Tag Archives: featured

FFXIV: The Palace of the Dead

Final Fantasy XIV finally launched a dungeon system I was very excited about, so when my friends invited me to partake in it with them I jumped on the chance. The new dungeon was called “The Palace of the Dead”. What made it unique compared to any other dungeon was that it had you progress through randomly generated mazes, and it was divided into floors. Each time you completed one, you progressed to the next floor. To go along with this, it also assigned you back to level 1 and had you level up within the maze. It also replaced your gear and you would improve that while in the dungeon itself.

Upon logging back into the game I had to complete a very short quest that just consisted of “talk to this person, then this person, and then you’re good”. We then all met up in town and prepared for our journey.

Screenshot 2016-08-18 20.24.18

They had done this before, but for me it was my first time. A new window displayed prominently on the left hand side of my screen in a retro format. I enjoyed the little sprite that represented my Paladin class. I also noted fields for a weapon and armor. My sword and shield were not representing by a blue glow, as were my comrades weapons. I was a bit disappointed with this. I was expecting to enter Terminator style, coming through a worm-hole in nothing but my undies and having to acquire gear from within. This was not the case as the armor you had on remains on display. As you open chests they simply have a chance to increase the level of your weapon or armor, but aside from that don’t seem to do anything significant. There are apparently rewards for hitting +30/+30 and higher tiers, but I was far from that.

ff14sprite

 

The floors themselves were a bit of a yawn to be honest. The early ones are quite small, and the enemies are your standard fair. I’m not sure if it was me tired of the playstyle or the dungeon itself. FFXIV does have a slightly slower than normal combat style. The cooldowns are just fractions of a second longer than most other MMOs, which gives it a monotonous feel after only a short while. I was expecting to have to scavenge for gear, evaluate upgrades, and ration potions. Instead, we were able to steamroll the first set of floors (they are cut up into section of 10) within 20 minutes. It was in a maze format, and you had to first activate a totem like device before going back to the teleportation, but again I was expecting something a bit more significant here. It was arranged in blocks, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing as long as they are interesting. Cruma Tower from Lineage 2 was largely based around a grid, but it was grand and large and each floor felt like an adventure. Palace of the Dead just set you on a race to get through it, as spurred on by the 60 minute time limit.

FF14swordandshield

On the 10th floor of each tier (floor 10, 20, 30 are the 3 stages we completed) there was a boss. Wonderfully animated and interesting, bosses are a fun aspect of FFXIV. These also were just the lower level bosses, so I won’t be too critical here. There also seems to be a little story with the Palace of the Dead, as each time you enter, and then finish a section, there appears to be a witch like character watching you.

All in all, I was disappointed… It was not the experience I was expecting. Perhaps I misunderstood the articles describing the upcoming system. Or maybe my expectations were just too high. I was looking for a fun and unique dungeon, and what was delivered was the same old “run through as quickly as possible and bash the boss” formula. Bummer.

Screenshot 2016-08-18 22.17.47

Revisit: Lineage 2

I recently began a project where I am printing off 13×19 posters of all of the avatars I’ve had within the various virtual worlds I’ve participated in for at least a couple months. A lot of these I was able to simply log back in and take a screenshot, however this was not the case for Lineage 2. Lineage 2, as I have revealed, I played largely on private servers. Those servers no longer exist. I had the option to setup my own private server just for screenshots (which is what I did for screenshots for that game in those articles), but I decided it would be an interesting experience to simply create a character on the official servers and see if I could get the same gear I had on the private servers.

While leveling up, I used the situation to see how the game is going. It continues to have free expansions released, and to be honest, I always have a certain weakness for it and consider playing from time to time. I especially became interested when I heard Europe has launched “classic Lineage 2” servers, before all the new content for free to play was added. It requires a subscription, but I’m willing to pay for nostalgia. Sadly, after leveling up through the game to the level I needed (only 60ish) after a few hours, I decided the game was never worth actually playing. It is full of bots, and the few players that can speak English admit the game is purely pay-to-win.

It was very disheartening to see dozens of characters being controlled by AI programs to level up and collect items. They may as well be unresponsive NPCs, except they kill the mobs you want, so it becomes an irritation. That, and for some reason many of them had pet wolves that were left dead at the spawn in points… Not sure why they’d have a pet just to let it die, unless the botting program failed to account for it, which they often run into hiccups like this.

Screenshot 2016-07-20 00.02.40

The game holds your hand in leveling up, guiding you from quest to quest (it was nothing like this originally). It also hands you all of the gear you need at each level bracket as far as I got. This means any adena (currency) you get is worthless, because such minuscule amounts aren’t needed as you don’t need to actually buy any gear. You are given top grade gear as you level up, automatically. To have a top grade set was nearly pointless unless you had an alt because it was just that hard to get. It was more of a status symbol or collectors item. Me being a collector, I had many of the sets. Now, they have no point.

