Guild Wars:
Strategy Gameplay

By Shamus Posted Thursday Jun 26, 2008

Filed under: Game Reviews 17 comments

I know I said I was done with Guild Wars, but something with the game finally clicked for me and I think I short-changed the game in my last post.

I dinged the game because I didn’t find the search for skills to be all that interesting. I also noticed that people kept saying the game was like a collectible card game. The other day this finally clicked for me and I understood what they were talking about. I just couldn’t stop thinking of the game in the terms I was familiar with, and it was giving me some kind of idiot mental block about it. I expect RPG games to follow a line of steady progression of character development from weenie to Wonderboy. I thrive on this sort of thing, and that expectation kept me from seeing the strategy game staring me in the face the entire time.

You can only have have eight spells or abilities avilable at any one time. I thought this was like, an interface limitation. You know, that’s how many spells fit on your hotbar, spell toolbar, whatever you call it. But this has nothing to do with not wanting to make the hotbar larger. The eight-spell limit is one of the parameters of the strategy game.

In town, you can completely re-spec your character. You can replace any of the eight spells with any eight others you’ve learned at will. (Think of the total spells you’ve acquired as your “deck”, and you can only have eight of those cards in play.) Once you’re out of town, you can’t change what’s on the hotbar.

Each spell comes from a skill. Healing Magic, Fire Magic, Ice Magic, etc. The strength of those spells comes from how many points you have invested in the related skill. As long as you have one point in fire magic, you can take any of the fire spells you’ve acquired and place it on your hotbar, where you’ll have access to it outside of town. You can sink more skill points into fire magic to make your fire spells more potent, but the cost goes up sharply each time you want another level in the skill. At the same time, the benefits of spending those skill points are fairly modest. The guy with level seven fire magic is only going to be doing a little more damage than the guy with level six fire magic, despite the fact that it cost him a lot of skill points to make the jump from level six to level seven. This creates a strong incentive to diversify your skills as opposed to dumping everything into fire magic. (Which is what I’d been doing for most of the game.)

You can reclaim all skill points and re-allocate them anytime you’re in town. People are saying this is a Magic: The Gathering sort of thing, although CCGs never did anything for me. I can’t help but think of it in a Mech-building sort of way, where selecting your eight spells and allocating your skill points is like mounting weapons on hardpoints and adjusting your loadouts. In any case, your performance on the battlefield is strongly tied to how well you configure your skills, and raw character level is of secondary importance.

Now that I “get” it, I can see why the game never clicked for me. I wanted to mention this because I know some people thrive on this sort of thing, and from my earlier posts you would probably just conclude this was a tepid game of character-building. The truth is that this is, at its heart, a strategy game with a little leveling and looting added in.

Please adjust your level of interest and expectations accordingly.


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17 thoughts on “Guild Wars:
Strategy Gameplay

  1. DocTwisted says:

    Yeah, I think that sums it up rather well. Being a longtime Magic player myself, the joy of this game is in unlocking new spells and seeing how they can “interact” with the ones I already have… also, I’ve been enjoying the storyline within the game, but that’s secondary to building skills.

    Wowzers, first post.

  2. Chris says:

    Yeah. At its core, it’s a competitive, team-based action strategy game. Single player, solo, not caring about builds is certainly possible, but that’s really not the point. It’s to Guild War’s credit that it’s playable at all from that perspective.

  3. Zukhramm says:

    “As long as you have one point in fire magic, you can take any of the fire spells you've acquired and place it on your hotbar, where you'll have access to it outside of town.”

    You can do that even with zero points.

  4. JFargo says:

    Exactly! I couldn’t place why I liked it so much, but I think unlocking the new skills, figuring out how they play together, and finding the best combination has to be drawing out my old CCG player.

    It also explains why the people I know that like it are also the people I used to play M:TG against oh so long ago.

  5. Cuthalion says:

    Ooo, sounds neat. I like TCG’s, and I used to play them a lot. Oddly, I had more fun with the Neopets card game than Yu-Gi-Oh or Pokémon, and I never played M:TG. Which is embarrassing. I liked making my deck as small as possible to maximize odds of drawing good cards.

