Guild Wars has its moments. The developers have carved away at the inane fluff that has become synonymous with the term “MMO”, allowing the simple, speedy gameplay to shine through unimpeded. It doesn’t hurt that the title sports an amazing graphics engine, one capable of looking excellent on even lower-end PCs. But somehow Guild Wars falls short on nearly every level, and the impressive innovations serve less to vault the game to greatness than to save the game from badness.
The campaign of Guild Wars is the standard MMO fare--the player creates a character by chooses among the various looks and classes, and then journeys about a medieval fantasy world, completing the various quests, becoming all the while more powerful through leveling and skill acquirement. Guild Wars’ other mode, an extensive array of player-vs.-player options and arenas, seems to have been equally important to the developers, and through this mode player clans can compete against one another for placement on the leader boards.
But calling Guild Wars ’standard’ is unfair to the renovations it has made to the current MMO formula. Most prominently, Guild Wars has no monthly fee--none whatsoever. The developers apparently hope to secure consistent funds through the selling of expansion packs. This is an original financing model that, if successful, could have a major impact on the pricing schemes of other developers. Whether it does or doesn’t remains to be seen, but regardless, Guild Wars’ uniqueness in this field is a boon to the discriminating player.
Gameplay-wise, Guild Wars shaves away at many MMO adhesives. One of these is the slug-like traveling pace--in Guild Wars, it’s possible to instantly teleport to a nearby town by simply accessing the world map and clicking on the town’s icon. This is an extremely welcomed feature that makes the core gameplay much more accessible, as both back-tracking and meeting up with friends become entirely painless processes; and since physically traveling to a town is necessary to unlock it for teleportation, the overall impression of a traversable world isn’t lost in the mix.
Several other concepts have gotten the axe. Death penalties are non-existent, other than a short teleportation to a nearby spawn. Logging out is not tethered to an absurd 30-second timer that prevents the player from leaving--all logging is immediate. Booting up the game is equally painless, as loading is fast enough to be practically non-existent--type in the password, and you’re in.
The combat is the heart of Guild Wars; crafting is present, but is relegated to a minor role. The fighting has been compared to Diablo elsewhere, and this is generally a good comparison--the combat is fast, simple, and direct (although, thankfully, the needless hyper-clicking of Diablo’s combat has been lost in the translation). Spell effects and attacks are quickly animated, and the health meter of both friend a foe seems to drain rapidly. The overall effect is that of the standard MMO combat system tripled in speed.
But for a game so focused on combat, Guild Wars’ is unacceptably weak. Its only uniqueness is its insistence on speed--but speed is not enough. City of Heroes (another NCsoft title) had comparable speed; and the combat there was much more solid, much more satisfying, much more complex, and much more animated (but more on that later). Guild Wars may wrap its simple gameplay in the guise of speed, but the illusion is thin.
Guild Wars’ skill system is equally troublesome. The game features scores and scores of skills, each one related to one of the game’s six classes, and through the course of the game a given character can learn a wealth of these abilities. The catch is that a character can only equip eight of these skills at a time, and these eight can be mixed and matched at will, as long as the player is in a town (changing skills in wild areas is impossible). While this system has its positives--a given character can have a wide variety of capabilities, and can specialize its role for an upcoming excursion--on the whole it is unwieldy. The characters are so versatile that any sort of permanent identity is shattered, and it is simply a chore to micromanage the skills available. Guild Wars’ skill list could easily have been cut by half, or more--the system is simply too extended, and isn’t tight.
Much has been made of Guild Wars’ graphical strength, and this is understandable: the game is simply gorgeous. Many sights are here to be seen--waterfalls, harbors, distant castles--and all of these environments are simply stunning. Amazingly, Guild Wars’ prowess is visible on even lower-end systems--a fantastic technical feat.
The problem with the graphics is that they feel fake. Guild Wars’ areas are essentially large mazes, and the excellent-looking environments are nothing more than elaborate back-props. The Guild Wars player is not allowed free movement--it is impossible to swim, hop off a cliff, or engage in any form of travel that moves the player off the pre-set path. Even jumping is verboten. And while this lack of movement is more of a gameplay fault than a graphical one, the effect still serves to undermine the beauty of it all; you can look, but you can’t touch.
Another fault is the animation--it simply isn’t up to par with the rest of the graphics. Some of the animations, like that of an archer firing his bow, are fine, but too many are downright weak. The flare attack of my fledgling elementalist is made up of a two-foot hop and a petite forward arm motion. It’s like the dancing flourish of a Backstreet Boy gone horribly wrong.
The audio is undoubtedly the weakest portion of the game. The music was composed by Jeremy Soule--who also composed the music for Neverwinter Nights and Morrowind. Much of it is very good, and the sound of the score rolling in the background as the player journeys forth is appropriately mood-setting. But inexplicably, the main theme that plays in the opening menu is directly lifted from some of Soule’s previous works. It’s not a remix--it’s an exact duplication, and it raises doubts about the score of the entire game--if the friggin’ main theme is a hack, the originality of the rest of the music is called into question. Call me a stickler for quality, but I think that original music has been an industry standard for quite some time.
The sound effects are infinitely worse. The combat is made up of a chorus of weak-sounding whacks, but this is neither damning nor surprising. It’s the ambient effects that are unacceptable. The world of Guild Wars is extremely silent. No rustling water, no wind through the trees, no braying animals, no chattering NPCs, no roaring fires, nothing. The distinct lack of a convincing audio environment gives the entire game a dilapidated feel.
Technically, Guild Wars is absolutely outstanding. Loading times are extremely brisk, and occur only at major area transitions. The game’s amazing graphics are expertly produced, and the game can both look good and run fine on even light-weight systems.
In the end, Guild Wars is a above average game that never transcends the standard fare that has already been seen. I’ve sounded overly negative, but the game is decent--the detriments I’ve associated with it are probably a reaction to the flabbergastingly high scores that the game has so far received. For those without the will or the way to pay monthly for MMOs, Guild Wars is a fine choice; but for those with the means, there are simply better options out there. Guild Wars is apparently cheaper for a reason.
- Metallimoose, SwankWorld Media