IGN Review of Guild Wars Factions
When we first heard about Guild Wars, the idea of an MMO without a monthly fee sounded great -- and a little crazy. After all, bandwidth, data storage, staffing, none of that comes for free. But with some truly impressive streaming technology backing up a solid RPG experience and compelling PvP, the MMO that isn't has managed do pretty well thanks to popular and critical acclaim, and here we are with the first expansion pack that isn't. It's standalone, meaning you don't need the original GW to play Factions. This installment takes place in an entirely different section of the game world and takes heavy artistic cues from Chinese and Japanese architecture and culture. Since the game is at least as popular as it is in the United States and Europe (with the top PvP in the world being based in Korea), this may seem calculated, and maybe it is. Even so, they obviously did more than check out some specials on the Discovery Channel, because the land of Cantha is crammed so full of pagodas and jade that it's almost like being there.
When it comes down to it, GW is two different games: "Role-Playing" mode and PvP mode. You can choose either, although there is some PvP to be had in the RP half. Those of you who tried the original (internally referred to as "Guild Wars Prophecies") may recall that the RP section was a bit of a grind, although not on the level of a hardcore MMO. This has been rectified. In fact, leveling in RP is almost too fast. Experience points come in enormous chunks when you finish a quest, and you could get to the cap within a week.
During this voyage, you will unlock class skills by doing quests or by purchasing them from a trainer. In RP, you can only choose from the skills available to your current character (and you will be dual-classing in a way; you have a primary and secondary class, with the primary having more schools to choose from).I strongly recommend going through all the early training courses, as you will get about a half-dozen abilities for free, many of which can be used across classes. Also, skills unlocked in RP will be made available for purchase in PvP, and vice versa, although the mechanisms are different.
The personas you make, in RP or PvP, will have access to skills you unlock with any character. That way you don't have to, in effect, start over every time you create a character. Lastly, the PvP mode offers a raft of character types with pre-made templates if you don't want to roll your own, and these templated types have abilities that won't be immediately available to a starting character.
With hundreds of skills across all classes, you could play for months and still not unlock everything. In PvP, you do so by earning faction points, which are gathered by eliminating individual opponents and winning matches. If you do well, you'll get about 150 factions per successful match, and it takes a thousand points to buy a skill (or three thousand to buy an "elite" skill). Alternatively, you can buy runes that give you small upgrades to different schools. As you can probably tell, I could go on for pages, just telling about all the stuff that's in the game. There's also a series of arenas you'll unlock as you win matches.
At first, you'll only have the randomized arena, where you can't choose who you group with or what type of match you want (yes, there are bunches of different match types as well as arena locations) as well as an arena where you can snag some computer-controlled teammates and test your skills against computer-controlled opponents who are geared and templated for some tactical styles that have become famous within the game. Once you have enough successful matches in the random arena, you'll also gain access to one where you can choose or be chosen by other people. Win enough matches there, and you'll get another arena, and so forth.
Now, although you have something like 100 skills for each class, you only have eight slots, and they can't be changed once you've entered an arena (nor can they be changed in RP once you leave town and begin a quest). So you may ask yourself, "How can a person possibly be flexible enough to defend themselves against various types of attacks, and attack certain types of defenses?" The answer is you can't. Guild Wars' combat is like a real-time collectible card game, where you choose a deck and hope you and your team has what it takes to win. Since you're dual classing, you'll have access to seven schools (four primary, three secondary), and each is as different as a talent tree in World of Warcraft -- maybe more. For the assassin, "Deadly Arts" and "Shadow Arts" do not sound intuitively different. Thankfully, this game has helpful tooltips up the wazoo, so I can tell at a glance that Deadly helps me do damage and Shadow helps me defend myself and use those cool teleporting abilities we saw in the Factions trailer.
