Tag Archives: MMORPG

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

What’s This? Blade and Soul

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

TERA

TERA was an MMO that had me quite excited for a couple of reasons. First off, it was done by a team led by former Lineage 2 developers. Secondly, it featured and active combat system. Unlike most MMOs where you simply hit the Tab key to target creatures and then mash key numbers on your keyboard to do your attacks, TERA had you actively using your mouse to aim your attacks, choosing when to strike, and when to block by using left and right clicks respectively. This gave combat a much deeper dynamic, and you had to actually pay attention to what was happening on the screen instead of just staring at your keyboard and pressing numbers in rhythm based on cooldown.

TERA Launched on May 1st, 2012. It was developed by Bluehole Studio and published by En Masse Entertainment in NA. I had gone out and bought a collector’s edition as I had high hopes. It featured amazing graphics, refreshing combat, and BAMs (Big Ass Monsters).

teraBAM

The game featured seven races and 8 classes (now 11 as of posting date). The graphics were a mix of realistic with a unique art style as hands and chests were a bit more bulked up than what you could consider “real”. TERA also became well known for it’s “Elins” race, which was a small female only race that could have animal tails and ears and is the root of many jokes. There was also the “fury” race, Popori. We also had the options for Humans, Aman (draconian humanoids), Baraka (giant, males only), Castanics (elves with demon horns?), and High Elves. The character avatars looked great, though customization was a bit limited.


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TERA's Elin race, for those into that sort of thing...
TERA’s Elin race, for those into that sort of thing…

 

The combat was indeed amazing. I have never had more fun playing as a tank and healer in a game. As the Tank I had to keep on my feet, remain moving, and know when the block the big attacks. Failure to pay attention would result in all our deaths. This was so refreshing compared to games like World of Warcraft where blocks were handled automatically. Timing a block just right could cause your opponent to clash their weapon into your shield, knocking them backward as they were thrown off balance, leaving you the perfect opportunity for you to strike with your spear. As a Healer, I was constantly moving. The bosses were more often than not the previously mentioned BAMs, giant bosses capable of striking across large areas, and taking up good portions of your screen. Because heals actually had to be aimed, you had to make sure your line of sight was clear so you could throw that critical heal when they needed it. To account for this, they had an ability they could use while running to generate mana, adding a whole new dynamic to resource management while in combat. Combine that with back flip, jumping, and dodging abilities, and every battle was a pleasure.

I never made it to max level. Actually I never made it past the free month. I made a tank character, didn’t align with any guilds, and didn’t really make any friends. Grinding through the quests was uninspiring. Sure the combat was fun, but having to run from spot to spot to kill dozens upon dozens of random creatures just wasn’t thrilling. The dungeons were fun and the bosses amazing, but you’d have to run one a dozen times to gain a level. The grind was steep, common for Korean MMOs, and I just wasn’t feeling it.

My friends and I.
My friends and I.

In February 2013, the game adopted a freemium model. This is when my friends adopted it and began to play and I started my role as a healer. It was fun for a bit, but I was unable to keep up with them as I had classes and they quickly advanced to the max level. A few months later we played again during an XP event which made the game progress at a much more acceptable rate, I even paid for a month. However once the event ended, so did my interest. The game did have crafting mechanics, but nothing that interested me. I am sure I am wrong with this statement, but it just didn’t seem to have much to offer. TERA falls into the realm of being just one of the MMOs I hopped to and never stuck with as I searched for the next great MMO of my life. The game also launched on Steam and has actually seen moderate success in its free-to-play model.

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Guild Wars 2

Guild Wars 2 was an extremely anticipated game. Released on August 28th, 2012, it had many features which had gamers drooling from the start.

Guild Wars 2 was of course the sequel to Guild Wars, a MMO-esque game that I only briefly touched upon myself. It was called an MMO, however there were 2 major things about it that made it quite different. First off, it had no monthly subscription. You bought it once, and you could play it from that point without paying another dime. The game did have several expansions which unlocked more areas, classes, and quests, but they were not required. The other difference, and a major one, was that the game was only really an MMO in the sense that cities acted as player hubs. As soon as you left a city, the only people you could see were those in your party. This seemed akin to chat room lobbies in Diablo 2 to me, and was the reason I called it ‘MMO-esque’. The game was also oddly limited to a max level of 20, with a clear vision of player ability and gear dictating the character, and not a lengthy XP grind. It gained acclaim for its quality and lack of subscription fee. When the sequel was announced, it caught the attention of many players and non-players alike as Arena Net had developed a reputation behind Guild Wars (also worth nothing NCsoft actually owns Arena Net).

