Two core factors prevent many MMO startups from getting off the ground - one is World of Warcraft, and the other is subscription fees. There is a psychological barrier (I believe its called "common sense") that prevents most stringent dabblers from plunging into the pay-once, then pay-again-and-again-and-again universe of persistent online games. Guild Wars, released in 2005 to a warm reception, disposes of the preconception that online=monthly moolah by introducing what they have dubbed the "Competitive Online Role-Playing Game, " which is marketing fluff for subscription-less MMO. Sure, some of the most integral elements of what constitutes an MMO is eschewed in Guild Wars, and the scale is much less 'massive' than 'well, kinda big, ' but this doesn't prevent Guild Wars from capturing the spirit of the genre, injecting it with some unique flare, and serving up an excellent twist on the formula.
At the outset of the game, your character (whom you have lovingly crafted from your usual assortment of classes and physical attributes) is spawned upon an idyllic, lush fantasy setting of much greenery. However, the apocalypse soon arrives (and none too late) to swallow up the beautiful, vibrant world you knew, and instead you are served with a desolate wasteland. From here, you will expand your reach to more densely detailed environments, all rendered in lovingly crafted sprawling forests, mountains and other such labyrinthine expanses. The game-world is rich and detailed, if slightly generic in its execution.
The game will see you embarking on a number of missions, as imparted by a menagerie of NPC's in the various towns, outposts and other settlements cropped up against the harsh landscape. Some early missions are simple enough to complete solo in order to find ones proverbial feet, however soon you'll be recruiting team members in multitudes to tackle the more epic of quests in search of riches, rewards and valuable experience points. The objectives range from uninspired 'kill X baddies' to elaborate, grandiose undertakings that are serious time commitments but will yield not only phat_l00t, but also unearth cutscenes and story details that are part of an atypically deep plot for a game of this genre.
Guild Wars is the kind of game that performs a little emulation, a little imitation, but also a lot of innovation; its so polished and solid that it makes its buggy, flaw-ridden MMO counterparts look ugly and obfuscated in comparison. If you're looking for a lighter, more accessible, and ultimately more fun competitor to many of the current MMORPG powerhouses, then GW might just be your cup of tea.