Guild Wars provides two main modes of gameplay—a cooperative role-playing component and a competitive player vs. player (PvP) component—both of which are hosted on ArenaNet's servers. The games depict the history of the fictional fantasy world of Tyria, each campaign focusing on events in disjoint sections of the world, but roughly parallel in time. A player creates an avatar to play through the cooperative storyline of a campaign, taking on the role of a hero who must save Tyria from episode-specific antagonists. Players can group with other players and non-player characters, known as henchmen or heroes, to perform missions and quests found throughout the game-world. PvP combat is consensual, team based, and limited to areas designed for such combat. Players are allowed to create characters at maximum level and the best equipment specifically for PvP play, which is unusual for MMORPGs. ArenaNet hosts official Guild Wars tournaments where the most successful players and guilds may compete for the chance to play live at gaming conventions and win prizes up to 100,000 USD.
The games in the Guild Wars series were critically well received and won many editor's choice awards, as well as awards such as best value, best massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG), and best game. Guild Wars was noted for being one of the few commercially developed games in the MMORPG genre to offer online play without subscription fees, its instanced approach to MMORPG play, and the quality of the graphics and play for computers with low specifications. In February 2008, NCSoft announced that 5 million units of games in the Guild Wars series had been sold. The sequel, Guild Wars 2, was announced in March 2007. It will have updated graphics and gameplay mechanics, and will continue the original Guild Wars tradition of no subscription fees. No release date has been announced.
The first campaign, Guild Wars Prophecies (originally named Guild Wars), was released on April 28, 2005. The Prophecies storyline is situated on the continent of Tyria and revolves around the Flameseeker Prophecy, a prophecy made by an ancient dragon.
Prophecies was followed by Guild Wars Factions on April 28, 2006, released exactly a year after Prophecies. Factions is situated on the small southern continent of Cantha that is separated from Tyria by a vast ocean. The events of the Factions campaign concern the return from death of a corrupted bodyguard named Shiro Tagachi. Factions features a global persistent war between the rival vassal nations of Cantha, the Luxons and the Kurzicks, and the notion of guild alliances (see guilds below).
The third campaign, Guild Wars Nightfall, was released on October 27, 2006. Nightfall features the arid continent of Elona, joined to southern Tyria across a vast desert. Nightfall introduced heroes, advanced computer-controlled units that can be micro-managed by players, including the ability to customize their skill layout and equipment.
Scrapping their initial plans for a fourth campaign, ArenaNet have released an expansion pack, Guild Wars: Eye of the North, to the previous three campaigns on August 31, 2007. Not being a full campaign, this expansion requires one of the other released campaigns, and is only accessible by player characters at level 10 and above. Eye of the North therefore does not feature new professions or tutorial material, but contains new content for existing characters: new dungeons, a number of new skills, armor, and heroes. Eye of the North is set in previously inaccessible territory from the first Guild Wars campaign, Prophecies. It is intended to be a bridge to the sequel to the Guild Wars series, Guild Wars 2. As a promotion for their online store and Eye of the North, ArenaNet released a "bonus mission pack" to online purchasers; containing playable recreations of four incidents in the history of Tyria, Cantha and Elona which each expand the backstory for one of four major NPC characters.
An account is initially set to a specific region depending on the version of the game purchased; Europe, America, Korea, Taiwan or Japan. Players from Europe, America and Korea may freely move between the three regions. Regardless of the account's home region, players in all regions can meet and form parties in international districts (instances of in-game outposts). These districts are also in the language of the original region.
A new account has four character slots; each additional full campaign added to the account adds two further character slots. Extra character slots may be purchased from the online store.
The game is presented as a number of instanced zones accessible through staging areas known as towns. These staging areas are fully navigable 3D maps where the player avatars may interact with each other or with NPCs that provide services such as merchanting or storage. From a town, players can enter instanced gaming areas either by crossing the border of the town or by initiating a storyline mission. Each instance is allocated freshly for the adventuring party that enters it. As the characters progress in the story or explore the game world, they gain access to additional towns. Players can transport their characters instantly between towns using the game-world's map.
Player characters in Guild Wars are controlled from an over-head third person perspective in a 3D game environment but with only two degrees of freedom: characters cannot move vertically. First person perspective is available but is generally too cumbersome to play effectively. For every new character, the player can choose to create a role-playing character that begins in low level areas, or a PvP-only character at maximum level and the best equipment. Both modes encourage teaming up with other players or AI controlled NPCs known as henchmen.
Player characters have a fixed primary profession, determined at creation time, which dictates their appearance, certain primary attributes, and the kinds of armor available to them. The warrior profession, for example, has access to the primary Strength attribute that increases their effectiveness with martial weapons, and is able to wear heavy armor providing the highest protection of all professions. Elementalists, on the other hand, wear weaker armor, but can use their primary Energy Storage attribute to have a much greater energy pool than other professions. Player characters can also choose a variable secondary profession that gives them access to all the skills and secondary attributes of that profession. A Warrior/Elementalist (abbreviated in-game as W/E), therefore, is a warrior who may use spells in combat, similar to the Spellsword archetype from RPGs.
