Guild Wars Factions is the follow-up to last year's popular online role-playing game Guild Wars, which let you team up with other players to form a guild in order to explore a fantasy world or battle other guilds. Factions isn't an expansion pack, which means that you don't need to own the original Guild Wars to enjoy it. Rather, it's a stand-alone game that introduces a whole new setting to explore, as well as new features, new classes, new types of missions, and new skills to play with. And, like the original game, Factions won't require a monthly subscription fee in order to play it. With Factions due out in stores next week, creator ArenaNet is now revealing some cool, never-before-seen features that will be in the game, and we got the first details from designers James Phinney and Eric Flannum.
GameSpot: We hear that Guild Wars Factions will include an all-new feature that will let players earn titles for their characters, such as "hero," "gladiator," and "champion." Tell us about these titles and how players will go about earning them.
James Phinney: Titles are intended to give players recognition for extraordinary achievements. Some titles are associated with a player's account, such as "champion," which recognizes your achievements in guild-versus-guild combat. Some titles are associated with individual characters, such as "Tyrian Explorer," which recognizes your persistence and ingenuity in visiting every possible nook and cranny in the continent of Tyria.
Many titles have multiple levels. For example, the first level of "skill hunter" requires that you capture 90 elite skills with a single character. You become an "adept skill hunter" when you reach a total of 135 elite skills. Capturing that many skills is an incredible accomplishment.
You can choose only one title to display at a time, but a single character can have multiple titles. Whenever you uncover a new part of the world map of Tyria, for example, you make progress toward a "Tyrian Explorer" title. This does not diminish or alter any progress you've made toward a "gladiator" title, which is earned through victories in the random arenas.
GS: Will all titles be permanent, or will you have to defend certain titles? In other words, will there be tittles that only one person at a time can have?
JP: Right now, there are no unique titles, but this is something we will consider as we move forward. We definitely think it's great for players to have a chance to become famous within the Guild Wars community.
GS: The new persistent war mode that will be introduced in Factions sounds interesting, as it's supposed to tie together competitive fans of arena combat with role-playing fans who like to pursue quests. Could you briefly describe how it works, and how it's designed to appeal to both player-versus-player fans and player-versus-environment fans?
Eric Flannum: The basics of the system work like this: Guild alliances declare their allegiance to either the Kurzick or Luxon nations, and alliances on each side are ranked according to how many faction points members of that alliance have "cashed in." Faction points can be gained in many different ways, from completing quests and missions to engaging in PVP combat. Depending on how high an alliance is ranked within its faction, it will control a different piece of territory. Working in tandem with this system is a new special type of PVP combat called alliance battles. Alliance battles will determine exactly how much territory is available for each side to control.
We designed this system to cater to as many different play styles as possible. Players who enjoy questing are capable of earning faction points at a rate similar to players who enjoy PVP combat. In this way, we hope that alliances will often be formed between guilds that enjoy different styles of play to maximize and diversify the ways in which they gain faction points.
GS: Aside from the new war mode, what are some of the other new things that you will be able to do in Factions? We understand that there are multiteam cooperative missions, as well as new challenge missions. Then there are guild scrimmages, as well?
EF: Yes, we added guild scrimmages, which can be initiated by any member of a guild when they are in their guild hall. This gives guilds the ability to practice one-on-one, eight-on-eight, or even one-on-eight combat if they choose. This is also a pretty good example of the sort of upgrades that affect all chapters of the game. Anyone playing Guild Wars whose guild has a guild hall will be able to take advantage of guild scrimmages regardless of whether they buy Factions.
In order to play the other new mission types you mentioned, players will need to own Factions. Multiteam cooperative missions are very story driven and provide players with an opportunity to coordinate with another team of eight players to accomplish a goal, such as defeating a particularly nasty dragon. Challenge missions are designed to be repeatable. You can think of them as sort of like arcade games, where there really isn't an end to them but you are trying to achieve the highest score possible. For example, one of the missions has you trying to exterminate as many monsters as possible within a time limit. Players will be able to compete with each other to see who can get the best daily, monthly, and all-time scores.
GS: What's the deal with the new guild alliances? We know that multiple guilds will be able to ally together for the persistent war, but it sounds like the alliance will be useful for other things, as well.
JP: First and foremost, alliances exist as a way to promote community building among players. Players within an alliance may use alliance chat to communicate with one another and may freely visit the guild halls of other guilds in the alliance. (Currently, in order to visit a friend's guild hall, you must be issued a guest invitation by a member of that guild.)
Visiting an ally's guild hall will be especially useful in Factions because we are providing that guild scrimmage feature that allows you to arrange a test battle in that guild hall. You can use this option for practicing guild-versus-guild strategies, trying out skill combinations, or just to have some fun, informal combat.
Service IndustryGS: Guilds can build guild halls, which are sort of an online hangout for the members of that guild. But we understand that you'll be able to shop in guilds. What's the deal with all that?
