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Neverwinter ala Cryptic sauce

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Sans titre

This new F2P MMO, engineered by Cryptic Studios, is available since a few days in open beta via Perfect World website. I have to admit that i’m not a big fan of their previous products. I really tried to get into their latest “Star Trek Online” mostly because of the IP and some friends played it. However, the game failed to impress me. Naturally, when i first heard that Cryptic was behind this project, i was a bit worried that another great licence would be damaged.

Prior to the OBT release, I played one CBT week-end and leveled a cleric up to level 24. In other words, I had a good time and therefore “pre-ordered” it. Mostly for the early access/mount but also considering the current lack of mmo to play.

On paper, its pretty much a regular medieval fantasy MMO using the “holy trinity” (tank/heal/dps) approach with instanced content, pvp in arenas, mounts, dwarfs and whatnots. The quest are also not very exciting with the usual tasks such as killing “20 ogres”, gather 10 items and so on. So what makes it interresting appart from being “the new shit” ?

Well, first and foremost the gameplay is surprinsingly good. Right away the general feeling is positive. Its fast paced, responsive and fun. You’ll cruise thru content pretty easily and level fairly quickly. Time spent is therefore quite (too much ?) rewarding. This definitely aint feeling like a hardcore Korean MMO.

I noticed a striking resemblance with Lord of the Rings Online. The graphics, UI & fonts looked very familiar if you played Turbine’s game.  I suspect they used an enhanced version of a middleware used by lotro ? I compared both UI, as you can see below its quite similar.

Lotro UI VS NW UI

Lotro UI VS NW UI

One nice feature is The Foundry. Basically its a tool to create a quest line with specific zones. Cryptic used their experience on a similar tool successfully developped for City of Heroes called the Mission Architect. So its not really new but still manage to create a large amount of user generated content (UGC). One major drawback are exploits. Some players awarded abnormally high rewards for their foundry quest, managing to gain several levels in an hour. This has already been fixed, with some players getting temporary bans.

I discovered a major exploit during the first few days. Basically a “magic” chest with infinite loot. I did it for a few hours in order to cash in on my finding and they fixed after i managed to get a full set of blue armor.  Some items where disappearing as I was looting too quickly (another bug) Check out the following justin TV video.

Trickster Rogues and Control Wizards are definitely the most OP classes at the moment. I can almost three shoot players while some other classes such as the Great Weapon Fighters can struggle. This has to change fast.

You generate too much glory (pvp currency) per PvP match and therefore can get a full set of purple PvP gear in no time with the proper team. You can then sell at the auction house other  PvP items you get since they are only bound when equiped, overflowing the economy with purple items.

Also, the prices on the in-game shop are waayyyy too expensive for what you get. Almost 50 pounds for a cool mount ? Really ?! Well its a good thing not to cap your revenues as a publisher, but taking your players for cash cows as Perfect Worlds does really gives a bad opinion of F2P generally speaking amoung the gaming community. I see many players prefering the old way with a monthly subscription rather than paying insance amount for the best cosmetic items.

So as you can see, major bugs, exploits and lack of balance are the main issues at the moment. I believe open beta should have not coincide with the release of the game. Indeed, players will keep their character when the OBT will be over. Cryptic is working hard to fix major exploit and bugs but I don’t see any improvements in the game balance yet,

Yet I still enjoy the game.. It’s full of new players running around and this is something I always enjoy at release as it gives the illusion of a busy living world. You don’t queue for a long time before finding a party. This will change pretty fast tho.  The hardcore crowd needs more harder loot/goals, getting a full purple set in a fortnight is not good. They are the shepherd of the community and Dev should not casually discard this.

Written by Fallanx

May 2, 2013 at 3:07 pm

Posted in Gaming -, MMORPG, Review

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ArcheAge, state of the game

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Developped for the last 7 years, the game has finally been released in Korea last 16th of January. Few days later, they announced a deal with Trion Worlds to release the game in Europe, North America, Australia and NZ. Tencent will take care of the Chinese customers and Mail.ru the Russian market.

I was really pleased with these announcements, clearly showing XL Games eagerness to globally release such an awaited game this year.

When i played AA two years ago during the CBT3, it was a refreshing gaming experience despite some flaws inherent to early betas. I had to check out the Korean released product. Plenty of gold selling websites propose accounts to rent for up to three month.. here we go.

Once installed and launched, the CryEngine 3 is still doing a marvelous job at rendering characters and environments. Finally a title which let you enjoy this graphic card you spend so much on. Character creation is still an amazing and fun process. If you played Lineage 2, you will be familiar with the game’s artistic direction. Oversexualised females with cute little objects here and there, Haussmannian architecture and so on. You can clearly recognise a deep asian influence despite some efforts to please the western market. I’m a fan anyway, you really feel “dépaysé“.

