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Archive for the ‘Allods Online’ Category

If you want the skinny in a few words, I can sum it up thus: I’ve certainly played worse WoW clones.

Early travels in the Human homeland

However, I’m not sure it’s that simple. I think Forsaken World is getting a bit of a bad rep — somewhat fairly-earned — in part due to the abundance of screenshots of well-endowed and scantily-clad Kindred Assassins that every reviewer seems to have rolled (truth be told, it’s only members of the Kindred race that can be Assassins [Edit: Whoops, I completely forgot that Humans can be Assassins, too], but the females of that race have the most alarming proportions and lack of modesty in the game).

The other reason for the poor reputation has to do with PWE’s discarding of the conventional F2P wisdom that “Closed Beta” means “anyone who has a key gets in” and actually seems to be restricting access by Beta phase, as well as their poor communication of that fact well in advance. This has led to a lot of confusion and hard feelings from fans who obtained beta keys but were not let into this Phase 1 of the Closed Beta.

Due to a generous giveaway by Massively, I am one of those in this phase of testing, and I have been playing multiple characters for hours. While I have been trying to submit bug reports like a good beta tester (see the overlooked Chinese characters and typo in the screenshot), I can’t say that my playtime has been through sheer determination – I’m actually having fun! Much like with Allods Online, I know I won’t be staying with this title due to the emphasis on PvP (after level 30, PvP or Player-Killing will be open-world and that’s just Not My Thing), it’s not stopped me from enjoying the content in the meantime.

Minor glitches aside, Forsaken World plays smoothly and the aesthetic is much more Western than previous PWE titles. Having explored a few different races’ starting areas, I have already experienced a couple of unique quests that I haven’t experienced many places elsewhere, if at all. The usual PWE conveniences are there, such as auto-pathing and pets, as well as other F2P staples such as level-gated gift packages. Character customization is less than PWI and more than JD, and felt much like it would if you could only use Aion’s default customizations with no feature sliders – that is to say, a fair amount of customization is possible, though no varying size options are available. No boob size customization, unfortunately.

I am still hovering around level 20 and the game is telling me I should start running dungeons (in-game chat is lively with LFG requests at this stage), but not having done this thing much in traditional MMOs (the closest I’ve come is the Barrow-Downs in LOTRO, and that was a crash-course in Healing With An Aggro System if ever there were one), I am leery of the abuse I would face from strangers if I failed in my Priestly duties. So far there is still plenty I can do on my own – the game is not hurting for quests, and not the sorry excuses for quests that PWI offered, with “kill 50″ requests rounding up post-level 20 content – so I shall continue on until, as usually happens when I play a traditional MMO, I get tired of never-ending questing and give Forsaken World a rest.

Or maybe I’ll try running a dungeon then.

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In my search for a F2P alternative to play when I cannot duo in Star Trek Online, I have come across Aika, the new offering from GPotato that isn’t Allods Online. Aika has just begun its second Closed Beta and has a planned release of Spring 2010 (then again, Allods still shows a planned release of Winter 2009 according to the site, so take that as you will).  Aika initially caught my attention at around the same time as Allods, but at that time Allods was entering CB and Aika was not yet ready for prime time players, so the decision of what to try was made for me.

The two games claim to scratch different itches for me: Aika with the familiar anime-style graphics, much like a poor-man’s Aion, advertises Realm vs. Realm (vs. Realm vs. Realm vs. Realm) combat on a massive scale of thousands on the battlefield, lag-free – something Warhammer Online tried and seems to have failed to deliver –  so I wonder if it will pick up any refugees from that game. It also promises small-scale battleground action, and, according to the forums, PvP is quite well balanced for a game of this type.

Allods, on the other hand, appealed to me with its WoW/Warhammer lovechild graphical style, interesting races and lore, and its engaging instanced tutorial that bade well for future encounters with PvE. The end-game seemed rather exclusionary to me, however, as do many games of that type, and the open PvP post-level 20 soured me somewhat on keeping up with the beta development. I know now that PvP flagging is live in the game, but I’ve kind of moved on in the meantime.

