Guild Wars Factions, the follow up to developer ArenaNet's and publisher NC Soft's smash hit Guild Wars Prophecies, was released on the one year anniversary of the original title. Right from the start, expectations were very high for the sequel and questions were flying all through cyberspace: how would the game work in conjunction with the original? What is a ‘Faction', exactly, and how would they influence the game? What would the new world be like? What new character classes would be introduced?
We answered some of these questions back in April with our interview with ArenaNet co-founder Jeff Strain, but we still had to ask ourselves whether Factions was going to be able to pull off the same trick that made the original Guild Wars so good.
Original character classes like the Monk and the Necromancer return in Factions, along with the new Assassin and Ritualist
Guild Wars Factions is a stand-alone game that does not require you to own the original Prophecies campaign to play. If you have the first title, however, Factions will install itself alongside that title, giving you two extra character slots above-and-beyond the game's existing four, as well as access to the new continent of Cantha for your existing characters. Players must also own and register Factions if they want access to the sequel's new character classes- the Assassin and the Ritualist.
Jeff Strain went into a great deal of detail regarding the two new classes' strengths in his interview, so we'll not repeat that info here, but it is also worthwhile to reiterate that all six of the original title's classes (the Monk, Warrior, Elementalist, Mesmer, etc) are available as either a primary or secondary class in Factions, and will use Cantha-based art and armor assets, making them look different from the previous game.
Graphically, Cantha looks fantastic. The Asian theme, with its pagoda-like structures; crimson-lacquered woodwork; ornamental gardens, complete with blossoming cherry trees which shed drifting, snow-like petals; sailing junks and realistic atmospheric effects, all do a wonderful job immersing the player in the game world. This attention to detail carries over into all facets of the game's art design, from the delicate golden traceries on the new Monk's armor sets to the realistically waving foliage that surrounds you as you wander the land.
Occasionally however, the game's level design does suffer from a bit of a "copy and paste" feeling, particularly in the sprawling city areas on Cantha's mainland. These areas, while intriguing, seemed a bit awkward and their textures felt a bit over-recycled as we played through them, and felt very bland compared to some of the world's other, more striking areas (the Jade Sea areas and some of the architecture in the starting area is just wonderful).
The starting island's tutorial missions help new players orient themselves to the game's unique controls
Levelling your character in Factions occurs quite quickly- I took all of my new characters past the level-12 point (more than halfway to the game's level cap) before I even got around to leaving the game's starting island. Quests were plentiful enough right from the get-go so that I always felt like I had lots of things to do, although the starting island will doubtless begin to feel a bit stale to players that want to build several characters and test out the new class combinations- a bit more class-specific mission variety really would have helped here. The game even tracks things like how much of the world the player has explored or what percentage of quests they've competed, and awards badges to players that excel in these areas. Seeing as how I still had about 70% of the world left to see by the time I dinged my first level 20, I think that my cartography badge will be a real challenge to earn.
Skills, which players unlock in the PvE game, then use when creating PvP characters, are made available much sooner and with greater frequency than they were in Prophecies, further speeding the character advancement process. We salute ArenaNet for doing their part to rid the gaming world of unsightly grind in this respect.
Once the player hits level 20, the game's true potential opens up, in the form of the high-level explorable areas and in the game's numerous PvP and multiplayer modes. Factions' world is one in which powerful armies fight and vie for territory, and players of all classes and skill levels can participate in the struggle. Towns change hands in real-time as various Factions win and lose territories, opening (or closing) quest opportunities dynamically. We don't have enough space here to go into a detailed analysis of the game's many multiplayer types- all we'll say that is that it's pretty amazing how much content there is in Factions, particularly considering that the game carries no monthly subscription fee.
Just as in Prophecies, the limit of eight active powers available to a player when they venture outside of towns lends an almost "deck building" feel to the game. The good thing about this is that players can develop very fast and devastating tricks and combos, and can do so in a relatively controlled environment- anyone that's ever stared, baffled, at World of Warcraft's stacked, nested action bars and the raft of powers available to even mid-level characters, might find this refreshing. The bad thing about this system, however, is that when you run into an enemy that's immune or resistant to that particular trick (and, believe us, you will), you're basically up a creek without a paddle. Since Skills can only be Switched out in towns, a system that limits a player's tactical options in the field, situations will ineVitably arise where the only recourse will be to warp back to base, swap out your skills and return to fight again. While this isn't too annoying- travel back and forth to previously explored towns is instantaneous- it can be a bit frustrating to have to re-clear an instanced area upon your return, should there be lots of enemies between you and the problematic enemy.
