For an MORPG that has no monthly fee, this game is surprisingly good.

Guild Wars is proof that you don't need to charge a monthly fee in order to have a good MORPG.

The visuals are pretty and the environments look very good. You also don't need a killer graphics card in order to play. I'm able to run everything on full with my 8xAGP X800Pro. Some may complain about the bloom effects, and they do seem overdone at some points, but the bloom really isn't that bad and is no worse than some other games I've played.

All of the character models look good, though there aren't very many of them. This has led to some complaining about everyone looking the same. You will see chars that look alike, but not all the time and it's rare that you have a whole party that all looks identical, even if all of you are of the same class.

The skill attacks and effects are effective and look well done, but aren't overtly distracting and flashy, and the interface is clean and aesthetically pleasing.

The music by Jeremy Soule is quite good and I have yet to get tired of it, though some certainly may. It has a very classical sense to it and is rich and melodic. The music was done using both live and virtual instrumentation, but doesn't show in the least. It sounds as if they actually did use a large orchestra to create the rich, full composures..

The sound effects are fine, though not over the top or anything all that amazing. Sometimes the sounds of an intense battle remind me of the old days of walking into a crowded arcade, as there will be a cacophony of deep bass rumbles, pings, whoops, whooshes, and the cries of the dying all frantically sounding from your speakers.

The only negative point I have is that often times the voice-over work in the cutscenes is poorly EQed. The sound level changes drastically, and usually for no real apparent reason. Either the recording volume was lowered during the voice over work (unlikely) or the source object to play these sounds was poorly placed (more likely). This can be a pain sometimes and you might find yourself turning up the volume knob to hear the storyline.

The key binding is spot on. The default key arrangement is very easy to use, everything is within quick reach. All of the commands are quickly accessible and the keys for the chat channels (!, @, #, $, % (yes, you have to hold down shift)) are pretty easy to use, and initiating chat is as easy as hitting the "Return Key". Or "/" which will also bring the chat menu, and then type your emote.

You are only allowed to equip 8 skills at any one time, but this is done for the sake of maintaining difficulty, as being able to equip all of your skills would not only be overwhelming for selecting and executing them, but it would also make the game way too easy. The limit in skills is also to keep a balanced sense of teamwork in place.

The strength of your skills depends on your Attributes stats (K). The higher your stats, the stronger the effects of your skills will be. You increase your stats with Attribute Points from gaining levels. Unlike many other MORGPs, executing a skill over and over will not increase it's effectiveness or increase your Attributes. If you don't like the way your Attributes are set, you can change them as often as you want as long as you are not in an Explorable Area or Mission. (you can raise your stats, if you gain a level, but you cannot lower and redistribute your Attribute Points)

The armors all provide a basic armor level, but may also be modified using runes and insignias. Runes allow armors to give Attribute, health, energy bonuses, etc. Insignias provide bonuses based on certain variables. For example; Knight insignias give damage reduction, Survivor gives higher health bonuses depending on which piece of armor its attached to, Anchorite gives armor bonuses based on how many skills are recharging, etc.

Weapons work in a similar fashion. There is an Attribute requirement that must be meet (ie; req. 10 Air) that will allow you to utilize bonuses (+5 Energy) and damage potential (Lightning dmg: 10-20) of that weapon. These weapons cannot have runes applied to them, but they have two modifiable parts and a slot for inscriptions (similar to insignias). So, you could take that staff and add an Insightful Staff head (Energy +5), a Staff Wrapping of Shelter (Armor +5), and add the "Luck of the Draw" inscription (Dmg reduction -5 (18% chance). As for the exact intricacies of gameplay, that's something you have to figure out yourself. There is no one set way to use a Profession and there is no one "supreme" skill set. Everything has a counter, and then some. Yes, some professions work better and some skills work better in some areas, but there is no exact, specific way to beat a mission. PvP is well balanced, but can be quite chaotic and if you do the same build (set of skills and attributes) over and over, they will find numerous ways to counter you. Difficulty:
Overall, the difficulty isn't too high. Though later on you will pretty much have to travel with groups of real players because the computer controlled henchmen you can join up with are atrociously dumb and will wind up getting you killed time and time again. The learning curve of all the skills might take a whilst to get through. Once you find a good setup, keep it for a whilst and every now and then switch some skills out and try new ones. If you have a skill you rarely use or never use, then switch it out and try a new skill. There are hundreds (literally) for each class, leaving a vast array of possibilities.

Since finding a group to travel with is essential to being able to complete the missions, you'd hope that it's easy to find a group... And most of the time it is. There have been times where I haven't been able to find a group, but then I'll usually go out and farm for items or travel to another location to do another quest. The Party Search Menu (P) can be quite helpful, and sometimes people use and sometimes they don't. Miscellaneous:
Guild Wars is an MORPG (Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game). The difference between and MMO and MO is the massive part. In Guild Wars you don't have to compete with dozens of other players to get a kill or to complete a quest. Once you leave the town or city you are in you're instanced to an outdoor area where only you and your party are the only players. As for me, I like this setup. You also don't have to worry about being PKed (Player Killed) because Player vs Player is done in arenas and is completely separate from the main story part of the game.

The fact that there is no monthly fee for this game is great. If you only play for 10 minutes a month, you don't have to worry about feeling like you're throwing money away. But, just because there isn't a monthly fee doesn't mean they skip on the content or updates. ArenaNet updates Guild Wars pretty often, re-balancing the gameplay and and item drops. They also tend to do week-long events during the Holidays, giving out special items like Candy Canes, Eggnog, Jack-O-Lantern helmets and having snowball fight arenas. Another nice thing is that the game isn't overtly proliferated with headset people. Most of the headset crowd are die-hard PvP people and tend to not bother with PvE (Player vs Environment aka Storyline Mode). So, most of the time people chat by actually typing, which is cool for those of us that don't have headsets. If you decide to get into PvP then, of course, you're going to want a headset. My only real gripe about Guild Wars is that in some cities the traders will spam the chat channel instead of just using the trade channel. This can be solved by moving to another district (another instance of the same city), as some cities are just notoriously known as trade havens (Lions Arch district 1, for example). But I really wish ANet would figure out a better way to suppress seller messages within the chat channel. But, that's really it.

If you're thinking about getting Guild Wars and actually reading this review, then, if you haven't already, go check out GameSpot's review for more info. Another good place to check is Arena Net's Guild Wars Wiki page ( http://wiki.guildwars.com ) Guild Wars is a fun game and, in my opinion, totally worth it.

this review was has been edited to reflect gameplay mechanic changes that have occurred since this review has been written