Right now Aika seems like a better choice for me to solo, but only time will tell and I don’t expect to reach any level of consequence during the short CB2 period given my playtime schedule. I’m a bit put off by the gender-locked classes and lack of customization, but I also realize that it is due to these very shortcuts that the game client is only 500mb in size and can support the large battles they advertise. The style of quest delivery is remniscent of unvoiced post-Tortage Age of Conan, which provides at least the illusion of an epic story that I can unravel by completing the quests in my log. If I can ignore the Lolis Clerics falling down and giving fanservice everywhere, I sometimes feel as though I’m playing Guild Wars, or a near cousin.

Oh, and unlike many other Korean games of its ilk, Aika allows you to turn on anti-aliasing from within the game, up to 16x worth. Of course, this is not worth anything if you forget to use said feature, as I did for the first half of my play session.

Verdict: Too early to tell, but shows promise. I have yet to get my little buff fairy (pran), as the quest to obtain her is a hour-long timed scavenger hunt and I had to get going.

Ack! I forgot to turn anti-aliasing on!

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This morning, Massively put up a preview detailing the planned end-game of Allods Online (already playable in Russia), where the focus will be on player-controlled ship vs. ship combat in the Astral between allods. I had previously done some reading up on this aspect of the game and this newest article further confirms that Allods Online is unique, compelling, deep and complex. The Astral Ship combat looks completely amazing. And I will never get to see any of it.

I haven’t played Allods Online since the second closed beta, when I found out that the PvP lands that open up in tier 2 areas are non-consensual. I simply do not have the time or the inclination to allow my gaming experience to be affected by someone else who wants to fight me when I do not wish to fight, neither do I have the time/inclination to consistently travel in groups to afford me protection against enemy player ganking. I think Allods looks like a fantastic game, I’m pleased to see that it’s being well-received by virtually everyone who tries it, and I wish it every success, but it is not a game that I will be able to enjoy for that reason alone. The reveals about the central activity of end-game content consisting of player-run ships only cement my decision not to invest any further time and effort into the game.

I am used to being excluded from high-end game activities; after all, I am about as casual as they come. I have played Guild Wars for nearly 3 years now, and I have never been to the Underworld, the Fissure of Woe, or the Domain of Anguish, not to mention the high-end Eye of the North dungeons. I am limited by time, by skill, and by group composition (I am guilded, but don’t have 7 good friends to run dungeons with at any given time, even if there were no other barriers to entry). However, there is so much to do in Guild Wars, so much story to live and re-live, so many other avenues of advancement such as skill and armor collecting, faction building, metagaming and titles, casual PvP, etc. that I have never really longed for those dungeon experiences. They are not a fundamental aspect of what it means to play Guild Wars, unlike the raiding endgame of WoW or now, the Astral Ship combat of Allods Online, and I regret that about those games.

Allods Online and Star Trek Online have taken diverging paths with regards to their ship combat, and I am glad for it, because it provides two options for two playstyles, and I welcome the opportunity to choose. After all, I wouldn’t want every game to be as accessible as STO any more than I would want every game to be as co-operative heavy as Allods Online.

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My gaming partner and I have been rather inactive on the MMO front recently, due to Real Life(tm) constraints. We play infrequently enough that we only racked up 7 days played out of our 14-day free Vanguard trial, and did not make it off the trial island during that time. I also logged on to the Allods Online beta a few times, playing a different race, class, and faction than I planned to at launch so as not to burn out; unsurprisingly I was then unable to form an attachment to the character I created specifically for its disposability (although those Gibberlings sure are cute).

The more I learn about Allods, the more I realize it won’t be a game I will be able to enjoy due to its open-world PvP and group/guild-driven content. It looks and plays beautifully and I wish it every success – especially in breaking the common stereotype of free-to-play game inferiority. Given the limited spans of time in which I have to play, however, I simply cannot get heavily involved in a game that requires large amounts of group collaboration to proceed. This will probably result in my playing anyway, but having several characters parked around level 20. This is actually fine with me.