JP: Once Factions is out, you will be able to talk to the guild lord non-player character in your guild hall and hire various service NPCs for your hall. Hiring service NPCs is a one-time cost, and they carry over for your guild, even if you elect to change guild halls. To some degree, many of these NPCs are luxuries, since map travel allows you to reach a city that has a similar NPC with a few clicks of the mouse, but there are certain NPCs that we know people will be very anxious to hire.
Important services, such as a Xunlai storage agent and a priest of Balthazar, will be moderately priced, while other, more esoteric services will be priced as luxuries. Among the most anticipated, I'm sure, will be a vault keeper who maintains storage space for the whole guild. This is an entirely new feature that we're adding soon after the release of Factions.
GS: Tell us a bit about Cantha, the new continent in the game. What do you like about it so far, and what are some cool locations that you've seen? And, in terms of size or content, how does it compare to the continent in the original game?
EF: Cantha is divided into four primary regions. First, there are the more rural areas of Cantha. These areas tend to be very lush and green with lots of tall waving grass, rolling hills, and gently flowing streams. Second, there are the urban portions of Cantha. The city of Cantha is a massively overbuilt urban sprawl with dark alleyways, sewers, and rooftop areas. To the south of the city lie the Jade Sea and the Echovald Forest. The Jade Sea was at one time a massive body of water which was turned to solid jade by the death cry of Shiro Tagachi. Shiro's cry similarly altered the Echovald Forest, turning it into a massive petrified forest.
The thing I like the most about Cantha is how much variety there is. You can go from very peaceful light areas into some darker, more threatening environments in a short period of time. My favorite area of the game has to be the valley outside of Kaineng City, where the Echovald Forest, Jade Sea, and city areas all sort of meet and connect with one another. The contrast between the three areas is very striking.
In terms of size, Cantha is smaller than the area players saw in the original game; however, we make a lot better use of the space that we have. We have a much higher overall density of content per square foot in Cantha than in Tyria. In addition to the density of content, I think players will find a lot more variety in the types of quests and missions that they are able to undertake.
GS: How are the two new character classes--the assassin and the ritualist--in Factions turning out so far? What sort of roles are you discovering that they're playing in combat, and how do they mesh with the existing character classes?
JP: We're quite happy with the assassin and the ritualist. They've each undergone an interesting evolution over the course of developing Factions, and we've really enjoyed seeing them in action during the recent preview events and have been able to make many adjustments based on what we've learned. Both of the new professions really stress battlefield awareness and adaptability.
The assassin's ability to shadow step into and out of battle makes the character very effective and mobile. It's not uncommon for an assassin to appear out of nowhere, unleash a full combo, and teleport away before most players can attack him or her. In guild-versus-guild combat, this means a team must be especially aware of potential sudden attacks against their healers.
The assassin becomes a strong secondary class because of these mobility powers. The class's deadly arts skills also combine well with a ranger or warrior. One of the keys for assassins is to be aware of how fragile you can be. If I could offer one piece of advice to starting assassins, it would be use the shadow refuge skill. This self-healing skill can often mean the difference between life and death. In PVP, you must learn to use your mobility to stay alive. If you do, you have higher damage output and disruption than most warriors, but must rely on many tricks to survive.
The ritualist is a very powerful but plays at a different pace than the other Guild Wars professions. Being a good ritualist requires the ability to anticipate changes in the battle and to be very aware of positioning by friends and foes. Ritualists have a large number of powerful skills that rely on other skills in order to be effective. Used properly, these slower but more powerful skills give the ritualist a strong ability to control the battlefield.
The diversity of the ritualist as both a good damage dealer and a strong support character allows them to fit into many builds very easily. Ritualists work very well together and very well alone, but you have to be prepared in both cases. When playing in a group with another ritualist, be sure to coordinate your skill selection. Bringing a variety of skills will often benefit you both greatly.
GS: Finally, in addition to the new character classes and new dynamic war mode, what would you say is the biggest improvement or enhancement in Factions over the original game? Is it a rule change or a gameplay tweak that made a big difference? Or is it the new skills available to each class?
JP: I don't know that I could pick one thing. We have tried to improve the game across the board. There are a lot of big additions, things like the replayability of challenge missions, the tremendous amount of new content, the intensity of alliance battles, guild scrimmages, alliance chat, player recognition with territory control and titles, improved graphics, user interface improvements, guild storage, or the diversity we're adding with two new full-fledged professions and 10 new elite skills (25 new skills overall) for core professions.
At the same time, I think a lot of people will really enjoy some of the "smaller" improvements we're making as much as the headline features. Capturing an elite skill will give you around 5,000 experience points. We're improving the quality of all rare (gold) and uncommon (purple) items significantly. We've worked to make boss encounters more interesting. We've accelerated skill acquisition and given players more choice about skills from the beginning of the game. We've given players more choices about the appearance of their armor even if they want particular stats. And the list goes on!
GS: Thank you, guys.