Me wearing a full brigandine set
Me wearing a full brigandine set

I was able to get my full Doom Plate Armor handed to me by the game. The Damascus sword was an issue since the game didn’t provide that, but I found a friendly player who simply bought me one. This was enough to take a screenshot of my character for the poster, however it wasn’t quite a match. I had a Damascus Sword +16, which was extremely hard to get and featured a bright red glow to reflect its level of enchantment. That would be all but impossible to try for without investing dozens of hours into the game at this state (hundreds in the old setup). So, I decided to call it a day as soon as I got that screenshot.

Me in Cruma Tower, one of my favorite locations in the game.
Me in Cruma Tower, one of my favorite locations in the game.

All in all, the game simply isn’t worth playing at all anymore. The community is rampant with bots. The leveling system is stream-lined. All the mystery and fun has been taken out of the journey. It all revolves around an end-game that is apparently heavily pay-to-win. All in all, I’m afraid Lineage 2 is dead to me. But that’s ok, it left me with a lot of great memories and experiences.

Me in front of the Castle I at one time ruled in Hiene.
Me in front of the Castle I at one time ruled in Hiene.

Black Desert Online

Black Desert Online launched on March 3rd, 2016. It was developed by Pearl Abyss and originally launched in Korea in 2014. It was published by Daum Games for North America and Europe. It uses the buy-to-play model, and sells in-game cosmetic upgrades and costumes.

BDO

BDO was a title I was immensely excited for, and once again went and purchased a top tier founders package that granted me a three day head start. In anticipation of launch, I had joined a guild that I knew would be making a concentrated effort at being the best on the server. I already reflected upon the character creation in another post on the site which can be found here, so I’ll dive straight into the gameplay. I will however reiterate one unique aspect of BDO. Classes are gender locked.

Complete
Ranger’s are only available as females, this, I was a female!

First and foremost, no MMO comes close to the graphics and beauty of this world. The detail on the avatars, the lighting and shading. It’s simply amazing, and likewise requires a high-end computer to manage the load. The storyline of the game has you dealing with a mysterious black spirit who seems linked to your soul in some way. Honestly, I didn’t follow the story all that well for two reasons. Firstly, it’s not that interesting. Secondly, I was in a very hardcore guild, and didn’t have the luxury of taking my time. But mainly, it wasn’t that interesting.

Screenshot 2016-02-28 03.24.06

These “Black Spirit Quests” guide you from area to area, unlocking new powers along the way while guiding you to areas that have their own quests. Which brings us to our second unique aspect. Quests don’t grant XP. Yup, you heard me right. Instead quests give items, money, Contribution Points, and Combat Points. We all know what items and money do, but it’s the contribution Points and Combat Points that bring us to the third unique aspect, progression.

Combat Points are more straightforward, so we’ll start there. You earn combat points and use them to level up certain skills. You don’t have enough to develop all skills, so you have to pick and choose based on your play style (which matters due to this being action based combat). Contribution Points allow you to purchase housing, activate nodes, and probably a few other things. Honestly I didn’t delve too much into this, but they are crucial for a full experience as housing also serves as crafting stations, and you have to rely on workers to gather and craft materials. If you want to build a trading empire, you absolutely must rely on this. Combat points are based on individual character, however Contribution points are available among all your characters, and all of their quests contribute to that total.

Screenshot 2016-03-02 15.28.15

So with that out of the way, let’s move on to the game play and combat. This is where the game goes from a great shining example of an MMO to blinding light. The combat is fast, fluid, reactionary, and simply amazing. You can take on scores of enemies or a single one and actually enjoy it. Since you gain no XP through quests, this means you HAVE to grind. The good news is, you will ENJOY it. Initially you are unable to track the health of mobs, and simply have to go off their health bar changing colors. The more you fight them, the more you “learn” about them, and eventually you are able to see their health drop appropriately. This adds a refreshing dynamic to battling new enemies. Your range of skills is also rather diverse, and you can activate them and combos using your keys in a certain combination, so you don’t have to rely on pressing quick keys. The game actually doesn’t have a max level, though it becomes exponentially more difficult to increase your level once you hit the “soft cap”. At launch this was level 50. Level 55 could be obtained through countless hours grinding to those most dedicated, but to go beyond that would be futile.

Screenshot 2016-03-05 20.11.51

To coincide with level, we of course have to talk about gear. Gear is extremely straight forward in BDO. Counting the expansion that released a month after the game launched, there may have only been a dozen or so sets of gear. These would be available on drops from mobs, or easily picked up in the auction house. The weapons were a bit more involved as you had to gain reputation with the vendor through a mini-game. Or, pay a bit extra to pick them up on the auction house as well. Note: Several Expansions have launched since my playtime, and now Bosses drop unique gear, so it could be a bit more in-depth. This made the gear system feel a bit akin to Lineage 2, were there were only a few sets that any class could wear, but the perks only benefited certain classes. The more involved aspect of gear is enchanting it. This is done with weapon and armor stones that you get for completing quests, and can be obtained as drops. Enchanting armor is safe to +5, weapons to +7. If you fail enchanting beyond this, you lose durability in your armor that can only be restored by combining it with another of the same type. The higher the enchant level, the greater chance it will fail. Every time you fail, your chances for success on your NEXT enchant go up. This creates a whole system of strategy in regard to enchanting your gear, as most people shoot for +15.

