The appeal of online games is that they let you have your adventures alongside other players from around the globe. And one of the hallmarks of ArenaNet's online role-playing game Guild Wars is that it has evolved over time, adding new features and gameplay ever since its launch last year. Thanks to excellent gameplay and the fact that there's no subscription fee required to play, Guild Wars has established itself as a hit. ArenaNet claims more than 2 million copies of the game sold to date, and with the release of further chapters, we can expect that number to grow. The next chapter, Guild Wars Nightfall, is due out next month. Nightfall isn't an expansion pack; rather, it's a stand-alone chapter that can be played even if you don't own the original Guild Wars, and it will introduce a whole new continent to explore, two new professions, new skills, and, most importantly, new ways to play the game.
When we spoke to ArenaNet CEO Jeff Strain recently, he said that the developers were all still in awe of the special free preview event that the company hosted this past weekend. The test version of Nightfall was open to everyone for a few days, and, according to Strain, the average time spent playing was eight and a half hours, a substantially longer amount of time than players spent during the preview events for the original Guild Wars and Guild Wars Factions. Strain credited the new gameplay features in Nightfall, as they introduce a new way to enjoy the game.
One of the things that ArenaNet was hearing from the fans was that Guild Wars was almost too fast a game at times. There was so much emphasis on running from battle to battle that there wasn't a lot of time to, figuratively, stop and smell the roses, see the sights, and so on. Things only got faster with the introduction of Guild Wars Factions' faction war, which pits guilds against one another in a persistent online war for territory. The focus, once again, was more on battles than on exploration. So the focus in Nightfall is less on constantly battling and more on adventuring in a beautiful and vibrant world. Nightfall will introduce traditional-style quests, complete with traps and puzzles. The idea is to feature not only combat, but also interactivity with the environment. These quests are being designed for groups, but you can still pursue them even if you're playing by yourself. That's because of another nifty new feature in Nightfall: heroes.
Heroes are sort of like permanent henchmen who join your character and travel with you. However, heroes are much more powerful and customizable than the henchmen you could hire in earlier versions of Guild War, which makes them more valuable and useful. You will be able to choose up to three heroes to accompany you at a time, and you can customize their inventory. This way, you get to travel in a powerful party, even if you're playing by yourself. Not only that, but if you've got a character with three heroes, and you team up with another player whose character has three heroes, you'll have a full-fledged party that can tackle most of the quests in the game. You don't have to worry about finding seven other people to play with anymore or try to organize all your friends into being online at the same time. Or, if player-versus-player gameplay is your thing, you no longer need to rustle up a large group of friends to tackle another group. Simply take your character and heroes into battle against another player's character and heroes, and you have a group melee with just two people.
The two new professions in Nightfall are best described as holy warriors, of a sort. Strain said that the idea behind the new professions is that they offer a different kind of gameplay experience from existing professions. So, with the paragon, the idea is that you play more as a battle commander, standing off in a fight and supporting the troops with powerful abilities. The dervish, on the other hand, is a dual-wielding whirlwind of a warrior that can also take the form of the five known gods in the game. Each profession has 75 skills to unlock and select from, but how many you've unlocked isn't the key. What really matters is that you can have a "deck" of only eight skills at a time, which levels the playing field because then it becomes more a game of strategy. Which skills do you take with you? Which skills will complement your teammates' abilities? Which skills will counter what the enemy is using?
Nightfall is set on the new continent of Elona, which is often described as being inspired by the geography and architecture of North Africa. That's a region of the world rarely seen in games, and Strain said that ArenaNet did a lot of research and consulted with foreign partners to capture the feel of North Africa and avoid any potential cultural misunderstandings or slights. The result is a land full of "phenomenal imagery."
Considering that Guild Wars Factions was released earlier this year, it might seem that ArenaNet has packed a lot of new content into Nightfall in such a short development time, but Strain said that the company's development strategy is starting to pay off. ArenaNet has two teams working on Guild Wars, and each team has 12 months to develop a new chapter. Because the goal of each new chapter is to introduce a new way to play the game, it's safe to say that the future of Guild Wars looks bright. For now, Guild Wars Nightfall is scheduled to launch on October 26.