Join ScreenCritics Sam as he revisits 2005’s Guild Wars, one of the most acclaimed MMORPG’s of the last decade and main rival to World of Warcraft.
A year after Blizzard’s World of Warcraft dominated the MMORPG market, Guild Wars became a bit of an enigma at launch. Overshadowed by its competitors massive influence and appeal, ArenaNet’s ambitious entry in the genre fell to the wayside as a modest alternative to Blizzard’s giant. After replaying Guild Wars several years later, what has become of this once adored series that seemed to place its mark firmly in a market saturated at the time by the resurgence of MMORPG’s? Let’s rewind the clocks back to the era where the online multiplayer was king.
While Neverwinter Nights, EverQuest and Baldur’s Gate were massive in their own right before World of Warcraft and Guild Wars came along, there was a surprising lack of MMORPG exposure in the mainstream, leading to many misconceptions about gamers being basement-dwelling shut-ins. This was mainly due to the extraordinary levels of devotion each game required as they surpassed the average video game length by the hundreds and typically involved a deep, robust and complex system with steep learning curves. MMORPG’s weren’t your typical video game that players could casually experience at their own pace; they were an investment of time and, in some cases, additional money beyond the initial retail price, i.e. subscription fees and microtransactions. Enter Guild Wars, a breath of fresh air in the genre.
While ArenaNet asked for a small subscription process, they did not flat-out demand additional costs or fees. In fact, the game was free of subscription fees which came as a surprising turn of events primarily when publishers were beginning to capitalize on the trend. This did not spell out a drop in quality or quantity in content as Guild Wars packed a healthy punch of both.
Featuring one of the largest world maps ever put in a video game at the time, Guild Wars was packed to the brim with quests, monster encounters, and vast terrains that were enticing enough to warrant exploration. While it didn’t escape the RPG curse of some pretty mundane grinding, it didn’t feel detrimental at all, but was rather a healthy progression of skills and attributes that were made all the more challenging by the games intentionally snail-paced leveling up system. At the start of the journey, players could snuggle into a class for their customizable character and switch things up fairly early on in the game by taking on a secondary class that complimented the primary. Although, this didn’t mean a strict focus on the chosen class like most MMORPG’s at the time as players could freely experiment with several other classes weapons and skills, with only armor sets being affected later on.
Guild Wars maintained a wondrous sense of scale in its world of Tyria. The first 20-30 hours of gameplay are spent in Abscalon, the first kingdom to truly immerse you in the mechanics of the game, acting as an elaborate tutorial of sorts. When that’s out of the way, the world map really spreads its wings and expands to insanely large-scaled zones and areas, especially cities which act as hubs for players to interact, trade, and buy items, weapons and armor. However, the game does a superb job of making the player feel truly small at the whim of the world, comparing it to the vast open-ended nature of World of Warcraft. It was this keen attention to detail and perspective that made Guild Wars into a brilliantly immersive and fulfilling experience.
Guild Wars introduced a PvP mode as a great selling point. While World of Warcraft or any other MMORPG shied away from PvP to focus on its party-going experience, PvP in Guild Wars was a phenomenal step forward for the genre, recognizing the influential reach of the MMO community by broadening the competitive market. As perhaps its most critically acclaimed feature, PvP battles were a great test of the players’ skills and abilities against friends and other online players. Due to the nature of the combat system, each fight demanded patience, careful planning, and pacing rarely seen in the usual button-mashing fiesta. It made each encounter feel personal and rewarding as you got to better understand the other players preferred style of play, helping in the decision to partner with them in the open world.
If there were any complaints to be made regarding flaws in the game, Guild Wars certainly took bold and ambitious steps in setting it apart from its competitors, but unfortunately felt cornered in one aspect that plagued MMORPG’s at the time. Accumulating enough coins to purchase the already overpriced weapons and armor sets felt slightly unbalanced, especially when travelling in parties as the small rewards were rightfully shared but made the task of collecting over 500 coins for a particular pair of boots a bit annoying and contrived. Nonetheless, as the game progressed, acquiring coins became easier, but the initial struggle in the first quarter of the game is very real.
Guild Wars is one of the greatest exceptions in the history of MMORPG’s that demand your nostalgia. The world of Tyria is rich in lore, massive in scope, and crammed with content that feels well thought-out and genuinely rewarding. While there is a steeper learning curve than most entries in the genre as it can feel fairly difficult and mundane earlier on, the pay-off is extremely satisfying as the world opens up and Guild Wars shows its true colors – an experience that’s at its lurid best when fully immersed with your undivided attention.