There's probably not a whole lot of people who still check my pages, but after talking with friends, previous players, players from other games, and developers from other game companies, I wanted to write a little (or a lot) about why Guild Wars was such an important part of my life.
In the Beginning
While reading Game Informer many, many years ago, I saw a preview article for a game that was coming out soon. That's right, I read a preview article for World of Warcraft. Keep in mind, at this time, Blizzard's last three releases were Brood War (StarCraft's expansion) Lord of Destruction (Diablo 2's expansion), and WarCraft 3. These would go on to be the three greatest games Blizzard would ever make, and the games by which all other games in those genres are compared to, so I was excited to read that Blizzard was going to create an MMORPG (a new and exciting concept in the year 2003). I was 16, still a few years away from graduating high school. I had no job, my only income came directly in the form of birthday presents from relatives, and indirectly from my parents' refrigerator. Thus, I could not afford the hefty $15/mo subscription fee to play WoW.
While browsing the Neverwinter Vault one day, I saw a banner ad for a new MMORPG that had no subscription fee. I googled it and checked it out. It looked pretty good. So my younger sister and I went to GameStop and bought it. We started playing. Our greatest achievement was that we managed to reach the unthinkable 2.2 platinum required to create a guild and get a cape. Long story short, my sister got bored of it (and of MMOs in general) rather quickly, so most of my PvE playtime was done with random players (this was early Prophecies, there were no heroes, just the henchmen. Even then, I knew how bad those henchies were). I played through the game as an E/Me named Shard Fenix, named after one of my favorite Magic cards, and of a hero in StarCaft.
My first visit to Tomb of the Primeval Kings (when it was the pvp outpost for what is now Heroes' Ascent) was a strange one. At first I thought it was a story mission. Back then, tombs was densely populated with players, so even unranked scrubs like myself ended up banding together to lose to the Rift Wardens (in old tombs, you had to defend against waves of enemies to get to Underworld. Each Rift Warden spawned away from the defense zone, so you had to split off if you wanted a morale boost). Needless to say, I lost a lot, but eventually found out that the neighboring zone was the PvE mission I was looking for.
When I finally beat the game, rather than making a new character, I elected to try some pvp (now that I knew where it was and understood it a little better), so I brought my E/Me to tombs. Unfortunately for me (or fortunately depending on how you look at it), the only things I could play were air spike ele or Migraine mesmer. Why? Because Balthazar faction didn't exist yet, and I had only unlocked two professions worth of skills from PvE. Because I used my PvE main with most of the groups I played with, and players' names have to be spoken very quickly in PvP, everyone started calling me by my character's first name Shard, and it stuck.
The Birth of a Legacy
After too much Underworld grinding (which felt like forever), I gained the fancy of some players from the guild Just Friends [jF]. They brought me along to their airspike tombs runs often. At this point I was rank 3 or 4. One day I asked them if I could join their guild. They beat around the question many times, but I found out why. Many of them were getting ready to leave jF and form their own guild, which they invited me to. That guild was The Zaishen [Rnub]. While in The Zaishen, we ran almost exclusively blood spike. I can honestly say with certainty that we had the scariest spike I have ever witnessed. We spent minutes before each tombs run synching our spikes. Everyone had to commit their input delay to muscle memory so that our different ping times wouldn't throw it off. I'm sure this will be an exaggeration, but probably 20% of our spikes would kill the target instantly. You wouldn't even see their health bar move. They would go from 100-0 in 0 seconds. I can't describe how beautiful it looks when a spike is perfect. When all the animations (most of us played a female necro) line up perfectly, there's just something satisfying about landing a spike so perfectly.
We became famous for our many, many, many consecutive Hall of Heroes victories. People would go to credit us as having the longest win record, but in fact, Power of My Rangers had a much longer holding record (as he should because he cheated to do it, but I won't go into that). The reason we won so much? Simple. IWAY (a build where a bunch of bad players bring pets, let the pets die, then use I Will Avenge You! to gain effectively permanent health regen and attack speed) was the most popular build at the time, and our blood spike hard countered it. IWAY is weak against builds that bring protective enchantments like Life Bond and Aegis, as they have no enchantment removal. It's been a long time, so this may be inaccurate, but our original build looked something like this:
|Shadow Strike||Vampiric Gaze||Heal Other||Heal Party||Healing Seed||Demonic Flesh||Awaken the Blood||Resurrection Signet|
|Shadow Strike||Vampiric Gaze||Heal Other||Heal Party||Blood is Power||Demonic Flesh||Awaken the Blood||Resurrection Signet|
|Shadow Strike||Vampiric Gaze||Infuse Health||Word of Healing||Well of the Profane||Demonic Flesh||Awaken the Blood||Resurrection Signet|
|Shadow Strike||Vampiric Gaze||Life Bond||Aegis||Restore Condition||Demonic Flesh||Awaken the Blood||Resurrection Signet|
|Shadow Strike||Vampiric Gaze||Life Bond||Aegis||Consume Corpse||Demonic Flesh||Awaken the Blood||Resurrection Signet|
|Shadow Strike||Vampiric Gaze||Cry of Frustration||Well of Power||Rend Enchantments||Demonic Flesh||Awaken the Blood||Resurrection Signet|
|Oath Shot||Savage Shot||Distracting Shot||Throw Dirt||Frozen Soil||Symbiosis||Fertile Season||Rebirth|
|Orison of Healing||Dwayna's Kiss||Infuse Health||Leech Signet||Heal Party||Channeling||Convert Hexes||Spell Breaker|
You may notice that some of those bars do not have elite skills. Remember, this was before Nightfall. Not all elite skills were super broken. Most of the time, I was on the monk primary (the last bar), and yes, it was my idea to bring Leech Signet and Convert Hexes (the convert would eventually get me kicked out of Zaishen). We had a backup infuser necromancer in case the monk primary got spiked. The only time this would ever happen, though, was against ranger spike, because I would spell breaker myself to stop caster spikes, or our N/Me would cry the other team's spike away. We were able to have such expensive skills because Soul Reaping was totally broken back then, spirits gave you the regular amount instead of whatever they give now.
