Category Archives: Review

Neverwinter Online

It’s been a while since I made a post. I could have talked about my short stint in Age of Wushu (wonderful game; needs better account security measures), or how awesome the Guild Wars 2 Living Story has been (still loving this game like you wouldn’t believe), or how amazing the TV show, Revenge, is. Instead I’m going to talk about my newest–and most surprising–addiction: Neverwinter.

Neverwinter is a new free-to-play MMO from Cryptic and Perfect World. It uses the D&D 4th Edition ruleset; it’s set in the Forgotten Realms city of Neverwinter (obviously); and it even has my non-MMO-playing friends playing it.

Combat is aim-based. Sort of. It’s more of a soft-lock targeting. You only have to be facing the general direction of the target. But it’s not tab-targeting, and if you turn in a different direction, you’ll attack a new target without having to tab off the first one. There’s also dodging and a limited hot bar, so you can spend more time watching the fights than your cooldown timers.

Crafting is done by “hiring resources.” Instead of you, the adventurer, standing at a crafting table and turning out chainmail, you’ll hire someone to do it for you. Crafting works on a timed system, anywhere from 5 seconds to hours. It can even be done through an Internet gateway, so you can keep up with it even when you’re not logged into the game.

There’s an auction house, mounts, five-man dungeons, NPC companions, instanced PvP, and the usual assortment of “kill 10 rats” style filler quests. But the game also has instanced quests that are reminiscent of D&D adventures. Inside you’ll find traps, treasures, lore, rooms full of monsters, secret doorways. Everything you expect from a D&D dungeon crawl.

And that brings us to the real heart of the game: the Foundry. The Foundry allows players to generate their own quests and campaigns. The system is easy to figure out with a simple tutorial, but it allows for some powerful storytelling. This is where the game will flourish. This is what will keep me coming back. As people get more familiar with the tools, the quests and campaigns in the Foundry will rival anything you’ve seen from the greatest single-player RPGs you’ve ever played. Even now, just a few weeks into release, there are already some terrific quests out there.

Unless you hate fantasy settings, hate D&D, or hate action combat, you should definitely give Neverwinter a try. It’s completely free; there are a ton of people playing; and the Foundry can keep you busy for ages.


DC Universe Online

In my apparent quest to make it impossible to figure out what game I’m playing at any one time, right after I wrote my last blog post, I saw a livestream of DC Universe Online (DCUO) and decided to try it out. I’d played for a very brief (as in minutes) time when it was in beta, but I wasn’t impressed. The livestream made me reconsider. I’ve been playing nonstop since I installed it, and I’m enjoying every minute of it.

I made a cyborg supervillain with bow skills and acrobatic movement. That means I climb walls, do somersaults, vault long distances. There’s no falling damage. When you fall from a great height, you crash into a three-point landing that cracks the ground beneath you and then hop back up. Combat is exciting. There are combo attacks, people flying across the screen, flips, etc.

Most of the quests follow the basic kill [x] of something or collect [y], but they have a lot of style. Most have voiceovers, and the Joker, my mentor, is appropriately evil.

I’ve even done PvP and PUG dungeons, neither of which I normally have anything to do with. I also subscribed so I could get a hideout when I hit level 12, and I’ve been very slowly accumulating housing objects to fill it.

In some ways, DCUO is an action RPG single player game. The only time I’ve grouped with other players was in the dungeons. It offers a ton of things to do, from quests, PvP, and dungeons, to obstacle courses based on your movement style (super speed, acrobatics, or flight)  to crafting, which I still haven’t quite gotten the hang of, and collectibles that offer rewards when you complete them. Stats are separate from wardrobe, so you can have the exact look you want without having to sacrifice abilities, and the game offers tons of clothing options that are straight-up wardrobe-only.

This game probably won’t hold my interest for more than a month, but I’m enjoying the hell out of it at the moment. If you want to try out a game that simply remembers that games are supposed to be fun, I really recommend this. Who knows, maybe after I’m done with my villain, I’ll try out the good guys’ side.

And because I will never have a character with as cool a name in any game ever again, allow me to introduce my supervillain, Certifiably Insane.