Speaking of auction houses, they are based on cities, and only that city. When you list items, they can only be viewed in that city, and when the item sells, the money can only be obtained in that city. So you gotta know the markets and take a walk if you want to collect. The same goes for your warehouse. No more “magical” warehouses that you can access all of your stuff even while on a different planet. If you want it, you have to go get it. There is also no quick travel in this game. If you want to get somewhere, you have to go by foot or mount (which are horses, which can level up, be tamed, and bred!). This might sound dreadful, especially once you learn that going across the map can take 20 minutes or more. However, BDO has yet another unique aspect. You can “auto-travel”. Simply right click your destination on the world map, hit T, and you’re character will automatically start running to that location! For the most part this was great, as you could just go off an do other things, like when on a flight path in World of Warcraft. It also kept player’s avatars active in the world… meaning they were still vulnerable to being killed.

PVP Is another big factor of BDO. The combat is intense and designed from the ground up to accommodate this. Castle sieges and node (resource) points only launched yesterday, but guilds had been preparing for them for months via PVP arenas and guild wars. The guild I was in held weekly practices in preparations for large scale battles. They also held training sessions for the individual classes as well.

And this is where we get more into my experience with the game. I had a bad time. Though no fault of the game. I was in a hardcore guild with great ambitions that instantly jumped to the top of the server ranks (Oh yeah, by the way, the server ranks not only guilds, but professions, and tons of other measurements such as wealth in active leader boards). Many of them played nearly non-stop. I was trying my best and was keeping pace, but it was eating up every spare minute I had. Between a full time job, graduate coursework, and enjoying the outdoors, I had a very busy schedule, and this guild made this game too demanding. I formally withdrew from the guild after a month. I then started another character and progressed at an easier pace, actually paying attention to the story this time (it still wasn’t interesting). Having a higher level character, I could simply buy and enchant all my lower character’s gear (there are no level requirements for gear). This made my character virtually untouchable, which was fun, alas I never progressed very far. This game’s farming system wasn’t as fun as ArcheAge, and the game actually prevented players from trading!!! This was done to combat gold sellers, and hurt player interactions a bit. However, the amount of grinding had me for the first time in years messaging other players, asking random people to team up. I was over joyed to have to resort to this, a tactic long missed with games that make it too easy to solo everything.

At one point in time, I was the wealthiest player!
At one point in time, I was the wealthiest player!

The player housing was also interesting. Players could buy homes in cities. Much like the “housing” feature in Final Fantasy 14 (in which you owned a room), you simply selected to enter yours or another at the door, and then it would open and feature that selected players contents within the home. A fair compromise to a system life Rift that has it all instanced, and a system that ArcheAge that has it open world, yet obviously limited land available. You could also buy homes in remote hamlets and there were even random tree forts.

I will even go so far to admit that the player housing was a better feature than ArcheAge’s version, however, ArcheAge had better player interaction I do believe. The limited trade system between players was a huge disappointment. In ArcheAge I could run along alone, farming, and then selling my goods to players directly OR through the auction house, and then go home and feel accomplished. In BDO, I felt alone in this regard, as I could only deal with NPCs. The only time I needed other players was when I was doing PVE or PvP, which again was nice, but I wanted a bit more… Which is odd, because BDO’s biggest weakness is the sheer volume of activities you can do! I mentioned things in passing like horse taming, and completely omitted things like Fishing, alchemy, crafting, trade runs, and much more. It’s a bit overwhelming, and can make it difficult to find what actually is the most fun for you. For me I thought it would be PvP, but even that proved to be a challenge as the intensity takes some real practice and people are very serious about it. I was never very good at fighting games sadly. I do however much prefer combat that relies on skill and reacting to your opponent, so I hope it was just a matter of inexperience. As I said when it came to PvE, it was simply fantastic.

Since my time playing BDO, several expansions have launched for free, adding several new classes as well. Writing this article has gotten me a bit excited, and a new expansion and Ninja class launch on July 20th, so I may just dive back in and check it out a bit. All in all though, I highly recommend giving BDO a try. With a group of 2 to 3 friends, it would be an absolute blast as you all get lost in the combat. If you’ve played TERA and enjoyed it, you will find BDO far superior.

Final Fantasy XIV

My friends and I playing FFXIV together
My friends and I playing FFXIV together

Final Fantasy 14 would have originally fell under the “Fling” list. I bought it when it dropped to a mere $15 just to try it out. It was horrible. I mean, one of the worst MMOs I had ever touched. The graphics were FANTASTIC, and that deserves all caps. They pushed PCs to the brink and the results were stunning, pending you could run it. Sadly, as soon as you started playing the game it all fell apart. The questing was confusing. The leveling was an intense grind. Everything seemed disjointed. The story wasn’t really there. Nothing made any sense. Though it was still better than FF11… I guess it has that…

Final_Fantasy_XIV_box_art

You don’t even have to take my word for it, because Square Enix announced its failure. They even removed the subscription fee that it launched with and promised not to charge it again until they had “fixed” the game. The game had launched on September 1st, 2010. The producer and director were removed in December 2010 for their abysmal failure. The game shut down servers November 2012.

