The original Guild Wars Prophecies showed the world that massively-multiplayer online role-playing games can be successful without monthly fees and shook up the standard business model set by Sony and Blizzard. Guild Wars Factions has something to offer for both Guild Wars gurus and new players alike with new story missions, two professions, an additional PvP mode and a whole new continent to explore.
Factions is a stand-alone campaign, meaning that you won’t need the original Guild Wars Prophecies to play. However, if you own the original Prophecies you can bring your character over to Cantha - the breathtaking Asia-inspired continent where Guild Wars Factions takes place. Filled with towering pagodas and lush environments, Cantha looks fabulous and adds an eastern flavor to the stock medieval fantasy land of Tyria from Prophecies.
Two new professions are also added to the original six from Prophecies. The Assassin excels at close combat and can deal large amounts of damage quickly while avoiding attacks, while the Ritualist prefers to deal damage by summoning ephemeral spirits to do its bidding.
While the new character designs look great, we were disappointed in how they played. The Assassin played like a second-rate Warrior. Their attacks looked impressive with lots of acrobatic flips and lunges, but their skills didn’t seem to pack enough of a punch. We were also a little underwhelmed with the Ritualist’s summoning abilities which called forth a mass of pathetic transparent spirits that couldn’t really hold a candle to the Necromancer’s undead minions.
Despite our dislike for the new professions, one of the great things about Guild Wars is its incredibly flexible character creation system. As with Prophecies, you’ll need to choose a secondary profession. With seven alternative professions to choose from and hundreds of unique skills to learn, you can mix and match professions and skills to create almost any type of character. Would you like an Assassin/Monk who can hold his own in hand-to-hand combat and heal on the side? Or do you prefer Ritualist/Mesmer who can summon spirits while casting area-of-effect spells from a distance?
The choice is yours, and with the ability to adjust your attributes and change your skills before any mission or PvP battle, Factions never leaves you feeling like you made the wrong choice and encourages you to experiment with various character builds and skill sets until you find the combination that works best for you.
Guild Alliance Battles also make their debut in Factions. Guild masters can now choose to align their guild with either the Luxons or Kurzicks. In this 12 vs 12 PvP mode, teams battle for faction points by killing one another or capturing and holding strategic points spread throughout the map. This new mode will only appeal to the most hardcore Guild Wars players as you’ll need to know the maps like the back of your hand and be able to work with your teammates at a zen-like level. But that’s the beauty of Prophecies and Factions PvP system. Both games put an emphasis on teamwork and strategy - in terms of which skills and attributes you choose to take with you into battle - over having an extremely high level character with uber gear.
As with Prophecies, you’ll still pay the price of loading screens for the lack of a monthly fee with Factions. Although loading screens rarely last more than two or three seconds, they are frequent and occur anytime you leave a town or enter a new zone. This ruins the feeling that you’re playing in a persistent world and makes the game sometimes feel more like Diablo II than your average MMORPG as your interaction with other players is restricted to major cities and PvP arenas for the most part.
On the other hand, interaction with other players is still abundant as you can form parties and guilds to tackle the toughest missions, and take on the best PvP teams from around the world. With a flexible character creation system that lets you completely re-design your character on the fly, and gameplay that emphasizes teamwork and skill choice over your character’s level and equipment, Guild Wars still stands head and shoulders above all other current MMORPGs in terms of PvP play. But if that wasn’t enough to convince you, the addition the new story based missions will provide hours of enjoyment to casual role-players who prefer soloing through quests and forming the occasional group over the furious PvP modes.
Despite our gripes with the new professions, Guild Wars fans should not hesitate in picking up Factions for the new skills, Guild Alliance Battles and the gorgeous land of Cantha. And with no monthly fees, Guild Wars Factions serves as an excellent introduction to those unfamiliar with the MMORPG genre or Guild Wars series.