Certifiably Insane


New year, more games

So 2013, eh? Guess that’s okay. Lots of stuff going on lately. I finished my book and turned it over to my beta reader. I’m hopeful the plot is more cohesive now. I’ve been trying to squeeze what gaming time I can around holiday stuff. Yesterday was my birthday, so I took the whole day off and gamed. It was bliss.

So what’s worth your gaming dollars lately? Well, Steam is still having its wallet-breaking sales, and I’ve been grabbing a few things here and there. Not as much as last summer, but I’d grabbed so many games then it’s not even easy to find something I don’t already own. Other than that, I’ve been playing Guild Wars 2 and The Secret World.

GW2 just ended its Wintersday event, and it’s just as good as the Halloween event. These guys really know how to do a seasonal activities. Snowball fights, a five-man instance, several other unique instanced events, and another jumping puzzle, which I didn’t do, because I can’t do timed jumping puzzles very well. Oh well, maybe it’ll return for next year, and I can give it another go.

GW2 was in several top 10 sales lists this holiday season, despite still being nearly $60 to buy. I’m so happy to know the game seems to be doing well. I know I still get put into overflow servers every time I go into Lion’s Arch. That’s kind of crazy.

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The Secret World recently went to a buy-to-play model, making subscriptions optional. I’d said before I would have bought the game had it been B2P, so I was happy to see it did, and I bought it right away. Not only can you find it for a good price (it’s currently $22.49 on Steam and Amazon), but sometimes you can catch it even cheaper than that). All current content is available for that price, but future content will be available as mission packs in the store. I don’t particularly care for content locks, but since you get a lot of initial content for the price and no limits on bags, bank slots, or the trading post, it works.

Oh, and the game is fun, too. I played in the closed beta and thought it was pretty good, but not good enough to justify the price (full box price + subscription + cash shop). Now though, it’s quite worth it. The investigation missions are real brain-stumpers and are easily the best part of the game. Not all missions are top-notch, unfortunately. There are still too many “kill 10 rats” style quests. The crafting system is rather weird and could really use some refinements for ease-of-use. Combat is fun once you’ve gained plenty of skills so you can mix-and-match to make multiple builds but at first it’s rather dull. I do like that they provide “starter decks,” which are example builds you can follow. If you get all the skills, you can also collect the specialized outfit that goes along with the build.

Overall, if you like MMOs, want a setting that’s different from the usual fantasy/steampunk fantasy, and enjoy solving puzzles, there’s no reason not to get The Secret World. You’ll find hours of entertainment for one low price.


Guild Wars 2 headstart weekend

This weekend began the Guild Wars 2 headstart access for pre-purchasers. I’d been waiting for this since the release date was announced, and I’d even scheduled the entire weekend to do nothing but play. So Friday night, after an awesomely fun Livetweeting Terrible Movie event held by my friend, geardrops, the servers opened up around 11:30 pm. I got in when server population on all the servers was low, so I had my pick. (Tarnished Coast, if you’re curious).

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The servers started filling up quickly, which was no surprise. I created an Asuran warrior (though I’ve since switched to an Asuran elementalist as my main) and started the tutorial. I noticed something about the tutorial. Before, the end boss forced you into the downed state. It doesn’t do that any more. After that, you’re thrown into the world, which in my case is Metrica Province, to begin your adventures.

If you’ve been following Guild Wars 2, you know questing is done in a whole new way. There are renown hearts, dynamic events, personal story, and dungeons. Now, the first dungeon is only available at level 30, so that wasn’t something I got into this weekend. Personal story is just what it sounds like. Solo-able (though you can group if you want), instanced stories based around the choices you made at character creation. They have branching paths every so often, full voice, and cut scenes.

Renown hearts are similar to traditional quests, with the exception that you have multiple ways to complete them, and you don’t have to talk to the quest giver to start them. But you’ll be killing creatures, collecting things, or activating/deactivating something. Once you’ve completed a heart task, you can’t do it any more (or rather, you can’t get any more credit for doing it). Completing the task gives you karma points, which is a form of currency you use to buy stuff from karma vendors. The renown heart quest-giver turns into a karma vendor on completion and provides gear that can only be purchased through them, so it’s worth checking their trade list when you’re done.

