When Guild Wars hit the scene it became more popular than anyone would have guessed. Suppliers were plagued with stock shortages with each batch going out the door immediately to satisfy player demand. Guild Wars had a good formula, a well put together Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG), which was nice on the eyes and most importantly of all had no subscription fee. The crafting system often found in other MMORPGs was absent and the game was very approachable to the newcomer. Wolf gave the game a review upon its release which you can check out here.
It may seem odd to find a MMORPG without a subscription fee, but there was a plan behind this. Every six months an optional expansion would be released offering new content. Due to the popularity of the original release it has taken a year to get out the first expansion, though gamers were treated to a free content update last summer entitled 'Sorrows Furnace'. Instead of being a mere expansion Factions can also be played as a standalone game.
Factions' takes place on the continent known as Cantha. The game has a very strong Oriental feel, in stark comparison to the heavy western influences in the original. Sprawling shanty towns give the game quite a dark feel, which is remarkably well suited to the storyline of the game. Once out of the games tutorial section (which can be skipped for those who are familiar with how the game works) Players find themselves on an island where they will learn there profession as well as picking up a secondary profession. The introduction is at a different pace to the original due to an absence of missions. This area of the game introduces you to the storyline. Similar to the original, Factions has a very strong emphasis on a single storyline, which dictates which areas you have access to with newer areas becoming available as the story progresses. I won't go into any real detail with regards the storyline as I don't want to spoil anything. Those who enjoyed the storyline in the first will also enjoy Factions. In fact the story feels a lot less disjointed than the original. One point I will make is that the games enemies feel like a blatant rip off of the Flood from Halo.
Once you have left the starting island you hit the Canthan Mainland, this is where the problems begin. It's possible to leave the island at about level 9-10, though if you do all that you can find you will probably be closer to level 14. The content on the mainland starts at 20. So you have to very quickly (and painfully) grind your character up to level 20. There is no armour for these levels either, you have to move quite quickly to the top armour in the game. This is in stark contrast to the original, where there was lots of content up to level 20 and you would improve weapons and armour over a period of time as you were introduced to new locales. The game seems to cater most for those that are level 20 to start with and not those starting afresh. I found this remarkably frustrating, and I think that this game is quite poor as a standalone and really needs to be attached to the original.
Game play has changed very little from the original, and the level cap has remained at 20. Some people wanted this cap to be increased, but the developers wanted the casual gamer to be able to enjoy the game without having to grind to hit uber high levels. The emphasis is on skill not time played. This is undone by the lack of mid level content and they may as well have upped the level cap to 25 or even 30 and let players enjoy some high level development.
Not only does the game bring a new continent and story line, but also we have 2 new classes to play with. These are the Assassin and the Ritualist. The Assassin is a close combat specialist who excels in dealing damage and applying various conditions to its opponents at the expense of armour. The Ritualist is somewhere between a Monk and a Mesmer, able to cast spells and summon various spirits to aid itself the Ritualist is an excellent support character. One point to consider is that these classes can also be used as secondary classes with the originals classes. This opens up a massive amount of new character builds and has significantly changed the effectiveness of existing builds.
One problem I found was that most people wanted to play the new classes, this lead to situations where a party would consist of 5 assassins with no-one else wanting to join the party. Over time this problem will be less apparent as the novelty value of the new classes wears off and people bring through characters from the original classes. Be warned though, you may have some difficulty finding parties if you choose to play as an Assassin or Ritualist.
There are a few changes to the game play. There are additional mission types such as a co-operative mission where there are two groups taking part in the mission who will meet at a specific point. This is a nice idea but can be frustrating where the other team is one player and a group of henchmen. Their failure can scupper the efforts of a well organised team. There are also missions where you are given a score for your efforts with the highest scores being posted on the leader board.
One new addition that has a significant change to the game is the Alliance feature. Guilds will have to ally themselves with one of the games two factions (hence the games name). The two factions fight in PvP areas with the winner taking territory. Whilst neither faction can win outright it is a lot of fun and provides plenty of game time to those that have completed all of the games missions.
The games economy has improved significantly with the release of Factions. Prior to the games release there was an emphasis on reducing drops to prevent people using bots to farm. What this lead to was regular players having reduced drops and botters getting money slightly slower. The big guilds could do the difficult runs and the average gamer couldn't and so gathering money became more and more difficult for the casual gamer. Factions has seen a significantly improved drop rate, in fact I found that I picked up more rare weapons in my first 24 hours of game time than I have with a year of play in the original. This has really bridged the economy gap.
Throughout the existence of the original, gamers have requested more character slots. You are given 4 slots which (in the original) allows for three characters each taking two of the professions and one slot for a Player v Player character. Factions again has 4 slots when used as a standalone but when tied to an existing account only adds 2 additional slots. I really felt cheated when I found this out, if I'm paying for 4 slots I expect to get them. Though players will be able to purchase additional slots later in the year, so this is quite clearly a money making exercise. In fairness I would rather see this done than a subscription fee.
The lack of subscription fee is obviously a concept that was welcomed by gamers. The cost of this is that content develops very slowly. World of Warcraft provides consistent new content to keep high level characters satisfied. Some of the content patches provide massive changes. Though Guild Wars strength has always been the lack of fee and I don't think the game would have been anywhere near as successful if there had been a fee. For those that complain that content is not frequent for GW need to accept that this will occur when you pay a one off upfront fee and will have to wait that little bit longer for expansion packs. Hopefully the impressive sales of Factions will encourage the developers to create another expansion but hopefully get it out of the door a little sooner.
Despite the criticisms I have made about the game it is still a remarkably well put together, good looking game that can completely engross players. The absence of a subscription fee means there is a massive amount of value for money, though this does come at a cost, content is slow to appear. Factions hasn't had the impact that the original game had and in some ways seems like a poor offering in comparison. There could have been more game play changes to overhaul the game. Though the game is worth getting whether a GW veteran or a newcomer. Hopefully the next expansion will bring in more of the elements that the loyal fans want to see, though Factions does provide enough content to keep gamers happy for a number of months to come.