There are a few of us in the Game on Aus community that have been playing games together since we were kids. My favourite genre of games, and where some of our fondest gaming memories come from, is Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs). We are going to take you down our memory lane as we explore our origins playing MMORPGs from the late 90’s through to today in a multi-part series. In Part 10 I will be exploring Guild Wars.
Catch up on previous entries in this series:
Part 1 – Ultima Online
Part 2 – EverQuest
Part 3 – Asheron’s Call
Part 4 – Anarchy Online
Part 5 – Dark Age of Camelot
Part 6 – Star Wars Galaxies
Part 7 – EverQuest II
Part 8.1 – World of Warcraft
Part 8.2 – World of Warcraft
Part 9 – Wildstar
Guild Wars was released in April 2005, developed by ArenaNet and published by NCsoft. Now straight up people aren’t going to say Guild Wars is an MMORPG. Agreed, but it has some similarities and some key differences within the genre that were innovations at the time. Guild Wars was the first ORPG to have no monthly subscription fee, the first to have instanced content, and like WoW, the quality of the graphics and gameplay was aimed at low-spec systems. ArenaNet sums up the overall concept of the game well:
“Guild Wars is a competitive online role-playing game (CORPG). Players can engage in cooperative group combat, in single player adventures, or in large head-to-head guild battles. Guild Wars is a mission-based game set in a stunning 3D fantasy world that offers full, integrated support for guilds. Because the team that is developing Guild Wars has had experience creating successful online game series such as Warcraft, StarCraft and Diablo, the members are familiar with the complex issues surrounding online games, and are creating a game that’s both easy to learn and compelling to play long term, and yet doesn’t require players to spend hundreds of hours slogging through the preparation just to get to the fun bits.”
I’ll break down the similarities and differences to better help explain how it fits with MMORPGs to date.
- Guild Wars is played entirely online in a secure hosted environment.
- The game world of Tyria is made up of many different zones.
- Players can meet new friends in gathering places like towns and outposts where they form parties and go questing with them.
- As characters progress, they acquire a diverse set of skills and items, enabling them to use new strategies in combat.
- Players can do battle in open arenas or compete in guild-versus-guild (GvG) warfare.
- When players form a party and embark upon a quest in Guild Wars, they get their own private copy of the area where the quest takes place (an instance).
- Guild Wars eliminated much of the endless walking everywhere through the world given there are no player mounts, so includes fast travel back to safe areas (town or outpost) using the world overview map.
- Success in Guild Wars was always the result of player skill, knowing the best skill combinations and how to use them, not time spent playing or the numbers you have in your guild.
- There is no player-killing in cooperative areas of the world.
- All characters in Guild Wars inhabited a single virtual world. There were no separate servers or shards like in DAoC, SWG, WoW.
- Guild Wars was the first ORPG to have no subscription fee at all.
- Player characters are capped at level 20.
- Characters can only use a total of eight skills when in PvE and PvP zones and these can only be swapped around in towns/outposts.
- You can roll a level 20 PvP-only character and play team-based PvP or GvG from day one.
- Player characters cannot jump (super frustrating at first but we got used to it).
- ArenaNet utilised a ‘rapid update technology’ where updates could be rolled out ad-hoc and would download to every player the next time they logged in.
In a time where we have a level cap of 60 in World of Warcraft, how come Guild Wars has a level cap of 20? If you’ve been keeping up with this MMORPG Memory Lane series so far, you’ll see a common theme is having to grind through months and months of PvE content to get to the level cap. Once at the level cap, a new grind commences in the form of running dungeons and raids for bigger and better equipment for your character(s). In Guild Wars, getting to level 20 was relatively easy taking only a couple of weeks for the casual player, and even quicker for hardcore players (now with the expansions and specific class builds, it can be done in a matter of hours apparently, crazy!). Beyond level 20, experience is still gained but you earn skill points instead of levels which are used to unlock new skills. As ArenaNet puts it, “it didn’t require players to spend hundreds of hours slogging through the preparation just to get to the fun bits.”
Like in previous MMO’s, the fun bits at the level cap were farming dungeons for not only items but for new skills, as well as PvP. However, PvP in Guild Wars was consensual and team-based. This meant it was impossible to be ganked and camped because PvP was restricted to special areas located on The Battle Isles. You could create a level 20 PvP-only character anytime you liked, however they were limited to a set of starting skills and items for your profession. By playing a PvE roleplaying character over the course of the game and beyond the level 20 cap, you will be unlocking more skills as well as rare and unique items which can be used on both your PvE character and unlocked on your PvP characters. Essentially to be competitive in PvP, you had to work hard on the PvE content and learn how to utilise the best skills for your class combination.
Many players flocked to Guild Wars just to be able to jump straight into PvP from the start. Therefore, with this skill unlocking system, they felt they were being forced to play the PvE game to unlock their desired skills for PvP. Funny how you have to play the game, to play the game… In June 2005, ArenaNet addressed this issue for the PvP’ers by introducing what was called “Balthazar Faction” which is earned through playing PvP games, and players could unlock skills using faction points they earned. ArenaNet went a step further in August 2006 by making skill unlocks for the individual professions of the Prophecies campaign available in the game’s online store. They now offered a ‘Guild Wars PvP Access Kit’ which only gave players access to the PvP part of the game for a cheaper purchase price. This could have very well been the early days of pay-to-win, if you were so PvP inclined.