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Dynamic events are the strength of the game. An event can occur for many reasons, but player choices and random chance are the most likely reasons to start one. When you’re nearby, you’ll see a message pop up to let you know there’s a dynamic event in the area. The events range from escort quests to collection to world bosses to holding off waves of enemies. Events can be chained based on success or failure. Early events tend to be chained less, plus the sheer number of players made them into complete zergfests. Around the teen levels, you’re more likely to see the full chain. (Hint: be sure to stick around and listen to the NPCs. They’re talking about the event, and if there’s more to do, they may continue it). For example, I wandered into a building where the Inquest (the evil Asura), were trying to steal golems. We failed to prevent them from taking them. So the two NPCs in charge of the golems held a conversation to figure out where they might have taken them. They ran off to the other building. When they got there, it kicked off another dynamic event to rescue the golems. That was because of our failure.

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This headstart weekend has had a bit of a rocky start. Not horrible, but there have been some problems. I never experienced any disconnects or login issues, but I know many players, especially in Europe, have. The trading post has been down all weekend. Grouping up with friends in overflow servers is iffy at best. Mail wasn’t working on Friday night or Saturday, but it appears to have been fixed by Sunday. Since mail is the only way to trade with other players (it’s free, instant, and you don’t need to find a mailbox), that meant no trading. But the core game has been running perfectly for me. Dynamic events with dozens of players around have been smooth as silk. I have almost all my graphics settings maxxed. In fact, I only turned one down to cut down on bloom effects, not because it was causing framerate issues.

Another feature that makes the game great is the way everything is shared. There’s no kill-stealing, no ninja-looting, no way to take something from other players. Everyone shares in the XPs of a kill. Everyone can harvest a node. If everyone assists in killing a world boss, everyone gets to access the treasure chest afterward. You’ll be happy to see other players around you instead of thinking they’re going to tag all the mobs you need and force you to wait. You won’t have to stand in line to kill a boss either.

At the end of the day, one question remains: Is it fun? And the answer to that is, oh hell yes. There’s so much to do and everything gives you XPs. A story on Massively just came out about a crafter who hit level 80 this weekend by doing nothing but crafting. (His guild fed him mats). But since the game down-levels you whenever you enter a lower-level zone, if he goes into a level 1 area, he’ll be about the equivalent of a level 4 or 5. He’ll still be tougher than someone who has that level naturally, but he can still be killed, and he won’t be one-shotting everything around him.

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If you’ve been wondering whether the game is worth getting, it absolutely is. It doesn’t completely revamp the genre, but it pushes it forward enough that it’s hard to go back to other games without feeling a bit let down by the dated concepts. Official release is Tuesday, October 28.


Saints Row: The Third (and a couple notes on other games)

First, if you haven’t heard, the release date for Guild Wars 2 has been announced: August 28, 2012. If you pre-purchased, you can begin on August 25. There’s also a final beta weekend July 20-22. Go! Buy! I haven’t been this excited for a theme park game since I played in the World of Warcraft beta back in 2004.

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Next, The Secret World’s early access begins today. I was in the closed beta, but I decided against buying it. It does a lot of good things:

No classes

No levels

A unique crafting system

A modern setting

Investigation quests

Voiced quests

But something about it didn’t quite gel with me. I can’t  put my finger on it, but I figure if I’m on the fence, I shouldn’t spend $60 for a game that also has a subscription and a cash shop. I wish them the best of luck. We need more non-fantasy MMOs.

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Finally, the game that’s had my attention lately is Saints Row: The Third. An open-world sandbox game about a street gang so big they have their own lines of merchandise, their own PR department, and a movie about their life in the works. Of course, when you’re king of the hill, someone’s always gunning for you. In this case, it’s a group called the Syndicate. They knock the 3rd Street Saints to their knees, and now your job is to build the gang back up while going after the people who caused you harm.