As you level up your character in RP, you'll gain points towards increasing your abilities in each school. If you don't like what you've ended up with, you can redistribute your allotment at any time, for free, as long as you're not in an arena or actively doing a quest. This is especially great in PvP, since you have seven schools but only eight slots, and the assassin class in particular has attack chains that effectively require three slots on the bar: lead attack, off-hand attack, and a dual attack for the finisher. They must be triggered in this order to work.
An assassin will also have access to preparation abilities which themselves complement one another; Critical Eye gives you an increased chance for a critical hit, and Way of Perfection gives health back to you when you get a crit. But Shadow Refuge gives you massive health regeneration. Oh, and Dark Escape looks good too. Yet I'm still a monk, so I need to throw some proper healing in there. And I also want to be able to remove hexes
You get the idea. It can be agonizing, but it's an interesting challenge. What is perhaps more agonizing is buying skills in PvP, because they're relatively expensive (in terms of player time investment to gain the faction points), and you can't sell them back or anything if you find that they don't mesh well with your play style.
On a side note, any skill in the game can be purchased in PvP mode, even ones not available to your dual-classed character. So you can unlock a Ranger skill with your faction points, and any time you create a character with Ranger skills down the road, he'll be able to buy that skill in both RP and PvP modes. In fact, you can even equip that skill yourself, but you'll never get beyond its base ability. It's low enough to be useless in PvP, which starts you out at level 20.
And although Guild Wars has only been out for a little over a year, it's already gotten a DirectX 9 facelift, and Factions has its own music composed and performed by Jeremy Soule. In fact, if you're fond of the music, you can download a soundtrack from
Direct Song, which contains other soundtracks and game music add-ons for additional titles Soule has worked on. Although the character models don't look quite as sharp as they used to, Guild Wars is still capable of some impressive vistas and spell effects. Performance in general is quite good, with only running up stairs producing an occasional lag effect. Load times are very fast as well. From the desktop to a PvP arena can take as little as twenty seconds. The sheer accessibility of PvP, on top of its "just one more round" addictiveness can find you glued to your seat for hours. Refreshingly, the game keeps track of how long your session has been going, and it will even recommend you take a break at the three-hour mark. Although the Random Arenas are quite accessible this way, their very dynamism can produce frustration, since you're thrown in with whomever happens to be standing around.
On the bright side, there's always a variety of classes, and dual-classing means you'll often have someone with healing capabilities. And everyone has access to the Resurrection Signet, a skill that costs no Energy but can only be used once per round. Since it takes half the time to cast of a proper Resurrection spell, it is a lot more popular, since you're vulnerable to attack and interruption while casting. And even if your party gets humiliated by the opponent, you're never more than thirty seconds away from another match (unless the Guild Wars system can't queue up an opposing team in that time frame, but that's pretty rare, even on a Monday morning).
The only fly in the ointment is some players' tendencies to flee uselessly when the battle is hopelessly lost, leading to the dead players watching dully as the last person on the losing team evades for as long as he can. If you have skills that increase your movement speed and increase health regeneration, you can run around for a good while if the enemy has no snares. There was also one instance where a player got himself stuck inside the map, making him invulnerable to physical attack. We had to just wait until he got bored and quit, which took a good ten minutes.
In the long run, there is just as much of a grind in Guild Wars PvP as there is in an MMO. Instead of gaining experience points to level up, you're gaining faction reputation which you spend to unlock a huge list of abilities. And you're unlocking arenas. While this content mechanism is popular in Japan and other Asian countries, I would like to have access to more things at the start. On the other hand, this ensures that, once you've unlocked a bunch of arenas, you're unlikely to be playing with unskilled casual players. Beyond just having the prestige of a certain character level or piece of gear, there are tangible gameplay benefits to extensive playtime. And as the dedicated players will be busy with their upper-tier arenas, they won't be coming back to the Random Arenas to kick your lily ass with a rack of elite skills, for the most part. So however far you've progressed in PvP, you'll be competing against players who are around your level. It's refreshing to play a persistent online game where PvP was designed from the ground up, with the RP section being more of a "story mode" than the meat of the experience.
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