Posts tagged ‘MMORPG’

27/10/2011

So there I was, alone, facing down a Rift. And I’d only been playing for 45 minutes!

As my frequent readers know by now I have a real thing for roleplaying games. RPG’s are my prefered form of escapism, at least when there isn’t an exceptional first person shooter waiting in its box to be played. What other type of game can give you hours of immersion in another world? Allow you to make new friends? Plot out strategies? And then go out and conquer all the trials before you? That’s right RPG’s are  where the futures global dictators meet up and plot together. So it was with joy that I received from my Best Male Friend  a copy of Rift. The latest big budget Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game to hit the internet.

A little of the game’s plot would be in order now. Essentially the god of death is trying to break into your world. The other four gods have become some kind of godhead named The Vigil. The walls of reality are falling apart, triggering the formation of rifts into the various planes, Fire, Life and Death being just a few examples. So in order to save the day, and probably their own collective ass, The Vigil creates the ascended. People who were great heroes from a previous age, now brought back from the dead to kick even more ass. And so far that’s the story in a nutshell.

First off let me say I love this game. I want to have bastard semi-human semi-digital babies with it. I want to go for long hand in hand, moonlit walks with it. I want to…well you get the picture. It’s wonderfully thought out, in fact it reminds me of World of Warcraft back in the vanilla and Burning Crusade days. Challenging, story driven, and engaging. But it does have a serious flaw.

Let’s get the bad news out of the way. Rift has serious, and I mean serious, issues working with ATI Radeon graphics cards. I use a top of the range 4000 series card. With it I have successfully run WOW, Crysis, Mass Effect and many other games with the graphic quality at maximum, had no problems what so ever, and no need to overclock. Despite my system as a whole more than meeting the minimum requirements to play Rift, I have had to overclock my card to play it just at the minimum settings. Even so I have random crashes, lock ups, screen freezes, my character getting stuck, and even a few blue screens. That’s how badly Rift runs with an ATI graphics card. Now there are reports of many ATI users having these same problems, and so far little or no response from the developers.

So yes that sucks. It takes a great deal from the game. But the good news is that eventually it will be fixed. Why? Because graphic cards are the PC worlds equivalent of cola drinks. You have your brand and if you build your own PC’s you will tend to stick by it come what may. So unless Trion want to lose a lot of paying customers they will fix it. Even if it does take a while.

Now for the good news. This game (graphic problems aside) is absolutely brilliant. A lot of it is of course standard MMORPG faire. You kill monsters for experience points, and loot. You complete quests to progress through the story. You take up a few trade skills to pay the bills, and buy a huge variety of mounts. Where it differs is in the tone of the gameplay, the challenge aspect, and especially in the way the rifts alter day-to-day play.

The tone of Rift is a lot darker than WOW, or even EVE Online, well to my eyes at least. You’re fighting in a world that’s literally coming apart at the seams. And unlike in many other MMORPG’s there’s a real sense that what you personally do in the game has a real impact, no matter how small, on the end result for the world as a whole. In fact that is apparently one of the selling points of this game, that what you do will impact on the development of the entire world. I hope that’s true. One nice, though small, aspect that makes for a more immersive game is the fact that your characters features are a lot more adjustable than in many MMORPG’s. There are a large number of permutations on hair style, eye shape, colors, body size, even the rotation of your eyes, or size of your nose. It helps to make your character, yours. That fact alone makes you value them a little more, which then makes your victories a little sweeter. Or perhaps that’s just me.

The tone of the game is also effected in a large way by the challenge side of things. If I had one complaint about WOW it’s that it’s become too simple. That is not an accusation which could ever be levelled at Rift. You have to actually think when you play it. For example. when you level up you get a single skill point to spend in your talent trees. You need to actually think out how to spend that point so that it has the best effect on the way you play your character. Add in the fact that you can have up to three active talent trees at the one time, all effecting how your character works, and just building an effective character becomes a real challenge in itself.  On top of that there’s a vibrant Player Versus Player element. Collections of items to find and turn in for cool prizes. And more than a few very tricky quests to complete. Hell after a single day of play I doubt I’ve even scratched the surface on challenges that will have me coming back for months, perhaps even years to come.