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Skimpy clothes to show off the tats. Pedestrians on the street often comment on her choice of clothing (or rather the lack thereof).

If you’ve played any of the Grand Theft Auto series, you’ll recognize similarities. There’s a main storyline, side missions, cars to steal, people to rob. Cause too much trouble and you’ll get the cops on your ass. Keep causing trouble, and it’ll escalate until you’re being chased by the military in tanks and helicopters. You’ll also have to deal with rival gangs much the same way.

The game does a lot of amazing things. You can customize your character in ways that rival The Sims 3. I’m talking sliders for everything from jaw width to eye angle to, uh, package size. You can steal cars, park them in your garage, and then customize them. You can steal everything from little Emus (think SmartCars but uglier) to smooth sports cars to cement mixers and streetsweepers and everything in between. You can buy up property and then get a discount from any of your own stores.

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They see me rollin’
They hatin’
Patrollin They tryin’ to catch me ridin’ dirty

You can also play the entire campaign in two-player co-op. Campaign! Co-op! We see this so rarely, and this game actually handles it quite well.  Co-op missions are varied and often interesting. They aren’t always about just fighting off hordes of enemies.

Did I mention the game is also insane? It throws reality right out the window, does a rolling dive after it, and beats it bloody. You can dive feet first into vehicles (even going through the windshield), body slam people like a WWE wrestler, beat up mascots in crazy uniforms, play your way through a bloody Running Man-style gameshow called Professor Genki’s Super Ethical Reality Climax, do tank mayhem activities in which you’re tasked with causing a certain dollar amount of damage within a time limit, and my personal favorite, insurance fraud, where your job is to fling yourself in front of moving vehicles in order to collect insurance payouts.

I could go on, but the simple truth is, it’s a fantastic game full of great characters, excellent (if occasionally crude) humor, and gory, insane fun. I caught it for $17 on a Gamestop sale. It’s more than worth every penny.


MMO Sandbox Rundown

As of this weekend, I have tried virtually every sandbox MMO on the market, so I figured I’d post a brief rundown of each one.

A Tale of the Desert

Non-combat building and crafting game set in ancient Egypt. 3rd-person POV. I’ll admit, I barely gave this one any time. I think it could be fun for some people, but the lack of any kind of combat is a turnoff to me. It doesn’t even have mobs from what I could tell. Graphically okay, but the controls are weird. Didn’t check sub prices, but it’s F2P to try.

Darkfall

Fantasy setting. Open world, non-consensual PvP with full loot. 1st-person POV. The towns are safer than outside the towns, but it’s not 100% guaranteed. Biggest reason to be wary of this one is they’re completely revamping the game, and they’re not doing anything to the current version except bug fixes. No central market system at the moment, which means buying and selling goods is almost impossible. Has housing, but space is very limited. Bad UI and beginner experience. Wait for the revamp and then see if the game is worth playing. Trial but $15/month sub.

EVE Online

Sci-fi spaceship game. The biggest one of them all. Hardcore, not for the faint of heart. 3rd-person POV. Non-consensual PvP and full loot. Even high security space isn’t completely safe. The only time you’re completely safe is when you’re docked in a station. Steep learning curve and a lot of information, but if you’re willing to learn, it’s not impossible. The more you put into this game, the more you’ll get out of it. Lots of work has gone into refining the UI. Trials available but $15/month sub.

Face of Mankind

Sci-fi setting. Graphically dated but acceptable. PvP game. 1st- or 3rd-person POV. I don’t know if PvP is full loot or not, because we got out of this game as soon as we realized there wasn’t a damn thing to do after the tutorial. Empty hallways. Empty rooms. Not even NPCs around for flavor. It’s a sandbox game with no toys. The game completely went splat after the tutorial. Limited free accounts or subscription.

Fallen Earth

Post-apocalypse setting. Consensual PvP only (you can flag or go into PvP zones). 3rd-person POV. I would really call this more of a sandpark than a straight sandbox game. No housing, but you can be a focused crafter or PvPer if you want. F2P with no limitations on content or bag/bank slots, so free players aren’t as hindered as they are in other games. It’s mostly in the number of things they can craft at once and a slower harvesting time. Graphically okay. It can look good at times, but the UI needs an overhaul. Various subscriptions available.

