Guild Wars: Factions Review / Preview for PC

Guild Wars: Factions Review / Preview for PC

Factions takes the GW experience up a few notches. by Patrick Evans

June 23, 2006 – Last summer, NCSoft took on the MMO world by flying right into the face of convention and providing a quasi-MMO experience without the monthly subscription fee. The ability to adventure through the world of Tyria with friends, or fight against them in 8-on-8 PvP battles hit a chord with many RPG fans that thought Final Fantasy XI or World of Warcraft too hardcore or too expensive.

Nearly a year later, their trend continues. Releasing Guild Wars: Factions, the stand-alone expansion/tie-in/sequel that does not require the original to play, Arena Net and company hope to keep those frugal gamers happy with their unique brand of competitive and co-operative fantasy combat. After having spent many, many hours with Factions, one must think that this crew has been quite successful.

The storyline behind Factions is a slightly different experience for those who do or do not already own the original, but early on it centers on an eerie sickness that is spreading across Cantha and infecting the good citizens, quickly making short work of the Emperor and any other stability in the Oriental-inspired nation. If you own the original, you can complete an easy quest and earn the right to travel to Cantha via Lion’s Arch, retaining all your equipment, statistics, skills, and pets, and get right to fighting the infection. New players will have to earn their spurs.

Having experienced the opening chapter of this game from the standalone side and the tie-in option, the difference is really negligible. The training missions in Factions are better structured in that they provide introductory text explaining all the features very early for newcomers instead of asking you to simply improvise and rely on the advice of strangers.

Factions features a slew of new content that justifies a standalone 50 dollar price tag for owners of the original. Two new professions, Assassin and Ritualist, add to the somewhat slim selection of six character types, while 300 new skills have been included in both the original and expansion professions. A smaller price tag would have encouraged just about everyone with the original to purchase Factions, but with the impressive list of additional material and explorable areas, it should be seen more as a sequel of sorts than anything else.

In its core gameplay, Factions does everything it can to blend the PvE (Player vs. Environment) and the PvP aspects of gameplay. New game types have been added to the original Mission/Quest selection, including Challenge Missions, that give specific scoring or time objectives such as holding a specific point against oncoming waves of enemies or completing a mission in under a certain time-limit.

Guilds can choose to ally themselves to either the Luxons or the Kurzicks, two opposing houses that can’t seem to get along, and fight for supremacy much like the original Guild Wars described, well, the Guild Wars (look in the instruction booklet, it’s there!). This leads to the real meat of this stand-alone, the Alliance missions. Multiple teams allied to these two houses constant fight to control resource points, which in turn determine control of towns and outposts throughout the land. In conquering more and more territory, alliances will then gain access to Elite Missions that are more challenging, and more rewarding, than those found elsewhere.

When stacking Factions, and Guild Wars for that matter, against its MMO competition, it’s difficult to gauge given the different structures that they take. NCSoft’s game bills itself as the non-MMO, as the game creates individual “instances” for a party whenever it leaves a town, enters a mission, ect. However, it one-ups most every other MMO by allowing any person that creates a character in Tyria or Cantha to meet up with any other player in Tyria or Cantha worldwide (assuming they have the required key codes for the respective titles), without having to choose a specific server like FFXI, Dungeons and Dragons Online, and WoW. It allows for much more accessibility all around, but especially for newer players with little experience.

Player vs. Player combat is a main focus in this title, and Guild Wars still features the best competitive combat found in an MMO. Eight on eight combat is a frantically paced strategic fare that challenges the different builds that each team puts on the field. While the best action takes place on the field, preparation and communication is vital, which leaves teams looking for voice-over IP solutions, such as the Teamspeak provided by the game, or outside programs like Ventrillo. One complaint against this setup is that there is little way to know what is being cast against you at any given time aside from targeting and monitoring the spell-caster that is assaulting you. In the heat of battle, where multiple spell-casters will be targeting tanks and flanking archers/support characters, it can be very difficult to pin down what strategy the enemy team is running.

The original Guild Wars looked very good on high end computers, but what impressed many was how well it handled graphically on mid-to-low end machines. Factions is no different and even provides more impressive environmental areas with terrain encased in Jade and sprawling urban cities serving as both safe-havens and combat arenas. Character animations are superb, there is just enough variety in armor and weapon selection to keep things fresh, and the various lighting effects are impressive. If anything, magic spells can, at times, seem underwhelming, especially when you drop a meteor on a crowd and you see them all fall without actually having witnessed the meteor crash.

When taking a look at its competitors, Guild Wars: Factions will certainly appeal to anyone that has an RPG itch. Anyone that looks at FFXI or WoW and thinks “Where do these people find the time” will be right at home. The level cap at 20 ensure that it is all about strategy, not level grinding. Fairly balanced and sharp looking, it may lack some of the depth of its competitors but it does more than hold its own by providing an exciting competitive combat experience rounded out by impressive visuals on anyone’s system and the right MMO aspects sprinkled throughout.

By Patrick Evans
CCC Staff Writer

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