Guild Wars: Nightfall PC Review

The Guild Wars series has been going for a fair while now, and Nightfall is its third instalment. To be perfectly honest, I was pretty sceptical about the original Guild Wars when it was first released, due to the assertion that it would never ask for monthly fees from its players, unlike most other successful MMORPGs that insist on sucking a tenner from your bank account every month. I’d seen this approach before, and for the most part it seemed that if the players weren’t paying towards the upkeep of a game’s servers, they could expect a pretty shoddy service, and very little protection from cheaters and hackers – anyone who played Phantasy Star Online on the Dreamcast knows where I’m coming from. But, for whatever reason, Guild Wars was fine. Instead of all the problems I’d expected, we got a very polished MMO experience which, while not permitting the freedom of World of Warcraft and its ilk, actually felt much tighter, and more fun, as a video game. Furthermore, it was particularly loved for its intentional lack of depth, and it’s this markedly different approach to the genre that makes it the closest thing to a WoW rival. Of course, WoW players mocked Guild Wars for its comparatively brief quests, and the fact that it only allowed player characters to reach a lowly level 20. What those WoW players didn’t realise was that Guild Wars wasn’t really aimed at them. Put simply, Guild Wars was an MMORPG that was designed for people that didn’t have the time to play an MMORPG.

For example, spend an entire evening on WoW and you might get lucky enough to crack a single dungeon with your guild. Spend an entire evening on Guild Wars, and you’ll have received a series of messages from the game telling you to stop playing the accursed thing and go get some fresh air, you loser. The lack of a monthly fee to play the game means you don’t feel overly compelled to get your money’s worth out of it constantly. There’s no pressure to turn up to massive raids with other players at specified times, and you can happily finish off most quests in the space of twenty or thirty minutes. Hell, if you’re feeling anti-social, you can avoid other people altogether and just team up with a bunch of AI-controlled characters and get them to give you a hand instead. And so on and so forth. Guild Wars is an MMORPG that does its best to avoid making demands of the player. It’s brilliantly ironic that the feature that makes the game appeal to so many people is the fact that they can stop playing whenever they like. The original Guild Wars allowed you to play on your own terms, and Nightfall takes this strength and builds upon it.

In the previous instalments, the player was able to hire henchmen – the previously mentioned generic AI-controlled drones that followed you around and fulfilled basic combat or support roles. They worked, but were nowhere near as effective as teaming up with real people. Nightfall, however, introduces the hero system. As you progress through the game’s primary quests, you unlock various ‘heroes’ – key characters in the story that you can add to your party at any time, that level up with you, and whose abilities and gear you can customise yourself. On top of that, you can switch their secondary class whenever you’re in a town, allowing you to adapt them on the fly according to your next task. It’s this potential for customisation that goes a fair way towards closing the gap between AI and player-controlled team mates – it allows you to see the heroes as a genuine extension of your own character, and gear everyone towards working together as a team. As a result, you almost begin to wonder if it’s worth going through the hassle of teaming up with other players at all. And the really weird thing is, it’s actually pretty fun to just play with your heroes and forget the human-controlled players altogether. If you’re halfway through a quest and you realise you’re dying to use the toilet, or someone starts harassing you on MSN, it’s fine. Just leave the game for a minute. Hit the Windows key and do whatever you like. Take your time. The game will still be there when you get back. Your character won’t have been murdered, and you won’t have been disconnected due to being stood on the same spot for half an hour.

Still, playing with other people has its benefits. Heroes are great, but they still don’t match up to a group of human players who know what they’re doing, and if you can find a bunch of people who you get along with, it’s an entirely pleasant experience. But what makes Nightfall fantastic is that it’s now more or less equally viable to play on your own, if you want to. It puts the choice in your hands.

As for the new character classes, there’s the Paragon, and the Dervish. The Paragon is essentially the ultimate support class – capable of dealing damage at a distance by lobbing spears around, and features a whole plethora of skills designed to improve your team-mates’ abilities or protect them from harm. The Dervish, however, are a little more interesting, and certainly more fun. The Dervish wield scythes, and specialise in causing mêlée damage to multiple opponents by swinging themselves around, and their more advanced skills allow them to take on the form of a god. Which is, y’know, pretty useful. At any rate, both classes are interesting enough to warrant the purchase of Nightfall if you already own a previous release of Guild Wars.

The presentation of the game also deserves a mention. The PC used for this review is over two years old, and Guild Wars looks superb on it, with almost no frame-rate drops. The soundtrack is also pleasant enough, even though it inevitably gets switched off to make way for whatever album you’re listening to this week, as is the way with all MMORPGs.

Of course, it’s not perfect. The quest structure is a little broken – in Guild Wars: Factions, the second instalment in the series, you’re never left without a quest to go on, but when playing Nightfall I found myself wandering aimlessly on several occasions, looking for something to do. Furthermore, Factions had an excellent system of training you to appreciate and use all possible skill-sets for your character. It was a little laborious, but you knew your character inside-out by the end of it, and it was well worth the effort. But apparently the developers decided not to include this in Nightfall, which is a shame – especially when there are two new classes to learn. It’s also worth bearing in mind that Nightfall doesn’t feature the two extra classes from Factions – the Assasin and Ritualist – so Factions is an almost equally worthy purchase, especially if it starts coming down in price any time soon in the wake of Nightfall’s release.

Still, Nightfall is by far the most fun MMORPG I’ve ever come across, and I’d heartily recommend it to newcomers and fans of the series. If you’ve thought about trying an MMORPG before but haven’t felt you’d have the time to get anywhere, give Nightfall a pop. I’ll bet you 6p you won’t regret it.

Reviewer’s PC: Intel P4 3GHz processor, 1GB RAM and an ATI Radeon 9600xt graphics card.

The finest massively-multiplayer game you’ll ever play on your own.

8.5 out of 10

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