Mortal Online

Fantasy setting. Open world, non-consensual full-loot PvP. 1st-person POV. This one is much like Darkfall in lot of ways. Bad UI and no centralized trading tools. The community is a lot like EVE’s. Towns are safer than outside if you can call the guards on an attacking player fast enough. The Awakening expansion due soon (as in a handful of weeks) will overhaul the UI, the mob AI, and add centralized traders. The game has housing, the ability to declare war on guilds, and the ability to control territories. Very deep crafting system. Combat is pretty good, though it could be better. Of all the fantasy, combat-focused sandboxes out there, this one is best. Like EVE, the more you put into it, the more you’ll get out of it. This is probably the closest there is to a Skyrim Online in terms of setting and depth. Still lacks a few toys, but the next expansion should be adding a lot. Trial available, or box price + $15/month subscription.

Perpetuum

Sci-fi setting. Alpha islands are safe from PvP, but beyond that is open-world, non-consensual, full-loot PvP. 3rd-person POV. Bears a lot of similarities to EVE, and in fact a lot of the community comes from there. Instead of spaceships you’re building and controlling robots. Learning curve is similar to EVE. EVE players usually find the game easy to pick up. Has player-build settlements and terraforming. Decent UI and graphics. Repeatable missions are rather dull, but it has quite a few toys to play with. Trial available. Sub game.

Runescape

Fantasy setting. A lot of people consider this a sandbox, but from my experience it was mostly quest-based. I didn’t play long, though. 3D isometric POV. Graphically dated and browser-based. Lots of content. I saw several quests that were real puzzles. I suspect this one is fantastic, but the graphics have a hard time holding my interest. UI isn’t all that great. Free-to-play or subscription.

WURM Online

Fantasy setting. There are both open world, non-consensual, full-loot PvP servers and PvE only servers. Graphically dated. Almost no animations, and zero combat animations. 1st-person POV. This is a game about exploring, building, and making your own goals. It’s incredibly complex. Possibly the most complex and detailed crafting system there is, and almost everything you do makes sense from a reality standpoint, even with the presence of magic and demons. The community is very small, so there’s not much in the way of an economy. The game has housing, and you can build your house in whatever shape you want and in virtually whatever place you want. Game has terraforming, too. The development team makes constant small updates, adding new content all the time. Very community-focused team. A lot of their development decisions are based on what the players vote for. Great game if you’re a fan of complex crafting and struggling to succeed. Free-to-play or subscription at 5 euros a month.

Xsyon

Post-apocalypse setting. 3rd-person POV. Supposedly it’s open-world PvP, but very few people even play. Graphically dated. Good animations and combat (compared to WURM; not compared to Guild Wars 2). Like WURM, this is about exploring, building, and making your own goals. Crafting is almost as complex as in WURM. The community is very tiny. Mobs are currently only animals, though revenants are supposed to be coming in a couple of weeks, and there are far too few mobs at all, making the world empty. Again, the tiny community means no economy. Game has terraforming. No trial, and cost is $40 for the box then $15/month for subs after the first month. The lack of a trial is seriously hurting the game. I would recommend staying away from this one until it has a larger community and a free trial.

 


Guild Wars 2 beta weekend review

The week got away from me. I meant to write this earlier.

I spent most of last weekend in the Guild Wars 2 beta, available for anyone who pre-purchased the game. I hadn’t intended to pre-purchase. As a rule, I don’t. But I’d been hearing so many positive things about the game I decided to throw caution to the wind and do so. I figured based on the videos I saw, it wouldn’t be so horrible that I couldn’t enjoy it for at least a month, and since there’s no subscription, I could always pick it up and put it down whenever.

I started off with a Charr mesmer. The Charr are a race of horned feline humanoid. The mesmer is an illusionist class, lightly armored. Since I was Charr, I had actual clothes on my female character, something the lightly-armored Norn and human females didn’t get the benefit of. They were outfitted in Sailor Moon clothes and lingerie. Fortunately, my Norn thief and human warrior had proper clothes in combat.

