Now, today I review not so much a product as an event that foreshadows a product. Oh, and I'll have a movie review tomorrow (to make up for the one I missed last week), so be sure to look for that. EDIT: Something's come up. I'll have to postpone the Special for Tuesday.
The Guild Wars
beta test that took place from Friday April 15th to Sunday April 17th was very, very fun. As you all probably know, the beta test is a stage that most games go through in which it is released to a limited portion of the populace for stress testing. Basically, they fill the cup that is the game with water and see where it leaks. Guild Wars chose its beta testers by giving out passwords for it with the preorders. My brother was good enough to preorder it a few weeks ago, and since it comes with a Guest/Friend pass, I was able to play in it.
Let's start with some basics about the game (the next several paragraphs are merely explanatory. If you already know about how the game works, skip ahead until I bold for you to stop): Guild Wars is a new type of Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Game ("MMORPG," or just "MMO" for short) which is set up in such a way as to not only eliminate many of the grievances gamers have had with traditional MMO's (such as camping at spawn points, kill-stealing, spending hundreds of hours leveling, et al) but also offer the game with no monthly charges. If NCSoft is able to turn a decent profit, Guild Wars will set a new industry standard which pay services (such as World of Warcraft) may find difficult to top.
According to the game's website FAQ, it might be more correct to call this a "Competetive Online Role Playing Game" rather than an MMO, and not just because it has fixed many problems and doesn't charge a monthly fee. All, or at least mostly all, of the fighting done in Guild Wars takes place in what I am told are called "Instances," special private versions of sections of the game generated for you when you step through certain gates. You and other players can form a party in one of the cities and then set off on an adventure together, helping each other to face challenges that would otherwise be difficult, or perhaps even impossible, alone.
The game has two character types: RP or PvP. RP characters start from scratch and spend most of their time going on quests to grow in power and advance the story (which, thanks to Instancing, now has personal continuity: you won't see someone else kill a unique monster that you already killed, for example), although they can
compete in head-to-head matches in certain places. PvP characters only have one option available to them: fight other players in tournament-style encounters. In the beta, the player had access to all abilities and items and started at the maximum level (20) for PvP characters, but rumor has it that in the real game, you will only be able to use the abilities and items that you discovered in the RP half of the game, and you cannot exceed the level of your RP characters.
Yes, the maximum level in the game is 20. Yes, this is rather low (although it becomes more and more difficult to level, as always, it still takes relatively little time to get there, at least according to my estimates). Yes, this is good. This means that victory is a function of skill, not simply hours invested. Anyway, every level you gain health and ability points (which you spend improving your profession's or secondary profession's areas of expertise, called, surprisingly, Abilities). You do not
gain energy/mana (not automatically, at least. You can gain energy/mana by putting points into Energy Storage, which only primary Elementalists have access to, or equipping special items). This kinda sucks for certain character types, such as the Monk who exclusively heals, but overall works out well: none of the abilities cost more than a starting character can afford (as far as I know, anyway), and they improve as you spend more ability points.
Speaking of which, Spells are here called "Skills" (because they are not always magic, and everyone, even the warrior, has them). These do various things, mostly centered around gaining health or removing health in various ways. The casting/use time for each is different, some taking 10 seconds or longer to use and others taking no time at all. Most also have a recharge time, and some even charge something beyond energy (specifically, some of the warrior's skills cost something called adrenaline, which you gain by hitting things). This system is very slick and works fairly intuitively.
The game has no mining, crafting, smelting or other such skills. Instead, you can salvage materials from items you pick up off dead creatures with a Salvage kit and give them, along with some money, to Crafter NPCs to make stuff.
Finally, even as a beta this game offers much variation in personal look. Although everyone of a profession must start with the same body type (Warriors are beefy, Mesmers are lithe, etc), you have a number of choices between different hair styles and colors, faces, skin colors, and size (as well as Sex, of course). Everyone starts with the same clothes, but you can find other clothing throughout the game, and you can also use Ink to change the color of your clothes. This all boils down to a very diverse-looking bunch of people.Ok: summary over. The part of the review that's actually a review starts here.
This game owns. It succeeded my wildest expectations and then some. I was hoping for something at least halfway decent and got something extremely enjoyable for every single minute I played.
