By the end of Guild Wars: Nightfall's preview event last month, players all around the world were left wondering - what would come next? How would we reach the greater continent of Elona? Fortunately, NZGamer was invited to a press-only event, within which we were given access to the near entirety of Guild Wars: Nightfall.
The preview started out the same as last month's, where you had to hone your abilities on a low-level training island called Istan. Not much has changed since then other than garments having sharper detailing, so all of what you've read and played personally is still the almost exactly the same.
The training island should take approximately 12-14 hours to complete, after which a series of quests and missions will then lead you - once again - by boat to the greater Elona. This is where the bulk of Nightfall's gameplay will occur. For comparisons sake think of New Zealand as Istan, and Asia as Elona. Much like Factions, it is almost absolutely necessary to be Level 20 from this point on. But unlike Factions, hitting 20 is a lot easier, although more time consuming. That may sound somewhat paradoxical but it's actually something which works really well. Leveling up is a slow process on Istan but the amount of quests and areas left to explore is immense, and at no point do you really become impatient with the process - it's actually a really fun place to be.
Once you've left Istan via a quest-chain not seen in last month's preview, you'll find your first mission in a place called Cemetery of Dunahm. Here you are required to transport some of the wounded natives from a previous battle back to Istan with your right-hand man Koss, and any other Heroes or henchmen you so desire. At this point it would be good to note that lip syncing seems to have been improved slightly; the new feature really adds a new dimension to the game and gives Nightfall's epic story more impact.
Now this is the exciting part. Once you've formed your party of eight Level 20's and accept the aforementioned mission, your team is allied with eight Sunspear Refugees. Refugees they are, but that makes them no less a threat on the battlefield: these Paragons kick ass. I wouldn't be too surprised if they are nerfed or gimped in the retail version of the game.
Another unique thing about this quest, and to Nightfall, is the addition of quest/mission specific skills. This one in particular has you equip a skill which allows you to disarm sentry traps (the skill temporarily replaces an equipped skill of your choice). These are small dusty mounds which shoot out hundreds of tiny needles to deliver massive damage - the skill acts as an interrupt, which Guild Wars Rangers should be acquainted with.
The mission involves you escorting these so-called refugees through a beautiful sandscape which is designed in such a way that it gives off the impression of a vastly open environment. In truth, it is, but in necessity, it is not. The design is clever in that the mission's path is still very linear, but the area around you begs to differ. So though you will be fighting along a guided path it won't necessarily feel like it.
Across this area are stony watchtowers that surround a massive and heavily guarded fortress where the Warmashall, your enemy, resides. Ambient details such as broken stone structures and idols of the Guild Wars world litter the area too.
Once you've made your way across this area, you'll find a pier where your ally Koss' old friend resides; here a brief cinematic ensues. A lot of dialogue in Nightfall, both in cut-scenes and in quests, has a light-hearted feel to it. Characters are jovial, comments are witty, and actions are sometimes a little comedic. It's only when enemies are shown in cut-scenes that the mood swings to macabre – the music becomes more sinister with low, bassy strings, everyone seems to be angry about something, and laughter is only of the maniacal kind.
Art direction is something this preview didn't get to really show off, which is unfortunate as both Prophecies and Factions sported some of the most sumptuous visual feasts seen in current-gen video-games. The designers have paid a lot of attention to detail in the explorable areas but nothing really stands out and pulls any punches like seeing the Kaineng city streets in Factions, or walking around Underworld in Prophecies for this first time. From what we've seen, it's good, but better things will hopefully be on the horizon.
Nightfall brings a couple of other new features to the table which were seen in the preview event last month. You will now be able to switch your secondary profession at will via your Skills menu, as opposed to zoning to a city containing a specific NPC who would do this for you, as was the case previously. But the biggest addition to the series is what are called Heroes. Through quests and missions you will gain control of game characters whom you will be able to level up and equip with whichever skills you so please to do battle along side you.
If you've ever had trouble finding a decent group, this is a god-send. You are able to order them around and into skirmishes as well as control which skills they use, but they aren't just drones. Factions saw a marginal upgrade to the AI of henchmen, but Nightfall sees a complete overhaul. Yes, Heroes and Henchmen are still privy to err on occasion, but they no longer get stuck in corners, or Leeroy a mob several levels higher than your group. Prophecies, upon release, was dubbed as a Single-Player MMO, and now Nightfall is sure to be dubbed as an Online Single-Player game, for that is the direction NCSoft seems to be heading. Strangely, it feels like a good move.
Unfortunately, our preview ended around here, but the evidence is stacking: Nightfall does not disappoint. Nightfall isn't just an expansion to a well-established series, nor is it a minor improvement; Nightfall in essence is a complete rebuild of Guild Wars. Because of this, what was already a great game is going to be a brilliant one.
The Good: The new features make Nightfall an amazing thing indeed.
The Bad: What do you mean, bad?
The Ugly: All those precious hours of sleep you'll lose.