Copyright (c) 2005 Ziff Davis Media Inc. All Rights Reserved. Originally appearing in Computer Gaming World.
The corrupt dragon Kuunavang guards an ancient sunken temple - and you're on his lunch menu.
Hands-on with the next Guild Wars campaign
One million copies sold.
Not many PC games hit that landmark sweet spot. Hell, even most music CDs don't see those kinds of numbers. Yet in the space of just eight short months, the ArenaNet-developed Guild Wars - an innovative, PVP-friendly MMORPG that took the online world by storm thanks to its lack of a monthly subscription fee - has achieved the kind of success that most game companies only dream about. Then again, when you cram a bunch of ex-Blizzard developers in a room and tell them to go nuts, perhaps runaway success is the only logical result.
After leaving their one-time home at Blizzard Entertainment, ArenaNet cofounders Mike O'Brien (creator of Blizzard's Battle.net service), Jeff Strain (formerly World of WarCraft's team lead), and Patrick Wyatt (formerly Battle.net's lead programmer) spent over three years developing and fine-tuning Guild Wars.
"We ran a three-year alpha test and a six-month beta test before releasing Guild Wars, so we were confident that it was a fun and polished game," says O'Brien. " month after month and providing feedback has shown us other areas where we need to keep evolving the game to keep it interesting."
For those of you who aren't on the bandwagon just yet, Guild Wars players can create role-playing characters to progress through the game's lengthy story line or PVP characters to partake exclusively in player-versus-player arenas and guild combat. O'Brien explains, "The original intent of Guild Wars was that people who built up role-playing characters and played through all the content would eventually want to start using those characters in PVP. We've [now] seen that many players want to continue to focus exclusively on role-playing content." The solution: Guild Wars: Factions, an all-new stand-alone campaign that features two new professions, a huge Eastern-themed continent to explore, and a much more seamless marriage between PVE and PVP gameplay mechanics.
Welcome to Cantha
The original Guild Wars introduced the world of Tyria - and, more specifically, the continent of Ascalon. Though Ascalon's design arguably breaks the fantasy mold by bearing more of a resemblance to Conan than Lord of the Rings, ArenaNet felt the need for something different with Factions. Instead of presenting more Western-style fantasy, the three-nation continent of Cantha exhibits an Asian-inspired motif.
"We saw this campaign as a great opportunity to explore Asian art styles and cultural sensibilities and to bring to life the great Canthan Empire that was hinted at in [the original] Guild Wars," says Factions designer James Phinney. "As we looked at the core ideas and concept art for some of the new locations - such as a sea of solid jade designed to evoke the look of ocean waves and an overcrowded city so densely populated that buildings are stacked on buildings - we felt confident that these would be cool and unique places."
We get our first glimpse of Cantha in the opening cinematic, which reveals the emperor's murder at the hands of his bodyguard, Shiro Tagachi. Tagachi is captured and killed for his sin - though his death cry has the unpleasant effect of turning vast seas and forests to jade, making life a little more miserable for the good people of Cantha. Now, some 200 years later, Tagachi returns - and the burden of stopping him rests squarely on players' shoulders as they explore this exotic new land.
The differences between Ascalon and Cantha become apparent as soon as you step into the Shing Jea Monastery, which acts as Factions' tutorial area. Newly created Canthan characters (check out the sidebars for details on the new assassin and ritualist professions) must brave the challenges of this lush valley area in order to earn the respect of Master Togo and his staff, who prepare the monastery's students for the outside world. The tutorial quests provide a much more comprehensive summary of the Guild Wars experience, even going so far as to include strategic scenarios that pop up in high-level play. One such quest partners up teams of players with an NPC instructor who gives advice on calling targets, avoiding monster patrols, and using other advanced group tactics.
