There is just so much that is wonderful about Guild Wars that it's hard to know quite where to start. For the past half year, everyone and his dog has been harping on about how World Of Warcraft is the best thing since sliced bread and is surely the most accessible-to-all MMO ever made. Not any more, Pedro! Guild Wars steals the user-friendly gameplay crown so easily from Blizzard's behemoth, that it might as well sport a rakish moustache and call itself Raffles The Gentleman Thief.
While it's stuffing that particular trophy into the bag marked 'SWAG', it might trouble itself to 'alf inch the awards for visual beauty, balanced game mechanics, absorbing content and player appeal, as it deserves to display all of those from its trophy cabinet.
LITTLE AND LARGE
Ploughing its own furrow with all the cold-eyed determination of a Colombian farmer insisting that the money's to be made in harvesting beetroot rather than cocaine like everyone else, Guild Wars cocks a snook at the MMO genre and its standardised gaming templates, setting out from the offset to do things its own way and to hell with the consequences.
Take the character creation. How many other games give you the option of starting a character at the maximum level from the get-go? Sure, there are restrictions involved. You'll be restricted to the PvP arena and have a limited selection of the overall skills available, but it means you don't have to spend weeks slogging through the level grind in order to experience the latter side of the game.
ONE FOR ALL
Not that there's much grinding to be found at the lower levels. Guild Wars is one of the most well-balanced and perfectly paced RPGs we've played for ages, casting its lines like a master angler, reeling you in at exactly the rate needed to keep you hooked.
In one of the many, many wonderful ideas, every character you create is inextricably linked to the others on your account (all members of the same Guild, all sharing the same Friends list, all having access to the same storage vault). So much so that the more you explore and unlock with your role-playing character (as the game describes those who start at the ground floor), the more benefits you can earn for your level 20 PvP-only character and vice versa. Nice.
Part MMO, part Magic: The Gathering-style card game, part UT-style competitive deathmatching action, GW is that rare beast that tries to be all things to all people and pretty much succeeds on all fronts. ArenaNet itself eschews the term MMO and describes the game as a CORPG - a competitive online role-playing game, claiming that the 'massively' side of the multiplayer is just a by-product of having a single gaming server and isn't really the crux of things.
ALL FOR YOU
It has a point. In other MMOs, 'instanced', personalised gaming areas for you and your small group are dotted about, and are very much the undercard to the main world's hundreds/thousands of simultaneous players, Here, the majority of the Guild Wars world (Tyria, lore fans) is for you and you alone (or you and your small group of friends), with isolated public areas simply acting as staging posts for group creation and other administrational and social duties.
This has the effect of making the game world - and its inherent wonders, treasures and quests - seem to revolve around you. Again, this is unlike the feeling other games give you of being a minor cog in the overall wheel of virtual life, no more important than anyone else.
Guild Wars feels exciting to play as a result. You want to keep coming back to it to find out more, safe in the knowledge that you're not going to be bothered by griefers, boss campers, player killers, anti-social nobheads
and the l33t "f**k you n00b" crowd that mar so much of the online gaming experience. Hell, you can even recruit NPC henchmen to support you on your travels if you really feel like going it alone.