During development many wondered just how Guild Wars 2 would be set up. Would it actually be an MMO this time or town lobbies again? Would it have a high or low level cap? All we knew for sure approaching the launch was that it would have stunning graphics, use the same buy to play model supported by an in-game store, and players were meant to be able to have an impact on the game world.

I was able to get into the beta, and I was pleasantly surprised with my first impressions. The character creation was really interesting. You had the usual selecting the class, sex, and class of your avatar, but you also selected their personality test like questions. The game featured a good deal of avatar customization, as well as selecting the base colors of your gear from the get go. You could also change this at any time utilizing dyes, which you received in the game or bought from the cash shop.

The beta (and game) guided you through the intro quest to the game where a village is under attack. Short story even shorter, you help people out, are alarmed by a bad guy, and you faint, because, that’s just what heroes do. It’s actually a bit hard to remember it actually, maybe I hit my head when my character fainted? So let’s just get to the game.

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Quatre’s character creation

The game had a relatively stable launch. The game would be a true MMO setting, with players able to see and interact with each other outside of just towns, unlike the previous title. The level cap had been raised from 20 to 80. Skills were based not only on class, but what weapons the character had equipped. And of course, there were “guild wars”. Three faction battles (which were actually server vs. server, as the game didn’t actually have factions) that were fought on a massive map involving of course PVP, and even siege warfare.

Being guided through the story quest took you from location to location all of which had their own quest chains. You of course started in your races own area, but could travel freely and quest wherever you so choose. Traveling through the world was unlocked by accessing quick travel points that you could move to at any time for a fee. Making it to the central city of Lion’s Arc also made it so you could quickly access the other starter towns. All of which were magnificent to gaze upon, the graphics were bright, wonderful and colorful.

There were 5 races in the world of Guild Wars 2.  There was the races of Humans, Sylvari (plant humanoids), Asura (little grey humanoids with an affinity for technology), the Charr (beast like humanoids that run on all 4s), and the Norn (a northern/cold based race of humanoids that were a bit taller and bulkier than your standard every day human).

gw2races

Before playing I was on a Game of Thrones kick and a big fan of the Starks. While 90% of the time I chose humans if available (I’m so creative, I know), I decided to go with the Norn’s, as they looked human, but were basically the starks. Guild Wars 2 also had the class of Hunter, which meant I could have a pet, specifically a Wolf (Dire Wolves anyone?). The problem I had though was that you couldn’t change the body mass of the avatars all that much. The Norns were simply big and bulky, and in my mind that does not make a good hunter who should be slender and quick. I was torn between making a Human Guardian (tank class) like I always do, or an unattractive hunter. But then I came up with a fix, I made a female Norn hunter, Relina Stark.

I advanced through the story and made it all the way to the level cap at the time of 80. The game had several innovations that made it very enjoyable. One of which was your skills were based on the weapon you had equipped. Sword, shield, long bow, short bow, staff, etc., they all had their own skills that you had to develop through use (this was quickly accomplished), and then were also able to swtich to another weapon on the fly to use its set of skills. You class also developed skill points which you would invest into skills to also use on the skill bar. This preset weapon skills and limited options for active class skills (5 at a time I believe) made it so you focused less on your skill bar, and more on the task at hand. This contributed to the roll mechanics which allowed you to roll out of danger with a double tap in any direction. This allowed you to quickly dodge a Giant’s club or a dragon’s fire breath. It also kept you focused on the action, and not that bottom bar across your screen.

Another great feature was one of an absurdly simple concept. Whenever you walked into a quest zone, the quest immediately popped up and you could start the progression in it. You didn’t have to first go hunt down quest givers. Upon completion, you could then go hand in the quest. Guild Wars 2 also had active events constantly happen in the form of invasions or wild animal attacks, much like the rifts from Rifts. Players could actively participate (or ignore) these events, and were credited based on their contribution. There also were no penalties for assisting someone killing a mob, so there was no need to worry about griefing or losing XP. This encouraged players to help each other instead of fear each other, a huge step forward for MMOs when all the leading MMOs had players playing with their heads down, ignoring the community at large as you were too preoccupied for your own progression.

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Relina assaulting a dragon with dozens of players.

Yet another great feature was the way they handled their cash shop. Normally a blight upon most games as they offer unique features to those willing to shell out the cash, or gouge players by placing key features of the game behind pay walls, ArenaNet took a different approach. Firstly, the store was nearly purely cosmetics, those boosts for XP and other rates were offered. The other key aspect was that you could purchase gems (the currency to use in the cash shop) with in-game gold. Players in need of gold, sold gems, players in need of gems, bought them with their gold. You never actually had to spend any real life money on Guild Wars 2 aside from your initial purchase of the game! This was brilliant! I had used my gold to purchase a pirate costume and some pets.

