In the 21st century, there are two types of people: those who have a life and those who play MMOs. But hell, being a geek is nothing to be ashamed of in this day and age. Indeed, once next summer?s anti-smoking rules kick in, and pubs, bars and clubs become populated by the sort of people who you?d normally find in All Bar One, playing MMOs in the comfort of your own home (where Nanny Blair will never be able to tell us what to do, unless he starts recruiting a Stasi-style Secret Police service) playing MMOs may actually come to be seen as a cool thing to do. In which case, NCsoft, publisher of Guild Wars, will be well placed to cash in.
Guild Wars has been something of a success story, although not on the same scale as World of Warcraft ? as it now has over a million users, mainly in Europe rather than the Far East: it?s not sufficiently hardcore for the South Koreans, nor does it reward the sheer amount of time spent online harvesting pixellated resources. Which, as far as we?re concerned, can only be applauded.
But it always seemed too good to be true: an MMO with no subscription fee? How on earth could NCsoft make money from that? Well, now we know, with the advent of Guild Wars Factions. According to GWF developer ArenaNet?s co-founder Jeff Strain, who revealed, ?Our goal is to develop a new campaign every six months.? All of a sudden, even without a subscription, the Guild Wars business model seems a whole lot more viable.
But that begs a welter of questions ? all of which, to his credit (and to the credit of Guild Wars Factions) Strain was able to answer. No, he said, Factions isn?t ?...just another resource pack?. He added, ?We want each campaign to be a completely new game, introducing new gameplay mechanics ? in the case of Factions, mainly in the alliance features, which let us graft a strategic meta-game on top of the game itself.?
According to Strain, the attribute that - more than any other - allows ArenaNet to do this is its whizzy streaming technology, which does away the need for patches and means that whenever you launch a new session in the game, you?ve already essentially downloaded any patches and new content that ArenaNet has created since you last logged on. So, from now on, we can expect a new Guild Wars iteration every six months. But how different will the gameplay be?
New game, new gameplay
The new title offers a succinct description of how the gameplay has changed. In Factions, when you create a Guild, you must align yourself with one of two factions ? the Kurzick or the Luxons (the sort of names guaranteed to kindle a semi in the trousers of dedicated MMO-heads). These Factions are, natch, slugging it out in a big war on the continent of Cantha, in which the game is set. Thereafter, you can forge alliances with other guilds from your faction and take part in that over-arching war.
In Factions, when the map is zoomed out, you will be able to see lines across it which mark the territory occupied by each Faction. In the style of a board game, you will be able to take part in co-ordinated assaults with other guilds on enemy-held cities, which will determine any re-drawing of those battle lines. Strain explains: ?Owning territory lets you control cities, and when you conquer a city, your guild alliance can take control of it. That lets you access new parts of the city, but also the Elite missions, which are the most challenging ones and yield the best loot and so on.?
According to Strain, this new gameplay mechanic results from much thought about how to balance the game between the PvP and role-playing participants. Essentially, it?s up to the PvP types to win the cities for their fellow faction-members, at which point the role-players will move in. He adds: ?The most successful guilds will be those with strong PvP and role-playing players.?