Let's start with the most superficial of levels, and yet increasingly the most important: graphics. Everything from the character models to the insignificant backgrounds to the sky to the grass to the monsters was stunningly beautiful. My computer is coming up on it's fifth birthday, which forced me to bring every single video setting to the minimum (and I still
experienced some lag time here and there), but even then, the graphics were very very pretty. Once I switched to my brother's computer (a 1.7 GHz P4, 756 MB RAM, 256 MB Video Card), which can easily handle every setting to the max, the game really jumped out at me.
The music was also very nice, very listenable. I can easily see spending a hundred hours playing with it in the background.
Ok, ok, no more stalling. Let's talk about the meat and marrow of the game: the gameplay. Wow. Simple and intuitive with plenty of variation, the gameplay in this game is stellar. Combat works basically like this: click the enemy, you two trade blows. You each continue to trade blows with your equipped weapon until one (or even both) of you decide to either run away (which doesn't usually work well, in my experience) or use a skill. Using a skill is simple: either click its little icon at the bottom of the screen or press its corresponding number on your keyboard (I find the latter to be far more effective). Your character then goes through all the necessary motions and the skill is used. The AI does this intelligently, too; you won't accidentally heal an enemy or harm a friend, for example, and if an ability can only logically effect one character nearby, you won't usually have to select that character.
I really like the leveling system, to a degree. It is simple and intuitive (that could probably be the game's motto), and leaves you some room to correct screw-ups. Once you hit 20, you can level no more, but I'm pretty sure that you can continue to gain ability points if you get enough XP. That's really my only concern: abilities start costing more and more points, but it appears as if you never gain more than 5 ability points per level, which means you might not get anything from a level except more hit points.
The game does
have an issue with information (namely that it doesn't give you enough of it). Often, I would get into a situation and not know what the monkeys was going on (thankfully, the goal was usually pretty obvious). Many of the features of the game were left for you to find (for example, it was not readily obvious that you gain ability points when you level. You had to stumble upon that
all by yourself). And often, the precise function of a skill would not be totally obvious from the little blurb given. Hopefully, this is an issue that will be fixed by release.
Instead of classes, Guild Wars uses Professions. I played for at least a few levels of each profession, and they seemed by-and-large fairly well balanced with each other. The Ranger and Warrior had a harder time soloing and the Monk seemed like it might be a little bit overpowered, but the power level mostly seemed fine. I started out as an Elementalist (hoping for simplicity as I learned the game system), then I did the Monk shtick for a while (which was more fun than I thought it would be), then Warrior (more complicated than you might think. His adrenaline skills were very cool), then Mesmer (which required more combo sequences than the others, but was fun despite, or because, of this), then Necromancer (which has some very cool and potent skills) and finally Ranger (which I had been putting off because my brother played one a great deal and I thought I might be pressed for time. I didn't like this one quite as much as the others, as it seemed like his initial skills weren't enough). All the classes were fun, and each offered its own tactical challenges. I eschewed duel-classing due to time, but I would want to know more about it before using it anyway (I do not currently know of a single downside to duel-classing).
The quests in the RP part of the game were always fun and interesting with a very low frequency of "Fetch" missions. You could always count on having a good time doing them. Teaming up with another person or two increased the fun, although it was a bit of a hassle using the Chat feature (you have to click the bar every single time you want to type a message)
And finally, the PvP part. If ever there was an good MMO for Player-versus-Player action, this would be that game. Because of the level cap, you didn't have to worry about going up against someone 40 or 50 levels higher than you. Because you fight as one party against another party, you can create specialized characters that still contribute quite well. I was very impressed with the PvP part of the game, although I never made it past the third round.Combat:
4.5/5 broken flutes (Very well done, with the just right mixture of strategy and action)
4.5/5 waterfalls (Extremely well done, even at the minimum settings).Balance:
4/5 fiery explosions (For the most part, the Professions and skills seemed balanced, although there were a few things that seemed a tad off).Story:
3/5 flaming swords (It suffices)
4/5 swooshes (Good, solid game music that's easy to listen to as you play)
5/5 golden coins (Retail is about $50, which is the industry standard for big-ticket games. However, it's an MMO without the monthly fee, and that is a feat worthy of a great many accolades).Humor:
3/5 exploding gnomes (Although there wasn't a whole lot of humor in the game itself, the way the beta ended deserves a mention. Essentially, gnomes appeared that exploded and killed everyone, then fireworks, then a rain of money and XP, and finally death by giant flaming worms)
.Overall (not necessarily determined by the above categories):
4.5/5 Monty Hauls (This game should be at the top of ever gamer's wish list).