Visually, Factions builds on the already-impressive graphics from the original game, creating a feast for the eyes you'll not soon forget…
Some of the things that we disliked about the original game, namely the use of invisible "walls" that block passage across some terrain features (namely small cliffs and other impediments you'd think a hero could traverse), as well as the game's relative lack of varied armor, are still present in Factions. We understand that the highly competitive nature and need for careful balance in the game's PvP component requires that only a few sets of armor be made available to players, but that doesn't make me feel any better when I look at, say, a World of Warcraft's gargantuan catalog of mix-and-match gear, compared to the three or four different armor sets that I'm limited to in Factions. Luckily, that armor, like everything else, is beautifully detailed and is a pleasure to look at.
Last, we are still frustrated at ArenaNet's decision to not include an Auction House or anything else resembling a crafting system in this latest installment. While players can and will craft their own armor out of dropped and salvaged materials, such armor is customized so that it only can be worn by that player- no system exists for budding Tailors, Leatherworkers, Blacksmiths or the like.
Worse, the lack of a centralized space to list rare weapon drops or crafting materials makes it very difficult to buy or sell your stuff- all trades must be worked out via in-game chat, and then the swap must be done in person. Guilds still cannot store materials in a centralized, shared "locker" (something players have been asking for since the original game's release), even though they can purchase Guild Halls, but the addition of purchasable vendors, who reside within your Hall, does streamline the arduous process of material gathering a bit. And, honestly, is it really so much to ask for a mail system that allows for items to be sent and received? Seeing as such systems are a staple in all modern MMOs, the lack of such a system is really disappointing and hurts the game's long-term value.
Hi, I'm Death Kitten, a Necro/Ritualist… I like long walks in dank, hydra-infested caves, kicking Kurzick butt and summoning minions to do my bidding… LF tall, dark Warrior to be my "meat shield"…
Game Play-8 Players familiar with the original Guild Wars will feel right at home here- the game plays almost exactly the same as that title, namely fast and furious, with a great deal of tactical depth tossed in for spice. The game's main storyline is engaging, if a bit clichéd, with plenty of things to do and people to talk to. Just don't expect to be presented with multiple dialogue options- all you can really do is choose to accept missions or not, and anything resembling in-depth character development is lacking. Expect mid-level frustration when you leave the starting island (at around level 12-14) and are confronted with waves of level 20 enemies- where's the mid-game content, ArenaNet?
Graphics- 9 While there are a few ho-hum areas, namely in the large mainland cities, overall the world of Cantha is breathtaking, filled with lovely scenery and some of the best architecture we've ever experienced. Too bad that most of the buildings in-game are merely props- if the game made a bit less use of invisible barriers (oh, how we despise them!), blocking us from actually going into many of these areas, we likely would have given the game a perfect score in this area. As in the original game, spell effects are dynamic and visually exciting, and the overall level of art direction is nearly unsurpassed.
Audio-8 The game's majestic orchestral score, which bumps this score up a great deal, sounds like something from Hero or Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and is heavily influenced by traditional Chinese and Asian musical themes. The game's sound effects, however, can sometimes get a bit repetitive- expect to hear the same sounds over and over and over from both your party's spell abilities as well as in your enemies' bestial cries.
Value- 7 Just as in the original Prophecies, Factions is an MMO that carries no monthly fee to play. While this may be initially appealing to the gamer on a budget, one must realize that this carries its own price, and we think it's fair to point out that the game is lacking some of the features of a more "complete" MMO. The continuing lack of a true auction space, for example, really hinders the in-game economy and makes buying and selling problematic at the best of times or actively frustrating at the worst. Crafting is limited to making weapons or armor at a crafter NPC (items that only you can use, by the way) out of item drops or salvage materials. Combine this with the fact that the game can in no way be modded or added-to by the fan community (since the game runs exclusively on NC Soft's servers and never in a client/server or LAN environment) means that any and all new content must be doled out by the devs if and when they get around to it. Endless tweaking to accomplish the ultimate PvP build is fine, but what about those of us that want new quests outside the main story? At least there's enough to do as the game stands that most players should still be finding new trouble to get into weeks after they begin playing, but it's a real shame that the fan community will never get a crack at designing their own Canthan weapons, dungeons, armor or anything else once a player has passed that point. Since ArenaNet has all but stated that they plan no new materials for Prophecies, in favor of putting their resources into developing the next "chapter" in the saga, this becomes doubly important for players that still love the original game but have experienced all the content. Bottom line for such players: you'd better buy the new add-ons of you want to do anything new.
Curve- 8 Factions really doesn't break any new ground, but it does play well to its core competencies, namely delivering a beautiful world for players that love PvE and exploration, alongside a finely-tuned set of PvP and Arena areas for the more competitive crowd.
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