Guild Wars (PC)

By Jesse Wan

Published on Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Graphics: 10.00
Sound: 10.00
Gameplay: 10.00
Environs: 10.00
Replays: 10.00
Gamelength: 10.00

Back so soon, Cosmos Gaming fans? This is BarGamer, your slow but deep reviewer tonight. For your serious pleasure, I’ll be tackling the Guild Wars series.

Like Sword of the Stars, this series has been around for a while. Unlike Sword of the Stars, I’ve been playing it since the beginning, so this review will be even more in-depth than the others. Former Blizzard employees founded this MMORPG with the business model of “No Monthly Fee,” so the series supports itself by making you pay for the activation code, as well as side perks on the online store. While each expansion can be played out of order and is a complete offering in and of themselves, there are benefits for carrying over characters from one expansion to the next, such as Achievements that give in-game benefits, your skill collection, etc. Fantasy-themed, the game promotes skill and creativity, rather than the mindless grindfest for better gear or a higher level. Regardless of which expansion you buy or all of them, the level cap is a mere 20, and you get your endgame gear long before that. A casual player can reach level 20 in two or three weeks, just from doing quests. The Achievements differ from character-specific to account-wide and have differing scaling levels, but all of them confer tangible benefits per level. The entire game can be played by yourself or with a friend, but there are benefits to joining a larger party or a Guild. A healthy PVP influence pervades the game, but it rarely affects the PVE portion of the game except for the very far end for the devoted player. Unlike most MMOs that include PVE and PVP, you do not have to touch PVP in order to enjoy your game. In fact, most of the skills you see in the game have PVP “versions.”

The real draw to the game is the freedom to make any build you want, without paying any respecialization (respec) fees, either in-game or out-of-game. No promises on whether it’s any GOOD… With their dual-Profession system, you can make any permutation you want, and have a great time. Characters that are a certain Primary Profession gain exclusive benefits for that Profession, such as access to their Primary Attribute. Also, you can change your Secondary Profession and build at any of the numerous towns. In their second expansion, Factions, there is a tutorial portion of the game where you MUST change your build to accomplish different objectives. The reason for that are the PVE Missions and quests. Your objectives will change, and so must your build. Sometimes, you have to simply slaughter everything in your way. Sometimes you’re under siege by hordes of enemy mobs. Sometimes, you have to protect and escort an NPC. Sometimes, you have to kill a boss. Sometimes, you have to do two or all of those. The skills, Profession-permutations, and builds in Guild Wars can be described as “playing a Magic: the Gathering MMO, eight cards max, two colors, and a side-board of 1300+.” Fortunately, you get several character slots, and you can always buy more from the online store. You can bring AI-controlled NPCs along, too. More on that later.

The other great thing about Guild Wars is the Attribute Trees, though they’re more like clouds. In other games, you put skill points into specific skills that are grouped loosely into Trees by purpose, and you get better the more you specialize. In Guild Wars, any points you put into an Attribute Tree raises ALL the skills under that tree. That’s right, there ARE no prerequisite skills. Sometimes the purposes of the Attributes overlap, which makes for great skill combos and synergy. By level twenty, you have enough points to max out two Trees and a few leftover for a third Tree. Your point spread is entirely up to you. Everyone has a Primary Attribute Tree, which only that Primary Profession can put points into, and between three to eight Secondary Attribute Trees, depending on whether you decided that two Attribute Trees is all you need, or you need three, four, or all of them.

Skill collecting, and build creation are two rather important parts of the game. As you play through the game, you meet people who will give you skills for free, some who give you skills as a quest reward, some who will sell skills to you, and some monsters who you have to beat the skill out. That last is known as an Elite Skill, and is usually worth the trouble. The more skills you have, the more flexible or effective is your build. There are pretty much three ways to get skills: Get them in PVE play through the above methods, buy skills directly from rewards in PVP play, or go to the Online Store and buy all the skills for that Campaign. I recommend you play through the PVE Storyline Missions first.

The final great thing about Guild Wars is the lack of any long-term consequences of death. Instead, usually when you die, you get resurrected at a Shrine (or on the spot if someone in your party has a fresh resurrection skill) with a small Death Penalty to your Health and Energy. You die again, you take a linearly greater Death Penalty. It maxes out at 60%, and can slowly go away as you kill other things, a chunk if you kill a boss, and instantly goes away when you “capture” an Elite Skill, go to the next zone, or arrive in town. THAT’S IT. Your skills are not lowered, your gear is in pristine condition, you don’t have to run great distances to get your Inventory, body, or loot back, there are no such shenanigans.

The Storyline Missions and explorable areas are “instanced,” which means the only other players you’re going to see are the ones you brought with you, unless it’s a specific Cooperative type of Mission. There is no kill-stealing or loot-stealing, since everyone gains Experience Points if a monster dies, regardless of who killed it, and it can drop loot for anyone. If you don’t pick it up, it becomes fair game if and only if you left the Explorable Area first. Otherwise, it will be waiting for you in a special loot window once you arrive at the next area or town, or not at all if it’s been too long. If you pick it up and drop it back down though, it’s fair game to anyone. The game will tell you if your inventory is full if you try to pick something up. Gold is also equally divided automatically. You can bring along temporary Henchmen or Heroes, but your loot drop rate suffers. While there is no Auction House or Crafting in the game, there is a healthy Identification and Salvaging mechanic, where you can take apart loot and use it to build your perfect armor or weapon… Or you could buy the equivalent from the appropriate NPC.