Unlike most games that just shut down, never to see the light of day again, Final Fantasy 14 was different. Square Enix began a salvage operation the moment they cut the producer and director. They related updates and when they shut the servers down they had a huge vent meant to mark the end of an era for the games story. When the game would re-release, it would be completely revamped and starting a new story. I’ve seen games get updated, more user friendly, more streamlined, but I have never seen a transformation like Final Fantasy 14 made.

ff14arr

On August 27th, 2013 Final Fantasy 14 relaunched was “Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn”. The servers were filled to the brink on launch. The load was so tremendous that they had to suspend online sales of the game. For a couple weeks the only way to get the game was to buy a physical copy, which resulted in people buying them and reselling them for three times their value online (I had to pay for graduate school somehow…). The servers had login queues that stretched hours. Players soon realized they could avoid this by simply never logging out. This was however fixed about a week later in a patch. Had this been any other MMO, this could be seen as a huge mess up. In ArcheAge, it was crippling to players as every second count to grab land. FF14 however didn’t have anything like that to worry about. I also feel the players gave it a pass because no one expected the game to be THIS GOOD after such an abysmal first try.

I had played the beta myself leading up to the launch, so I knew I would be interested in the game. The graphics were still stunning despite being years old now, and the story seemed to adopt what Guild Wars 2 had done with personal story, as so many MMOs have done now. They had also launched a character creation tool (I love it when they do this! Saves me hours!) to design your desired avatars before launch. The customization for the avatars was great. Height adjustment, plenty of hair styles, plenty of colors. You were able to add tattoos as well. There were 5 races. The Hyur (Humans), Elezen (elf-ish race), Lalafell (cute little… uh… cute things?), and Miqo’te (cat tails/ears people). All of the races were wonderfully designed and pleasant to look upon.

The game starts out like a typical FF game. You aren’t quite sure who you are, you have strange visions with crystals, and you’re the chosen one. And, let’s be honest… we love our final fantasy’s that way. The game has excellent cut scenes and voice acting guiding you through your characters main story. The overall story is the same for all characters. Not all quests are voice acted though, only the main ones. The normal quests are your normal MMO quests; Kill 10 of those, collect 6 of these. It’s not always a drag however as you are battling creatures you are fondly familiar with from the Final Fantasy game series. This is the same benefit World of Warcraft had working in its favor, players already familiar with the story, characters, and land. Of course if you’re not a fan of Final Fantasy games or have simply never played them, we have to rely on the gameplay itself.

ff14mog

The game uses tab targeting. Your skills are activated with the number keys. It uses the standard tank/healer/dps system, featuring classes from the final fantasy universe such as Gladiators, Marauders, Pugilist, Lancers, Archers, Rogues, Conjurer’s, Thamaturge, and Arcanist’s. What made Final Fantasy XIV unique in this area was that any character could be any AND every class. You just had to level each one up independently. After reaching a certain level in two of the classes, you could then obtained a “job”, that was a sort of higher class. For example, someone who leveled up Gladiator and conjurer could become a Paladin. A Rogue and a Pugilist could become a Ninja. You could also do the same with any profession, you simply had to level them up. This was great for the fact that you could do EVERYTHING with 1 character, though at the same time it was bittersweet for people like me who like having separate characters. This made it kind of pointless to do so, as doing it all on 1 character also allowed him additional abilities and stats.

The dungeons were also another strong point for FFXIV. They were detailed, diverse, and well themed. Even using the built in dungeon finder, the dungeons required skill and communication, and the boss fights were always fun. During your story quests you were also sent on missions to take on the famous Eidolons/GFs/Summons (whatever you want to call them) from the Final Fantasy series. Ifrit, Ramuh, Shiva, and many more whose names I can’t remember. Those were glorious battles and you would automatically be put into a dungeon group to take them on. The fights and the bosses themselves were spectacular both graphically and action wise (though Titan is frustrating!).

ffUltima_Weapon_Praetorium

You have the action, the monsters, the summons, the story arc, airships, black mages, everything that SCREAMS Final Fantasy, and its simply spectacular. I leveled up a Paladin to max level, but stopped as the end game gear and content was quite grindy. I loved the game entirely, and the bonuses of player housing (Guilds own guild halls in instanced zones, and players can own their own room and decorate it within it). AND they added the golden saucer. THE GOLDEN SAUCER! Complete with chocobo racing, games, and the FF card game from FF8! They introduced this post-launch through their steady stream of content updates. They also released their first official expansion in July 2015. I have yet play this. I hope to return to this MMO soon, as it is certainly one of my favorites I have ever played.

ffxiv-heavensward

Thing of Beauty

Black Desert Online is releasing on March 3rd, and the second beta test begins February 18th. In the meantime, they have gone and released a character creation tool.