The game also featured underwater combat, which required you to use underwater weapons. By default, all characters had an underwater breathing apparatus, and these sections of the game were also beautifully done. They stood out right alongside the northern lands cased in ice, the jungles, the deserts, and your typical temperate zones. Everything stood out and came to life on the screen. NPCs would move, have dialogue, and interesting stories and circumstances. With the live events thrown into the mix, another layer of dynamic interaction was added. The world truly felt “alive” for its time, and still surpasses many MMOs today. To further create this sensation, there are many server-wide events that the developers call “Living Story” that happen throughout the year and actually have impacts on the game world, continuing the story-line and changing the landscape. One such example was the capital city of Lions Arch being attacked and destroyed, leaving it in ruins from that point forward. These events would take place over a week or two, and the results permanent. I myself took part in one of the early ones that involved battle creatures on an island. This event only happened once, and could not be redone. A once in a lifetime experience.

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Relina participating in a Living Worlds server event.

Because you could go to any zone and quests were automatically distributed upon walking into an area, all you had to worry about was your level. I reached level 80, but never actually finished my storyline completely. I was still in undergrad and Guild Wars 2 was being used for one of my research projects. I always meant to go back, but have yet to. Guild Wars 2’s first official expansion launches next month, and with I they have announced the game going free to play! ArenaNet has made magnificent strides in the realm of MMOs, and still are not pulling any punches. It will be exciting seeing how the game will continue to develop, and I hope to return to it someday soon!

This article was originally written prior to the launch of their expansion, but actually posted much later.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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“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.”

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Vanguard: Saga of Heroes

Vanguard SoH was actually the first game I adopted and actually subscribed to between Lineage II and World of Warcraft. It came from the creator of Everquest, and have many innovations that had me excited to officially subscribe to my first MMO.

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For the time, the graphics were quite excellent, pushing my system to its limits. Literally. It actually fried my computer. Smoke and everything. Luckily I was able to get my parts repaired under warranty. I had access to the open beta as well as the official launch. One thing that has stuck with my memory is how people developed their avatars. There weren’t limitations on the sliders during beta, so characters could make quite grotesque avatars. They could be extra wide and extra tall and just immediately looked broken. The Elephant Man may give you a slight indication of how they appeared. Upon launch this was fixed, and avatar creation was roped back under control. I found it slightly disappointing, because some people had used the power for good and created truly unique avatars.

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As for unique features, the game offered multiple means to progress. You could do it the MMO standard, hack and slash your way through mobs and be a renowned warrior as usual, or you could attempt your hand at diplomacy. There was a unique diplomacy system in place with its own levels. If memory serves, it was done via a card based minigame when interacting with certain NPCs. Me being the tank type, I refrained from using this much. You could also level up via crafting. This too was a multi step process, far from Lineage II’s simple “have items, here’s finished product”.

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There were also two more important game features that grabbed my attention more so than the rest. You had the freedom to build yourself a house, as well as boats! This was phenomenal! Sadly, I never came close to participating in this activity. The amount of resources took entire teams of players working together to acquire and then the actual crating was a labor intensive process as well.

The game was designed with open combat, anyone could attack anyone anywhere, even in town (at least when I played). One memory I hold dear was when I came to a large dam that also acted as a bridge into the next territory. As I proceeded across it I was stopped by two players. They demanded payment for my passage. They out leveled me by quite a bit, so I simply turned around. They had slain many players, the bones still on the ground marking their deaths. I the other part of the problem was I needed to speak to an NPC on the dam itself, so simply going around the dam wasn’t an option. I waited for a couple of other players to go to the dam and be confronted. I was hoping greater numbers would give us a chance, but they engaged in combat and were quickly killed by the two players on the dam. They sent out a cry for help however, and a single high level character appeared and quickly dispatched of both of the highwaymen. We were free to use the crossing again, at least until those players respawned and came back. This was a moment I wasn’t able to relive for many years to come.

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I again only made it a couple months with this MMO. I was a lonely tank, guildless, and the leveling was a real pain. The questing wasn’t all that inspiring and the level system required lengthy grinds. It was also plagued with bugs such as elevators killing people and mobs not dying or respawning too quickly. I decided I didn’t want to pay $15 a month and wanted to hold out for private servers to crop out. They never came.

On August 14, 2012, Vanguard went free to play. On July 31st, 2014 Sony Online Entertainment shut down the game servers.

While I was unable to experience much of the game, it had planted a seed within me, a desire for greater expectations out of an MMORPG. What one could do and how one could affect others play. It took nearly 7 years, but I was able to find this later in my virtual journey.

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