But all that’s just the first game, now called:

Sometimes referred to as “Core,” Prophesies features the first six Professions of the Necromancer, Monk, Ranger, Warrior, Elementalist, and Mesmer. It has a general European feel.

The Necromancer is your creepy caster, and is the master of the Primary Attribute of Soul Reaping. Only a Primary Necromancer gets this Attribute. Basically, it’s a passive buff that gives him Energy, the “magic points” of this game, anytime something dies. Death Magic skills do a bit of ranged direct damage, and Animating (uses the bodies of slain enemies to create and maintain various Minions such as skeletons and zombies.) Curses debuffs the enemy and do indirect damage, and Blood Magic sacrifices your Health Points for various effects, including stealing Health from your enemies at close range to heal yourself.

The Monk is your holy caster, and has Divine Favor, which heals for a little bit when you cast a Monk spell on an ally, which may include yourself. Healing Prayers is just what it sounds like: It heals you, heals other people, and resurrects them from death. Protection Prayers prevents them and you from getting hurt in the first place. Smiting Prayers hurts people, but especially undead.

Let’s take a moment to revisit the dual-Profession system and builds. Say you make a Primary Profession Necromancer, Secondary Profession Monk. You can make a Soul Reaping/Death Magic/Healing Prayers build called the Minion Master. Essentially, he gets (up to) 10 Minions and swarms the enemy, uses Death Magic and Healing Prayers to keep himself and his Minions alive, while depending on Soul Reaping to keep his Energy up. A very popular build, there are several ways to build it, depending on the situation and preferred method of doing the damage.

The Ranger is your bows, arrows, and ferocious pet guy, and uses Expertise to make all his skills have cheaper Energy costs. Beast Mastery is your pet. Marksmanship deals with bows and arrows. Wilderness Survival deals with stationary Ritual Spirits which have various effects on things around them, buffing your arrows in some way, combat or defensive stances, and traps.

The Warrior is your melee tank and damage dealer, and has great Strength! With great Strength comes great responsibility, and that responsibility is smashing through the enemy’s armor with attack skills. Tactics covers shields, shouts, combat and defensive stances, and various attack skills that build upon skills from Hammer Mastery, Sword Mastery, and Axe Mastery. Swords rely on steady damage, debuffs, and let you have a shield, Axes min/max damage, debuff, and let you have a shield, and Hammers are slow but hurt lots, knock down the enemy, and no shield for you! Strength and Tactics are the two Attributes that show up most often for prerequisites for using a shield.

Revisiting again the Dual-Profession system. A Warrior/Ranger could have a build which has maxed Strength, various stances from both Tactics and Wilderness Survival, maybe a shield, and one of the weapon Masteries for damage. Usually, he’s out charging in front taking punishment while the Monk heals him. Classic build, despite newcomers croaching on his turf.

The Elementalist is your ranged caster of elemental magics, and has Energy Storage for the highest possible Energy pool of all the Professions. Fire Magic is for area-of-effect spells, Water Magic is for slowing the enemy and doing medium damage, Air Magic is for high-damage, armor-penetrating, single-target spells and some debuffs, and Earth Magic can do similar things to all of the previous magics, as well as a heavy defensive focus.

The Mesmer is your really wierd caster of strange magics, and have Fast Casting, making them the kings and queens of speedy spells. They live to screw over the enemy, especially bosses. Domination Spells disrupt other enemy’s efforts, especially casters, often preventing them from doing anything but stand there and take damage. Illusion Magic is more gradual, and slows down the enemy, giving others more time to take advantage of them. Spells include draining their health, slowing down their movement or actions, and some damage. Inspiration Spells are frequently included in caster builds for their Energy gain and damage reducing skills. A good Mesmer who does their homework and prepares the perfect build can completely shut down a boss or other enemy, reducing them to a quivering lump of experience points, provided they don’t mind being almost useless for anything else that Mission. Needless to say, a PVPer’s worst nightmare is a Mesmer player with a grudge or something to prove.

One more time! A damage-focused Mesmer/Elementalist or Elementalist/Mesmer are slightly different in play-style. The Elementalist/Mesmer with Energy Storage, Fire Magic, and Inspiration Magic prefers expensive slow spells that do world-shaking amounts of damage, while the Mesmer/Elementalist with Fast Casting, Inspiration Magic, and another elemental Magic does fast, steady damage of average-costing spells. As said earlier, many casters choose to go Secondary Profession Mesmer for Inspiration Magic’s benefits.

Factions includes the original six Professions, plus new skills for all, as well as the new Ritualist and Assassin Professions. It has a general Asian feel, and introduces PVE-only skills.