Screenshot 2015-12-16 06.56.45

I always love it when company’s do this that have very detailed character creation screens (Final Fantasy XIV is the last one I recall using). I can waste a good couple hours crafting an avatar just the way I want it, and with the amount of customization Black Desert Online gives you, this will save me many hours indeed.

Screenshot 2015-12-16 07.05.09

The tool took a whopping 6gigs of space, but operated flawlessly. I feel I must note, that these graphics aren’t exaggerating or higher-rez for the character creation. They appear this way in game. All the screenshots you see of avatars and this game, are real. Nothing prerendered. They are truly this beautiful. As soon as it launched, I set to work designing my Warrior and Ranger. Usually I’ll design my main character, a male of some type, and then a female for fun. In Black Desert Online, classes are gender locked (sadly). So my Warrior was a male, and my Ranger a female. The Ranger will likely be my main.

This wasn’t my first time designing the characters, as I had also done it during the first closed beta.

This time, I tried to model the male character more after my own appearance (I didn’t do a very good job). From the screenshots you can see white/highlighted areas. You are able to individually mold all of these. Not only are there a dozen or so on the face, but each body part is also adjustable, length, width, girth. They also offer tattoos, alternating eye colors (which you can also adjust the iris, shape, and several other unique alternations to eyes), make up, and probably more that I of course didn’t use on my male. I was surprised to see no scar selection however. I modeled his body to be what I considered a warrior should be, a bit built, solid, but not too large.

I then moved to designing the female, which I knew would be a much more in-depth process. Let’s face it, males are simple. This is the first time designing a female avatar that I have ever had to stop and go “wow, I don’t know how women work…” I came to this issue when coming to the facial cosmetic options. There is blush, upper/lower eye-liner, eyelashes, lipstick, eye shadow, whoa! One of the coolest features I believe is being able to customize the hairstyles to such a degree. From the screenshots you can see white lines with dots in equal spaced intervals. Each of these allow you to control individual strains of the hair style to make it your own. I generally design a female avatar after what I find attractive. Long hair, blue eyes. But this time I had more control, I thought less about aesthetic, and more about practical. I knew I was making an archer, so I thought of how annoying it would be for her hair to be in her quiver, and scratched the long hair and went for a short cut in the back that had bangs (I think they’re called bangs?) in the front. And then I thought about her reaching back for an arrow. “My it would be annoying to pull your hair while reaching backward, girls have it tough” I thought. I then began to play with the placement of the hair. After several attempts, I was able to get it up behind her ear and out of the way. I played with the back and made it as long as possible without hitting the quiver, and to satisfy my taste for longer hair, I made the other bang as long as possible. I also changed the color of her right eye and added a lens that would insinuate she uses that one to aim.

The designers are also hosting a “Beauty and the Beast” character creation contest, in which players can submit their most beautiful and ugliest screenshots for prizes! You can see it here!

black-desert-online-ugly-character-beauty-and-the-beast-contest

In 2013 I presented a paper at an anthropology conference based on what we put into an avatar and what they represent to us. The more detailed and intricate our avatars become, the more they play a role in our online experiences. I’m excited to see what future MMOs can offer us as the standard continues to rise.

What’s This? Blade and Soul

Blade-and-Soul-Logo-Image

Blade and Soul is an action MMORPG released by NCsoft that launched in Korea on June 30th, 2012 and just recently made the jump to the west being released January 19th, 2016. The game is free to play and offers a cash shop. The game is heavily influenced by Asian martial arts and this is a dominate theme throughout the game I do believe. The game has the action of TERA, with graphics equivalent to it or Guild Wars 2, and features a story that seems a bit like Jade Empire. Like Guild Wars 2 and many other current MMOs it features progressing through a single player story-line while also taking on additional quests in the areas you venture to. Because this game didn’t seem to offer anything outside of real-time combat, it never really caught my eye and is one of the few major releases I didn’t bother buying a founders package for. At release I attempted to try it, but the servers were simply too full to get on. Within a few days they increased performance and launched new servers and I was finally able to try it out.

Avatar

Starting off, the character customization is above par with what you would expect in this day and age. It features four races, three of which are pretty much humans (though the Yun are a female only race), and the Lyn which appear to be fox like perhaps? Each race can only select certain classes. The Blade Dancer class for example is only available to the Lyn. Plenty of color options for hair, eyes, tattoos, plenty of pre-built models, and able to customize the size of every limb. The avatars seem to have a great deal of detail, and you will most likely take your time crafting them.

Graphcis

There is an intro section which explains the controls and also lays the back story for your characters motivation. The main quests are voice acted, but there are no dialogue options. This felt slightly disappointing with the existence of Guild Wars 2 and Star Wars: The Old Republic, but being realistic, not every game can obtain that. The world was very detailed, the graphics pleasurable, and great contrast of bright and colorful environments and dark and dim ones.

halloween

The dialogue focuses in on whatever character you’re talking too, and while reading the dialogue little bubbles sometimes appear reflecting the characters actual thoughts. I found this enjoyable as they are often humorous, and gives the game a light hearted feel. Given the setting, character designs, and loading screens, it also nearly has an anime feel to it.

