My 2005 Game of the Year

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”.

Graphics

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!

Skills

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.

Social

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.

PvE

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.

Districts

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.

Technical Matters

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.

Honourable Mentions

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.

  10 comments for “My 2005 Game of the Year

  1. 30 December 2005 at 20:37

    You know, you’ve got me wondering about Guild Wars now! From your holiday screenshots it looks really cool. The art style is totally different from World of Warcraft. And there’s no monthly fee… So the only barrier right now is the fact that I’m so busy playing WoW I don’t know if I’ll have time for another game!

    By the way, did you ever try WoW out? Curious about your thoughts :)

  2. Skanderberg
    31 December 2005 at 03:28

    Major Zero in MG3? Really in UK he is Major Tom which is much cooler.
    Also could have you any day at Tekken 1-5

  3. 2 January 2006 at 18:16

    Tara: I have played WoW a bit, but I’ve been consumed with GW lately, as you can no doubt tell. At the start of the Winter update, I hadn’t been as far as Lion’s Arch yet (the major city where the big Halloween event took place), so I was on a misson to get there before the big finale. For Halloween, there were special items as well, and people got Halloween headgear (Pumpkin helmets), and I knew that surely there would be something for the Winter holidays. Anyway, so now that I have reached Lion’s Arch, everything is new and shiny, so I’ve been questing around there. Enemies are much harder, so I’ve kind of reached and impasse.

    Skanderberg: Wouldn’t it be cool if Tekken 6 had online play? Because then I could own you from across the Pond.

  4. 3 January 2006 at 15:05

    If you’re at LA or before, I have 2 characters (monk and necro) past that point. If you’re stuck or having trouble and I’m online, just ask and I’ll help if possible.

    If I’m playing, it’s usually pretty late PST (after children are asleep) so I don’t know whether time zones will work out, but I figured it was worth mentioning. :)

  5. 4 January 2006 at 10:08

    Thanks, Clamatius. I have added your IGN to my Friends List. :D

  6. 4 January 2006 at 12:43

    Added your IGN.

    I am playing a N/E as my first character, currently at the Ring of Fire. I wondered what I’d build for a solo/hench necro assuming I had skills up to the LA area knowing what I know now, assuming a pure necro build – I don’t know what your 2ndary is. I think it would be something like this:

    Death/Blood/Soul Reaping (minor runes on all 3)

    Animate Bone Horror
    Rotting Flesh
    Life Siphon
    Vampiric Gaze
    Shadow Strike
    Signet of Agony
    Plague Sending
    Resurrection Signet

    Of course, YMMV. Animation is very powerful in PvE (even better when you have Death Nova). The life drain/signet/sending combo is reasonable too.

  7. 4 January 2006 at 16:15

    Main is a Necro/Mesmer. This is the build I use most of the time. I’ve found it to be pretty flexible:

    Vampiric Gaze
    Life Siphon
    Epidemic
    Rotting Flesh
    Enfeeble
    Deadly Swarm
    Empathy
    Chaos Storm

    I will swap out either Empathy or Chaos Storm with the Resurrection Signet, depending on whether there is a Monk player in the party. Otherwise, if it’s just Henchmen, I won’t bother with the Rez Signet. Good? Bad?

    Any tips for Necro/Mesmers?

  8. 4 January 2006 at 17:37

    Ok, let’s see. I think the biggest issue you have there is trying to run too many skill lines. You have Blood, Death, Curses and Domination. Soul Reaping is pretty good in PvE and you won’t have much left for that. You don’t need much unless you’re raising fiends or something, just 5 SR or so helps a lot. Try tweaking SR down until you have energy issues, then raise it a bit again.

    Presumably the effect you’re aiming for with Epidemic is spreading the Weakness and Disease – well, Disease spreads fast on its own so if you want an AoE weakness you’re probably better off with Enfeebling Blood and not bother with Epidemic – saves a slot. With life drain like Siphon you should be able to afford the 17% sacrifice.

    I think Deadly Swarm is ok but the long casting time really bothers me – I’d rather run another Blood nuke. I really like Shadow Strike to soften up targets over 50% health. The only time I found myself running Swarm was when I had a straight Death/Soul Reaping build.

    Chaos Storm is ok but generally AoE effects aren’t nearly as effective now they boosted the monster AI a bit and enemy casters won’t just stand in it.

    In general, I’ve found Curses builds to be ok but not great in PvE (PvP is entirely another matter) at the point in the game you’re at. Later on the fabulous Spiteful Spirit alters that situation a bit. The main reason is that you can kill monsters fast enough that just debuffing them isn’t efficient – you’re better off just killing them.

    If you’re running Death for Rotting Flesh (not a bad idea) I’d definitely add an animation spell, they’re just too good. Not so much for added damage but because they distract fire away from your party and onto the minions. In case you didn’t know, you get a double win (triple for Animate Bone Minions) out of animation because of Soul Reaping – both the death of the original monster _and_ the minion trigger the Reap energy.

    If you’re not running enough Death for animation but you do have Blood, use Well of Blood. It’s fabulous. Just don’t try to run both Well and animation because corpse supply is limited. If there are 2 necros in the party only 1 should use corpses. Note that Claude never uses corpses.

    N/Me has a lot of different builds that’ll work well. You don’t really need the energy from Inspiration because enough stuff is dying in PvE to keep Soul Reaping going. Later on it’s often worth packing at least one interrupt so you can stop irritating effects like Troll Unguent and Mark of Protection. Not sure if it’s necessary in LA or not offhand. A short list of my favourite PvE mesmer skills in/around/before LA:

    Backfire, Cry of Frustration, Empathy, Shatter Delusions, Shatter Hex, Conjure Phantasm, Phantom Pain.

    As a side note it’s worth blowing some cash to buy a run to Droknar’s Forge. The armour you can get there is expensive but you won’t ever need anything else (except possibly for aesthetic reasons).

    Whew. Ok, that’s probably more than you wanted to know. :)

  9. 4 January 2006 at 18:21

    OMG thanks so much for the detailed info. I have much to learn about the ways of power gaming. I’ve just sort of been muddling through, and trying things here and there, so the information definitely helps!

    I was thinking about hiring a runner to Droknar’s Forge, actually… It just seems too much like cheating, but then I think to myself, “If ArenaNet was terribly against sequence breaking, why would they allow its continued existence?” So I will save up some gold and try for that soon-ish.

  10. 4 January 2006 at 18:27

    I know what you mean about seeming like cheating. I had the same feeling… but then I realised it wasn’t really cheating after all. :)

    It does pay itself off in terms of avoiding grinding for money – I’ve found that $ is always fairly scarce so saving the money on armour was well worth it.

    One extra tip – if you get the run to the Forge, you should stop at Camp Rankor. Once you have that on your map you can probably (sneakily!) capture a few early elite skills with the aid of henchmen and/or friends.

    Check this site for some awesome maps showing elite skill bosses:

    http://www.xennon.co.uk/eliteskills/

    You might be able to snag Spiteful Spirit with this method, amongst other skills. I’ve done exactly this on my monk character and picked up some elites even though he’s really “only” up to the Maguuma Jungle.

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