  6. Thpbltblt says:

    I have to say, I like the fact that you go back and revisit things after the fact. It just shows the quality of your character. That’s one of the things that keeps me coming back to read what you have to say.

  7. jdelcom says:

    This sounds more like the game I’ve been playing, talking with my buddies to see which skills/characters to build up and power up to go confront a bigger menace.
    Glad you “got” it. Enjoy!

  8. Tuck says:

    So are you going to play through the game more? I’d love to jump on sometime with my big bad warrior + big bad heroes and act as a tour guide/bodyguard for you to see the rest of the world, but I suspect my timezone is completely incompatible (GMT+10 here in Tasmania).

    And it’s only worth doing that if you don’t plan to work your way through the game normally.

  9. K says:

    I need to buy this game. I absolutely LOVE this kind of gameplay. Damn, it’s your fault!

  10. Kennet says:

    Look on the bright side, K. You should be able to pick it up fairly cheap and it is not going to cost you any subscription after that ;)

    But only 9 posts? Are everyone playing WoW these days?

    I am glad you ended your coverage of GW on a positive note, Shamus. I am well aware that the game isn’t for everyone but I like it and I like when other people like it.
    I still think the game you played is better that you give it credit for, but that is probably just me and probably also the reason why I still play and you don’t ;)

    The worst part is, or course, that now I want to start up WoW again (for the 3rd time) to see if is just me being silly for not liking it.
    Also, I wants me one of them there shiny new Blood Elves.

  11. David V.S. says:

    You are still only halfway there, Shamus… different locations in the game beg for different “builds” of eight skills.

    Part of learning how to be a successful adventurer in a new location is to:
    (1) explore, and get eaten by monsters
    (2) review what those monsters had as strengths and weaknesses, and design a “build” that counters it
    (3) return and this time smash the monsters to bits

    This is most true in the “missions” of the game, but can also be true in other situations. For example, most characters can learn to solo travel between any two near towns. But doing so can be very tricky, requiring an optimized build for that specific trek.

    The result is becoming “better” is a nice blend of a character gaining levels/skills and the player gaining experience, and is why levels are relatively unimportant.

    I only played Prophecies, long ago. At the time, the game falsely advertised that “builds” would also involve having the party’s skills compliment each other. In practice this hardly mattered and no one at that time planned “builds” as a party before leaving town. Perhaps the expansions changed the game to finally introduce what would be a fascinating dynamic.

  12. Vao Ki says:

    Keeping with the MTG theme, I would disagree with you slightly and say that each set of skills is like a small deck. Depending on how you stock it will decide success or failure in most situations. You can save these setups, complete with skill sets as well. Also, your familiarity with the play style determined by what skills you bring to the mission will make a difference, as not all players understand what to do when being the counterspeller, for instance.

    Builds can mesh well together in the late game, making grouping more enticing, but it usually boils down to the basic RPG classes more than specific builds, or specific skills.

    For instance: the normal search is for a main healer, a second healer, a counterspeller helps, a tank or 2, and damage dealers. Sometimes though, certain skills are searched for, because someone figured out that Skill X is uber in Mission Y. This kind of thinking annoys me, as I believe any good build will work, if you play well and understand how your build works.

    K: You can actually buy Prophecies, Factions or Eye of the North for $30 now and Nightfall for $40 (at Best Buy). There are also 2 combo packs available, either a bundle of Prophecies & Factions or Prophecies & Eye of the North, for $40 or $50. I forget the exact price.

    And Shamus…I’m glad you understand the game a bit better. Too bad it doesn’t really seem to be your thing. I hope you enjoy WoW.

  13. Cray says:

    Congratulations Shamus on your Eureka moment. I’d wager that about 65% of all WoW users never realized that point when they tried Guild Wars and immediately dismissed it as lack of character development.

  14. Jeff says:

    One of the highlights of the game is meeting Vekk.

    …voiced by the same guy who voices Brain, from Pinky and the Brain.

    It amuses me far too much – I need to see if I can’t dig up old Animaniacs episodes.

  15. Xinem says:

    This post finally got me; after a bit of research and some thought, I ordered Guild Wars GotYE today. While I initially felt some tugs towards WoW, GW is the first online game that actually looked like something I really wanted to play!

    Thanks, Shamus!

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