, you start out as a first-level neophyte on a foreboding day in Ascalon's history. And if you choose the PvP option, you skip all the way through the 100-odd hours of questing and storyline and begin with a high-level character decked out with powerful equipment. He or she can then jump right into some competitive matches, but cannot participate in any cooperative gameplay.
An absolutely huge story-driven role-playing adventure awaits you, though you can cut straight to the player-versus-player skirmishing if you prefer.
The idea behind these two options is pretty obvious. Players who'd rather not muck around with leveling up and pretentious fantasy storytelling needn't even bother with it, and they can instead jump straight into the competitive game. Or, players who want to get their feet wet before diving into PvP combat, or who want to ignore PvP entirely, may do so during the course of the adventure. It's not quite this cut and dried, though, because Guild Wars wants you to experience both aspects of the game, regardless of whether you think you do or not. Specifically, if you cut straight to the PvP, you'll find that the vast majority of the different character classes' skills are locked away, waiting to be discovered during the course of the role-playing portion. Custom weapon parts can also be found in the campaign, which can later be used in PvP.
So, it's possible that players expecting Guild Wars to be a light and breezy experience will be disappointed, because this is a deep, enthralling, and potentially very time-consuming game. While combat in Guild Wars rewards skillful planning and coordination between players, many of the best Guild Wars players will surely be the ones who invest the largest number of hours into the game--not only honing their talents, but also seeking out the best skills and equipment in the role-playing portion. Fortunately, the role-playing portion is on equal footing with the PvP, so chances are you'll enjoy the opportunity to experience both, and appreciate the game all the more for it.
Guild Wars is one of those games that you can easily play for long stretches while losing track of the hours--suddenly it's dark out, or light out, as the case may be. However, in contrast to many other RPGs, there's very little about Guild Wars that inherently demands a lot of your time all at once. It was clearly designed from the ground up to allow you to play in brief spurts, for minutes or maybe for an hour at a time. The PvP battles are action-packed affairs along the lines of what you'd expect from a competitive shooter. The role-playing quests and cooperative missions are typically less than an hour long. Also, you never need to worry about saving your progress or logging out in a safe area, because you can quit whenever you want to, and you'll always restart in the nearest town with all your skills and experience intact. There are no severe or permanent penalties from getting killed--just a temporary hit to your maximum health and energy levels that goes away when you get back to town.
Guild Wars offers single-player, cooperative, and competitive experiences each in turn.
From a technical standpoint, the game is a marvel. It boots up and quits out instantly, downloads software updates quickly and automatically, and runs wonderfully in a window if you prefer (you do need to be connected to the Internet whenever you're playing, though). Unlike in other online RPGs, logging in and quitting out is painless, and your character is also capable of instantly teleporting between all the cities and towns you've ever visited, at any time. These locations effectively serve as lobbies, and they're packed with players looking for other players to be their teammates. Or, if you can't find a good player team (or don't want to), the cities and towns let you fill out your team with computer-controlled henchmen.