Guild Wars, yet another online RPG due out next year, shows just how determined NCsoft is to attack every angle of the crowded genre. On the surface it appears just as any other high fantasy title. Yes, you'll find no shortage of swords, armor, magic, and monsters in Guild Wars. So how does this represent a new angle you ask? The answer to that question won't be found in gameplay movies or screenshots, but in the mechanics and business model behind the game.
No concrete storyline has been pinned down as of yet in Guild Wars. Some sort of plot must be in place, though, because the developers promise mission-based gameplay along with numerous quests available. As the name implies, Guild Wars focuses on competitive play between groups. Formation of guilds is encouraged and rewarded. As you grow you receive distinction, much like the guilds in the Dark Ages of Camelot series. Even though the brunt of the game falls on conflict between players, developers assure us that a single player can find a fulfilling career "lone-wolfing" it.
Guild Wars will offer the obligatory classes such as warrior, mage, ranger, etc... The E3 build showed the ability of players to meld two classes into a hybrid, most notably the ranger/warrior class. Predictably each class has its own weapons and skills it is proficient in as well. So what's new here? What's the angle? We'll start by talking about the skills in Guild Wars. This game is all about instant gratification and easy learning curves. The developers shun "treadmill gaming," gameplay rewarded only after hours and hours of mindless leveling. The skill system reflects this philosophy. Skills do not level up with experience. Once you buy it, it's yours and you don't have to pump vast amounts of time into making your new skill worthwhile. This puts an interesting spin on strategy. The point is no longer who spent more time dumping experience points into their skills, but rather the skills your opponent has and what you can use to counter him or her. The skill system should also cut down on the amount of "clones" you see running around. It won't pay to be a mage like everyone else so you'll have to really dive into the skills and experiment to see what gives you the edge.
Another feather in Guild Wars' cap is its seamless technology. Seamless has become quite a popular word in the world of online gaming, but the developers behind this game are taking it further. For starters, no time consuming patches to download. The developer I spoke with said that he'd be able to isolate the fix they want to perform and do it while you're in the game. Chances are you won't even know they were in-game because you weren't even in the area. Simply put, you will not have to download a patch that doesn't even directly affect you. Another aspect of Guild Wars' seamless play is the fact that you can jump from server to server. If you have a friend in another server that you would really like to hook up with, then go right ahead, the servers are seamless baby.
What about that whole business model I mentioned earlier? Well of course I have to save the best for last and in the world of online gaming this is a bombshell. Guild Wars will require NO monthly fee. It is a bold move on NCsoft's part, which could make or break Guild Wars. If they are able to pull if off then we may see a dramatic explosion in the online RPG audience. We all know that person who says they'd love to play, but just can't rationalize paying ten bucks a month after they've already bought the dumb game. Those people add up and they're exactly who NCsoft wants to capture. Imagine, too, the potential for large-scale warfare since you and your friends can hook up no matter what server they're on. That coupled with Guild Wars' easy to pick up and use gameplay promises an interesting future. Just how far in the future is Guild Wars? The game is deep in closed alpha testing as of now with a final release slated sometime in the third quarter of 2004.