The game still has a huge feature list and expanded quite a bit since CBT3, such as gliders, a new races and so on. Feel free to read my previous article about ArcheAge to find out more about it.

However, some aspects of the game remains quite outdated compared to the latest triple A. Animations and lack of decent PvE challenge, i thought the combats are quite static also compared to GW2 dodging madness. I’m also worried about the licensing aspect. Licensed version are oftenly lagging behind the original version on many levels. Sometime even altered compared to the original, mostly for marketing reasons. Finally, the business model adopted for the western market is not yet announced. Considering the high end spec necessary to run the game properly, the hardcore approach PvP wise, adding a monthly fee would dramaticly reduce the target audiance. F2P or B2P are the only viable solution in my opinion to secure a longevity for this niche game.

Hopefully, the western beta will prove me wrong.

Looking at the current results since his release in Korea, i’m confident the game will have decent numbers at release. On the long run ? That’s another story.

Written by Fallanx

February 13, 2013 at 10:32 am

PayVayPay

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Since the early ages of video games, “Player versus Player” (PvP) has always been one, if not the most entertaining feature.  As my previous article also highlighted, very few other situations can create such thrill in a virtual environment. The very basic form of PvP consist in a duel with 2 players facing each others and it was the foundation of some of the most successful games such as the iconic “Pong”. Artificial Intelligence made great progresses since then and developpers managed to create complex virtual adversary with realistic behaviours. However, combat against human opponents remains a central aspect in most multiplayer games and obviously in mmorpgs.

Even in today’s mmo, simple duels are comon, usually as a form a training to keep up with your character’s combos and counters. Duelling is now so classic that most mmo are providing this basic feature. Developpers quickly introduced new forms of PvP involving group of players in the “open world” of the game.

Ultima Online (UO) released in the late 90’s was a precursor on many levels including this aspect. With a skill based approach for the character progression, guilds were already declaring war to each others in 1998, letting their members to fight anywhere, including towns, without much penalty. Player Killers were also introduced in UO, with a heavy penalty system for those bloodthristy players if they were caught. Even a bounty system, allowing victims to report and put a bounty on their assassins head was already available. Many other features encouraged PvP in the game and it remains a reference despite his technical flaws.

This was just the beginning and Ashron’s Call walked in his footsteps using more or less similar mechanics, within a 3d environment this time instead of 2D iso.When Everquest (EQ) took over the still new mmo industry, they quickly realise the potential and released PvP dedicated servers few months after the release. Introducing for the first time segregated PvP with factions, using races to determine which faction you would belong to. We could also see the first glimpse of PvP tournaments in duel or group versus group. This was a great time, but something important was missing to the PvP. The simple joy of killing another virtual player was not enough and players were now expecting meta effects, this is where Dark Age of Camelot arrived and managed to fill this gap.

Dark Age of Camelot (DaoC) like UO, was originally designed with the PvP in mind, where other mmorps usually consider PvE as the main ingame feature. A massive dedicated zones would let tons of players fight each other in order to conquer as much land as possible, including forts and relics. These artifacts would provide bonuses to your whole faction, even if you didnt personally took part in these conquests.  Fight were fierce and epic in size, and the game was a success on so many levels.

When World of Warcraft (WoW) arrived on the market, this blockbuster redefined what the mmo genre would be until even now, including PvP. Instanced in small scaled “arenas”s, also known as “structured” PvP (sPvP). The main improvements were the great responsivness of your character’s and a well developped competitive aspect with ranking system, tournaments and so forth. Beyond the commercial success and the fact that WoW democatrised the genre, it reduced the scope of PvP in mmos.

Several other games managed to keep the spirit of open PvP with epic battles. Titles such as Shadowbane or even more recently Darkfall managed to produce some of the greatest PvP enviroment to date. On the other hand, they struggled commercialy speaking, targeting a niche of hardcore players who are totally dedicated to the PvP. The hard truth is that most players will prefer to spent most of their game time in PvE, PvP being a secondary activity for most of them. I guess this is a quite less stressfull but also since most mmo creates enviroments less enclined to PvP, players get used to it. Well, gamers behaviours and preferences is another article 🙂

So what’s next? As I write this article, Guild Wars 2 is the most awaited “triple A” mmo in the west and should release this year. Deeply influenced by DaoC for his large scale PvP battle and by WoW for his sPvP arenas, ranking system and fast gameplay approach. It will most likely be a huge success. However, i already feel that a huge aspect is missing. Despite the recent success of sandbox games, this feature has unfortunately been discarded from GW2. Offering almost “limitless possibilities”, a “triple A” mmo inclined toward PvP with a great sandbox aspect could definitly be a hit. Games like Archeage with player built structures and siege weapons will be the first of this new generation of mmo and hopefully more will follow.

