Guild Wars: Nightfall
18th Dec 2006 | 11:42
Costing nowt to play bar the price on the box, Guild Wars has enticed many penny-pinching MMORPG players into its clutches - and with Nightfall, it continues to borrow heavily from the rest of the RPG genre, both online and offline.
In fact, at times Guild Wars: Nightfall is a bit hard to call an MMORPG. It has all of the hallmarks of the genre, but at times it feels all too similar to old-man Diablo II mixed with two-parts EverQuest and three-parts of fantasy-cliché. Playable as a standalone part of the Guild Wars world, Nightfall mimics Factions by bringing two new classes to the table. The god-bothering, scythe-swinging Dervish can enchant himself with all sorts of spiritual prayers and cause ice and earth damage, and the friendly neighbourhood Paragon can tactically assist players on the battlefield with various buffs and health boosts while lobbing spears at people's heads.
The truth of the matter is that while these classes are great fun to play, you're still basically causing direct damage or buffing yourself and your group; the MMORPG class-barrel has been scraped dry, and no matter how pretty they make it look, it's still back to basics. Along with the new classes comes the much-anticipated hero system, which is somewhat like the henchman system, allowing lonely people to have friends who run into battle with them, except with the depth of customisation you have with your own character. Like an angry Barbie, you can dress up these dolls of death with the same items you use, control their skill development and generally level them up as you would your own character.
These heroes are remarkably well done, avoiding the obvious pitfalls of making them two-dimensional monster-copies (like the hunter's pets from World Of Warcraft); in fact, there's almost no difference between dealing with your own character or them, beyond the allocation of abilities, which is done across all of your heroes depending on class.
Thus, they can be applied on almost a chess-like level; you're able to gear up, level and prepare the skills of each hero as you would yourself, and your mini-army can be prepared down to the level of what moves they're going to be able to pull off in combat, making the normal MMORPG stable of preparing your pets a lot more interesting. They can be added and dropped any time you're in town, and more crucially put in place of a human player in a group - even if it means having an entire group of henchmen and your own hand-groomed heroes and heroines.
This really complements Guild Wars, considering that a great deal of Nightfall's content takes place in your own little instance-bubble within the NCsoft servers. Nightfall takes on and tramples one of the greatest annoyances of MMORPG gameplay; no more waiting around for the right group once you've built up a good stable of heroes (which, at least in the new campaign, is surprisingly fast). While they don't necessarily replace human interaction (with a good player being able to outplay a bot by virtue of being able to think on their feet), they effectively plug any holes a group might have - your L, F and G keys will thank you.
Unlike a great deal of other MMORPGs - even the mighty World Of Warcraft - Nightfall pushes a slick, cinematic storyline throughout its campaign. It follows the usual fantasy problems - some evil bastard is being a nuisance by trying to release an angry god, which spells certain doom for the continent of Elona and the rest of the world, and somehow you're embroiled in it.
QUEST TO IMPRESS?
Guild Wars has always had a strong story-driven feel to it, somewhat linearly dragging players through an intricately woven tale - in fact, at times it feels more like Baldur's Gate or a good Final Fantasy than an MMORPG, regardless of quests really not being much more than 'go here, kill this'.
Sadly this two-dimensional questing hasn't really been remedied by Nightfall, with it instead trying to build upon the formula and make it as fun and pretty as possible. It's very easy to get caught up in the storyline, the atmosphere and the vast unconventional scenery that makes up the new continent. However, at the same time you'll feel like you've been there before - maybe not as a Sunspear, and maybe not in a jungle, but you've certainly killed angry mythical beasts, and you've certainly used a combination of direct-damage, buffs and heals to do so.
That's the greatest annoyance of Guild Wars, and consequently Nightfall. The new expansion is a great deal more polished, well-presented and downright fun than most expansions for pay-per-month games, and is genuinely a joy to play. However, no matter how hard it tries, it's doing everything that every other MMORPG does, except with a few old ideas spruced up and hammered in. For instance, the hero system is constructed out of bits and bobs pulled from RPGs from Planescape: Torment to Pokémon, and the main core of the gameplay is the work of every other MMORPG out there. It's not so much that these are bad ideas - far from it - it's more that you've probably seen them a thousand times over.
Contrary to this, Nightfall actually comes highly recommended to both newbies and the elite. While it's a jack-of-all-trades and a master of none, the spit and polish and graphical spectacle thrown at you from the very instant you start is amazing. It's fun, furious, fast, user-friendly and you can get a substantial amount of play out of it no matter what level you are - even from ten minutes of farting about. With a reasonably epic storyline, gorgeous graphics, epic vistas and plenty to do for even the most dim-witted and anti-social of gamers, Guild Wars: Nightfall is definitely worth picking up. It's a case of evolution over revolution, and it's surprisingly good.