Over the years we have seen loads of RPG's come and go, now though they seem to be heading in the direction of the MMORPG (Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game) moreso. Especially with broadband prices dropping most users have a dabble in online gaming in one way or another.
Popular online titles at the minute include Counter Strike, Everquest, Legend of Mir, World of Warcraft, Asherons Call, Star Wars Galaxies and way to many others to mention here. Now most of these titles mentioned here (RPG titles especially) have monthly fees to play, you usually get the first month or two free but after that you pay on a monthly basis to play. Now this in my eyes is all well and good, but I PERSONALLY think that after you have paid £30 or more for a new game having to pay for it monthly after that is taking the mick a bit, its a double edged sword really as servers etc all cost money in the long run. Not everyone can afford to do this, we have mortgages to pay, kids to feed and occupy so paying to keep playing does dip into much needed funds.
So what can we do now, pay to play or miss out on some excellent gaming. Thankfully neither, those great guys at NCSOFT has thought about this long and hard and brought us Guild Wars, MMORPG with no monthly fees at all, thats more like it for myself and many other PC game players out there in the same boat as myself and possibly having the same thoughts on the monthly subscriptions.
I have decided to do this as a preview to Guild Wars with it being a huge game and myself and most the other HEXUS players have yet to actually leave Ascalon (Ascalon is kind of a portal to start) for the main game world, Ascalon is a fair size itself and has loads of starter quests you can do to get the character levels up and also to create the guild, meet the teamates and help each other out on a few of the trickier quests.
There are many different types of RPG's flitting about over the past few years, you have the games like Baldurs Gate, Planescape Torment and Icewind Dale all of which are based on a D&D type interface where you can pause the action and decide what to do in battle scenes selecting certain characters to attack different enemies before taking the pause off and seeing the results then carry on exploring / adventuring. I found with these games the interface and way they play can be a little confusing to start with but very rewarding once you get used to it. You then have the games like the Diablo series and the subliminal Dungeon Siege, minimising and streamlining the character enhancements and the battles more like a good old hack and slash but with true RPG elements with levels and hit points for both enemies and the main character. Now for me personally I preffered Diablo and Dungeon Siege as I like something that is a bit more fast paced and easier tactics as virtually everything is controlled by mouse and a selection of keys for movement of the camera etc..
So what is Guild Wars, how does it play and what does it have to pull me in ?
First off I have to say that this game plays more like Diablo and Dungeon Siege, click an enemy onscreen and the character will attack it. Whilst attacking the enemy you can have upto 8 skills at the bottom of the screen showing and ready for access (provided you're adrenalin level is high enough, adrenalin is like the old magical power meter, to low and you cant pull off the move or spell). So you're character is hacking away at the enemy and whilst that is happening you can divert you're attention briefly and click on the different skills at the bottom to heal, do special attacks etc...
As mentioned the interface is absolutely superb, everything you need is there in front of you, whilst in the start city you can select the server you want to meet the teamates on and can change you're current skillset (You arn't allowed to do this whilst you are out and about adventuring, it has to be done in a big city) At the bottom left of the screen is the main menu button, from this you can pull up character, inventory, guild and also the ingame options like graphics, sound and detail. Middle bottom sees the current skillset with the mana and health bar above it. Over on the right shows a box with you're character name in it and any other characters that have joined the group to go adventuring and finally top right shows the mini map. Mini map is as always very useful for finding objectives and enemies, another great thing is that say you have the objective arrow on you're map and the teamates dont you can draw on the map and everyone in the group can see what you have drawn, it only shows for a few seconds though (think it should last a bit longer as its easy to miss). Only gripe I have with the graphics options is that it only allows a screen refresh rate of either 60 or 70 Hz, for me 60 gives me a pretty bad headache, 70 isnt to bad but hopefully they will do some sort of patch / fix so it can be upped.
Gameplay is fantastic, especially when you and a few friends get together to take on some of the quests, it is seamless. Running about and getting to the objectives is extremely easy, if sometimes a bit slow, I think character movement could be a little faster. However you do have the option of map travel, open it up in the menu and provided you have been there already you can click on one of the gold dots which represent a town or place and you are taken directly there, comes in very handy for quick travel.
Also on the gameplay side of things you have 2 options on how to play, you can create you're character and go ropleplaying or jump straight into PvP (Player Vs Player). With the PvP option you're character starts completely maxxed out on all skills and experience levels and you can go straight for the Guild Wars (Get the name now ! ) 2 Guilds go head to head basically. But if you are like me there is a rich experience to be had exploring the world.
Visually this game is beautiful, it has been created using soft lights so everything seems to bloom giving it a real dream / fantasy feel. Some of the views are fantastic when you are stood on high ground and can see for miles. Game itself runs extremely well on my system : XP 2500 + Barton Core, 1 Gb ram and Radeon 9600 Pro. Its running in 1024x768 with most things on high detail and its smooth as silk and looks wonderful. You can change resolutions and everything like that in the usual way via graphics in the amin menu. Nice touch I have found also is whilst running through the normal sandy type mud is it actually leaves footprints !
Sound is the usual what you would expect from any fantasy RPG, clashes of swords, flicker of fireballs as they zip past. You get the sounds of birds when in wooded areas so the feel is very ambient and immersive alround. It has such a good feel to the place, you could wander round for hours just listening out and watching the scenery.
On a final note, I have to mention the servers, I have read in a few places that this game is very 56k friendly, always a good thing as we still dont have 100% broadband coverage in the UK. I have only experienced ever so slight lag once or twice in all the hours I have already put in and then it has been very minimal (teamate seems to vanish for a microsecond to reapear about 10ft in front of you) nothing major there though.
So overall, I have to say to all RPG fans this is well worth getting, with no monthly fees and a great playable game. Alround it is fantastic value. Play are selling it for £17.99 delivered and most highstreet shops are knocking it out at the usual price of £29.99. Regardless of what you pay for it you will get hours of fun with friends or alone.
Preview rating : Astounding great value and superb game 9.5 out of 10