For players that had no interest in PvP and just wanted a solo or cooperative PvE roleplaying experience, this game had a rich storyline and you were always on the hunt for more skills and more items to enhance your character(s). You start off by choosing a starting story campaign. At release there was just the one, Prophecies which is the base game. Later campaigns were released with Factions and Nightfall but I’ll explain those later. You then create a character by choosing from one of six starting professions – Warrior, Ranger, Monk, Necromancer, Mesmer and Elementalist. Two names are required when naming your character. For those that have seen my character names in previous MMORPG’s or play with me currently, you will notice a lot of my characters are called Inferno Darkness. Here’s a brief backstory behind that last name.
Over the years of playing MMORPGs and all the way back to the Ultima Online days, I ran a guild called the Shadow Knights. We were the good guys, the player killer-killers or anti-pkers. We would help the little guys that were getting picked on by pkers and declared ourselves an order guild so were constantly at war with chaos guilds. One such chaos guild was called Darkness is Everywhere (D!E), and our friendly rivalry built over the years and from one game to the next. Many of their players were hardcore MMORPG players and were always the best players with the best gear in every game. Honestly, I don’t know what they did for jobs because they were always playing games! In UO, they would kill me 10 times to my 1 of them, they were so good at PvP and their names were feared in UO. If I ever saw one of their orange names popup on my screen, I would shit myself and run! Just to show you how dedicated they were towards PvP in games, check out their recruitment video for Elder Scrolls Online!
With Guild Wars having such a focus on guild warfare, I thought it was a no-brainer to join these guys in this game. They created the guild, but your character must have a last name in this game, so all of us made our last name’s Darkness. Guilds are represented in game by an acronym [DIE], everyone wears a guild cape which was designed by the guild leader, and now we all had the same last name. We looked good! When you were in the thick of battle, you could easily see who was friend and who was foe. Anyway, back to the game.
Once you create your character, you are loaded into the game. There are loading screens when you login and when you change zones. Back in those days we were on ADSL1 and I had download speeds of 300-400k/s (on a good day!), so pretty bloody slow compared to today’s speeds. When you first installed Guild Wars, there was a mandatory install size of around 1.3gb, which is very reasonable considering WoW’s install size was around 20gb (btw, WoW’s folder is 68gb these days!). As you load into the game, and when you transition to a new zone, it will download only the files you need to load those areas, and this carries on as you get further into the game. This was a brilliant method of distributing the game’s content back in those days, especially considering our slow-ass ADSL connections here in Aus. It also allowed ArenaNet to keep security of the game files and prevent players from hacking/cheating.
Cinematics are shown in key parts of the story with new players starting in what came to be known as the ‘pre-searing’ tutorial zones. In early parts of the game, the maximum party size starts at two and this grows to eight as you progress through the story. Clicking an item, npc or monster in the world will automatically run you to it and will generally navigate most obstacles for you. Some side quests require you to be in a party which promotes grouping with real players, but these aren’t mandatory. Even when I made a new character for this guild, there were 6 other new player characters at the starting area, so people are still playing the game.
Being a cooperative game, if there were no players around or noone willing to go on a quest or mission with you, you could recruit up to three npc henchmen into your group. The AI of these henchmen is pretty good with a healer keeping your group alive, warriors rushing into melee monsters and protecting the healer and ranger or elementalist shooting from range. This meant you could always progress through content if none of your friends were on.
You will gain more experience by completing quests than just killing monsters. The in-game map tracks your quests and shows you where you have explored already with a red-dotted line, and you can fast travel to outposts you’ve unlocked once you’ve finished questing in that area. A cool feature here is that you can draw things on the mini-map in the top right corner. Voice chat was still new for us back in those days, so as we were running between quests, one of us would draw an arrow pointing the way we would go next and that showed up on everyone’s map that was in your group. With this though, there was always one in the group that would draw a dick pic, and that’d spark everyone to do it. There were no shortages of laughs, that’s for sure!
Around level 3 the quests lead to you learning a secondary class. You can choose not to have a secondary class, but for new players it’s highly recommended as you’ll gain access to the other profession’s skills. I have a Warrior/Ranger (known as W/R) and I made a new Necromancer/Monk (known as Ne/Mo). Profession skills can be complicated at first, but once you understand the gameplay elements for your class combinations, you’ll be slaying like a pro. While in a town or a quest zone, a character’s skill and attribute selection can be freely modified to construct a profession “build”. Once you enter an explorable area, you can’t modify the build until you return to town. There are heaps of great websites out there that give you many skill combinations for your chosen professions, such as the PvX Wiki.
