My most satisfying game play experience of the year was Guild Wars. I bought the game because I wanted to play an online RPG and did not want the committment or expense of a monthly fee. An expected outcome of such a game is that the content would be mediocre. I did not have many expectations or too many pre-conceived notions, as I am a relative newbie to PC gaming. Really, the only PC RPG that I had played up to that point was Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn (which I need to complete sometime). I had never played an online game before. I found that Guild Wars was definitely a good gaming investment.
Guild Wars is fun and challenging. I have not reached the endgame, but despite having this game for months and months I still enjoy it. I haven’t yet experienced the apathy that often sets in when I play a game, or the feeling that I’m working too hard to enjoy myself. Example: more than a year on, and I have not completed Metroid Prime 2: Echoes, and I am supposed to be a huge a Metroid fan. There were some periods when I didn’t play Guild Wars as much, but it was more to do with a desire to play with guild mates (and scheduling problems), as well as other committments, that caused long breaks, rather than dissatisfaction or boredom with the game.
What follows is… I guess you could call it a “detailed review”.
I am in love with the graphics in Guild Wars. Sometimes I just wander around looking at the scenery and the surroundings. I’ll have to post more pictures of my Tyrian travels on Flickr. Bloom lighting is gorgeous.
Most of the possible character templates are good-looking, though some Professions have more attractive options than others. The exception, in my opinion is for the female Mesmer. I created a lady Mesmer a few months ago, and I could not, for the life of me, make a combination that I was completely satsified with. I ended up using her as a mule and deleting her as soon as she got to Post-Searing. I admit that her appearance played a small part in her deletion. I am contemplating creating another Mesmer, this time a male, because I want to try out a Mesmer Primary. The male Mesmers look like such dandies, which I love!
The reliance on tactics makes for an interesting play experience. Since players are limited to using 8 Skills in battle, you have to think strategically when preparing to quest. You have to think about your party composition, what Skills will complement the other members, and about what sorts of enemies you expect to encounter in that area. It would be idiotic to have a questing party with two Necromancer primaries who both specialise in raising Minions from the dead. The competition for enemy corpses would be irritating. For PvP, character builds are supremely important, and communicating strategy with your teammates is imperative.
The two Profession (character class) system gives players flexibility to experiement with character builds. Some combinations are more complementary than others, and some better-suited to PvE or PvP than others. None of the Professions are ‘throwaway’ or useless, in my opinion. Each Profession has a role to play in a party, and ArenaNet have done a good job at balancing them out so that one Profession doesn’t become insanely powerful (and thus really overpopulated) in the game.
The way I see it (and I think very few would argue), online games such as Guild Wars are primarily meant to be played with others. ArenaNet called Guild wars a “Competitive Online Role-Playing Game” (CORPG), because the game is tuned for PvP. Most people list it under the MMORPG category, despite key differences between Guild Wars and other online RPGs. Some people also call it a “Co-operative Online RPG”. Whatever category Guild Wars is grouped under, the emphasis, like other online games, is on social interaction and community. Games like this are designed to be played with others. What’s the point of making it online-enabled if you don’t interact? World of Warcraft players tend to dismiss Guild Wars as being less immersive and having a less tight-knit community. The immersion factor critique is fair in many respects, but I think the other point is incorrect. There are passionate Guild Wars communities if you know where to look.
I will permit myself a digression: I hate the fanboyishness of some WOW players. Having to listen to, “OMG you play Guild Wars? Guild Wars sucks!!!111one” is tiresome. I don’t expect the same play experience from both games, and it doesn’t make WOW players look intelligent or better if they compare kumquats to Valencias (Very different citrus fruits in the orange family, in case you didn’t know.). Trying to convince me that Guild Wars sucks, when I’ve had such a good time playing isn’t going to work either. I am not an uninformed gamer. I know that WOW has intricacy that GW lacks, but do you know what? I don’t care.
I have been plying in the PvE part of the game, and I have enjoyed it. Instancing makes PvE feel more of a single-player game, unless you’re questing with guildies or friends, but that isn’t a complaint. I think the only people who feel cheated out of a “proper” MMORPG experience are those who expected Guild Wars to be like the other massive online RPGs, and that certainly wasn’t me. Gamers should do some research before making purchases, instead of buying a game, and then complaining that it isn’t like World of Warcraft or EverQuest. And it’s possible that less-knowledgeable retail staff can be blamed as well.
My PvP experience is limited to the snowball fights in the Snow Arena, which is a temporary feature of the Winter season. However, I found the Snow Arena PvP to be a lot of fun, so perhaps I will wander into a regular PvP arena for non-snowy matches.
