Guild Wars: Factions
|a game by||ArenaNet|
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What On Earth am I doing here? Writing a hands-on of an online role-playing game? Regular readers of the hilarious/genius NeverQuest will be aware that it's not exactly my genre of choice, and thus my very presence on these pages is in direct contravention of the strictly laid-down ZONE diktat. The truth is, Richie Shoemaker couldn't make it and Sefton begged me. Besides, if anyone knows about Guild Wars it's me, having trudged the badlands of Ascalon for months and met some interesting people, not least the female student who sent a photo of herself on a spacehopper wielding a whip.
In fairness, of all the 'goblin games' I've been forced to plough through, Guild Wars is probably one of those that I hate the least. Bucking the trend of the genre, mercifully it doesn't require you to spend three months catching rats before you can venture outside your village. Equally crucial to its success is the business model. Once you've bought the game, it's free to play, so you don't feel obliged to justify your monthly subscription by spending every waking hour playing it, to the dereliction of the rest of your life. In many ways, it's the online role-playing game that you can play between meals without ruining your appetite.
Did You Say Free?
And while breaking the MMORPG mould with a free subscription may have represented something of a gamble, it's one that would appear to have paid off handsomely, with over a million players lured into its lustrous world.
And that world is about to become even shinier with the advent of Guild Wars: Factions, internally referred to as 'Campaign 2', with Campaign 3 expected to follow roughly six months down the line (ArenaNet has to get its money from somewhere) And while Factions is a standalone title in so much as you don't require the original game to play it there will only ever be one game client As such, whatever version of Guild Wars you own, you'll be able to play the game, with various unique aspects available to owners of particular campaigns. So you could be playing the original game and see characters from Factions.
Furthermore, the technological advances of the most recent campaign will have an impact on every version of the game.
As ArenaNet co-founder Jeff Strain explains: "Five years from now we could be at Guild Wars Campaign 10 and the graphics engine would be state-of-the-art not a five-year-old engine." Much as we relish the prospect of ten Guild Wars games, let's concentrate on Campaign 2 for now. Set on the continent of Cantha, to the south of Tyria, the scenery has a distinctly Asian theme, combining both Japanese and Chinese architecture. Beginning amid the rolling hills and monasteries of Shing Jea island, once you step out of the verdant sanctity of the tutorial area and head for the urban mainland it's a very different scenario, loosely described as Mexico City in an Asian setting.
A refreshing change from the traditional 'real ale' RPG setting, as Strain says: "In Campaign 1, we had all the standard fantasy settings. We had the ice area, the snow area, the desert, the rolling plains, the blasted area, the swampland. It was very centred on geographic archetypes. So what we wanted to do with Campaign 2, and what we will continue to do in future campaigns, is really explore not only areas that are defined by the geography in terms of where they are in the world, but those that are defined by the cultural elements or story elements that really make them interesting. In the top six fantasy locations you wouldn't find an urban location where most of the events and stories take place on the rooftops of these ultra-dense buildings."
A long way removed from the traditional goblin-bashing locales, there's a danger of irking the fantasy purists. However, Strain claims: "It's just a way to explore some new environments and some new looks that are still recognisably fantasy in terms of the themes, but are a fresh take on it Things you haven't seen in the past 25 years of playing Dungeons & Dragons and online role-playing games."
As for the story, it revolves around an event that took place 200 years ago, when the emperor was slain by his bodyguard, Shiro Tagachi. Two centuries on and Tagachi is back, once more wreaking havoc. As the story progresses, citizens will need the aid of either the Luxons, essentially a bunch of pseudo-pirates, or the slightly Gothic-leaning Kurzicks. The twist is that both parties are sworn enemies - hence the Factions of the title - and which side you ally with will depend on which quests you choose. You'll also be able to choose two new professions, ritualist and assassin, (see 'Assassin', above, and 'Ritualist'). Moreover, the PvP game has been enhanced, and there will be 55 challenge maps to compete for, as well as an all-new game type, known as PvE, as in player versus environment I've dabbled with both. This is my story.
I began as an elfin young female assassin in the Kurzick outpost of Jade Quarry - it's appropriately named as it's essentially a huge jade quarry. It's a PvP map in which two teams go up against each other, with victory secured by a mythical creature transporting matter from one area to another. First to 15 wins. We had some kind of weird tall thing on our side, whereas the enemy had a giant turtle. Attacking it from the off, we crippled it but were beaten back by a troop of archers. Strategy was needed and for all my ninja combos and dagger sharpening I was regularly slain, and we went down to a narrow points defeat Moving on to a PvE map, I was a sultry ritualist in the shape of a tattooed lady with a gravity-defying top. With two teams of eight joining forces to slay a dragon living near a whirlpool in a petrified forest, it was carnage from the off as we waded into its minions. Summoning up an array of spirits, these gave strength to those in the immediate environs and eventually the beast was felled.
While not readily indistinguishable from the original Guild Wars, there should be enough new stuff in Factions to keep the massive fanbase happy, enabling you to dip in and out for various challenges.
As Jeff Strain maintains: "We don't want this to be an all-consuming lifestyle. You don't have to spend 40 hours a week playing the game in order to get any enjoyment out of it It's not a traditional MMO, it's the evolution of online role-playing." With giant turtles.
While the name may hint at stealth, this wouldn't really have worked within the confines of a fast-paced action game. Instead, the assassin is more of a nina character, in keeping with the faux-Asian setting, and is able to mete out death swiftly and violently. Armed with a pair of daggers, these can be deployed in a variety of combos to inflict concentrated melee damage. Whereas weak armour leaves the assassin vulnerable when face-to-face with a warrior, for instance, the ability to teleport to an enemy and slash his throat is not to be underestimated. He enjoys Scrabble and his favourite colour is red.
Helping to heal the pain...
Something of a dark priest your common-or-garden ritualist is a mix between a ranger, a necromancer and a monk. Boasting rare supernatural skill, the ritualist has a distinctive role, namely the ability to summon up a host of screaming sprits that can blind and attack enemies, heal allies and generally help to keep the party alive. With an array of primary attributes, these increase the durability of the ritualist's spirits and other creatures such as ranger pets. Attribute skills include direct damage spell line, immobilising I creatures and healing. She enjoys working with animals and her favourite colour is black.