Finally we come to my favourite aspect of Rifts, the rifts themselves. These are places where the fabric of reality is coming apart. Your job as an ascended is to kill anything that comes through, and then reseal them. Sounds simple right? Let me tell you a little story.

So there I stood alone, facing down a Rift. And I’d only been playing for about 45 minutes. I’d been transported from the starting zone about 2 minutes before. The first thing I saw in the distance were several tentacles coming down from the sky.

Aha, I thought, that looks interesting, I’ll go closer and have a good look.

I arrived there only to realise I was going to die. Monsters everywhere. All of them higher level than myself. And all of them looked hungry. But not being the type to run from a fight I used one of the few scrolls in my pack and got ready to get my ass kicked so hard that I wouldn’t need earmuffs this winter.

In seconds I was nearly dead. Aww well, this sort of thing happens. When out of nowhere half a dozen other characters show up. A healer brings me back to full health, a warrior type takes all the monster aggression I had gathered to myself, and in short order we had eliminated my first rift.

The rifts are a chance for everyone who plays this game to feel like a hero for a while. You wade in with a group made up of who ever happens to be both nearby and in need of causing some pain. Then if you’re lucky, and the others in your party are good you wade out the other side with some nice rewards for your heroism, and the feeling that you have just achieved something.

So do I recommend Rift? If you use non-ATI hardware, absolutely. If you do use ATI hardware, yes but don’t be surprised if for the time being you have to play it with all the pretty settings switched off. If you like truly immersive MMORPG’s definitely. If you liked WOW back in the early days, go for it you won’t be sorry. So basically yes. Right now it’s just about the most challenging and funnest MMORPG out there. And well worth a look.

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23/06/2011

EVE Online, first impressions.

As I wrote last week, after a few years of Warcrafting, I’ve switched to playing EVE Online as my main MMORPG.  Well so far because of delays in receiving my copy of the game, and a major game update, I’ve only managed to play for a grand total of three hours.  But those three hours have been some of the most enjoyable gaming hours I’ve ever had.

I’ve played around with the idea of playing EVE more or less since it came in existence.  Initially I didn’t join in because my PC was a lumbering dinosaur.  With 500mhz of processing power, 63mbs of ram and a miniscule 10 gigabyte hard drive, it struggled to play anything at all.  So EVE was out of the question.  Even after I later upgraded, well at 900mhz it was an upgrade for me, I still couldn’t have played EVE.  Besides I was busy playing my way through half a decades worth of other games.  But even after I did get a machine that would run EVE I didn’t play, not even on the free trials.  And I don’t regret that at all.

Why?

Well three days ago I finally had a three-hour play session.  It was polished, well thought out, fun, beautiful to look at, and above all else had a built-in tutorial, which made learning the basic control and gameplay reasonably easy but above all else, very enjoyable.  I’m happy I waited so many years to play because I am now playing a very nice product.  Of course my long wait has some detrimental effects, the main one being that I will never, ever, catch up to the big boys, who have played since the beginning.  But while they had to spend years dealing with a game which was essentially half-developed when it was launched, I believe I’ve started at just the right time, for maximum enjoyment.

So all that said, what are my first impressions of EVE Online?

Firstly bear in mind that I have had three hours of play time.  That means that I’ve done the tutorial and two extra missions, so I’ve only barely scratched the surface of what is very obviously an incredibly deep game.

Secondly, the entire game client had a major update last night.  This means that in all likelihood, I will end up starting a second character, just to experience the new updated tutorial.

So those two facts mean that my first impressions really are nothing more than that, first impressions.  But I have to say that they are very, very good first impressions.  Let’s start with the graphics, they’re gorgeous.  To date I have only played one space based role-playing game with graphics to match EVE, X3 – Terran Conflict.  They’re smooth, beautiful, with so far at least absolutely no glitches.   Because the system requirements for EVE are so low even my slightly elderly, Radeon HD 4800 video card, can run EVE at maximum settings.  The ships are works of art, from the smooth flowing lines of the Calderi warships to the rough ‘garden shed with an engine strapped to the back’ look of the Minmatar fleet, the attention to detail in this game is nothing short of a wonder to behold.