I have had good times questing with friends and (recently) randoms. When the people in PUGs (pick-up groups) know their roles, it’s a very nice experience. I have only been in two PUGs, but both of them were positive experiences.
I have also had some funny experiences in towns. One time, in an effort to cheer me up, one of my guildmates suggested we flirt with the ladies in Pre-Searing Ascalon City. He insisted that I use my male Elementalist. We ended up having a small pool party (Everyone stripped to their skivvies!) with an Elementalist and a Necromancer. We were chatting and dancing and emoting all around. At one point, another woman wandered up, and for some reason, she got into a cat fight with the Necromancer. Insults flew back and forth, and the Necromancer whispered me, asking whether the newcomer had said something bad about her. I asked the Necromancer if she knew the other girl, and she didn’t. It was amusing. Of course, I knew that whomever controlled those characters had the potential to be male, female, old, young, ugly, attractive etc., but it was still fun to pretend. I don’t think I did a good job at flirting though, and my wingman said as much.
I like the fact that I only have to deal with people in towns, and that there is no player-killing unless you’re in PvP. Whilst questing in an instance makes you feel more detached from other players, there is no chance that some random person will come up to pester you or kill you. There are pros and cons to the use of instances, and in this case I’ll count it as a pro.
I can ‘hire’ computer-controlled NPC Henchmen when I don’t want to play with people, or if I can’t find a group. Henchies are less effective than (good) players, but they also don’t talk, which can be a blessing. They can also be used to fill out a party.
The PvE campaign is linear, but it’s not unenjoyable. The story is compelling and keeps me playing. Players are introduced to key figures, factions, and events in Tyrian history in the background lore contained in the instruction manual. As the game progresses, the player is immersed and enmeshed in the world’s events.
Another great feature is that I am not restricted to playing on American servers. Currently, all of the people I regularly play Guild Wars with (when time permits) are located in Europe (most of the time). I don’t know about other MMOGs, but World of Warcraft would not allow me to choose a European server to play on. With Guild Wars, I could choose to have my account ‘located’ in America or in Europe. Regardless of which location I chose as my account’s home, I can go to the International District, which all players have access to. So whether my friends’ Home Districts are American or European, we can still play together. This is a big plus in my opinion.
One of my American friends questioned why I play in the International Districts almost exclusively. Apart from the reason I jut gave, the International Districts are less crowded, so when I keep Local Chat enabled, it’s less troublesome to follow conversations. It’s easier to find people as well. I also have the possibility to interact with non-Americans, which I view as an advantage.
When I first started playing, which was just after he started, the International Districts did not have Traders. Traders are NPCs who buy goods (Rare Crafting Materials, Dye, Runes) from characters, and sell at the market rate. I was too new to care about Traders, so it wasn’t an issue for me. And if I needed a Trader, I could just warp to my Home District with very little effort. He thought this was stupid. About a week after he criticised me for playing in the International Districts, Traders appeared there. Apparently Traders had been in International Districts before, and they had disappeared for a little while. With the return of Traders, there became no real reason for me to even visit the American Districts anymore.
I have had no technical problems with the game. I use a broadband connection, so this is a factor. One of the things I love is that I don’t have to spend 30 minutes or an hour downloading the latest patch. The updates stream to my computer whenever they’re needed. In the case of the Wintersday update, the stream took less than a minute to download at login, and when I went to the Snow Arena, it took another half minute to get that area downloaded.
ArenaNet seem very responsive to player feedback. Although they don’t have official forums on their website, their Community Relations staff participate in forums on Official Fansites. They have game updates every week, the details of which are posted on the official website. Whilst it’s true that some players may not agree with the changes, like nerfs or buffs to Skills, at least the developers try to keep the game as balanced as possible.
There is also the Frog of Tyria, an amusingly cryptic method by which ArenaNet communicates (unoffially) with players in-game. The Frog gives hints of the future, and generally asks for feedback.
ArenaNet customer service has been great in my experience. After I looked in the FAQ for information, and failing to find my answer, I contacted customer service. I had my question answered in less than 24 hours.
For these reasons, Guild Wars is my favourite game of 2005.
Most of them were not released in 2005, but I played them this year, so they count. Somehow.
Ico* — Atmosphere like no other. Lives up to the hype, so far.
Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater* — Best game qua film I’ve played to date. Despite some frustrating game play moments, it delivered on story.
Tekken 5 — The best Tekken yet. As of Tekken 5, I’ve switched from playing as Nina Williams in previous editions to playing as Asuka Kazama. And sometimes Raven.
* Check The Game Chair for my progressive reviews of these games. I am currently reviewing Ico.