My Charr mesmer hanging out in Lion’s Arch. The city is an explorer’s paradise.

 

Rather than repeat information on the way the tutorial is structured, I’d rather point you to an excellent video on Gamebreaker.tv. This is the tutorial for the humans, but the format is the same for all races.

One of the biggest changes in GW2 from the normal theme park format is the dynamic events system. Events can start anywhere at any time, and they’re always public. There are no traditional quests or quest-givers. If you check your map, you’ll see “heart activities,” where an NPC will give you information on an event that may be going on nearby. You don’t have to talk to them, though. If you step into the area, the event will show up in the top-right of your screen anyway. Besides the heart activities, other dynamic events will also pop up, either because the players succeeded or failed in a nearby event, or because of some other reason (like the time of day, or a player opening a chest or talking to a certain NPC).

Almost every event has multiple ways to complete the objective (such as killing mobs, collecting something, or doing something like watering crops or fixing broken pipes). Every player shares in the objective, and everyone who helps gets rewarded. The same goes for combat. There is no kill-stealing, no tagging mobs, no way to shortchange another player. Everyone who participates gets credit. You never have to dread seeing another player in an area. You don’t have to wait your turn to take on a boss. Just hop in there and start whacking away.

Side note: The other day I was playing Fallen Earth. I walked into an area where a small group was waiting on a boss mob to spawn. I wasn’t there for the boss; I needed something else. But the group hurriedly grouped with me so I wouldn’t kill-steal their mob. It’s sad when you look at other players in an MMO as something to dread. It took a little while to get over that mindset in GW2, but once I did, I not only didn’t hate seeing other players, I actively looked for them.

Combat is much more action-packed than most MMOs. You don’t have to actively target an enemy. When you start to attack, the game will auto-find the nearest enemy. And you must learn how to dodge effectively to avoid enemy attacks. The mobs scale in toughness the more players there are around, and some of those things can hit hard. You also have to learn to use your abilities to best effect. I’m not joking. This is probably the hardest theme park MMO I’ve ever played. You’ll probably die as early as level 2 until you have a bit of practice under your belt. You’ll have to throw out a lot of what you know about the traditional MMO if you want to learn to fight effectively.

Combat is truly exciting, though I honestly think they need to tone down the effects. When fifty people are taking on a huge boss, it’s impossible to see what’s going on through all the flashiness.

Night time in the hub city of Lion’s Arch, one of the most highly detailed game cities you’ll ever see.

And another nice touch: any player can revive another player. It was awesome to see people going around on the battlefield helping other players to their feet. There was a real sense of camaraderie, as if we’re all heroes in this together. The griefers in this game will be the ones who deliberately ignore downed players. Fortunately, outside of the newest of newbie events, where everyone was still trying to figure out what to do, those people were rare.

I haven’t even touched on the gem store (cash shop), crafting, or the personal storyline.

This is a game that rewards exploration, that is filled with so much detail that people have spent hours just exploring every nook and cranny, that shows a level of polish — in a beta no less — that is often missing from even released titles.

Needless to say, I absolutely loved this game. It was the most fun, intense, and exciting time I’ve had in a theme park game since the first time I played World of Warcraft. A part of me wants to avoid future beta events in order to save the game for release, but another part of me craves to play at every opportunity.

Another side note: several people on Massively kept calling GW2 a reskinned Warhammer Online. I decided to find out for myself if that was true. First quest in WAR? Go kill 3 somethings. Second quest? Go kill 5 somethings. Third quest? Yeah, starting to see a pattern here? Oh, but wait, here’s a public quest. Huh, looks like mobs are tagged to the first player or group to hit them. No shared XPs or loot for sharing the kill. It took less than one hour to see the similarities between the two are so superficial you’d need a microscope to find them. People, having both guns and magic in a world doesn’t make them a ripoff. Magical steampunk and Magitech have been around for a long time. And public quests aren’t exclusive to WAR either.

The Black Citadel, the Charr’s main home city. It has a very industrial theme.