Guild Wars: Does it Measure Up to the MMORPG Status Quo?

Any serious gamer is familiar with an ever-growing genre that is enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of users worldwide. This rapidly expanding sect of the industry is the “Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game,” and has been captivating the hearts and minds of young and old alike since the first days of SOE’s Everquest. However, as developers and executives alike are becoming more and more crunched for ideas to fuel hungry fans of this genre, shortcuts have become common and as of late, it can be argued, quality has been in decline. Blizzard’s World of Warcraft, Sony’s Everquest 2, and Square-Enix’s Final Fantasy XI are all competing for a share of the profits as most high quality MMORPGs have also become pay-to-play (P2P, for short), which requires users to pay a monthly fee. This fee (ranging from $10-$20 monthly) covers increasingly high costs for massive servers, administrators, and other aspects which help keep these games running smoothly. For the casual gamer, this has created all sorts of problems. Lo and behold, the fine people at NCsoft have come up with a solution for those who want to get away from the grind of traditional online RPGs and do so without paying a monthly fee. This solution, namely Guild Wars, is packed full of new concepts and still manages to keep the traditional satisfying features of the older games.

First we’ll look at the strengths of the current challenger to the archetypal MMORPG. At the heart of Guild Wars’ success is its basis upon player skill rather than on experience grinding. For those not familiar with the term, “grinding” refers to the hours of tedious play it takes people in some games to gain a level. In GW, as we’ll call it, the level cap is a mere twenty. Yes, the big two-O doesn’t seem very high compared to Everquest’s 70+, but this is the genius of the system. This cap can easily be reached as one progresses through the story of the game, which one must do in order to unlock skills for the second mode of the game.

This second mode is really the glory-maker for GW. Where World of Warcraft (WoW) and EQ fall short is in PvP, GW markedly excels. Every character can be unique and various teams of four and eight can compete at all levels. There is no “best character” that can beat everyone else. On the contrary, no single class is able to survive without counterparts or allies. Each character is also required to select a secondary class, which allows a character to use most or all of that classes skills in addition to their first class. The classes in GW are very generic, including warrior, necromancer, and elementalist (essentially a wizard), but include many interesting and innovative spells and skills.

In terms of user-friendliness, Guild Wars is top notch. The camera is easily controlled with the mouse, and the keyboard is fully programmable to make movement and spells just as easy to use. This allows new players to get a feel for the game while allowing experts full customization and coordination. It will take new users a little bit of time to learn the system, but generally speaking it’s quite easy to do.

Perhaps the most noticeable amazement Guild Wars has to offer are the graphics. There simply is no other MMORPG that can compete at the current time with the beautiful environments this game has to offer. From crusty deserts to lush jungle, all climates and terrains are wonderfully rendered by the artists. Character models, which all look like supermodels, are also beautifully drawn on screen. The best thing about the graphics, though, is that it doesn’t take a supercomputer to run. A moderately equipped system with a 128 megabyte graphics card should easily run average settings at a more than reasonable frame rate.

Now for the game’s shortfalls, and trust me, there are a few. Firstly, if you’re looking for a tradition online role-playing game such as WoW or EQ, look elsewhere. This game’s PvE (player vs. everything) is much smaller, much shorter, and much less-involved than either of the other games. While one must endure PvE in order to unlock valuable PvP (player vs. player) skills, it eventually becomes repetitious because of such a short story. As opposed to the ever-evolving worlds of other games, this is a very linear storyline that leaves much to be desired. Perhaps this aspect will be remedied by the newly released expansion, Factions, but I doubt it since GW is not a game aiming for a traditional MMORPG experience. This simply is not NCsoft’s goal in creating the game.

My other major qualm about GW concerns the character models. While they are wonderfully rendered on screen, they are also practically carbon copies of one another. All elementalists look the same, all warriors look the same, and all monks look the same. While dying armors is the biggest part of character appearance customization, it still does not do what other games have done. In addition to this, during character creation very few options are offered to change facial and body appearance. Unlike other modern online games which include character customization, GW has a set number of generic faces to choose from as opposed to the infinite options given via the ability to morph facial structure and shape.

The bottom line is that Guild Wars is a departure from the normal online RPG. If you like playing in beautiful environments and competing with other characters, this is the game for you. However, if PvP combat is not your dish, look elsewhere in a hurry. While NCsoft certainly has added a considerable amount of vigor to the genre with the release of this game, fans of the traditional style of play will be disappointed with what is being offered. However, in my opinion, you get more than what you pay for: $40 can earn you a couple hundred hours’ worth of playing time.

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