We miss Vanguard, and intend to return to it at some time in some capacity, but with Star Trek Online on the horizon we don’t consider it worthwhile to potentially maintain two subscriptions for games we barely have time to play (again I register my protest with the subscription model for requiring me to make decisions like this). Instead I am brushing up on my STO information, watching vidcasts and leaked beta footage, reading every piece of news and every interview that the developers see fit to release.

The last time my better half was excited enough about an upcoming MMO to pre-order it was when Warhammer Online was about to be released, and we had nearly six months of rip-roaring fun in that game. This was before shifting populations, class imbalances, and the server-merging tango caused us to cancel our subscriptions. But on the scale of Game Chosen to Fun Had, he’s 1 for 1, so when my partner makes excited noises about commanding the U.S.S. Enterprise via Gamestop pre-order, I know well enough to simply follow along and offer the services of my Borg bridge officer (courtesy Amazon.com pre-order, of course).

I still have reservations about several aspects of the game:

  • Ships are boring: Space combat looks boring to me, though I realize there are several complicated factors taking place at any given time; I am certain to suck at it because I suck at things I find boring and complicated. No, I never really played space games as a kid. Heck, I even sucked at Asteroid.
  • Moving like a plastic doll: Ground combat still looks a bit unpolished to me, but it’s getting noticeably better. The more beta footage I watch, the better I feel about it, so I’m open to changing my mind about this one.
  • Pretty Pretty Princess: I love the Star Trek franchise, for watching, but I’m not sure how much I will enjoy living in it. I haven’t had much success getting excited about games outside of a fantasy setting (sorry, Fallen Earth!), largely due to the lack of resources to dress my characters as prettily as I like. If there is a social clothing option for hanging out at the spaceports/Quarks equivalent, and/or the ability to dress my Captain in a TOS skirt uniform, this will go a long way to alleviate my worries. (I’m not a fan of the miniskirt per se, but do I like skirts and it certainly is a skirt)
  • What do you mean, “content?”: Will this game suffer from the lack of content issues that plague(d) Champions Online, and how will this manifest in a game that is said to have procedurally generated planets for exploring and episodic mission content? Would that mean that there are no planets to explore at launch, or only three out of thirteen Episodes are complete? How will this impact me, a 5-10 or fewer hour per week player?

However, I do love the following: 

  • NPC Bridge Officers/Away team members: Oh, Guild Wars henchman model, please allow me to make out with you for a moment. Thank you for letting me have the option of joining my better half’s away team, or join up with him with my own team of NPC pets for planet exploration. I think I love you.
  • Art style: It seems most people are either in the love or hate camps for the Champions Online graphic style, but I was rather on the fence about it once I realized I could turn cell shading off. The style Cryptic has gone with for STO is much preferred, however, and I find myself wishing they had gone in this direction for CO as well. I especially like the look of space – I don’t care if space isn’t as busy in real life – this is worlds more fun to look at, and I’m here to have fun.
  • These quotes:  

“Some of the systems you discover will have combat and others some will have non-combat missions. Many involve acquiring and delivering certain commodities like industrial replicators or medical supplies. There are also thousands of points of interest throughout space and on planet surfaces that can be scanned.

“You can bring this data back to planet Memory Alpha. Collect the right data, and you may learn how to create something new, or you may peak the interest of a prominent Bridge Officer who may offer to join your crew.

“What you can expect is that your Bridge Officers will often work something like mission Contacts. For instance, if you fly by a spatial anomaly, your science officer may speak up and say he detected some unusual activity, and prompt you to explore it.”

            Oh, please be like that for real, and not like the “bears, bears, bears” of Warhammer Online. If you can do this, Cryptic, I’m yours.

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I have been enjoying my time in the Allods Online closed beta thus far, though I am still only level 5. I keep wavering between frustration at the server load of eager players hopping around, swarming quest mobs and nodes, and excitement of being among the first to experience the game in this way. Much like with the Warhammer Online preview weekend, I felt such a great camaraderie with everyone else asking where this or that mob was, or expressing wonder at this or that discovery.