Looking for Group
Group dynamics aren't anything new to Guild Wars stalwarts, though; the tutorial merely offers a taste of what's to come. Factions encourages group-oriented gameplay even more than the original game did by offering story-based missions that match groups for cooperative and competitive objectives. In one of the early missions, Courthouse Square, Canthan characters must accompany their mentor to Lion's Arch, which current players should recognize as Ascalon's bustling port city. These players meet up with Brother Mhenlo - one of many familiar NPCs returning from the original campaign - and his party of midlevel player characters from Ascalon; the two groups team up to combat a common threat, and victory opens the gateway between the two campaigns for both parties. Another cooperative mission that we managed to get our hands on, The Unwaking Waters, teams two eight-player groups for a multistage battle against a corrupt dragon lord who guards an ancient temple beneath a whirlpool of pure jade.
For players with more competitive spirit in their blood, some of Factions' story missions involve direct conflict between players, putting two groups at odds over a single objective. Players now have the option of joining either the Luxons or the Kurzicks - two warring factions that figure heavily into the game's story line. These two groups collide throughout the game in missions such as The Jade Quarry, in which two teams of players and NPCs battle for territorial supremacy over a trio of jade mines. Though the victory conditions allow for only one winner, this mission - and each of Factions' 14 other campaign missions - features a three-tier ranking system (and cumulative rewards) to measure success. "In this way," says designer Eric Flannum, "we hope to encourage players to replay the story missions while maintaining and reinforcing shared goals."
Not-so-silent, but oh-so-deadly, the assassin combines speed, magic, and dagger expertise to form one hell of a living killing machine. Essentially mystical ninjas, players with this profession focus on single-target attacks using twin daggers. Critical strikes are the assassin's forte; her dagger skills bring with them a lethal series of chained combination moves divided into primary, off-hand, and dual-strike attacks. The assassin delivers these blows in sequence for massive damage - and she looks good doing it, exhibiting an impressive assortment of acrobatic animations that chain together along with her dagger thrusts. She can also teleport around the battlefield, foil her foes with painful caltrops, and hex troublesome targets, rendering them unable to block her attacks. Don't expect any kind of warrior-caliber armor - but with this kind of speed and power, who needs it?
Critical Strikes (Primary Attribute): Increases the chance of scoring critical hits and awards the assassin with energy upon a successful crit.
Dagger Mastery: Powerful dual-dagger strikes that combo for big damage.
Deadly Arts: Hex spells and other offensive magic.
Shadow Arts: Teleportation techniques and defensive magic.
Jagged Strike: A primary attack that causes the target to bleed.
Viper Strike: An unblockable, nonevadable, offhand attack.
Razor Wing: A dual strike that knocks down an opponent who has no allies near him.
Moebius Strike: When used on an opponent with less than half health, this elite skill recharges all of your attacks.
Death's Charge: Teleports you to your target - and heals you if he has more health.
Shadow Refuge: This evasion enhancer also boosts your health.
Critical Eye: Increases your chances of scoring a critical hit.
"One obvious [new] combination is the assassin/elementalist, who can use teleportation skills to make point-blank area-of-effect skills that much more potent." - Factions designer James Phinney
This guy may be blindfolded, but hey - he doesn't need to be able to see you in order to kill you. The ritualist, who resembles something of a dark, savage priest, can see into the ethereal realm and commune with its spiritual inhabitants. In game terms, he's something of an odd mixture of ranger, necromancer, and monk: He summons spirits, whose life forces can be used to power offensive magic, healing, and even resurrection spells. He might bind a spirit that absorbs a percentage of damage dealt to party members within its radius of effect, or perhaps sacrifice a spirit's health in order to mend an ally's wounds. From a design standpoint, the ritualist provides a handy - albeit micromanagement-intensive - alternative to the monk, making for an excellent support character that can fill a wide variety of needs.
Spawning Power (Primary Attribute): Increases the durability of the ritualist's spirits and other creatures, such as ranger pets.
Channeling Magic: The ritualist's direct-damage spell line.
Communing Magic: Creates immobile spirit creatures that the ritualist can use to power various spells and effects.
Restoration Magic: Healing spells and other defensive magic.
Essence Strike: If you're standing near a summoned spirit, this gives you a quick energy boost.
Spirit Burn: Causes direct damage to the target, magnified depending on how close you are to a spirit.
