Crikey, who to choose? Male or female? Warrior, monk, necromancer? Fit bloke, hot chick? Blonde, brunette? Ample assets, perky assets?
No, it's not another online dating junk message - it's the character creation screen for Guild Wars, a title from NCSoft that sports one of the most customisable character generation of any MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game). The characters you can create are simply stunning - so it's a good job that the rest of the game matches up to the incredible aesthetics.
Guild Wars - a no fees MMORPG
Forget what you know about MMORPGs, because Guild Wars takes the concepts and throws them out of the window. Number One: there are no fees to pay each month. You pay for the game upfront, like any other game, then you play it online as much as you want. Number Two: forget spending ages on mundane tasks like sleeping, or healing, or crafting. In Guild Wars, you spend more of your time questing and less of your time fiddling. Number Three: don't worry about queuing to take on big quests. You won't be sharing them with others.
If you're a seasoned MMORPG'er, you'll be wondering what on earth is going on. Rest assured, the changes are for the better. If you've never touched an MMO before, this is the game for you, because gameplay that might flummox you in other titles is ironed out here.
Guild Wars is set in the fictional land of Tyria. As you enter the game for the first time, Tyria is a calm, beautiful, sunny land. People are happy, kids are playing, everything is swell. Walking around the place, you spot the hundreds of other players all wandering around with you, going off and performing little quests here and there: rescuing pigs from trouble, finding a new flute for a young girl - the kind of twee, feel-good questing that could bring a smile to the most miserable face.
Then the game has the audacity to absolute throw you out of all this.
You see, Guild Wars isn't a persistent world
MMO in the sense that most people would understand it. When you load up the game, you're effectively in a tutorial level, an introduction to the questing to come. As you come to the end of the tutorial, the game zaps you forward in time by years, to an altogether different land, one that's a far cry from the gorgeous countryside you leapt into.
This isn't something we've ever seen an MMO do before, and it's just one way that Guild Wars is a unique experience. You start off in a world with a bunch of players just like you, players that are finding their way in Tyria for the first time. You end up in a the future-Tyria with those same people, as well as the experienced players. It sounds like such common sense, but it's an innovative feature for an MMO.
Est-ce que n'importe qui veut essayer cette mission avec moi ?
So this is when it starts to get interesting. There's a war on, and it's your job to fight it. In many senses, this is traditional RPG fayre - you fight, you level up, you gain extra powers.
But then there's another catch: you can choose a secondary profession. Rather than start out as a Warrior, only to decide you'd rather be a Necromancer, you can take a secondary profession and learn some of their skills and abilities too. Even better, you can try out all the character classes before making a set decision about your secondary profession, so you can make an informed choice. It makes sense, but why hasn't anyone done it before?
So let's consider the actual questing. You travel to a hub and socialise with likeminded people (in whatever language you can, this is a European server!) You can trade, talk to NPCs, take the items you've obtained to an NPC character and have him make them into custom items for you, to further personalise and enhance your character (remember I said no boring crafting?) When you want some action, you can form a party and set off on one of the myriad of quests.
Here's where it gets really
unorthodox. Rather than sending you off in the world with a million other players all attempting the same quest, Guild Wars spawns a unique
version of the quest for you and your party. You won't spent time waiting for others to finish off a bad guy, because there's no-one else around, just you and your party. In some ways, the game is far more like a co-op multiplayer game than an MMO. When you finish the quest, you get your experience and reward items, then return to the hub.
Dewdrop Fall is my girl
So, if unorthodox, is it actually any good? The answer is a resounding 'yes'. I've tried MMOs before, and been thoroughly bored by the monotony that appears prevalent. Guild Wars is more of a game, and less of a lifestyle decision.
Quests in Guild Wars are interesting, the playing area is vast, and there are always plenty of people online to party up with - thanks, no doubt, to the fact that no one is paying hand over fist to be there every month. The storyline is compelling, and the team at ArenaNet, the developers, are tweaking and adding to the game every month. The gameplay itself is great: it's an enjoyable blast-and-cast romp.
Of course, there's so much more to mention. There are dedicated Player vs Player areas, and you have the option to create a non-PvP character, to avoid getting owned on a daily basis by some moron with an inferiority complex. The opportunity to learn a second profession and juggle skillsets provides a wealth of opportunities for experimentation with spell and skill combinations. Baddies are never too tough, never too easy, and the game world looks gorgeous. Your character has to have a surname and a given name. Sounds stupid? You'd be surprised how much more authentic characters feel when they've got two names. It's the little touches that make all the difference.
I could go on for pages and pages, but the simplest thing for you to do is go and buy Guild Wars right now
. You owe it to your inner Warrior Monk.
bit-tech rating: 9/10. It will forever change the way you look at online gaming, and your world will be a better place for it.
Hit the next page for our in-depth look at the graphics engine that powers Guild Wars.