Recap over. The question you’re probably asking is, if I didn’t get into Guild Wars, why should I care about Factions? Well, first of all, it’s half expansion-pack, half stand-alone sequel. If you’ve already conquered the original Guild Wars ‘Prophecies’ campaign, you can transport your character over and tackle the high-level quests immediately. Good for you. But if you’ve never played Guild Wars before, Factions is a fantastic place to start. It’s low on dull beetle-killing missions early on, and it doesn’t take long to amass some decent skills and equipment.
More importantly, Factions really feels like a different spin on the game. The new continent, Cantha, is more than just a variation on the original European fantasy theme – it’s a complete shift of setting and culture to a world of Oriental adventure. Think Wuxia. Think of a thousand Hong Kong swordplay movies. Think Hero, Crouching Tiger, Flying Daggers. There are new monsters to match, from the turtle-goblin kappas, to the snakelike nagas and fearsome oni, and new skills to emulate martial-arts based attacks. There are even two new hero classes: the assassin, with a range of killer skill combos and trap capabilities, and the mysterious ritualist: a blind, tattooed sorcerer who can summon dark spirits to his aid.
A major part of the appeal is aesthetic: Cantha is probably the most beautiful world presented in any MMORPG. In fact, on an artistic level it’s up there with the worlds of Jade Empire and The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion as the loveliest in any RPG, full-stop. It has the gorgeous, mountain vistas of China, stretches of stunning coastland straight from a Thai beach paradise, and some gorgeous examples of Oriental architecture, posed dramatically on waterfalls or in the midst of a flowered valley. And the amazing thing is that you’ll see all these things in the first few hours, then realise that you’re just on a starter island, and you haven’t even seen the continental mainland. Once there, you still have some astonishing sights in store, including a vast urban sprawl of grand civic squares and tumbling, high-rise shanty towns, and an inland sea of frozen jade that is one of the most imaginative and interesting settings I’ve witnessed in recent video games. Add in some genuinely sweet warm lighting, and you have a magnificent achievement.