All player characters have a maximum character level of 20 that is reached fairly early on in the co-operative story. Armor and weapons also have fixed maximum stats and a fixed variety of modifiers, and these items at the highest stats are easily attainable. Most of the gameplay is balanced around a party of eight level 20 players sporting items with maximum stats. The choice of armor and weapons influence the character's health points. Unlike most RPGs, Guild Wars has no healing potions; instead, the party's health is managed by a number of healing skills in every class. In addition, a character regenerates health if he or she sustains or deals no damage for a certain period. The primary profession and attributes determine the character's energy, which also regenerates (at a fixed profession-dependent rate).
Players may customize their character appearance from a fixed palette of face and hair models, skin color, height of the avatar, and by their choice of armor. All armor and weapons in the game can be dyed to further differentiate the characters. Finally, characters may display their guild affiliation and, optionally, a title they have earned for in-game achievements. The most prestigious titles often require significant investment of time and often in-game money.
ArenaNet originally intended that players would take their co-operative characters to the competitive arenas after finishing the co-operative content. The co-operative and competitive modes of the game were therefore closely linked, sharing essentially all gameplay mechanics. This scheme proved to be unpopular with players, for co-operative players did not make the transition to PvP and disliked the influence of continual rebalancing that PvP had on their preferred style, and competitive players bemoaned the drudgery of the repetitive PvE content needed to build new competitive characters. ArenaNet thus made a number of changes to separately cater to the two divergent playing styles and player communities: adding PvP-only characters with maximum levels and equipment soon after the release of Prophecies, making skills and upgrades unlockable from purely PvP rewards before the release of Factions, and allowing PvP equipment to be freely altered without "re-rolling" after the release of Nightfall. Nightfall also introduced powerful PvE-only skills that were barred from the competitive arenas, a scheme greatly extended in the subsequent Eye of the North release. The final division came in mid 2008 with several ordinary skills divided into PvP and PvE modes, with the PvE specific modes reverting to earlier forms of these skills that were found to be overpowered in competition.
All weapons of a certain type have a fixed automatic attack rate, but can have various damage values up to a fixed maximum damage for each type of weapon. Each kind of weapon also has a fixed range, though non-melee weapons can use terrain features to alter that range. Non-weapon offensive skills have fixed ranges that cannot be altered with terrain. If a skill or weapon attack is initiated with its target out of range, then the character moves in the most direct way (based on the game's automatic path-finding) to get in range before initiating the action; during this time the action can be cancelled without penalty. When in range, the character becomes stationary to initiate the action, and will pay the entire energy or adrenaline cost of a skill at the start of activation. Most attacks activate quickly and the character can move again before the animation completes, but the activation time for other skills can last several seconds during which the character remains pinned. During the activation, the action can be interrupted by foes using interruption skills, in which case the skill immediately begins its cooldown cycle, or the action can be voluntarily cancelled by the initiator without incurring a cooldown penalty. Many skills have an additional aftercast delay after successful activation during which the character cannot take any action. Offensive hexes and certain other skills can be used to interfere or punish the use of skills and attacks by foes (or even punish their non-use); such effects are generally triggered on successful activation, though it is also possible in some cases to prevent the activation itself.
Melee attacks that are successfully activated cannot be avoided by movement alone, even if the target runs outside the weapon's range before the attack animation completes. Ranged projectiles are automatically aimed, but require line-of-sight and can be dodged if the target moves during the flight time of the projectile. Attacks can be blocked or made to miss by means of defensive skills. Magical projectiles created by spells cannot be blocked, but such spells, if targeted, can be suppressed or made to fail by using defensive skills. A number of skills exist to mitigate received damage, including certain skills that limit received damage to a percentage of the target's maximum health; such skills can be used by characters with very low maximum health to paradoxically increase their survivability by reducing all received damage to tiny and easily countered figures, a strategy often used to farm creatures that cannot counter such protections.
Guild Wars has been likened to collectible card games such as Magic: the Gathering because of the way the different skills interact. While in a town or staging areas, a character's skill and attribute selection can be freely modified to construct a "build". Once in a combat zone such as an explorable area or a PvP arena, the build becomes immutable until the character exits the combat zones and returns to a staging area. Players generally either choose a specific build for a given area or role, or use general builds that synergize with the builds of other characters in the party.
