Steadily Building a Behemoth
The massively multiplayer online game world is currently strangling under the weight of World of WarCraft — a fine game, but any publisher hoping to compete must offer something completely different. Alas, innovations in the role-playing game concept are few and far between, but NCSoft did find one idea attractive to any gamer, and made it key to Guild Wars. This earthshaking concept? An MMO without the monthly fee. $15 a month may not be much when weighed against endless glories of Azeroth, but “free” is a constant temptation.
With no monthly revenue, income must come from expansions, and so, while gamers in WoW are still waiting for The Burning Crusade to invade store shelves, the third expansion to Guild Wars, Nightfall, is ready and waiting to anyone interested in new things — now. Nightfall is set with an Egyptian theme; as always, everything here is fully compatible with everything else, so while the Asian-themed characters might look a bit out of place, all their skills and such work well.
Guild Wars has always been about player versus player combat especially in teams, but Nightfall adds something to grant solo players more reason to play. There have always been henchman available for hire, but these useless goons lacked personality as well as strategy. Now, certain missions offer non-player character “heroes,” fully customizable in weapons, skills, and attributes, as well as combat strategies and able to use specific attacks against specific opponents. Armor auto-levels, but you can influence it a bit via merchants and runes. Alas, only three such heroes are available, but this still goes a long way to making GW more solo-able than ever, quadrupling the dress-up possibilities for outfitting a party. You can still have henchman to round out the party, but heroes have a major impact, truly changing the solo experience into a much less frustrating one. Alas, this does cut both ways, as less hardcore players will have a harder time getting into a “pickup” group, since most folks will stick with the strong and reliable heroes over an unknown human player (although the latter is still usually a better deal than a henchman).
"...Nightfall adds something to grant solo players more reason to play."
The heroes are also available for player-vs.-player (PvP), again adding a new way to fight others. Hero battles feature one player and his heroes against a similar team and are easily created, a big advantage over the other forms of PvP in Guild Wars, especially for players that just don’t have online friends they’d compete with.
In any event, heroes are the primary reason to get this expansion, and the control interface also works to a limited extent on henchmen and pets, making it nearly mandatory for players of pet classes and useful even for those few that have little need of heroes.
Two new classes come in the desert-themed expansion: Dervish and Paragon. The former use gigantic scythes to assault multiple opponents at once and also have enchantments to use on themselves or their weapons. The Paragon is more of a support class, able to toss spears into the fray, or buff up their friends and allies. He literally stands as support between the party and the archers/wizards, as the range of his spear and magical attacks/buffs is somewhat less. The Paragonian buffs even auto-refresh, a nice change from the usual in these types of games, where one is forever re-casting buffs. It may be my imagination, but leveling just gets faster with each expansion; while there’s an option to simply start out at level 20 for PvP play, you’re much better off simply doing the quests and learning about the world — a week’s dedicated play is sufficient to make this capped level (and it really seems like it took much longer when the game first came out). There’s a reputation system to slow things down a bit, but this doesn’t slow down experience point gain, just makes you do more nice things for the locals before they’ll give you the next important quest.
Nightfall adds another 350 new skills — mostly for the new/newer classes, of course, but such a plethora goes a long way to keeping the PvP exciting, where just one unusual skill can alter the optimal way to beat one’s opponents. Figuring out what eight skills to equip to best complete the next mission is really the heart of the Guild Wars experience, so while the skills may not be flashy in terms of graphics, as long as NCSoft sees fit to add so many every installment, the game will always be alive.
Granted, this is a $50 expansion, but with such things rolling out every six months, one is still saving money over the $15 monthly fees other MMOs charge, but the fact that these expansion packs are entirely optional makes them attractive, as you can always wait a month or two playing other games and still go back to GW when you’re ready to buy the next one (or just want to play with your old characters). Still, any fan of the series, already dedicated to playing the game at least a few hours a week, will find this well worth the investment.
"...any fan of the series, already dedicated to playing the game at least a few hours a week, will find this well worth the investment."
+ More stuff.
+ NPC heroes.
+ New player-vs.-player.
– Weak graphics.
– Cities heavily crowded with players… empty wilderness.
Note: because this is a multiplayer game there is no multiplayer score.