GW2 here with some siege action

Written by Fallanx

August 23, 2011 at 10:03 am

Posted in MMORPG, PvP

Tagged with , ,

ArcheAge

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To keep up with with korean’s mmo theme, I couldn’t avoid mentionning this ambitious project.

archeage logging screen

When I first heard about ArcheAge, I was really impressed by the amount of interresting  features announced. A sandbox mmorpg using the latest version of CryEngine including physics with PvP, PvE and indepth crafting. I had to put my hands on this promising game and managed to access the 3rd stage of the Korean closed beta.

Developped by XL Games since several years now, Jack Song, who was also known for developping Lineage; is in charge as the lead designer. So once again we are facing a major Korean product with a strong NCsoft influence. ArcheAge is taking place in another heroic-fantasy world divided in 3 main continents, two are faction owned  and one last remains free to be conquered. Allowing players to build houses, castles, ships to fight with. It supposly have everything players might expect from a new AAA mmorpg.

The character creation process is quite regular with predetermined classes such as mage, tank, stealther and so on. You could also create your own class by choosing 3 sub-classes but i found this option very innefective due to the total lack of balance compared to premade classes. Your character is also bound to a classic level system with specialisations as in most mmo nowadays. Depending on your race you will have access to various mounts who will level up as a pet. You can also fight mounted but it quickly appeared to be inneffective. Each type of mount will also have specific racial skills.

The sandbox aspect of the game is backboned by an elaborated crafting approach, XL Games managed to encourage players interractions without forcing it. To do so they introduced a Labour Points system. You’ll need to use your Labour Points for each crafting related actions. Gathering materials; refining them and also crafting final products will cost you precious LPs. They are available in limited amounts  with a slow regeneration rate. This system as it flaws since you cannot craft all the time as you quiclky run out of LP while gathering. Hopefully they will introduce some countermeasures as it is frustrating if you’re aiming for a full time crafting carrier. On the other hand, with a small group of players you can quicly achieve interresting crafting projects. Building your first ship is quite impressive as you litterally see the hull slowly taking shape as players work on it. Same goes for building houses, starting with basic foundation first and then with a solid structure. Building large castles will require large guild members effort with skilled crafters.Numerous video perfectly illustrate the crafting process such as the following.

Guilds should quickly get an advantage in the game as they will managed to craft more structures on a already announced limited amount of building plots.

PvE mostly consisted of uninteresting quests with a few exceptions; mini bosses and unfinished dungeons.  AI and pathfinding were also pretty poor with numerous bugs compared to competitors. They did some efforts using the physics engine to reach specific areas with a rope or destroying bridges full of monsters but generally speaking it was trivial and under exploited. The PvE aspect was definitly unpolished and by so,  failed to impress. On a side note I have to admit the barrier language didn’t helped much :p

The best quest, real players blood..

Killing monsters was too boring, so i decided to taste the PvP actions; starting with my own faction. Once at level 20 you can attack innocent players from your own faction. I quickly realise my mistake when i found myself judged after killing several comrades; some afk i confess. When you kill a player from your own faction; he litteraly drops a pool of blood. Only witnesses of the murder can pick it up and then report you to local authorities. After a few murders, i found myself teleported to my own trial; quickly sentenced and thrown in jail with a massive debuff for 30 minutes. In the future; trial should be a mini-game where you might be able to defend yourself using arguments. I believe if you are sentenced several times, your character becomes a red ‘PK’ also known as pirates, with substential malus.

With the ship we builded, we went to explore the other faction coasts to confront them in PvP. Epic in scope and thrilling in execution; this was truely the best experience I had in the game. With one captain steering the vessel and several other players manipulating cannons, we quickly ended up shooting every hostile on sight. This was great fun and surpinsigly smooth and fully functionning.

Unfortunately they didn’t implemented castle sieges in the beta but this should be one of the main PvP features. Hopefully this will be added in the next beta stage. During my PvP sessions i noticed that a tiny level difference  had a huge impact on the pvp outcome; implying that a race to the maximum level will take place at release.  I also took note of massive imbalance between classes/build. According to the development team this is working as intend and players will have to coop with it..

Despite some clunky animations, the overall visual experience was astonishing. Most characters are very well designed and the surrounding vegetations are truely amazing. The CyrEngine is doing a great job; especially during sea battles, with debris flying over and ship sinking in the deep with a burst of bubbles. Casting a freezing spell on a player in PvP also looked very cool, especially when he’s in motion. Graphic chart is surprinsingly not so asian oriented and avoid the infantile approach Tera had. They also managed to avoid the cartonish style many developpers like to adopt since blizzard’s blockbuster. Western players should appreciate this and it was an absolute treat for the eyes. the only downside is that you’ll need a high end PC to properly run it; limiting de facto the player base.