One awesome feature in the game is the ability to swap and change your builds and skills around to suit the areas you’re about to fight, particularly for dungeon runs. There are skills and spells that work better against specific monsters and help with your power and survivability. If you search on the internet, often you will find a build you want to try, and the website will give you a build template code. Copy/paste this into the templates section of the game and it will load up the skills and attributes in the exact format from the website. Bear in mind thought that most of these builds will be for end-game, so will often have skills that you’ll need to unlock first before the build will be effective. This at least gave you a list of skills/spells to aim to unlock. I still have a list of 80 skill templates saved that I used with my various characters over the years.
There are over a thousand skills in the game that can be acquired over time, but players can only equip up to 8 of them at any one time. This introduces levels of strategy in which the player must choose a selection of skills that work well with one another and with teammates. To find skills that you were missing, the same build website will have links to those skills and the page will tell you which boss monster uses that skill, especially elite skills. You need to purchase a ‘Signet of Capture’ and add it to your bar (which means you now only have 7 skills to hunt with), and then fight through the zone until you locate the specific boss mob. You used to have to wait until the boss used the specific skill you wanted, then activate the signet to capture it. This was changed in June 2005 so that you just use the signet of capture on the boss’ corpse and it will then swap out the signet for the skill you choose. With this system, your character has great versatility and you never feel like you’re locked into a specific character build like previous MMORPGs.
On the one-year anniversary of Guild Wars in April 2006, ArenaNet released the Factions campaign for a separate purchase price. This was optional for existing players as each campaign is independent of the others containing its own co-operative storyline, campaign-specific skills and competitive arenas. Therefore, if you didn’t own the original Guild Wars, you could still buy Factions and play in those lands, as if it was a separate game, only on the same persistent world. Factions added a new continent to explore, designed with Asian-influenced lands, two new professions – Assassin and Ritualist, two new factions which players and guilds may earn reputation for rewards – Kurzick and Luxon, as well as added new skills and items for players to discover. These lands were so incredibly detailed and rich with lore that it really made me want to travel and explore Asian countries and lifestyles in real life.
In October 2006, Guild Wars Nightfall was released as the third campaign. Again, this was a standalone optional campaign with its own purchase price. Nightfall added a new continent of Elona, two new professions – Dervish and Paragon, new skills and items to find, but the biggest addition was heroes. Previously we could add npc henchmen into our group if we couldn’t find friends or other players, but we couldn’t control them. Now with the Nightfall campaign, we can add heroes to our group and customise their items and skills, which was a game changer for PvE missions. No longer did we have to try and get 4-8 guild mates together to tackle hard mode content, we could now attempt harder content by ourselves with three heroes that we have customised to enhance our build. Now we needed to hunt for skills and items to make our heroes more powerful and this really added more life to the game. Nightfall is highly recommended as a starting point for new players if they want to get into Guild Wars.
The first and only expansion pack for Guild Wars, Eye of the North, was released in August 2007. Given this was an expansion pack, you had to own one of the previous campaigns and you must have had a level 10 or higher character on your account. Eye of the North did not add any new professions, instead adding 18 new “multilevel” dungeons, 150 new skills (50 of them restricted to PvE), 40 new armor sets, and 10 new heroes, in addition to new items, weapons and titles. These new dungeons were great content to explore, especially with the new heroes that we could customise for our builds.
At this time my new housemate Sam Jones had just moved in. In those first getting to know each other conversations we realised we both played games. “You’re a gamer? Shit, what games do you play?” “I just got the latest Guild Wars expansion.” “No way, you play Guild Wars?!” “YUP!” This commenced some of the best gaming sessions I’ve had in MMORPGs waking up early Saturday mornings, cooking up an uber feast of bacon, eggs, chipolatas and orange juice, then smashing Guild Wars literally all day, with plenty of beers later in the day. I asked Sam what some of his best memories of Guild Wars were:
“I admired Guild Wars for taking a step away from the grind for gear meta that was a big part of other MMORPG’s success. They really took a leap toward a different mechanic in skill customisation. The art in the game is amazing, as were the armour sets we farmed in dungeons on so many weekends.”
We worked hard on our character and hero builds together, as now we could take on 8-man dungeons with our three heroes each. I was a Warrior and Sam was a Ranger. He taught me where to find the best unique green items, which bosses to hunt for skills and eventually earning some amazing end-game armour sets which we could display in our Hall of Heroes. As we adjusted our builds, we took on content neither of us stood a chance at doing prior to meeting, so it was an awesome time in gaming for us and produced some awesome memories.
Guild Wars has been in a maintenance mode since 2013, with a small core team working on bug fixes only. However in May 2018, the game received a major graphics update to support modern technology, 13 years after it’s original release. Further to this, I just read an article last week where ArenaNet have launched a new support site for Guild Wars 1. “In an effort to better support our community and their adventures through Tyria, I’m excited to announce the launch of a new support site dedicated entirely to the original Guild Wars experience.” As is the case with most MMORPG’s, there is a core group of dedicated fans and players that continue to play Guild Wars. Does this mean new content could possibly be on the way as well? Only time will tell.
If you have memories of playing Guild Wars, I’d love to hear about them! Join the Game on AUS – God Mode closed Facebook group where you’ll be welcomed, and we can reminisce the old days.