Sunday, November 27, 2011

Online Game: Guild Wars

So last time I talked about MMO RPGs, I talked about DDO and my first experiences with online gaming. Today I'm going to talk about the game I currently play. It's called Guild Wars, and to be honest, I do prefer it to DDO. That's not to say that this is a perfect game- it isn't. But the game itself rises past the imperfections it does have and makes for a really fun game.

One thing I should mention right off the bat is that Guild Wars isn't free. However, it doesn't require a subscription- one low, flat fee unlocks everything the game has to offer. There are currently three main campaigns in Guild Wars. The first three, Prophecies, Factions, and Nightfall, can be purchased individually or all at once in a package for around forty dollars. There is also a full expansion, Eye of the North, and a bonus expansion with four new missions.

Prophecies is the original campaign, and is set in an area very similar in both the landscapes and the appearance of its people to Western Europe. Factions is set in an area similar to Southeast Asia and Nightfall is set in an area similar to Egypt and Northern Africa. The available appearances of the player characters reflect these settings. While players can choose from a variety of hair styles and hair and skin colors, the basic face shapes generally conform to the setting of the campaign.

Each campaign has its own setting and its own list of professions. These professions are like what DDO calls classes- they determine your character's fighting style and role in a group. You can choose a secondary profession, similar to multi-classing in DDO, but unlike DDO, you will always be better at your primary profession than you will at your secondary, and you are able to change your secondary profession at a certain point toward the end of your character's leveling.

The base professions that are available in every campaign are the Warrior, the Ranger, the Necromancer, the Elementalist, the Mesmer, and the Monk. In Prophecies, these are the only professions available to play. In Factions, there are the base professions plus two additional professions, the Ritualist and the Assassin. Nightfall has a base + 2 choice of professions similar to Factions, but instead of the Ritualist and Assassin professions, Nightfall has the Paragon and the Dervish.

Fortunately, as in DDO, you have room to experiment. If you purchase all three campaigns, you get eight character slots to start in whatever campaign you wish. Feel free to play around to see what fighting style and which combinations of professions you prefer.

Guild Wars has a few features that DDO does not or requires you to pay to use. In Guild Wars, once you've entered an outpost or town, it becomes visible on your large area map. By clicking on the town's icon, you can instantly travel there from anywhere in the game, at any time. If you become able to visit other areas of the world in other campaigns, you can also use map travel to get to these places, too. Map travel can really come in handy, especially at the end of long quests when you really just want to go get your reward and take a break.

One thing I really like about Guild Wars is the interchangeability of your character's many skills. You have room for just nine skills on your skillbar, including one elite skill when your character advances that far. In DDO, there aren't terribly many special skills except for casters' spells, and learning new ones can be expensive and annoying to do, and may cost you the use of some of your old ones. However, in Guild Wars, your character can learn as many skills as exist in his or her profession, and have any combination you choose on your skillbar. If you don't like a skill, you can quickly and easily replace it from your list of existing skills in your character window (hit "K").

Also, instead of allocating skill points to certain skills (which are then annoying and expensive to rearrange) and then only at your class trainer as in DDO, Guild Wars allows you to put the skill points you gain when leveling into certain categories, which affect how skills in that category work. You can do this whenever and wherever you are when you level. Not happy with how you allocated your points? Pop back to an outpost or town and adjust your point totals as much as you want and completely for free in your character window. Problem solved! I love this feature because the areas you choose to put your points in may change as you gain new skills that correspond to different categories. This allows you to quickly and easily maximize your currently chosen set of skills. If you know you're going to need a certain skill quite a bit and another one from a different category far less, you can tailor your point allocation to make your most used skill more powerful and effective, maximizing your character's abilities.

Another handy thing about Guild Wars is that enemies are shown on your small area map as tiny red dots in contrast to you and your party's tiny green dots or your allies' tiny green triangles. This makes avoiding or finding enemies in explorable areas much easier than in DDO. Resurrection shrines and collectors also appear on your small area map. There are no rest shrines because you automatically regenerate hit points no matter what area you are in.