Spirit Rift: High-damage area of effect spell.
Channeled Strike: Causes damage, which is magnified if you are holding an item through which to channel it.
Shelter: A summoned spirit that protects all allies within its radius from high-damage attacks.
Pain: A spirit that attacks enemies.
Flesh of My Flesh: Quickly resurrects a fallen ally at the cost of half your health.
"It's true that one of the goals with the ritualist is to provide an alternative to monks, but primarily, we're looking for these professions to find a unique role in Guild Wars."
- Factions designer James Phinney
Each of Guild Wars' six core professions gets 25 additional skills and half a dozen new sets of armor. No word yet on new dance animations - but check out a few of the things your character can look forward to in Factions.
Many of the elementalist's new skills put pressure on her target's maneuverability and strength, and are designed to make multiattribute elementalists more viable.
Arc Lightning: A direct damage spell that bounces to a second foe if the initial target happens to be hexed with water magic.
Churning Earth: Deals prolonged area of effect damage and knocks down foes who are equipped with speed-enhancing buffs.
Ride the Lightning: An elite skill that damages your target and teleports you directly to him.
The mesmer maintains his role of layering powerful hexes on foes, removing enchantments, and disrupting his enemies' skills.
Overload: An incantation that deals extra damage if its target is in the middle of casting a spell.
Illusion of Pain: This hex causes massive health degeneration but heals your opponent when it ends - making it well suited as a finishing move.
Signet of Disruption: This signet can interrupt spells, or, if you cast it on a foe that's already hexed, it can interrupt other types of skills as well.
The monk gets - you guessed it - more heals, protection spells, and ways to smite his heathen foes.
Empathic Removal: Removes one hex and one status condition from both you and a single foe.
Word of Censure: A powerful smiting spell, with a recharge rate dependent upon your target's health level.
Gift of Health: A powerful health-replenishing spell that disables the rest of your healing skills - and can't be used on yourself.
Guild Wars' bone daddy gets some new undead minions and enjoys more ways to steal health and remove enchantments.
Gaze of Contempt: Removes all of your target's enchantments - provided he has more than half his health.
Jaundiced Gaze: Sacrifice your own health either to deal damage to or steal health from your opponent, depending on whether he has more health than you.
Flesh Golem: This elite skill conjures an animated minion that leaves a corpse upon death, allowing you to reanimate it.
As you might expect, everybody's favorite tree hugger employs some new archery skills, pets, traps, and nature rituals.
Heal as One: A healing skill that affects both you and your pet.
Brambles: A nature ritual that causes extra damage and bleeding to an opponent who's already knocked down.
Broad Head Arrow: This elite skill dazes your target upon a successful hit.
Guild Wars' melee master now has more ways to protect allies and strike down her enemies.
Sun and Moon Slash: The first blow of this two-hit sword skill is completely unblockable.
Protector's Stance: As long as you don't move, you can block damage for your allies.
"Coward!": This attack sends a fleeing enemy for a dirt nap.
Yes - apparently, it's possible to reach the level cap before you even leave Guild Wars' tutorial area. For the truly hardcore (or masochistic) among you, here's how:
Create a new character and do the first couple of introductory quests (War Preparations, Message From a Friend, and the test for your profession).
Start killing random monsters - but make sure you don't complete any of the other quests. While you're doing this, you might want to take a secondary profession and track down as many of the introductory skills as you can at this point. Once you start hitting the midrange levels (7 and up), it's time to head north of the wall in Lakeside County (find a friend to help you open the gate) to battle some higher-level monsters. You can get to about level 12 or 13 this way.
Go ahead and finish all of the tutorial quests, which should push you up into the mid-to-high teens.
Finally, go back across the wall and let the high-level monsters kill you. Repeatedly. Monsters gain experience, too - and eventually level up accordingly. Once you've got a supply of buffed-up monsters waiting in the wings, start hacking away - and keep repeating the process until you hit level 20. Now go back to town, type "/dance", and offer to sell your secret for exorbitant amounts of gold.