It’s been interesting reading some of the impressions of the game so far: for some, it’s too much like WoW, while others offer suggestions for “improvements” that would make it even more so. My main problem is that I’m already nearing burnout; since I’ve been playing the Russian open beta, I’ve already gone through the same level 1-5 content roughly ten times now, and now I’ve got to stop before I ruin a good thing. I’ll just wait until the open beta when our characters will be allowed to continue to progress before I jump back in.

Between retiring Allods Online for the time being, and my decision not to re-up my Champions Online subscription, there has been a 100% increase in the amount of Dragon Age: Origins being played around these parts. Despite my loud protestations that I dislike single-player games, I managed to make it through at least one of the origins and the first little bit of the plot before taking an indefinite break. For me, the game is only enjoyable when I imagine myself playing alongside some other, real person (I admit to developing a crush on Alistair). My better half is still plowing his way through the story, though he’s adamant the story isn’t sandboxy enough for his satisfaction. Having watched him play through Oblivion and Fallout 3, I have to agree, though my experience in themepark MMOs have trained me not to run off the path so often and as a result I don’t brush up against the many invisible walls and impassable bridges in the DA:O landscape the way he does.

I’m not quite sure what exactly makes the difference between a more sandbox game like Oblivion, which allowed you to completely ignore the main quest and still have dozens of hours of enjoyment to milk out of the game, and something more linear, yet equally highly-rated, like Half Life 2 or Dragon Age, in which you cannot prevent major events from occurring and taking you along with them. I can’t imagine that these two types of games attract the same types of fans, judging from the muffled curses of “why can’t I kill this guy just to shut him up? Why can’t I go into this house? Why can’t I talk to this person? I could do this in Oblivion!” coming from next to me. I’ve been surprised to find that Syncaine has been enjoying the game as much as he has, and surprised again to agree with Tobold that I find DA:O’s replayability to be next to nil. After all, can you choose to become a Templar? Can you choose to be an apostate? These are questions my sandbox-loving partner asks, and he finds the answers wanting.

I don’t have an objection to this kind of sandbox play myself; I just find my imagination is lacking. I’m poor at setting my own goals in-game, so I’m happy to have someone set them for me. Meanwhile, we have tried about four MMOs together as a household and in every one I have started a new character, run up to the first quest-giving NPC, and turned around to find my better half stuck in a wall or having fallen off a cliff because he defied the straight and narrow path and wanted to do his own thing. With his vision and my MMO experience, we could be unstoppable, if only given the proper playground. Since he likes the fantasy genre and dislikes FFA PvP as much as I do, I’m left with one last option if we’re to find an MMO home as a duo:

We’re trying Vanguard: Saga of Heroes next.

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Well, I dusted off my Warhammer Online discs, patched the thing up, and raced to log in with my new trial account, only to find that…. the flight master is disabled for trial accounts.

That’s correct, not only do you start in the Empire vs. Chaos lands, you have no ability to leave them either. I have to say that deflates my desire to romp around in T1 by quite a lot; I was having fantasies of open RvR battles in all three starting lands, public quests in all three lands, Tome unlocks in all three lands…. in other words, I thought the wealth of content between the three would keep me interested for some time. One land will wear thin rather quickly.

I understand that this is meant to be a trial only and that Mythic/EA is not necessarily looking to cultivate a “community” of perma-T1 freeloaders, but encourage people to subscribe to “see” more of the game. I guess they’re not losing much if I reconsider whether or not I want to play, since I wasn’t planning to subscribe anyway, and if I don’t log on, they don’t have to maintain my avatar or its strain on the server. But I’m disappointed, because what I thought would be a fun, but limited, experience, turns out to be far more limited indeed.

It’s just as well, I suppose. Good luck to the Warhammer team and I hope they achieve their aim with this unlimited trial, whatever it may be.

(In the meantime, I have a closed beta key for Allods Online that starts Nov. 10, so I’ll be busy enough for the next little while!)

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