A Little Rain Must Nightfall: Jeremy Starley took a look recently at the newest Guild Wars stand-alone title, Guild Wars: Nightfall.
Everyone's favorite subscription-free MMORPG is back with another new campaign, launched a mere six months after the release of Factions - Guild Wars' Asian-flavored expansion. This time we are visiting the African-themed lands of Elona, and the ride is quite a bit longer. As is the case with the previous expansion, the base game is not required to play, but you won't have access to the material from the original game or Factions unless you own them.
Rather than the ultra-short PVE campaign of Factions, Nightfall treats us to a much longer storyline. In fact, you will most likely hit the level cap - yes, it's still 20 - about one-quarter of the way through the game. As has been said before about Guild Wars, maxing out your level does not indicate the end of your character's growth, but rather the point in his career where it gets interesting.
As with Factions, Nightfall adds two new character classes: The spear throwing Paragon and the whirling Dervish. Both classes come with new skills and weapons, although some feel very familiar, like they slapped a fresh coat of paint on some old skills. The Paragon is a good ranged damage dealer, and also has a variety of buffs for himself and his party. The Dervish fights in close with scythes and damage dealing spells.
Guild Wars adds a major new gameplay mechanic with Nightfall in the form of Heroes.
A Hero is an NPC companion much like the Henchmen in previous releases, but with some major differences. Where the henchmen are basically predetermined, single-classed NPCs that are a set level at specific points in the campaign, Heroes are essentially NPCs that are entirely dependent on your input. They start out as a specific single class, like Warrior or Elementalist, but from there you get to decide everything from where to assign their skill points, what skills they use, what their secondary class - if any - will be, and what equipment they have - almost like having alternate characters that you can group with. The Heroes level up just like you do, so if you stop grouping with one for a while, she stops leveling until you take her out on quests again.
In addition Nightfall also includes a new PVP feature that involves two players with a group of three Heroes each battling it out. No more waiting around to find a group to fight with, just grab your Heroes and go! Sadly, the Heroes perform better in PVP than about half of the players I have grouped with.
A nice change this time out are mouths that actually move during cutscenes! No more guessing who said what. Unfortunately, Nightfall is the first game in the series that doesn't include a CG intro movie. It's not a huge loss, but they were always fun to watch.
Nightfall also includes a number of small changes, such as a window to preview the effects of dye on your armor and icons on the map that tell you what a particular collector is looking for. Crafting, such as it is, has also changed a bit now. It is now possible to retrieve components from magic items and use them on other items, like a sort of socketed item system. Some of these features, including the dye window and item components, are available to GW players who don't own Nightfall. Wasn't that nice of them?
Graphics - You got a purdy mouth.
The original Guild Wars started out with very good visuals, and each successive release seems to improve on the standard. Nightfall features gorgeous African-themed landscapes, from scorching desert to Serengeti-style plains, from scenic coastal beaches to lush jungle. Sometimes while playing, I would have to pause and swing the camera around just to look at the landscape, it's that incredible.
Characters are also very well done. There are enough combinations of face, hair, and coloring to make characters look somewhat different, and all of the characters models feature great looking textures. The only downfall is that, like World of Warcraft, there are only so many combinations for each character, and before you know it, you've met someone who looks like your twin. However, I prefer the artistic direction of the cool-looking characters in Nightfall over the highly customizable, yet chunky-looking characters of Everquest II.
Spell and skill effects are also nicely done, featuring enough flash to let you know something is working, but avoiding the all-too-common tendency to make every spell fill the screen with sparks, flame, and lightning.
All in all, Nightfall features some of the best graphics I've seen in an MMORPG. They have breathtaking, but realistic landscapes that manage to incorporate a color other than brown, attractive character models that avoid looking too buff or outrageously voluptuous, and interesting, surprisingly original monster designs. No orcs? Gee, I'm so disappointed.
Sound - Silence is, uh... quiet
Sound in the game is fairly good. With a good set of headphones or a 5.1 surround sound speaker set and a decent soundcard, you can hear atmospheric, directional environmental sounds. Birds chirp from different directions, and from behind you comes the sound of a distant waterfall. Combat is aurally expressive without becoming overpowering, and the voice acting is at least on par with a good anime movie - which is not surprising, since all three Guild Wars campaigns feature well know anime voice actors.
The true sound-gem in Nightfall is the Jeremy Soule soundtrack. As with all of his previous soundtrack efforts, Soule provides and incredible, epic music score to accompany you on your journey. I'm not sure how much they have to pay him to compose these stunning pieces of auditory art, but I do know that he is worth every penny, and probably much more.
Roleplaying - Ye olde wench, fetcheth mine grog!
What? There is roleplaying in this game? Seriously? All kidding aside, despite a fairly good storyline for the PVE missions - written by fantasy legend Jeff Grubb, no less - this game pretty much fails to induce or even encourage any sort of roleplaying. Even in PVE missions and settings, your character tends to break immersion by replying to an utterly serious request for help with something inane like "Groovy!" or "I like Pie!"
As for other players, forget it. I have yet to run in to someone trying to stay in character.
You're likely to arrive in a town and see someone spamming "bewbs!!!!111one, lol!" over and over, people talking about the ball game, and giant, intellectually devoid flame-fests with countless numbers of adolescent-minded "people" all trying to prove they are the dumbest person online. Trying to roleplay is an invitation for the masses to ridicule you, and not much else.
Speaking of which...
Community - Those other people.
There are no official forums on the Guild Wars website, most likely because they don't want to bother paying someone to try to bring some sort of order to them. Instead, there are links to many fan run forums. A word of advice: Don't Bother. You can find pretty much everything you need to know by looking up a site called GuildWiki and avoid the hassle of dealing with the community.
In game, it seems even more immature than the WoW community. Luckily, Nightfall is new enough so that every area seems well populated, and you can usually ask a question and sift the one helpful answer out of the handful of garbage you will get. Unfortunately, it is often more fun to run missions by yourself, using Heroes and henchmen to round out your party, than it is to deal with other players. Often one or two really ignorant players who refuse to listen to advice or directions can cause the whole party to get killed, which is annoying when you have to resurrect with ability penalties during a quest, and downright scream-inducing when you have to start a mission all over again. There also seem to be quite a few players who delight in intentionally causing the party to fail.