The Luxon and Kurzick factions also provide a handy means for ArenaNet to rope more players into Guild Wars' PVP community, as players can now take part in a tense faction war that encompasses the vast majority of Cantha's 55 maps. Player guilds may band together to form massive alliances within their chosen faction; these alliances fight with players from the opposing faction for control of various maps.
"These tend to be longer matches that encourage multiple objectives, with smaller units within each team working together toward a common goal," Phinney explains. "At the end of each of these PVP sessions, control of the map shifts, depending on which side won more of its matches."
Players can also earn faction points by succeeding in the aforementioned competitive story missions and fighting in PVP arenas. Successful alliances enjoy added benefits that include discounted merchant prices in controlled areas, special areas that no one else may travel to, and the prominent display of the alliance's banner in occupied cities.
But will non-PVP players embrace these faction mechanics? Flannum thinks so: "We believe that the vast majority of players will want to participate in the faction warfare. We've purposely designed this system to take into account as many play styles as we
possibly can - and since there are so many ways to earn faction points for your alliance, we believe it will appeal to a very broad player base."
Faction warfare isn't the be-all, end-all of Guild Wars PVP, though; existing guild halls get their own tweaks and upgrades in Factions. Player guildmasters can finally add NPCs like merchants and storage agents to their headquarters, and much-requested features, such as additional guild storage and scrimmage play, are on the way as well. For guilds that are thinking of renovating, some new guild halls are available for purchase, including a ritzy Canthan palace and a giant Luxon fortress that towers above the landscape.
A Whole New World
PVP arenas, on the other hand, get a complete change of scenery: Ascalon Arena, the Tomb of the Primeval Kings, and all of Guild Wars' other competitive areas will soon be transplanted to their own continent, aptly named the Battle Isles. With PVP arenas no longer tied specifically to Ascalon or Cantha, all arenas become available to anyone who purchases either of the two Guild Wars campaigns; upon reaching Lion's Arch (or Factions' equivalent port city), characters gain immediate access to the PVP continent.
And in an effort to ease new players into the PVP experience, this continent also features a practice area where players can experiment, try out new character builds, and train against computer opponents. "We're arranging PVP content in a natural progression," says O'Brien. "New players learn the ropes by playing against computer opponents and later playing in competition arenas before going on to compete in [PVP] tournaments."
Since Factions is a stand-alone product in a franchise that encourages fierce competition between players, will those who are jumping into Guild Wars for the first time be at a disadvantage due to owning only one product? Phinney doesn't think so. "We're working very hard to make sure people can compete on equal footing - whether they [purchase] one campaign, two campaigns, or even more. We've set aside a subset of skills that we consider the 'core skills,' which are available in every campaign in order to guarantee balance." Phinney is also quick to point out that players with established characters get just as much bang for their buck: "All of the most unique and exciting additions to the game, such as alliances, multiparty maps, competitive missions, territory wars, and new will be accessible and balanced for existing level-20 characters, and existing characters can come over to Cantha and change their secondary profession to ritualist or assassin if they so desire."
And Factions just gets things started - if things go according to plan, Guild Wars fanatics can look forward to two new campaigns per year. "Our philosophy is to try to make the game rewarding for everyone, however they like to play," Phinney muses. "Really, Factions was a matter of looking at what kinds of things we wish our Guild Wars characters could do next. We knew it wouldn't be enough to just have another set of missions to go through - we wanted to give players a chance to leave their mark on the world."
The Guild Wars World Championship
The first-ever Guild Wars World Championship is well underway, with regional play-offs wrapping up in North America, Europe, and Korea on January 14, 2006. The championship match - featuring the top two guilds from each region - will occur at Taiwan's Taipei Game Show from February 16 to February 20, 2006. These six guilds cross swords in a titanic battle for a huge cash prize, and the entire event will be televised overseas. No word yet on whether the GWWC is slated to be televised in North America, but don't worry - with Guild Wars' new PVP observer mode, you can watch the action unfold without ever leaving your PC.
well there you go. lots of infos here. buy the mag (february issue) for more.