NCsoft has made a niche for itself in the MMO and fantasy worlds with a series of valiant efforts. A long line of druid-dragon titles has kept this company at the crest of the persistent flood of games out to topple the likes of the big dog in the MMO pound—World of Warcraft and its family of highly anticipated expansions. Always legitimate efforts, the publisher’s history hasn’t always revolutionized the industry or its seemingly favorite genre. Still, its games have been enjoyable titles that provide solid and diverse action usually with some unique take on the typical fantasy tale.
As games like Lineage and its sequel and City of Heroes came and went, it seemed that the odds were stacked against NCsoft making a significant dent in the ever-growing hordes of WoW faithful. Even with innovative flight-based gameplay, a Dynasty Warriors-Kingdom Under Fire siege battle hybrid, and its very own popular and extremely accessible superhero action MMORPG, NCsoft still looked to play the ‘Ethel’ to Blizzard’s ‘Lucy’ for quite some time (‘Batman’ and ‘Robin’ was too easy). When Guild Wars came along, it seemed that the publisher might change the rules about MMO’s and a few gamers’ minds at the same time.
Though it was clear to most gamers this wouldn’t be the silver disk in the heart of the beast known as ‘Warcraft’, Guild Wars shook up the typical MMORPG formula and won over fans with its unconventional approach to online gaming. The game was by all means a success critically and commercially, and it made a lasting impression on gamers by ridding its digital realm of tedious long distance traveling, monotonous leveling, and treacherous, power-hungry PvP hitmen. Armed with an interesting tale of culture clash and an altogether fun battle system, ArenaNet and NCsoft managed to craft an engaging and immersive story and put the power back in the hands of its players, and not just the insomniac one thousand hour-a-week Halo junkies who refer to the rest of us as noobs. And the best part was it was free! Unlimited hours of play for the price of the air you breathe fit gamers ever-tightening belts like a… um… an ‘ever-tightening belt’. Unfortunately, this casual approach to gaming tied down the Guild Wars experience by limiting the PvP and collaborative experiences; the meat and potatoes of the online gamer’s diet.
With a very solid (some would say genre-bending—if only for the sake of the absence of a fee) attempt under its belt and a few strong titles since, NCsoft is ready to give it another go and the ‘Guild’ creators have vowed to learn from, and repeat, the past. Guild Wars II is still under development, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to talk about.
To get the big stuff out of the way first, all signs point to ‘yes’ Guild Wars II will still be free. A recent interview with a developer spokesman confirmed that the company still doesn’t believe in monthly fees but does approve of drop in and out gameplay that still allows gamers to be competitive. That’s great news for us, as the ability to localize the experience is what kept gamers from being fodder for experience hogs. That aspect of game design has received a major tune-up—unlike its predecessor ‘GW II’ will not separate the single-player and online experience. The world (or worlds) of GW II have radically shifted in the many years and false starts since the launching of the original Guild Wars.
By using portals through town to specifically instanced ‘hot spots’ and selecting just the right teams to take on quests, gamers could completely customize their experience and maximize their potential for victory. Since then, ArenaNet has developed a new “dynamic event system” that allows players to react to battle scenarios and quest opportunities as they arise in the world around them. Defending the walls of a town which may be attacked during your stay could lead to a temporary partnership with other warriors or local soldiers, for instance. The overall effect seems to add a layer of life to the world and gives players a greater picture of the turmoil and dangers around them. This way, your friends are likely to be people who have fought battles alongside you, maybe before you ever chatted. When you add the system into a fully persistent world, the prospects sound tantalizing.
A lot has changed in the land of Tyria over the past quarter millennia, and ArenaNet’s new focus on its ‘epic world’ story is huge. Since gamers last entered the minds of Arena’s finest, allegiances and faiths have changed, technology (meaning: weapons and probably armor) has advanced, rulers have risen, and Dragons have awoken in Tyria. Nearly a half dozen races including humans, the elvin-Sylvari, and the newly-atheistic Charr, have been forced away from ancestral homelands and now crowd in cities preparing for conquest (among other things). Each playable race has a different city, different characteristics, and different goals, and it’s up to players to login and kick off some foreign relations. There is still a lot to be revealed about Guild Wars II and much more to be elaborated on—from personalized storylines to new weapons, magical skill advancements, and a hundred other secrets that Arena and NC have yet to share.
It may come as small solace, but expect the days leading up to GW II’s very liquid 2011 release date to bring all sorts of fun and unexpected surprises. But who am I telling? You waited this long.