You may also notice that our spike could only happen once every 8 seconds. Yes, boys and girls, this is what a balanced caster spike looks like (minus the soul reaping, of course). It's not like today where you have 4 different skills that do the same thing but are all on a 4 second cooldown. Spikes actually needed to succeed, or you had to wait an agonizing 8 seconds to try again. This build slowly won annihilation maps until it got to holding maps, where it shined. Back then, there was no King of the Hill. Instead, the team controlling the altar when the time runs out is the winner, regardless of how long they had it for. This means all we had to do was kill everybody else's ghostly hero (or cap first), then we would basically auto-win because we had 6 monks, and each person on our team had 1400+ health due to the ranger spirits and our many enchantments. Teams would eventually figure out that the way to beat us is to go 16v8 against us, so we would usually end our tombs runs at a smug 300+ fame each. The higher-end runs netted us about 700 fame each. I actually skipped an entire rank one day. I went into tombs at rank 5 and came back to town at rank 7. We even tried our luck at GvG with a slightly modified build. Instead of a spirit ranger, we added a flag runner (with basically the same skills). We beat almost everyone we fought. We even beat Idiot Savants (iQ) once. We did play against The Last Pride [EViL], but they were a whole other level. They wiped the floor with us handily.
An argument with one of the officers of the guild would eventually get me kicked out (we disagreed on whether I (the monk) should bring Convert Hexes or a cheaper but inferior hex removal. Apparently he knew more about how to play my build than I did, so he kicked me when I was offline. The other officers disagreed with him, but didn't want to cause drama, so I was not invited back). After this event, I scraped around what was now Heroes' Ascent in search of new talent. There, I met my oldest GW friend who I still talk to, Detraya Fullvear. My new band of blood spikers would go on to be successful, but not quite as successful as Rnub, except for one particular point in time I will remember forever.
Rnub (and the people in it, including myself) had become quite well-known by now, and the internal guild drama of me getting kicked out was also public knowledge, so people flocked into observer mode to see the HA match of the year. Shard's team v. The Zaishen on Burial Mounds. Each team's spiking and defensive abilities were equally good. Because I was leading a team of less experienced players, I had to take up some additional roles. I was both the team caller, the spike caller, and the backup infuser, against a team whose spike was very quick. It took us a lot of effort to get each kill, but a strategy I made up on the spot allowed us to catch up to them: I would call two spike targets instead of one. We would use Shadow Strike on the first target, and Vampiric Gaze on the second target (which was always their infuser). The first target would take around 500 damage and almost die. Their infuser would pay half his life. Then the Vampiric Gazes would land on him and kill him. I have never used this tactic ever again, nor have I seen anyone else use it.
The battle went back and forth until a crucial moment near The Zaishen's priest. Our team was running low on energy, and theirs clearly wasn't. I told our ranger to drop Fertile Season, and he did. I then told him to drop Frozen Soil, and he did. Rather than calling spikes, our team focused on regenerating their health and energy. It took The Zaishen about two spikes worth of time to figure out why they weren't killing us. As soon as they went for the Fertile Season, we spiked their leader. Fertile died the same time he did. They were down one team leader, and Frozen Soil was out of their reach. We spiked a few more of them, followed by the priest, for a victory none of us could believe. I know we must have lost the match afterwards, because all of us hopped in the 10-minute delayed observer mode to see everyone's reaction. Obs chat was lit up with people hyped about the match and about what was happening. People had never seen Rnub get beat by another blood spike before, especially not one where most of the players were under rank 3. Never in the history of GW has deer emoting been so well-deserved.