In each campaign the player is involved in a linear story with which they interact by performing a series of primary quests and missions. Quests are given to a player by NPCs via text dialog. As quests are completed new areas, new quests, and new missions are unlocked for the player's character to access. Missions allow the player character to participate in the major events of the storyline, such as significant battles against the main antagonist. Both quests and missions can feature in-game cut scenes which advance the story and provide context to the actions which follow. Cut scenes are in the third-person, often featuring the party leader's character and revealing elements of the game that the character would not normally be aware of, such as the actions of an antagonist. Players are given the option of skipping the cut scenes if all party members agree upon it.
The following are the competitive modes in Guild Wars: Random Arena : Four-on-four matches with teams randomly composed from those waiting to enter combat. There are many different arenas with different victory conditions: deathmatch and kill-count. Team Arena : Four-on-four matches with player-managed teams. These matches are played in the same areas as the Random Arena with a few exceptions. Heroes' Ascent : A continuous tournament where players form teams of eight to battle in a sequence of arenas, culminating in the Hall of Heroes whose results are broadcast to all online players in addition to rewarding the victors with high-end loot. Arenas in the Heroes' Ascent tournament include deathmatch, altar-control, and capture-the-relic victory conditions. Victories in the Heroes' Ascent award players with fame points that can be used to determine the rank of the player. Guild Battles : Two guilds meet in guild halls and stage a tactical battle with the aim of killing the opposing Guild Lord, a well-protected NPC. Victory in guild battles affects the rank of the guild in the global Guild versus Guild (GvG) ladder. GvG is considered the most supported of competitive formats in Guild Wars. In 2005, ArenaNet hosted a Guild Wars World Championship, and in 2006, the Guild Wars Factions Championship was hosted as well. Since then, the Automated Tournament system has become the norm, but smaller 3rd-party tournaments have been hosted, including the Rawr Cup and the Guild Wars Guru cup. The GWWC, GWFC, RawrCup, and GWG Tournament all had real life prizes; the former tournaments had cash prizes, the RawrCup and Guru Tournament had laptops and MP3 players to give away. Alliance Battles : Guild Wars Factions introduced an arena where twelve players aligned with one of the opposing Kurzick and Luxon factions team up to fight an opposing team to gain new territory for their faction. The twelve player team is comprised of three teams with four human players each. The three teams are selected randomly from the teams waiting on each side when the match begins. Alliance Battles grant alliance faction and affect the border between the two factions in the Factions-specific continent of Cantha. The location of the border affects the map in which the battles take place by adding a bias to favor the faction losing the war. Competitive Missions : Factions also introduced a pair of competitive arenas, named Fort Aspenwood and The Jade Quarry, where randomly assembled teams of players from the opposing nations enact particular events in the Kurzick/Luxon war. Victories in these missions have no global effect, but do grant the players with alliance faction. Hero Battles : Players with Guild Wars Nightfall or Guild Wars: Eye of the North can access an arena where two players, each controlling three NPC heroes, compete to gain control of strategic points. As the player can control their heroes these battles incorporate an aspect of real-time strategy games. Hero Battles also have a ladder, similar to Guild Battles.
Guild and Hero Battles have a continuously running automated tournament system. Players or guilds elect to participate in the tournament by buying in-game tokens using their PvP faction points. The participants are divided randomly into groups of 32 that participate daily in up to five Swiss rounds held on a fixed schedule. Participants who are unable to field a full team automatically forfeit their round. The top eight candidates at the end of every month continue on to a single-elimination tournament, and the final victors earn a number of real and in-game rewards. Players who do not participate in the automated tournament are allowed to place bets on the results of these tournaments for a number of in-game rewards.
Many competitive matches may be observed by players by means of an observer mode. Important PvP matches such as matches in the Hall of Heroes or between highly rated guilds may be observed (after a delay of fifteen minutes) by others in order to see the tactics used by successful teams and attempt to learn or counter them. Guilds may additionally observe their own Guild Battles for a fixed period of time.
As the name suggests, guilds are a core element of Guild Wars, manifesting not only as social units but also being closely linked with the game mechanics. Although a player is not required to join a guild, it adds value to the gaming time and increases camaraderie. Often, joining a guild is a good way to get help from more experienced players as the in-game guild interface allows communication between guild members.
A guild leader creates the guild by registering a guild name and a tag (between two and four characters long) with a Guild Registrar, found in some major towns. The guild tag is displayed in brackets after the names of guild members. The leader also designs the guild's cape (from a large palette of shapes, patterns and emblems), and purchases a guild hall that serves as the guild headquarters and may be furnished with merchants, traders, and storage NPCs. Each guild hall is an individual instanced outpost located at the same spot on the Battle Isles, but they are not physically accessible to non-allied members as the only way to enter a guild hall is by "map travel". The guild leader recruits new players to the guild and can promote a number of them to guild officers, who can then help with the recruitment and further promotion of officers. All player characters on the same Guild Wars account belong to the same guild. Players may leave their guild whenever they please, but only the leader and officers can dismiss non-officer players from the guild; the leader has the additional power to dismiss officers and disband the guild. Guilds have a membership limit of 100 members; player communities with more than that many members generally create allied sister guilds, often named similarly and using the same tag.