The game does have a unique method of movement, and that is gliding on the air. This is activated merely by double tapping the jump button. While there is a sprint, there is no dodge mechanics. Instead of portals or hearthstones, players utilize “windstriding” to quick travel.

I was also happy to see that it keeps track of all the screenshots I was taking! Granted, I use dropbox to keep my shots sorted, but seeing the tool and effort there was nice. They also have periodic surveys you can do for rewards (a feature I’m only used to seeing during betas), and even a great screen when you’re logging out that shows you everything you achieved during that play session!

Changing the topic to the game play, the combat was quick, fun, and fluid. I had elected to go with the Blade Master class and can only assume I was a bit of a DPS type character? At this point I am unsure if it uses the holy trinity (dps/tank/healer), but from what I saw in character creation, I don’t believe this to be the case. In my three hours I didn’t get to anything that required a party. I also stumbled upon the weapon upgrade system, in which I was able to take weapons I didn’t need or couldn’t use, and use them to upgrade my starting weapon. I found this to be an interesting feature, and it made me quite the killing machine.

Armor on the other hand appears to not be a thing. At least what we normally consider armor. I was given a chest piece with no stats, and later received another one with no stats, it merely changed the cosmetics of my avatar.

While leveling up, your class trainer keeps having you meet them in various locations to show you new skills. Each time I had reached them though I was already quite familiar with the skills and how to use them. The experience may be different for someone less familiar with MMOs though, and perhaps more useful for them. Considering it was always done along your path and not out of the way, it wasn’t an annoyance really.

training

So what do I think after 3 hours of play? I think you should try it! I myself am going to have to try it out more to see what else it holds, but I was certainly impressed enough with the start that I am very optimistic. Though I don’t believe it features my normal preferences like Player Housing and an economic side game that exist in sandbox games, it did seem like a solid theme-park MMO.

What’s This? A New form of post

So with this post I am introducing  a new process where I take on MMOs I haven’t played recently, or ever, and give a basic introduction of them via 3 hours of game time. Why 3 hours? Well, I originally wanted to do one hour, but for most MMOs that’s really only enough to MAYBE complete the introduction/tutorial. So three hours seemed like the next logical jump. Plus in this time constrained world, I thought three hours was a good amount of time to give a video game to see if it was worth holding your attention. The drawback is this amount of time likely won’t actually get you any real time experience with the “Multiplayer” content in an MMO, but since these are MMOs I wouldn’t normally come across, I guess we’re not at a loss anyway. And of course that leaves us with the bright side, if they’re actually good, then I will of course have to delve deeper and write more material on it!

Star Wars: The Old Republic

SWTOR was a huge MMORPG being led by EA and Bioware, the creators of the Knights of the Old Republic franchise (though, rather a sub-team of Bioware, it’s just the name that matters, right?). Released on December 20th, 2011 SWTOR was one of the most developmentally expensive games ever made, with estimates putting it at $200 million. The amount of hype for this game was incredible as not only was it Star Wars (Need I say more?) but Bioware had a huge reputation in the gaming RPG market with some of the best story-telling gamers had experienced to date (Knights of the Old Republic, Mass Effect, Dragon Age). The game launched with a $60 price tag, a $150 collector’s edition, and a $15 monthly subscription fee.

swtorheader

With Bioware came some highly sought after innovation in the MMORPG market. Bioware RPGs were known for storylines that allowed players to make choices throughout the story and alter the course of conversations, and ultimately the ending. They often were morally based, boiling down to good and evil. This made it a perfect for the Light Side and Dark Side choices that Star Wars was well known for. So, as a Jedi, you could chose to save people or let them die, and the choices would earn you light side or dark side points. The more a player favored the dark side, the more their appearance would become more “sith-like”, or however you want to phrase the darker, vienier look of evil Star Wars characters.

swtordarklight
My character Neliel, though her darkside level isn’t as far as it could be.

The game featured the Republic versus the Empire, so a two faction system many MMOs use. Despite the Republic often being associated with Good, and the Empire with Evil, either side could make the choice for light side or dark side affiliation. Each side featured 4 class archetypes, which each had 2 classes of their own. Naturally you could pick a Jedi and the Sith equivalent. Force users made up 2 selections for both factions, featuring 1 archetype that focused on melee, and the other on using the force (so fighters and mages). On the public side we then have Troopers (the good ones, like the Clone Troopers, ya know, before they killed all the Jedi) and Smuggler(Han Solo). To complete the Empire’s roster we have Imperial Agents and Bounty Hunters.  These are all pretty self-explanatory. Their roles of course fall into categories of DPS, Tank, and Healer. Each class is capable of all 3 roles before making their specialization decision.

swtorclasses

Off on a slight tangent here, being able to have a moral choices alter your characters appearance and thus give your avatars a new dynamic. This was one of the main reasons I chose to use SWTOR for my undergraduate research project on looking at how we craft our avatars and how we see them. That can be viewed under my works section on this site.

