Guild Wars Factions Review
The follow-up to the innovative Guild Wars features a large new fantasy world to explore and enough competitive and cooperative role-playing action to easily keep you busy for weeks.
Like its predecessor, Guild Wars Factions offers competitive team-based combat in a variety of modes and environments, but there's an even greater variety of options than before. Some of the most interesting examples take place in the story and pit players on opposite sides working either with or against each other depending on the context. It comes as a thrilling surprise the first time it occurs to you that the mission you're in has a whole other player team in it besides yours, and though these missions can be frustrating, they're executed well and are certainly novel. Those who just want to dive right into some PVP combat can enter the random arenas, which automatically assign you to a small team and let you battle a rival team until one team is wiped out. Larger organized team battles can have various objectives, some of which are slightly more complex than simply killing the other players.
The "Factions" from the title also comes into play in the new alliance battles, waged between multiple player guilds and pitting the Kurzick and the Luxon sects against each other. As one side or the other wins successive battles, the borders between these warring factions shift back and forth, granting one side or the other control over additional outposts and resources. The losing side can never be completely eliminated, though, and as the borders push deeper into the losing side's territory, it gains natural advantages in the maps where the fighting takes place. This tug-of-war setup has what it takes to keep guilds busy for a while, even though there aren't a ton of alliance-battle maps. Winners of alliance battles earn faction points, redeemable for special rewards. You also gain this type of currency for killing other players and winning battles in standard PVP matches. In addition to the purely competitive alliance battles, there are new cooperative-focused challenge missions that are also tied to the factions systems, allowing alliance members to contribute to the cause without having to viciously battle other players. These fast-paced missions are often a race against the clock. It's good to have these alternative ways to contribute to your guild.
Player guilds of course are a key part of Guild Wars Factions, and in this respect the game clearly caters to the hardcore. Nowhere is this more pronounced than in tournaments that pit the strongest, most dedicated player guilds against each other. It's possible to observe tournament matches, which can be entertaining and quite educational for those looking to improve their skills. As if having access to all these action-packed scenarios weren't enough, as guilds grow stronger and more influential, they may earn their own luxurious guild halls--and now may invite allied guilds to come lounge.
It's worth noting that for as much as the game pushes you to get yourself into a guild, it still doesn't do a particularly good job of letting you interact with other players. As a testament to Guild Wars' worldwide success, outposts and towns tend to be teeming with players...but they're also filled with "noise" in the form of a constant stream of text chat messages, mostly from players hurriedly trying to form teams. The random PVP arenas automatically throw players together into a team, but the story missions leave you to your own devices, which can be frustrating if you have trouble finding good people to play with. Guild Wars Factions doesn't have as much content that effectively caters to solo players as the original, so unless you've already got a willing group of friends to play with, you'd best not hesitate to start looking for comrades early on.
Last year's Guild Wars stood out partly on account of its gorgeous visuals and slick game engine, which let you boot up and quit out of the game in moments. The ability to get into and out of the action so easily is still a great asset, and the visuals have held up nicely. Excellent character graphics, imposingly huge monsters, and impressively rendered scenery are everywhere to be found, though the action tends to noticeably slow down in larger battles, except on very fast systems. Character animations are decent but unremarkable, though overall, Guild Wars Factions is a great-looking game. Some good musical compositions make the fantasy world feel more vibrant, though not all the music fits the Asian theme as well as the rousing title track for the game. Solid sound effects round out the audio in a game whose presentation quality more than lives up to the ambition of its underlying concepts.
Having both the original game and Factions installed adds still more layers of complexity, by letting you experience the content from the respective continents in new ways, with characters who originated on the other side. Like in the first game, just the sheer number of things to see and do in Guild Wars Factions is quite amazing, and there are enough different styles of gameplay available that you'll more than likely find aspects you really enjoy and get hooked on. In some ways this is an imposing, complicated game, but since it doesn't punish you for experimenting (apart from the possibility of a tongue-lashing from fellow players), and since it doesn't saddle you with monthly fees, it's really quite hard to resist.