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However, a visit to mainland may turn your jaw slack for less positive reasons. The opening missions are extremely well played, slowly opening up the world and teaching you the major skills without you even really noticing. Most can be done with the aid of the aforementioned henchmen, though the game cleverly includes a scattering of crucial missions where you need to band together with other players to survive – Factions wants you to play well with others, after all. Quests don’t go far beyond the usual errand-boy and kill this, collect that stuff, but their nature is cunningly disguised with wodges of narrative. Many even see you getting assistance from high-ranking computer controlled characters.
Towards the end of your stay on the island, things get tougher. Even secondary missions require the assistance of a large group, and your henchmen are worse than useless. Get used to it. On the mainland, the difficulty level goes up another three notches. On my first visit, I found myself wiped out in seconds in most explorable areas, and the majority were impossible – or at the least very hard going – without the aid of other, real human beings. From this I learnt two things. Firstly, it’s a waste of time tackling the mainland missions until you have got as much experience and equipment as possibly from the initial island. Those players who will only take you on a mainland mission if you’re above level 15 aren’t just being grumpy – they just don’t want to spend half their time resurrecting your useless behind. Secondly, this is a game you can play solo, but if you want to get ahead, it’s best to get involved.
Joining a guild will help – and unlike World of Warcraft this doesn’t mean joining raids where you will risk your virtual neck while some foul-mouthed oddball with a Napoleon complex swears at you from the sidelines. However, Factions goes beyond the player-formed Guilds of the first game to incorporate wider factions, apparently vying for control of Cantha. You will eventually end up signing to one faction or another, and later in the game you will even face missions where groups from rival factions will be tackling them at the same time. It’s a clever touch, because it won’t have any impact on the new player during the early stages of the game, but it means that Factions has something extra for those who stick with it in the later stages.