A singular tale about a transcendental number
My popularity landed me in many groups when I wasn't playing with my own guild. One such group was Guild:The_Legend_Of_Pi_(historical). This is where I met Adrin and Yasmin, plus a few other people you may know but who I no longer keep in touch with. I would often fill in as an infuse monk for their very successful ranger spike. Most ranger spikes ran four rangers. Pi found a way to kill people with only 3 rangers, which allowed them to have an extra utility character for objective based maps.
We made one halls run up to 24 consecutive wins, but unfortunately no screenshot exists of it that I know of. The highest I still have is this 20-consecutive run, which was worth 472 fame altogether. The long halls runs were good fun, but not my most memorable moment in Pi. That moment was a 52 minute fight against the best HA players in the world at the time. A 52-minute battle, for only 4 fame. this is a screenshot with the mission time. these are the players we beat. Blue Jazz is better known as Leeloof Esp (the first person to earn rank 15). Brehon, Chiwi, and Sama were all well-known korean players, also of high rank. The battle took 52 minutes because, for starters, it was scarred earth, so both teams had about an 10 minute battle with someone else first. The other 40 minutes was a drawn out battle of attrition between a ranger spike build, and a build with multiple wards and TWO copies of Shields Up!. Once our spikes started landing and we started getting kills, it was only a matter of time before their death penalty caught up to them and we were able to kill people by practically wanding them to death.
While I sometimes filled in offensive and midline roles for teams, I was most often stuck playing a monk. Apparently, monks are the hardest things to play, which is why so few people were really good at it. If it had been up to me, I would have played warrior all day every day, but like most other things that require cooperation, I had to sacrifice a little bit of fun for a lot of success. At some points in my GW career, I was lucky enough to experience what psychologists call flow. It's kind of a magical feeling. As a monk, I sometimes felt like I could see the future. I would see spikes coming before the other team even executed them. I knew exactly what to do without thinking at all. I've had this feeling on warriors too, but not as often. I would consistently call "the right" targets, without really knowing why, and those targets would just die every time. I've only ever felt this when playing control mirrors in Magic: the Gathering. No other video game has ever sparked that feeling in me since.
I'd met many other really cool people during this time. Purge and I quickly became buddies and dual-monked for any team that wanted to win. We were so good, we didn't even need to run meta builds. Instead of Channeling, I would run Whirlwind, and he would run Enfeebling Blood (which would later get nerfed because of us). Sometimes, both of us brought Inspired Enchantment and borrowed Channeling from the opposing team's monks. We probably got along because we knew the difference between bad players and good players (and we made the distinction verbally in the form of trash talk). Him and I would start laughing when we would win halls with our troll guild Purge Just Won Halls Cry Me A [RivR] and he would receive tons and tons of hate chat from the baddies we had vanquished earlier that day. Devine Intervention from [cow] used to dual monk the Fissure of Woe with me. Of course, we would be playing with PvE'ers, who would often take forever to kill mobs, so him and I (the monks) would be the ones walking up to enemy mobs, aggroing 2 or 3 patrols at once for our team to wet their pants over, and we'd be able to keep them alive without really trying. Those PvE players probably thought we were either gods, or hackers.
Ghosts of the Past
I would eventually join [pi] permanently, and they would merge with some of the original core members of The Zaishen (not the guy who kicked me out). More success came our way, but nothing lasts forever. Nightfall had recently been released, so people were quitting in droves. Real life caught up to most everyone else, and people eventually went their separate ways. I joined and guested for many top guilds during this time, including [CCCP], both [cow] guilds, and War Machine International. After a month in the GvG split of [cow], I lost interest in the game and just stopped PvPing. I, along with many others, raised my voice to ArenaNet about why pvp was failing and what they could do to fix it, but our cries fell on deaf ears. Nightfall destroyed PvP, and it never recovered. You can't even HA anymore, it's 100% empty, except for the occasional group of pve'ers who discovered you can get free fame by having at least 10 people work together. GvG is only active during ATs, and even then, they have trouble filling those up. Random Arenas has an average of 14 people in it at any given time. Alliance Battles and JQ/FA are desolate. Codex died about a month after it was introduced. All that remains of PvP is a chain of outposts that can only be described as peaceful.
I still talk to Adrin and Yasmin on regular bases. In fact, just yesterday, Adrin and I were cheesing noobs in StarCraft 2. Detraya and I play Magic: the Gathering together using a program I wrote. Yasmin and I worked for years on a NWN module that unfortunately was never finished. User:Tha Reckoning and I have become good friends and play other games together. My life would have been completely different without these wonderful people (and Adrin), and I'm grateful that Guild Wars introduced me to them. The game taught me a lot about game design, and about how to do it correctly (and incorrectly). It's what partially got me interested in making games. To this day, no game has lived up to the fun and excitement that GW used to provide, and believe me, I've played a lot of them. But mostly, it's a collection of memories. A college-length chunk of my life that will be a part of me forever.
My life goal is to make a game that has the same impact on millions of players that Guild Wars had on me. The difference is, I will make sure people remember it because they're still playing it, not because "it used to be good."