Up to ten individual guilds may ally together to form an alliance. Members of an alliance may communicate over a shared chat channel, and visit the guild halls of the other guilds of the alliance. Each alliance has a leader guild that initiates the alliance, the leader of which guild is also the alliance leader, who may admit or dismiss guilds from the alliance. Each alliance must be devoted to either the Kurzicks or the Luxons, the two Canthan factions (from Guild Wars Factions) locked in perpetual conflict. Players can accumulate faction (reputation) with either the Kurzicks or the Luxons, which can either be "donated" to the alliance or redeemed for certain in-game rewards. The alliances with the highest total amount of donated faction are given control of certain in-game outposts on the Canthan continent; controlling an outpost gives the alliance members access to restricted areas of the outposts, containing, among other things, merchants who sell at a discount. The best alliance-controllable outposts are the Kurzick and Luxon capital cities, each of which contains a restricted entrance to an "elite" co-operative mission.
In addition to membership in guilds, a player may be a guest of any number of other guilds. Guest privileges are limited to visiting the guild hall and participating in guild or alliance battles. An accepted invitation expires after eight hours.
Guild Wars development began in an environment following the release of EverQuest when a number of new MMORPGs were announced. ArenaNet positioned Guild Wars in a niche in this landscape, offering unlimited gametime without subscription fees. ArenaNet believed that players would not pay subscription fees for every online game they play and that paying a fee would cause players to make a "lifestyle commitment" to a particular game, rather than the usual behaviour of playing many different games and switching between them. Jeff Strain, a founder of ArenaNet, said, "It is our opinion that the free online gaming model combined with frequent content updates is the optimum online paradigm for interfacing with consumers and creating a significant, enduring gaming franchise."
ArenaNet has used open beta testing throughout the development of the Guild Wars series. For the first public appearance of Prophecies in April 2004, that occurred in conjunction with E3 2004, people were encouraged to download the client and play an online demo of the game to test its networking capabilities. This was followed by a preview event and several beta test weekend events. Both Factions and Nightfall had similar test weekends prior to their release. Nearly 500,000 players spent an average of 8.5 hours playing the Nightfall PvE content during its second beta test weekend. In addition to the public beta events, ArenaNet used continuously running closed alpha test servers throughout development; some alpha testers were ArenaNet employees but most were volunteers from the player community who signed a non-disclosure agreement with ArenaNet. After the release of Eye of the North, the bulk of the development and test teams were moved to the Guild Wars 2 project, though a small maintenance and QA team remains on the original Guild Wars project. The group of volunteer alpha testers was disbanded in January 2008, and no plans have yet been announced about repeating such an alpha test program for Guild Wars 2.
Aspects of every campaign have been influenced or modified based on feedback from the player community. Such changes began soon after the release of the original Prophecies, when, for instance, skill acquisition in the co-operative campaign was simplified, and PvP unlocks were made purchasable with the new mechanic of faction rewards for competitive victories. Although further playable content—such as quests and missions—are no longer expected for the original Guild Wars series, ArenaNet continues to make such changes to the gameplay elements and monitors game balance issues.
ArenaNet also continues to develop in-game events that generally coincide with real events such as Christmas, Halloween, and the Chinese new year (for the Asian-influenced in-game continent of Cantha). These events feature mini-games, quests, event-specific PvP game types such as the Dragon Arena and snow-ball fights or beetle racing, special decorations for in-game outposts, and various in-game rewards such as masks and collectible gifts. Regular events also occur every weekend; each such event temporarily increases certain in-game rewards such as the drop rate of loot, reputation points for various in-game activities, or faction points.
To support their fee-free approach to online gaming the server architecture developed for the game was core to minimizing the bandwidth costs associated with maintaining game servers. Infrastructure design was influenced by the developers' experiences with Battle.net development.
The game client is available for download as a very small file. Each time there is an update to the game the existing client automatically downloads a new version of the client which examines a manifest of files to determine which files have been modified and therefore need to be downloaded to the client machine. This manifest is prioritized, the most important files are downloaded prior to the player being able to start the game, the rest are downloaded in the background while the player is playing. ArenaNet uses this rapid update technology to make changes on demand and close exploits in the system.
ArenaNet also utilizes their update technology to preload content from new Guild Wars campaigns onto existing players' accounts prior to the release of that campaign. The content is only activated after the right key is added to the player's account and the game servers allow the campaign changes to go live.
The game is server hosted. Much of the game mechanics are performed or verified by the game servers. The Guild Wars servers are set up in a distributed model. Players are presented with what appears to be a single server but their data is moved to different locations or servers depending on where in the world they are playing and server load at the time.