The massively multiplayer online game genre has grown hugely in the last couple of years, and so, it seems, has our willingness to pay monthly subscription fees. But Guild Wars, released in April 2005, went against that particular trend and has been highly successful ever since. The Factions edition followed in April of this year, and the third campaign is due for release in October. It's called Nightfall, and we got to take a look at it in a behind-closed-doors demo at Leipzig's Game Convention.
The first thing to note about Nightfall is that--like the other Guild Wars titles--it can stand alone or be combined with its predecessors. In other words, you don't have to own the original Guild Wars to be able to play Nightfall, but if you do you'll be adding a good chunk of new content to your collection.
The first headline additions to the game are undoubtedly the two new professions that you can choose to undertake. They are the dervish and the paragon, and more details can be found in previous GameSpot coverage.
What's more, you will be tasked with the exploration of a whole new continent, called Elona, which, in terms of environment, will have a North African feel to it. Sure enough, our look at one of the tutorial quests for the game was set in a sandy yet temperate zone, in which the player needed to complete a series of trials set in a massive stone temple.
The trials themselves consisted mainly of recovering stone tablets and placing them on pedestals to open a door to the next phase of the quest. However, something new to Guild Wars is an increased sense of adventure-based immersion, and you will face several new challenges.
These include traps, and we saw both crushing pillars and sideways spurts of flame, which meant that timing of movement was essential. There will also be various riddles to solve throughout the game, particularly in the 20 main story quests (although there will be plenty of other side missions to complete as well). One example of this new puzzle content involved four stone tablets that needed to be placed on four different pedestals. Each tablet could be recovered by killing certain ghosts within the temple, but given that you can carry only one tablet at a time, any tablet placed on a pedestal for any length of time would be stolen away by a respawning ghost. Therefore, you'll need to think of a way around that particular situation before you can proceed.
The tutorial level culminated in a boss fight with a particularly nasty-looking creature. Here again, new ideas have been added to give existing Guild Wars players a new challenge. In this case, the boss itself changes form throughout the fight. Each time the boss changes, it alters not only its appearance, but also its profession, meaning that standard profession tactics won't work for very long. In this way, ArenaNet hope to force players, and groups of players, to think more tactically, thus providing a more interesting and varied challenge.
The story missions will each take between 40 minutes and a couple of hours to complete in theory and will pose a challenge to both beginners and veterans of the game. The level cap won't be increased, so if you're already sporting a level-20 avatar, you'll be pleased to know there will still be plenty to keep you occupied.
The other big addition to the Guild Wars series in Nightfall is the use of heroes. These are companions to your main character that will accompany you in your adventures and follow basic commands. You may have up to three in total, and you can assign them instructions such as attack, defend, and stay back.
Heroes will be fully customisable, down to the equipment they use and the professions they follow. What this means is that the top-end dungeons can now be attempted by just two players, each with a main character and three heroes, totalling up to the maximum of eight characters. This will hopefully make it easier not just to assemble groups for the dungeons, but also to take the pressure away from some of the more role-playing-minded gamers who would prefer to dally a little more and take in the story.
But whilst Nightfall's storyline will have a distinctly player-versus-environment (PVE) feel to it, the heroes will make for some interesting changes to the player-versus-player (PVP) side of things.
For a start, it will now be possible to take on other players with your heroes fighting alongside you, meaning that in effect one-on-one combat will become four-on-four, and battles will have a slight real-time-strategy flavour to them. It should also bring a whole load of additional options in this area, when you consider that instead of thinking about equipping just your own character suitably, you'll need to do the same for three others too, and that should give you plenty to think about.
What's even more interesting is that your initial choice of hero will inform your following choices so that some potential companions may become available--or unavailable--depending on who's already in the team. This should add a degree of replayability to the game as well.
We've come to expect a pretty high standard of visuals from the Guild Wars series to date, and Nightfall will contain further visual enhancements. Tweaks have been made to add more-realistic water and lighting, although system requirements for the game will remain identical to those of the previous titles, which is great news for players with older machines.
The game will ship in standard and collectors' editions, the latter of which will include not just the game itself, but also a making-of DVD and a soundtrack CD featuring additional music by composer Jeremy Soule. Both versions are due for release in late October, although it's possible to buy a prerelease package from September 15 that will give you a few extra goodies once the game's out. These bonuses include an extra character slot, a strategy guide, and in-game surprises for the two new character classes.
We will have more on Nightfall in the run-up to its release, so stay tuned.