Each class has its own distinct story line that unfolds, resulting in 8 different stories if you were to do all 8 classes. I only ever completed the Jedi Knight story line, which involved taking on the Emperor himself. The stories are actually a great part of the game, keeping you invested in your character. The main story had you running from planet to planet, chasing some enemy, doing planet specific quests along the way. It also featured dungeons called “flash points”.

SWTOR also had another Bioware mainstay, and that was companions. Your avatar would collect several companions throughout his journeys, and you were always able to have one summoned with you to aid you in combat. You could also form relationships with these companions, and they had an affection rating towards you based on your interactions with them, but also your choices through the game. To go with this, you also receive your own ship which you can use to quick travel through the galaxy.

swtorships

As I mentioned, I started my journey into SWTOR as a Jedi Knight. I knew from the get go that I would want to make my main in this game a tank. So I sacrificed the cool look of being a Jedi Sentinel with duel lightsabers, and chose the Guardian specialization. I was happy to have choices like this, reminded me of Lineage 2’s class system. I completed my Padawan missions on Tython and eventual earned the right to craft my very own lightsaber, and intense moment indeed. And then my friends all got the game and started on another server and I had to restart.

After completing our intro missions we finally united (classes start on different planets). We formed a unit and took on the world. It was actually a great time really. The game most certainly had a Star Wars feel to it. I was enthusiastically enjoying traveling the universe as a Jedi. We were able to quest together, and during all of the cut scenes any player involved in the conversation could make a selection for a response, and the game would randomly select whose avatar spoke and we’d all have to deal with those results. In dungeons this was particularly important because if you were light side and your friends were dark side, the course of the dungeon could be altered randomly based on who the game chose, making it intriguing (you weren’t penalized for your party member’s choices, but you still had to deal with what happened as a result). One of the first examples you come across is a bunch of men stuck on the other side of a locked down chamber. You need to open the air lock for some reason, and doing so will result in their death. Or you can take the longer route and manually discharge some vents or something. Dark side you open it and kill them in the process, light side you go the roundabout way. Regardless of the choices made, it was always enjoyable and even tense at times.

swrtorgroupchoices

The leveling felt a decent pace, and honestly as I write this I’m having trouble remembering what my issues with the game. In fact, as I write this on 1/8/2016, I’m currently playing the this MMO going through the Revan content before experiencing the new expansion they just launched, but more on those later.

My friends dropped off one by one, but I continued playing. Upon reaching max level (50 at the time) I joined another guild to continue my research and gameplay. I became a main/secondary tank and we completed the majority of the end game content. SWTOR set a record for quickest growing MMO reaching 1 million subscribers in just a few days. Sadly, it failed to maintain this and the numbers fell nearly as quickly, following in the footsteps of Age of Conan. With their numbers dropping and EA having fears of losing money, they announced that they would be transitioning to a free-to-play model a mere 10 months later, though I had quit playing prior to this.

swtorgroup
My friends and I, trying to get through a hard quest. They stripped their gear to stop it from losing endurance while I drew all the mobs to me. Only one of us had to survive to get credit for the quest.

One last thing I must mention is the PvP. It would randomly put you into various PvP match types. You had your standard hold the position type, the assault type which involved completing objectives in a better time than your opponents, and then my favorite, HUTT BALL!  My friends dreaded Hutt Ball, but it was by far one of the most fun PvP match types I’ve played, though this might be due to my class. You would spawn in an Arena, hosted by the Hutts of course. The objective was to run to the center of the arena, grab the ball, and bring it to the opponent’s side. To go alongside with having to do this while preventing the other team from trying to do the same, there were ramps and traps to avoid in the arena. To stop the ball movement, you had to kill the player, and then you would pick up the ball. Being a Tank, I was naturally well built to carry out this task. I also had the force leap ability, which I could use to jump to players at a distance, so those ranged players trying to pick me off from afar only ended up aiding me in getting closer to their goal.

swtorhuttball

After doing the end game raiding, there just wasn’t much to do. There were promises of lots of intriguing features in the future, but at most the content in place only lasted you 3-6 months. They also introduced game play updates that simplified how you did things. They took a page from World of Warcraft’s book and made it so you could use “group finder” to do dungeons. This made it so 5 random people could be placed in a dungeon and complete it together, removing the need for players to really interact. You could join a group and not have to say another word to another player as it was made that easy. This is a problem I have with many MMOs on the market, I believe it degrades the community and cripples the player interactions. By July, the subscription fell under one million. This can also be blamed on Guild Wars 2 that launched in August. My guild jumped ship, and I followed them and continued my research project within Guild Wars 2 as it also featured unique Avatar options.

As I noted though, I have returned to this MMORPG as of late, and will be making a part two to this that goes over some of the changes.

swtorkofe

“Shards Online: Play by your rules”

Yet another successful Kickstart MMO Campaign that began November 14th, 2014. Shards Online was funded for $105,717, with a promise of the developers that they would match the donation. The former leads of Ultima Online are looking to create innovation in the long running (and crumbling) MMO genre.