The sound is pretty good, a little above average.  The in-game ambiance music is bearable and the sound effects and beautifully crisp.  It may not be quite as beautiful to listen to as it is to look at, but EVE is still no slouch where it’s audio is concerned.

In fact one of the nicest features of EVE, is sort of part of its audio existence.  It has a built-in MP3 player.  I know that these days that probably seems like small potatoes to most of you reading this, but for me this is one of my favourite things about EVE.  Whenever I play games I either play them in silent mode while I watch the television, or I listen to something loud and violent.  But that usually means having a separate MP3 player running in the background.  And, that, means switching back and forth to change playlists or to pause my music to answer phone calls.  So a built-in player with in-game controls is a nice thoughtful addition to any game, but especially a game as immersive as this.

Which brings us nicely to the gameplay.  Well it can be summed up with just one word, complex.  Seriously, seriously complex.  The controls are pretty intuitive, your mouse controls the camera, left click confirms choices and right-click runs a drop down contextual menu where most of the important controls are hidden.  The keyboard is a huge mass of shortcuts to various controls.  So lot’s of controls, but as I said they’re all pretty self explanatory when you read them.  The complexity comes in when you realise that this game is not set on rails.  It’s a genuine sandbox, where you choose where to go and what to do.  Want to be a pirate, well then be a pirate.  How about a miner?  Yup, you can do that too.  But, to do it effectively you have to train your character accordingly.

Let’s say you want to play a pirate, who flies a destroyer built by a specific faction, armed with a specific set of weapons and some electronic warfare gear.  So right off the bat, you have to train to fly a destroyer, a destroyer by that faction, those weapons and electronic warfare pieces.  More than that though you have to train you character to a point where she can actually learn those skills.  You have to find the ship for sale, or build it.  Develop the right reputation with the right people to buy the ship and the equipment.  Of course all this takes time, money and effort, but with how quickly you can train the first few levels of each skill you can get into the action very quickly.

Well so far my main impression of EVE is extremely good.  It seems well thought out.  It seems to be a deep game that can be played in as many ways as your own imagination can create for you.  What it definitely is up to this point, for me at least, is fun and relaxing.  So, all in all, it seems to be a wonderful MMORPG.  And in some ways perhaps I’ve finally found the role-playing game of my dreams, one where your destiny truly is your own to create.  A true second life, which is as rewarding and enjoyable as you yourself make it.

Play time will tell and when I have an answer, expect a second part to this review.

16/06/2011

From Azeroth to New Eden – my journey to the worlds of EVE Online.

Having played WOW (World of Warcraft) from just shortly after the WOTLK expansion (Wrath of the Lich King) launch, I felt I was lucky enough to play it in a golden age. It was challenging, playing a Marksman Hunter while extreme soloing and general raiding was wonderful. Everything felt, right I guess, a little simple but right. Then Cataclysm launched and…well I leveled, played all the dungeons at both levels and slowly lost my mind.

The game I loved for three years is now inhabited by wall-to-wall kid-iots, old-time players who have this insane sense of entitlement, worse still mana vanished, extreme soloing became so easy that all challenge had vanished. In short I was bored to tears and only my close friendship with a few of my guild-mates kept me there. But frankly I’ve had enough. Aside from a lowbie character to play with my lil sister and the occasional dungeon or raid session with my guildies,  I’m done.

So what has this to do with EVE? Well like a lot of gamers, I’ve toyed with the idea of playing EVE from time to time. Monday was one of those days, so I went onto Amazon, just to price a DVD copy.  I prefer a DVD installation to downloading, much the same way that while I have an e-book reader, I prefer the feel of real paper in my hands.  I’m just an old-fashioned geeky goth-girl I guess.  Anyway while I tried to get Amazon to give me a price in Euros, I accidentally ordered a copy of EVE, for what turned out to be less than the amount I spend on chewing gum most weeks.

Aha Fate!  I could have cancelled the order but, I didn’t.  Which begs the question, Why?

Put plainly I need a challenge.  On the hardest setting I have almost finished Crysis after less than two weeks of very casual gaming.  WOW is no longer any sort of challenge.  Star Trek Online became boring after I ran through what felt like the same mission, for the umpteenth time.  And yet there’s one game which has successfully kicked my ass over and over for years, X – Beyond the Frontier.