During this close beta who lasted less than a week, i tried to explore and get as much ingame experience  as i could. With the help of a few other players, we managed to build a basic house, a fairly sized ship to sail and pvp with. We also cleared the first dungeon despite numerous bug. I must admit that I had a great time, you always feel busy and I am confident they will fix the PvE.

With an already impressive features list,  they are still adding more fresh content. They just released a new video allowing players to glide using some sort of delta plane device. This makes me believe the development team will provide us with a rich game. Talking about an eventual release, the game is not even announced in the west yet and despite XL games denial, i know from trusted sources that they approached several publishers. Tencent already signed a deal to publish it in China. Word is there should be another closed beta phase before the open beta in november. These dates are not confirmed.

Most of my playing sessions were livestreamed and are still available on this page.

Written by Fallanx

July 27, 2011 at 2:27 pm

Tera: The Exiled Realm of Arborea

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I’ve been playing Tera on the korean server for over a month last march after Rift’s fiasco. This is the review i wrote once i cancelled my subsription.

Note that the game is not yet released in the west but will be published in Europe by Frogster and by En Masse Interactive in US. For the record En Masse Interactive is a branch of Blue Hole studio, the Korean developper.

The first thing you’ll notice when you enter the game are similarities with NCsoft products, especially Lineage 2 for the graphic chart but also with Aion.  They share the same graphic engine in different versions; menus are also pretty much similars. As it is often the case in Korea, most of the dev team consist of ex-NCsofters.

As an exemple; this Tera loading screenshot (on the left) is clearly reffering to the original Aion’s tower of eternity (on the right).

 

Despite this, the game looks pretty hot; offering some good particule lightning effects and other treats for the eye. I would describe the graphic chart as an asian-fantasy gothic environment with a tendency toward the “cute and childish”. The game as a nice ambiance generally speaking but its pretty much a ripoff of L2 on steroids. UI is poor compared to the latest MMO; offering less than the regular basic options with only 2 sizeable action bars. You dont have much skills to use indeed but i’m used to more choices and don’t like to have to switch bars using alt etc; even rift was better on this. Gameplay is very arcadish, it can be played with an x-box controller and you can feel this very quicly with the basic commands. If you do so, wash your hand afterward 🙂

The strong feature of the game is dynamic combats; quite different from the regular mmos as you will have to dodge and evade alot using a skill every class get at low level; especially versus elite mobs and boss. The manual targeting system is also unusual and give the game a personnality. The heavy scripted AI provide also some epic fights in dungeon or vs outdoor elites mobs. However, fighting against regular mobs/packs in solo gets quickly repetitive despite varations in the mob types.

Instancied dungeons are also pretty boring after a couple of runs; despite the size of the boss encounters you end up grinding them in order to get rare drops.  Groups are at the center of the game, you will have to find fellow adventurers right from level 10 in order to keep going. Group quest are offered in all zones 20+ so far and mostly consists in killing huge elite mobs. Without a group you can managed to keep going but you will miss a massive part of the game and i believe you better choose another mmo if you plan to do so.

Regarding the classes, it seems to be a bit unbalanced but nothing major compared to other games using the same static class system. Patches adjust them on a regular basis; i personnaly prefer a skill point system, less discriminative toward new players and more open. I found my priest doing alot of DPS for a primary”support class” and sometime too few healing but I like his abilities & the general feeling. I found the character customisation pretty interresting; consisting in glyphs to enhance abilities, enchants and crystals to improve gears stats but i hoped for deeper specialisation. The quests are pretty bad, the craft system is not innovative at all, the instanced zones give you the feeling to play alone most of the time, there’s no housin either. The main story is also linear, with average quality cut scenes. I’ll skip the so called ‘”political system” which was mostly broken when i played the game, allowing guilds to get votes from any players regardless of their level; creating weird alliances with other servers to convince them to create a char to vote for you.

The PvP aspect was also very poor, with some sort of forced duel system in the wilderness or premade group combats in instanced battlegrounds. In either case you had to be level 40 at least to be able to participate in the PvP.

Overall, i had fun in PvE’ mostly because the combat system was a bit unusual for a MMO  and the game has an interresting graphic environment but it quickly gets old; and after a while i got the feeling to play a console game on PC with cool graphics.

Tera’s dev team tried to not just create another Korean MMORPG within an heroic fantasy world, the game has indeed some interresting features but overall they miserably failed to deliver a unique gaming experience. Patches might change it in the future but the game in his current state is not delivering enough to commit to it more than a month.

You can clearly see the arcadish approach on this capture i made. It might looks cool but after a while the freshness effect is dispelled by the lack of content.

Written by Fallanx

July 27, 2011 at 2:39 am