Speaking of your party, like many areas of DDO, Guild Wars is a party-based game. But fear not, solo gamers! Guild Wars makes it easy for you to succeed. If you're like me and don't often have other people to game with and don't want to party up with complete strangers, you can just use Henchmen and Heroes.

At almost any point in any campaign, you can use Henchmen. The number of them you can have in your party at any one time varies depend on where your character is, just as it would if you had Heroes or other players in your party. The Henchmen available in the areas you're in will be level-appropriate for the area, so if you're in the starting area for your campaign (with the exception of Prophecies), your henchmen will be around level 3. If you keep them with you when you move to other areas of the game, they will increase in level correspondingly. Not all Henchmen are available in all areas of the campaign, so you may need to rebuild your party as you progress through the campaign.

Heroes are similar to Henchmen in that they are NPCs that you can add to your party to help you work your way through the campaign. Unlike Henchmen, however, they are much more versatile. Heroes level up like player characters do, though they don't start at level 1 and can occasionally start at level 20 right off the bat. Once you acquire a Hero, you can use them anywhere in any campaign at any time. Also unlike Henchmen, you can choose a secondary profession for them, and adjust their stats and skills however you want. Aside from their name, general appearance, and primary profession, you can control practically everything about your Heroes.

Such awesomeness, unfortunately, does not just magically happen right away. Heroes are a bit more difficult to get than Henchmen. The only campaign that gives you a Hero right off the bat is Nightfall. You'll almost certainly be level 20 before you acquire your first Hero in Factions, but given the speed of leveling possible in that campaign, it really isn't so long to wait, and when you get to the point where you can acquire that first Hero, you'll quickly be able to acquire enough Heroes to build a full party. Prophecies is different, however- the highest character I have in the Prophecies campaign is level 14, and she still doesn't have any Heroes.

Heroes can be controlled, down to what skills they use and where you want to send your party. You can tell a Hero to go to a particular place and stay there by putting a flag up on your little round map. You can tell a Hero what skill to use by opening their control panel from their number in the Party panel. While not very intelligent, Heroes are far smarter than the hirelings of DDO, and they and Henchmen are both far more useful than hirelings.

Each campaign has its own storyline, though the stories of each of the three campaigns all take place roughly around the same time relative to each other. If you purchase multiple campaigns, you will be able to play some quests from other campaigns' storylines on a character from a different campaign.

If you purchase all three campaigns, you have a lot of options. At a certain point in each campaign, your character will become able to access the areas used by the other three campaigns, so you will eventually be able to travel anywhere in the game. If you have all three campaigns and would like to level up quickly and get to this point in a relatively short amount of time, I would recommend starting in Factions (unless you want to play a Dervish or a Paragon, then you're stuck with starting in Nightfall). Quests in Factions give out a ton of XP compared to the other two campaigns, so you can level up comparatively quickly. The starting area in Factions also gives you the option to earn your insignia in your chosen profession. This doesn't give you any special status, but it's a great way to get some quick XP and learn how to maximize your profession's abilities and minimize its weaknesses. You'll also gain some pretty helpful skills along the way.

Like DDO, Guild Wars isn't all quests and storyline all the time. Through the year the people in charge of the game set up several special events to coordinate with the various holiday seasons. These events bring limited time quests with special rewards, cool costumes, fun side stories, and games within the game (now I feel compelled to make an Inception joke...). At the end of these events comes the finale, which often gives those who participate in it a fun festival hat. The finale events happen simultaneously in Lion's Arch in Prophecies and in Kamadan in Nightfall. The designs of the hat you get in Kamadan and the hat you get in Lion's Arch are different, so if you're able to, you can get one or both, whichever you'd like. If you have access to both campaigns, you can attend finale events at both locations and get both hats The Halloween festival ended at the end of October, and you better believe I got myself both hats.

While some people may not like to have to pay anything to play an online game, I think that for Guild Wars it is money well spent. This is a game that I play frequently and enjoy. Although I know that Guild Wars 2 will be rather expensive when it is first released and I am willing to wait for the price to drop, it is definitely something I'll eventually want to purchase. If you're looking for an interesting game with lots of story and a central plot, but has plenty of room for you to play around on your own terms and that won't cost you an arm and a leg or get you to keep paying to play, then you'll probably like Guild Wars.

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