This game was launched approximately at the same time as EVE and despite X being a single player game and EVE being a MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game) they have a lot in common.  They are both set in distant parts of space with you cut off from Earth, in EVE’s case for thousands of years.  They both have huge strategic elements, as well as tactical action, trading and exploration based aspects.  Indeed many moons ago, when I asked a friend what EVE Online was like he told me it was like “X with other players, griefers and the an even more complex set of control panels.”  Yes he really did talk like a computer magazine reviewer writes, a slightly odd guy.

Well from everything I’ve read, as well as everything I’ve been told by other gamers, EVE will be a challenge.  I will lose ships.  I will get my ass handed to me over and over.  I will struggle to create a successful character.  And I will get head-bangingly frustrated sometimes.

I can’t wait.  But while I have to wait for the postal service to get my copy to me, I think it’s time to make up some EVE playlists, you know just because.  I think I’ll start with some Heather Alexander, hmm maybe some Queen.

24/03/2011

Star Trek Online, the MM-uh oh.

The box cover art is beautiful, the graphics even more than you could imagine.

Star Trek is “The” science fiction franchise.  Nothing, not even Star Wars comes close to having it’s real, or imagined, world history.  With its heroic starship captains, huge back history, well-built self-contained universe and a penchant for dramatic and exciting battles, it has always been a franchise ripe for computer game conversions.  In fact there have been many Star Trek games.  But unfortunately very few of them have come even vaguely close to realising the potential of the series, books or movies in-game form.

So several years ago it was with glee, maniacal laughter and much frenzied dancing around my living room that I read about how an online Star Trek game was in development.  By that time we had already had two excellent Starfleet Commander games and the technology, it seemed to many Trek fans myself included, had reached a point where, maybe, just maybe justice could finally be done to our favourite branch of science fiction.  In the end it took several years and one bankrupt developer but Star Trek Online or “STO” finally saw its launch.

In the end, having had experience of several Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs), I decided that I would wait ’til it’s first birthday to buy it.  MMORPGs are notoriously unstable on release and it typically takes a full year, for the developers to get the game to where it should be.  So with joy in my heart and wishing, that I had a tiny original series Starfleet uniform to wear, nine weeks ago I loaded my STO DVD into my PC and clicked install.

Usually a PC installation is a straight forward and quick affair.  Just install the basic game from the DVD, download and install a patch that it is maybe 100 megabytes in size and away you go.  Not STO though.  The DVD part, installed very smoothly, in about five minutes and with one left click the game launcher was on my screen.  Nice.  I input my account ID and hit my first problem with STO.

Most non-free MMORPGs give you a free period of play when you first register with them, but before you have to sign up for a subscription.  With World of Warcraft, for example, it’s a month.  STO also gives you a month of free play.  But STO, unlike any other MMORPG I’ve ever played, also requires you to have already signed up for a subscription to use that free play time.  Worse still the STO installation, which you have already paid for, won’t even update itself without your having a subscription.  There is also an implication that you pay for your first month and then receive your second month free.  An implication that I only realised was bunkum, after I checked my bank balance a week into my STO play experience.  This is nothing less than madness, and I personally see it as nothing more or less than a blattant attempt by Atari to trick some players, who are less than internet savvy, into paying for at least one extra month.

As for needing a subscribed account to even update?  Well, while I was playing STO I let my World of Warcraft account lapse.  I’m a one MMORPG kinda girl, mostly due to being somewhat OCD and having realised many years ago that I tend to get obsessed by one game at a time, so what would be the point in paying for a game I wouldn’t be playing?  Anyway during that period of time I able to continue updating my Warcraft installation, regardless of my subscription status.  Again madness, insanity and absolute foolishness on the part of STOs producers Cryptic and Atari.  I have yet to find a satisfactory answers as to why they set up their server in this way, but personally I feel that it is simply lazy and greedy development.  Unfortunately this won’t be the last time that word, “lazy” is used with regards to this game.

