Guild Wars Updated Hands-On Impressions: Player-Versus-Player Combat

This online hack-and-slash game will let you create a powerful character and make war online. Get the details here.

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Producer and ArenaNet cofounder Jeff Strain discusses what you can expect from Guild Wars. Double-click the video window for a full-screen view.

Role-playing games have drawn a great deal of inspiration from classic tabletop games--you create a character, then go on adventures to fight monsters, acquire treasures, and gain experience levels. Many computer games focused on hack-and-slash action, and when role-playing games went online with games like Diablo and EverQuest--with the prospect of adventuring alongside other players to take on even more challenging foes--they seemed even more exciting and harder to put down. ArenaNet's Guild Wars, however, will turn its focus to something else entirely--player-versus-player (PvP) battles, in which you'll do most of your fighting against teams of other human players. Though the upcoming game will still let you go off on leisurely hack-and-slash adventures, it will put much more of a focus on strategy and tactics.

Guild Wars will feature impressive graphics and plenty of hack-and-slash gameplay.
Guild Wars will feature impressive graphics and plenty of hack-and-slash gameplay.

Guild Wars is currently in a closed alpha test state--some 1,000 testers play the game daily to help test out its developing content and, more importantly, to balance out the game. ArenaNet needs every last one of these hands on deck to test the game, which features six playable character classes (the elementalist, the mesmer, the monk, the necromancer, the ranger, and the warrior), and a whopping 450 different skills divided among them. To give you an idea of how many strategic combinations there are, players can, at this stage of the test, choose to play one of the six main professions (you currently choose a primary character class and a secondary character class, and you have access to the skills of both classes), and then choose eight different skills specific to their characters' professions. This has led to an enormous number of different combinations of skills and tactics--and ArenaNet's intrepid production team has the joyous task of making sure none of these skills or tactics are unfairly powerful, either alone, or in groups.

According to ArenaNet cofounder and Guild Wars producer Jeff Strain, this sort of variety is a good thing, as is having the ability to create powerful characters using smart strategy. The real problem will occur when players can't come up with a counterstrategy--but considering the tremendous variety of skill sets available in the game, this seems unlikely. Strain explains that while some aspects of Guild Wars, like its fast-paced combat, may resemble the action of a game like Diablo (a game that he and several ArenaNet staffers helped develop at Blizzard before they jumped ship to start up their own studio), the main game draws inspiration from the strategic depth of the popular card game, Magic: The Gathering. In that game, players "duel" each other with a deck that could consist of any combination of hundreds of different cards--yet no single card, however powerful, can win a game in and of itself. Like with Magic, in Guild Wars, battles will be won by choosing the best classes and skills appropriate for a situation, and ultimately grouping with characters with complementary skills.

Fortunately, you won't need a competitive streak a mile long to enjoy Guild Wars, since the game will feature both cooperative and competitive missions as well as neutral adventuring areas outside of missions. All three types of areas play the same--once you've created your character by choosing a name and a custom appearance, you can jump into any area instantaneously by using the in-game map--a handy feature for meeting up with friends. And in all cases, you can manage your character's inventory quickly and easily by equipping weapons and armor that you see fit (you can also hotkey different sets of items), as well as choosing which eight skills your character will bring into each mission. You can move your character with your keyboard's arrow keys or WASD keys, or you can point-and-click with your mouse. Initiating combat is as easy as targeting an enemy and double-clicking on it, while using a skill is as easy as pressing a hotkeyed number key from one to eight. Your character will have two crucial meters to monitor--health and endurance. A character with no health is dead and, in some cases, will respawn automatically or can be resurrected. Endurance is used to perform every skill, and different skills have different recharge times.

You'll be able to customize your character with some 450 different skills.
You'll be able to customize your character with some 450 different skills.

We took on a group mission with several patient ArenaNet staffers while playing a warrior whose skill set was almost completely focused on defensive abilities that either increased his armor strength, allowed him to dodge incoming hits, or boosted his own health. Our mission was to patrol a beachside rock formation and destroy any incoming undead monsters, and while the character was almost completely ineffectual at making kills, he practically never died. The purpose of the character for this mission was to charge into battle first to draw the monsters' attention, then take a beating while other party members dealt with the monsters--though, we could just as easily have focused on offensive skills, like our fire elementalist, who went into PvP battles with nothing but damaging fire spells. Tailoring specific characters to specific situations will be a big part of Guild Wars' gameplay, and fortunately, the game's single-player missions should serve as good practice on how to design characters and skill sets.

Guild Wars already looks extremely good, and since the development team working on the game includes the same engineers that created Blizzard's Battle.net, it also expectantly runs very smoothly, even in alpha test. And whenever changes or amendments are required in-game, modifying the server and getting back up and running takes a matter of minutes, if not seconds (rather than pulling down the game for a day to upload a sizable patch). Guild Wars even looks great--the game will feature many lush and varied environments, including jungles, beaches, deserts, and mountaintops--all rendered with complex lighting and weather schemes that can create convincing sunsets and rainstorms. Check back with GameSpot for more on this promising game as we approach its release later this year.

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