“We aren’t just building a world. We’re giving you the keys to the universe.”

shardsconcept

The developers have come up with an interesting concept to be the driving force behind their MMORPG. Instead of focusing on graphics, they are providing you with a toolset to mold the world as you see fit. In what seems to be a note taken straight from the anime Sword Art Online, players can host their own worlds known as “Shards”, from which the game derives its namesake. Players can connect and explore these Shards with their avatars, representing different stories and settings, and featuring different rulesets all determined by the world’s creator.

They can jump between worlds as they see fit as long as they share the same ruleset. Each Shard represents a map, an area like a region. You are able to customize what is in it, the NPCs, the skill sets, the placement of objects, and basically everything within it, even customizing the maps and models. People hosting these shards can then connect other regions, forming a “Cluster” of shards. While passing from 1 region to the next seems to make simple enough sense, in my head this translates nicely to Diablo and going from Act I to Act II and so on.

shardsonlineUpperHills

From the screenshots you can see the Perspective and combat even are also similar to Diablo. While at first I regarding it as weighing graphical detail versus world customization, I see it as more of a throwback to the classic MMOs and RPGs. Considering the leads of UO are on this, I guess that should of clicked sooner. What’s more surprising is they aren’t the only ones adopting this trend, as even big names in the MMO world such as NCsoft are also adopting this perspective with their upcoming MMO Lineage Eternal.

I pledged $100 to this kickstarter myself. I am excited at the opportunity to develop custom MMO shards that are a bit akin to Diablo. I, like many, lack programming skills, but the developers are making it so that everything can be edited through the in-game UI. I have always been a big fan of creating my own world and sharing them with others. Having people experience something that I crafted for them. Hopefully I find enough people to form a small team to go on this endeavor with me. Luckily I have time, as it’s been over a year now and we still have a year to go before this game hits Beta. Alas, that is the downside of pledging to kickstarter projects, having patience.

I should also note, pledge packages are still available at the Kickstarter rates, a rare thing to do as most groups try to reward their early adopters but making kickstarter rewards exclusive.

www.shardsonline.com

Shards Online Kickstarer video:

Crows on the horizon

crowfallfunded

Crowfall is an upcoming MMORPG that had a successful Kickstarter campaign (to the tune of raising 1.766 million), which can be viewed here. The premise is to remove leveling systems, grinding, and deliver a game that is purely “end-content”. An interesting concept, but how could that possibly work? Well, it sounds quite well actually…

The story revolves around a mysterious force that is devouring worlds called “The Hunger”. The God in charge of the universe went to investigate, and never returned. The remaining Gods of course bicker over next in line, and utilize “crows” to fight their battles for them. Crows are immortal heroes selected by the gods. You are a crow.

The core game-play is based around players participating in campaigns on “dying worlds”. These campaigns rulesets vary and have different difficulties, lengths, and rulesets built in. In these worlds you compete against other players to acquire items and resources and the win conditions will also vary. At the end of the campaign, you are awarded a percentage of the resources/items you collect based on your performance.

These resources are important because they are meant for the other substantial part of the game, your eternal kingdom. This is the part of the game that is persistent. Your eternal kingdom is a place where you can build, set up shops, and share with your guild and friends. You can also all build within the same eternal kingdom. In this case the person whose kingdom you are in would be the “monarch” and assign lords, vassals, and so on and so forth. You can build forts, castles, taverns, homes, and shape your kingdom the way you desire. You can use it as a marketplace and get economic gains.

CFeternalkingdoms

The worlds are procedural generated, so they are random, and destructible with voxels. To go along with these custom worlds are the avatars. Some archetypes are race and gender based, which could be a disappointing facet, but it’s meant to fall in line with the lore. In creating the characters you can also select their strength and weaknesses. Selecting weaknesses gives you more points to put into strengths you might want your hero to have.

crowfallcharcustomization

The subscription system is nice and simple. Buy the game, and you’re good to go. There is a subscription service available with some perks for $15 a month. This includes allowing up to 3 characters progress their skills via passive skill learning. The subscription also gets you a discount on the cash shop items (which promise to only be cosmetic or designs for your kingdom), and priority access to servers.

Speaking of passive skill learning, that plays a big role in all of this. Sticking to the “all end game” trend and removing grinding, players are able to train their skills while offline. This keeps everyone relevant and competitive without the feeling of obligation to get on and level.

They have been consisting pushing out updates to the public, seeking additional funding from outside sources, and are in pre-alpha testing. They certainly know how to advertise and communicate with their target audience. I myself pledged at the Amber Patron – Early Bird level at $215. A steep and risky price to pay for something that could be hit or miss, but it included a physical collector’s edition (which they have elected to sell separately for $150-$180 a pop), 6 years of VIP, and several other perks over the current pledge rewards at that price level. It seems that Kickstarter backers got a really sweet deal by putting their faith in ArtCraft. Now let’s see if it actually pays off.

CFcollectors