First up, an admission: I’m afraid I can’t describe this as the definitive review of Guild Wars: Factions. It’s an enormous game, packed with content, and much of that content is inaccessible until you hit the highest levels of the game. If you wanted a truly definitive review, with every aspect of the game explored, I’d have to say that I’ll get back to you in three months’ time.
Admittedly, it’s the same story with most MMOs, but then (to recap for those who haven’t come across the game before) Guild Wars really isn’t like most MMOs. Here levelling isn’t the be-all-and-end-all – lucky in a game that caps players at what at first seems a miserly level 20 – but the means by which your character reaches ‘ascension’. At this point, you have the power you need to handle any challenge in the game, and probably the equipment to match, which makes the important thing the skills you have at your disposal, and the ways in which you employ them. That makes Guild Wars more a test of abilities than endurance or available time. Once you’ve put in the hours to ascend, you don’t face any serious disadvantage if you can’t commit half your waking life to the game.
That’s not the only Guild Wars difference. The lack of a monthly subscription has effects beyond the obvious benefits to your wallet – it ensures that Guild Wars is a game you can dip into and out of over a period of many months, without needing to worry whether you’re getting value for your money. It’s a game you can flirt with and spend the odd weekend with without making a longer-term commitment. What’s more, the game works hard to make things easy and entertaining. You can travel instantly to the major points of the map, and take on AI-controlled henchmen if you can’t find or don’t want a party of real human beings.
And unlike most MMORPGS, the game adopts an approach where you share hub areas with other players, but once you and your party go adventuring you’re moved to a unique ‘instanced’ area that you’ve got all to yourself. Not only does this ensure that you’re not queuing for the next monster or at risk of stealing another players experience, it also enables the game to take a more story-driven approach. Guild Wars even staves off intra-party conflict. Captured gold and experience are shared out equally and any items that monsters drop are assigned automatically to players. It’s full of fantastically sensible bits of games design, and that’s given the game a feel all of its own. You can drop in, gather a group together for a mission, and then leave once the job is done. The whole game is a no-strings affair.