Three former members of Blizzard, the powerhouse team behind Diablo and Warcraft, joined forces four years ago to form ArenaNet, then later joined with NCsoft. After delivering Lineage and the recently released Lineage II, NCsoft is preparing to bring the MMORPG community one of the most innovative titles to join its ranks in years, Guild Wars. The newest entry promises to hold many distinct features, including an imaginative combat system, player vs. player (PvP) duels, stunning visual appeal, and, to keep all you cheapskates reading, no monthly fee!
Gameplay starts with the creation of a highly-customizable character. After choosing a gender, the player chooses a primary and secondary class from Warrior, Ranger, Monk, Necromancer, Mesmer, and Elementalist. Warriors are the typical gurus of melee combat, Rangers are agile archers from the wilderness, Monks use prayer to protect and heal companions, Necromancers are masters of black magic, Mesmers use "denial magic" to manipulate enemies and the environment, and Elementalists draw magical power from the elements. Hair style, hair color, face, skin color, and body scale can also be customized, and during the course of the game dyes can be acquired which allow players to paint clothes and armor, enabling color coordination within player groups, or guilds. There is a pool of about 400 skills available, with each profession having a characteristic subset. The way these skills are implemented in combat is one aspect of Guild Wars that make it so unique.
Skill-based combat in Guild Wars is reminiscent of Magic: the Gathering. Skills are earned throughout the game by completing various quests or acquiring skill gems dropped by monsters. Before entering into a duel or embarking on a mission, players must choose eight skills from their skill bank, and only these eight skills will be available during subsequent combat. This system forces players to contemplate strategy before entering battle, and also gives less-experienced players a chance of defeating veteran players in duels. This adds ample complexity to battle, and allows each profession to be played in a number of ways, depending on which skill subsets are utilized.
The world of Guild Wars is divided into three types of areas: city zones, lookout zones, and game zones. In city zones, players can converse and trade with each other or undertake a variety of other activities such as shopping and combat training. Lookout zones are areas for players to congregate when they are looking for a mission or PvP combat. All players preparing to tackle a certain level will first pass through a specific lookout point, which should speed up the party formation process. Finally, gameplay zones are where most of the action takes place. Three types of gameplay zones are available: solo, group, and PvP. In solo zones players can take on the environment alone by undertaking various missions and quests. Group zones allow players to team up to tackle this environment together. Finally, PvP zones are where players can confront each other in a variety of ways, ranging from simple PvP duals to elaborate multiplayer contests. One example of a multiplayer contest is an attack and defend mission, where one team must defend a leader inside a fort while the other players attempt to assault the fort and subdue the leader, all within a specified time limit.
Another major perk of Guild Wars, besides the absence of a monthly fee, is the miniscule impact it will have on your hard drive. The main executable file for Guild Wars is a mere 90 kilobytes and everything else a player needs is streamed from the net. The game will constantly download the needed files, as well as predict which files will be needed in the immediate future so gameplay will never be interrupted.
Graphically, Guild Wars looks to be nothing short of stunning. Textures, shadows, and light effects, all implemented in spectacular detail, yield a lavish fantasy ambience. The aspect that stands out the most is use of color. Character and monster designs, as well as the environments in which they interact, are all designed using a vibrant color pallet. All of this is possible due to a graphics engine developed specifically for Guild Wars, resulting in an unmistakable visual style.
For players who cannot wait to try Guild Wars out, there is an alpha-test available next week during E3. Information on the "E3 for Everyone Event" is available here. Guild Wars, a title which is emerging as one with heaps of potential, is slated for beta-testing in a few months and release within the year.