When wizards and warriors clash online, they ready their steely swords and scintillating sorcery and charge into battle. When these same wizards and warriors are given only a weekend's time, they tend to go at it a little faster. ArenaNet is current holding an open beta weekend to try out the competitive side of Guild Wars: Factions, the next Guild Wars game, which will offer new areas to explore and two new character professions to play as. The new professions will actually add a great deal of variety, because in Guild Wars, you play the game by creating a character with one primary profession and one secondary profession, from any of the game's choices. But the new professions are available only in the game's competitive arena battles, and only in certain combinations. We took the opportunity to get a jump on our weekend and try out the new game. Please be advised when reading this report that this weekend's event features an unfinished beta version of the game; all of the details are below are subject to change.
Factions' two new professions are the assassin and the ritualist, which join the original game's warrior, elementalist, monk, mesmer, necromancer, and ranger classes. Assassins specialize in wielding a dagger weapon in each hand and attacking swiftly, while using evasive skills to increase their running speed, improve their chances to dodge incoming attacks, and in some cases, to quickly and instantly retreat in battle. Assassins have several stepwise skills--there are additional attack powers that can trigger an attack from the assassin's off-hand, for instance, plus other attack skills that are keyed in succession from off-hand attacks.
Ritualists, on the other hand, specialize in summoning a variety of stationary spirit creatures in battle; though they can't advance or retreat, they can remain in the world for a maximum of about two minutes and can dish out some decent damage, particularly when two or more are conjured up right in the midst of enemy characters. Several of these spirit creatures can have their abilities temporarily enhanced, but when they're strengthened in this way, their life expectancy is also cut shorter than the usual 120 seconds or so. Ritualists also have the ability to instantly destroy their creations, which causes them to dissipate into coils of lightning that damage any nearby foes. Ritualists even possess a unique resurrection skill that can be used multiple times in battle (unlike any other character's standard resurrection talisman, which can be used only once) at the cost of half their current health points.
But in Factions, just like in the original Guild Wars, all professions have inherent qualities that can be very useful when picked as a secondary class. For instance, the assassin's ability to move quickly over short distances (including a skill called "shadowstep" that lets assassin characters briefly sprint, then immediately transports them back to where they started) is a powerful companion for the fireball-hurling elementalist class, which can temporarily get close enough to rain down fiery death on enemies before quickly retreating. The ritualist can augment its own attack power when combined with the ranger profession to fire highly accurate and damaging arrow volleys, and its resurrection power makes it a useful addition in just about any adventuring party.
From what we can tell, both professions seem to stand up well in combat, though the assassin might be a bit easier to figure out for beginners. Because assassins possess skills that let them move quickly on foot, as well as skills that can be exceptionally damaging when used in sequence, they're natural infiltrators, with the most obvious role of running right past heavily armored warrior foes and attacking lightly armored wizard and monk targets.
Ritualists seem to require a bit more patience to play. To offset the fact that their core skills are based on casting lengthy spells to summon creatures, ritualists also have skills that grant them bonuses when summoning creatures, as well as a skill that prevents their spells from being interrupted, though once that skill expires, the characters then lose an amount of magic power equal to what they would've otherwise lost. Because these summoned creatures are stationary, they don't seem to be of much use in frontline battles, where warrior characters are constantly trying to run interference against enemy characters to protect their archer, wizard, and monk comrades. The most effective use of these summoned creatures is clearly to call them forth, let them attack, then detonate them before they expire, to damage any nearby enemies; but managing all the expiration times of different summoned creatures will probably require some real attention and more than a little finesse.
As you might expect from a Guild Wars game, each new profession has a highly distinctive look to it when chosen as a primary profession. The assassin resembles a ninja assassin from feudal Japan, complete with ragged tights and a face mask, while the ritualist has a shaman-like appearance that includes earth-colored tunics, ornate jewelry, and intricate tattoos. Of course, you can customize the colors of your characters' clothing, and you'll eventually pick up different weapons and armor to further change their appearance. In both cases, each new character seems to fit in well with Guild Wars' art style, which continues to combine influences from medieval fantasy art and Japanese anime cartoons.
The two new professions seem like good additions so far. We're also very interested in trying out the game's adventure-content areas, though we'll have to wait a bit longer for that. Stay tuned for more updates on this promising next chapter in the Guild Wars saga as we approach the game's release date later this year.