So after signing up for my subscription I click on the launch button, actually it’s an “Engage” button and every time I clicked it, I had to suppress a huge fit of giggles.  But I digress.  So I click the launch button and the launcher checks for updates.  Now having had a fair bit of MMORPG experience I knew to expect a sizable update, perhaps half to 2/3rds the size of the initial installation.  But SEVEN GIGABYTES?!  I shit you not, seven goddess damned gigabytes.  Now admittedly Cryptic use a reasonably good compression system for their patches, so what you download is only about 2/3rds the size of the final patch.  But still, please, seven gigs of patches?  Again turning back to Warcraft, I join that game during the Wrath of the Lich King expansion.  But even after two expansions and over three years of patches, to update the installation was only a little over one gigabyte.

Anyway, I start the update and after seven hours of downloading and patching I was finally ready to play.

Now STO is one gorgeous game.  It is literally, the best looking game of its type I’ve ever played.  And the sound is nothing less than stunning.  It actually managed to make all the patching almost worth it.

The character creation is fluid and easy, with one issue.  That issue is the skill choices when you build your character.  Essentially the descriptions are vague and confusing.  It took another two hours of reading forums before I felt confident to choose my starting skills.  This is again just laziness on the developers part, there’s no excuse for not writing out your tooltips in a clear and comprehensible manner.  So eventually with character created and away we go.

As a game STO is broken in two.  The space travel and combat section is nothing less than beautifully realised.  You view your ship and the battlefield in much the same way as you would any character in any MMORPG.  The ships are simply gorgeous, and even though many of them, have never appeared in any on-screen Trek they look the right.  Everything moves in a way that’s flawlessly true to the various series and movies.  And the sounds are Trek through and through.  Every phaser, every photon torpedo and even the voices sound perfectly right.  Everything about the space combat segments is right, though a little repetitive, but in a mostly good way.

The ground missions, known here, just like in the series as away missions, are just as beautiful to look at and listen to.  But unfortunately the away missions feel all wrong.  They’re repetitive, but unlike the space combat, not in a good way.  You use the same simple tactics over and over, with 99% of the time, the same results.

Now yes I know MMORPGs tend to be repetitive,  there is after all only so much you can do with a game of this type.  But there’s no excuse for not even trying.  The developers obviously invested vast amounts of time into the space segments, but the away missions just feel tacked on.  Then there’s the crafting aspect of the game, which is clunky and difficult to understand.  The auction house is badly implemented, making it difficult to find what you’re looking for.  The list of faults just goes on and on.

There are great aspects to this game.  The way teamwork is designed is brilliant, you simply warp into a system and automatically join forces with anyone already in system.  There is a series of diplomacy based missions which allow for a more Trekkish experience.

But the sad truth is, that this is a game which should still be in Beta testing.  For all its visual and audio beauty, it’s simply not good enough, not really ready enough for general play.  Everywhere barring how it looks and sounds it feels slapped together.  But despite this it manages to often be fun.  Unfortunately though there was to be one, final nail in the coffin where this game is concerned for me.

A typically gorgeous STO screen shot.

Now after all these years of gaming I understand that the key to a good, stable game, is regular patching and updating.  But I’ve never found a game before that always has a weekly update which sometimes might be only 100 megabytes.  But then the following two weeks turns out to be a gigabyte each.  This is a big issue where I’m concerned.  No game, needs these kinds of huge weekly updates and speaking as someone with a download cap on their broadband, it managed to finally and completely kill this game for me.

In truth I am crushed about this game.  I waited years to play it.  I devoured every preview, every review and I was almost bouncing out of my skin waiting for my copy to arrive in the post.  I desperately wanted this game to live up to my hopes.  But this isn’t the game that was originally talked about.  Back then we had hints about serving on one another’s ships, working our way up through the ranks and eventually getting our own ships.  Later I logically assumed that there would be a choice of servers, there isn’t.  I hoped that the gameplay would be well worked out and that after a year of continued post launch development it would really be ready.  But it’s not.

This game was a valiant attempt, but at the end of the day too much of it is lazily done and so I have to say the following.  Don’t play this game.  It’s simply not worth the cost.  Maybe in another year or two it’ll be where it should have been on when it was launched, much less a year later.  But for now play Warcraft or Warhammer.  If you absolutely need to play a space based MMORPG play Eve Online or even join a private Freelancer server.  But for now don’t be suckered into paying to Beta test this sad, disappointment of a game.

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