The Assassin is fast, fragile, and deadly. They rely on Critical Strikes to do lots of damage quickly, but bad or new players often leave themselves defenseless, and so rack up a lot of Death Penalty. Dagger Mastery is all about attack skills, doing critical hits, and skill combinations. Deadly Arts has to do with debuffing a single enemy. Shadow Arts have skills for self-heals, mobility, and defense.

The Ritualist is my personal favorite, and is a sort of hybrid Profession. They were designed to not need any points into their Primary Attribute Spawning Power in order to be effective. Spawning Power buffs the duration of Weapon Spells, and gives a Health Point bonus to anything they create with Rituals or animate with Death Magic. Restoration is their form of the Monk’s Healing Prayers. Channeling is similar to the Elementalist’s Air Magic. Communing has to do with Spirits, with a much wider variety and types of effects than the Ranger’s Spirits. The Ritualist stands well on their own, or in fun permutations with another Profession.

Many people have fun creating Ritualist/Necromancers, Ritualist/Rangers, Ranger/Ritualists, and going Secondary Profession Ritualist for the Restoration Attribute. The Assassin has a particular Elite Skill that has made it a popular Secondary Profession, but seems to have trouble surviving on his own. A variant of the Necromancer/Monk Minion Master, the Ritualist/Necromancer Minion Bomber build uses the skills in the Spawning Power Attribute to gain Energy and Health, heal allies, and hurt enemies with every minion that is created. Well, whaddaya know, there’s a Death Magic skill that lets you Animate TWO minions at a time for cheap! Slap on a spell that makes them explode when the Minion dies, and you have the start of a wonderful thing. On forums across the internet, there are lively debates on whether Primary Necromancers or Ritualist/Necromancers make for the better Minion Master, and is not likely to be resolved soon.

Nightfall includes the original six Professions from Prophesies, plus new skills for all eight, as well as the new Dervish and Paragon Professions. It has a general African or Middle Eastern feel. It also introduces the Hero NPC. Right, so we’ve got the Minion, which cannot be controlled except for vague “follow the Master and kill things.” Henchmen can be ordered to go to certain positions, and you can pick what profession they are, but you’ll have to go to the wiki to find out what build they are. Heroes can be ordered to go where you want, you can pick the build and equipment, and depending on your micromanagement skills, you can even control what skills they use and when. You can bring them almost anywhere you go, the exception being certain PVP arenas and the like, and they level up with you. While in Prophesies you could get away with only bringing one buddy along, with Prophesies you could play the whole game by yourself. (But what fun would that be?) Nightfall also has PVE-only skills to offer.

The Dervish is a holy warrior who can hit three nearby enemies with each swing of his scythe. Mysticism gives you Energy for every Enchantment on you that expires, either naturally or from one of your skills. Scythe Mastery, same as before. Wind Prayers deals with movement or cold damage skills, and Earth Prayers specializes in defense and earth damage.

The Paragon is a spear-throwing, a capella, armored leader of men and AI. Appropriately, he has the Leadership Attribute, which gives him energy for every one of his allies he affects with his Shouts and Chants. Spear Mastery, enough said. Motivation and Command allow you to use a Shield, much like the Warrior. Motivation has Energy Management skills and inspire your allies, while Command protects them, and increases your tactical position on the battlefield.

A Paragon/Warrior is a fearsome thing to behold, and many a life has been saved by a Paragon/Monk. Dervishes have a wide variety of Secondary Professions to choose from, though Warrior, Assassin, Monk, Elementalist, and Ritualist are popular.

While not offering any new Professions, Eye of the North offers many new skills for each Profession, more Heroes, more high-end PVE content in the form of Dungeons, and gobs of PVE-only skills. Storyline-wise, it also bridges Prophesies and the upcoming Guild Wars 2. It has a general all-around-the-world feel, for you could just as likely be in the arctic North as the jungles of the Asura, the plains of the Charr, or the underground world of the Dwarves.

Let’s review: Every player can create a character, across four Campaigns, for the 10 Professions, with the permutations allowing for repeats, so you can have 90 possible dual-Professions and the 10 Primary Profession you start with, each with four-five Attributes, each of which has about 100 skills. You can have four to eight people/AI in your party, depending on the Mission, with a max of three Heroes. In short, you can expect about anything.

Jeremy Soule has won awards for the musical scores he’s done for the Guild Wars series, and they sound great, too. He’s got his own website, where you can sample his art.

Beautiful environments, sexy character models, and unique particle effects for each and every spell make this a game worth buying just so you can watch. In-game cutscenes are cool, too.

Plenty to offer for both PVE and PVP play. As with most MMOs, other players are a mix of the exceedingly helpful Friend List-er and the /ignore troll. See above.

Playing the game through again as a different Profession, different builds of Heroes, and different Campaigns ensures that this game will still be alive when Guild Wars 2 releases, especially if the Achievements rumor is true…

One of my favorite series, the fact that it’s free-to-play ensures that I’ll come back again and again for their weekend and holiday events.

Overall Rating: 10.00

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