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Review: Tree of Savior

Posted by Ozzallos Wednesday October 26 2016 at 3:59AM
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2016 has me kind of bummed when it comes to the F2P MMORPG. A lot of great looking games kind of fell flat or simply failed to deliver, while others got pushed off to 2017. The two notables for myself were Black Desert and Blade and Soul, neither of which really lived up to the hype. Don’t get me wrong—Both were beautiful games and had their good points, but you could tell straight away that neither would have staying power beyond a year, maybe two at most.

Things were looking bleak until a title that I had written off for 2017 miraculously found its way into a 2016 release: Tree of Savior developed by IMC and published by… Nexon. That last name didn’t exactly inspire me to confidence, but the game looked beautiful if the pre-release trailers were any judge—Hand drawn sprite based graphics combined with 3D elements and backdrops as if the SNES Chrono Trigger or Legend of Zelda titles had been overhauled for an MMO release.

The moment it dropped on Steam, I was in.

At first glance, Tree of Savior has a lot of moving parts and its fair share of rough edges. Not everybody is going to be in for a dose of sprite based anime nostalgia, and while the game does an admirable job of hand walking the player through some aspects of its execution, it absolutely bleeds to death explaining others. In this review, I’ll attempt to point the more obvious pitfalls in order to make your first steps as painless as possible.

Character generation is straightforward and your ability to customize your avatar is limited. Extremely limited. Whereas games like Black Desert and Blade and Soul lavish players with customization, Tree of Savior allows you to choose your gender and hair style. That’s it. Some appearance options can be modified later in the game, but rolling your character up is disappointingly simplistic. Character classes are just as straight forward, featuring the Swordsman, Wizard, Archer and Cleric. They do exactly what you would expect them to do, more or less, but how they evolve is entirely up to you.  From there you choose your character name and “team” name. The team name remains constant regardless of which character you play as, so misbehaving behind an alt will be next to impossible. It also conveniently provides a revenue stream for the cash shop if you wish to change it.

Here’s where we’ll take a step back with a few tips--

You can choose one of two cities to start from as of the writing of this review: Orsha and Klaipeda. Choose Klaipedia. DO IT. Not only does it represent a vastly more coherent leveling experience, but it’s a more profitable one as well. Drops are plentiful and by playing through the Klaipedia quest line, you should never want for gear or spots to simply grind up to level 40. Orsha, conversely, was added as later content and doesn’t offer nearly the same experience for whatever reason. That said, there’s no reason you can’t do both. In fact, I recommend it since there is a leveling deficit between the end of the introduction quest line and the first dungeon. Teleport scrolls back and forth are available in both cities for purchase, so run one cities quests, then the other.

The other thing I would recommend in starting out is to plan your character in advance. This is one area where Tree of Savior falls down in a bad way, unfortunately, and leaves it up to the internets to set things right. Almost nothing concerning your advancement is explained aside from the fact that you have points and you should use them. The stat points are self-explanatory. They get divided up between strength, constitution, dexterity, intelligence and spirit. Skill points, on the other hand, get kicked to the curb in terms of the tutorial.

The long and short of it is this: Most jobs have three levels of specialization, otherwise known as circles. Each circle gets 15 points to distribute, also represented by that particular circle’s level. Once you reach 15 points, it’s time to choose a new specialization. From there, you can either continue to specialize or choose a new path. None of this is explained by the game. The reason why you plan it all out well in advance is because Savior is an absolute miser when it comes to skill resets, encouraging you to spend hard money to do so. Finally, once your circle reaches level 15, stop what you’re doing. Your skill XP gets capped and no amount of grinding will budge it until you start a new circle.

With that out of the way, let’s look at combat. Tree of Savior manages to successfully merge a 2/3rds top-down perspective with click to cast mechanics as the preferred method to execution. Once you either get used to the default keyboard layout or change it, the setup is very intuitive; especially if you’ve played any SNES game ever. Tree of Savior is, after all, the spiritual successor to Ragnarok Online. One simply walks up to a mob and smacks it with a sword or blasts it from afar. Easy-peesy.

Looking back at the skill system, you’ll find that your class rapidly expands in scope, branching out to become anything from a shield and spear wielding tank to an undead summoning magic user. Sometimes the choices are obvious and sometimes not so, depending on how you want to build your character and the loose translations from Korean to English involved therein. As of this writing, you can fill up to eight circles. In some ways, it’s a combination of Asia’s obsession with the job advancement system with a passing resemblance Archage’s skill advancement… Just not as suicidally boring. Still, it’s not World of Warcraft either, which completely avoids the problem of the terminally bad build by providing advancement with every other level and point specialization.

Crafting is another topic thrown to the wayside by the game, but is fortunately more straight forward than the skill system. One simply buys or scavenges a receipt and crafts the piece once all the required items is obtained. Near as I can tell, no formal declaration of specialty is required and some crafting even come part in parcel to the skill circles described above. Overall, it’s a very approachable system, if not overly deep.

Questing actually surprised me insofar that there was actually a fair amount of variety to it. Where a game like Blade and Soul subsisted exclusively on Kill X of Y content, ToS did its best to incorporate its questing into the story with escort missions, rudimentary puzzles, fedex runs, scavenger hunts, timed quests, etcetera, etcetera. Bosses are liberally sprinkled throughout your journey, but you have more of a chance dying to mob spam than you do to most of these. My cleric, for example, simply parks next to the bosses, raises shields, drops a tile of death and applies heal as necessary. These fights rarely last more than a minute, making them little more than an XP piñata than actual challenge. Even so, it’s light years better than either of the titles I mentioned at the top of the review.

If I had to level one major complaint against the game, it’s that Tree of Savior is a very solitary and lonely experience. There’s next to no incentive to party up beyond small team-based PvP, and you can partially thank cash shop greed for it. The infamous megaphone makes its appearance and instancing is capped at two runs per day for free players, undercutting the one place where communication and socialization would almost have to occur. Secondly, I have not yet to encounter content that required a party or even help outside an instance. Nobody talks and the other players might as well be bots.

Speaking of which, yeah, they’re there. My rule of thumb is that if it’s an archer farming, it’s probably a bot. Channel spam in the capital cities is an issue, but less than what I would expect since they get stepped on pretty quickly. Outside the capital, however, ToS seems to take more of an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ approach. You’ll routinely find the same bots camping spots that quickly regenerate mobs, nuking them for silver and items. They really only become unbearable when camping vital quest spawn points, though.

So what’s the call? Play it or skip it? Honestly, you could do worse. A lot worse. The art is so well done and nostalgic that you could download it for that alone, but the gameplay is fortunately solid as well. That’s not saying Tree of Savior is perfect with its rough edges and all, but again, this particular reviewer likes to keep things in perspective. The cash shop isn’t overly intrusive and much of the game can be accessed with only minor limits to one’s quality of life.

But…

…But I’m getting bored. When it’s all said and done, Tree of Savior might as well be a single player game. You’ll burn through level 75 inside a week of casual gaming, which represents about 3 professions. There’s no socialization and one can only run instances two times a day globally, and that represents almost the sum total of your multiplayer experience since there is zero incentive to party otherwise. Once you get a handle on circles and their professions, there's almost no side depth to the game either.

But hey, that might be your thing. It’s certainly worth the bandwidth to find out, if nothing else.

Free Is Not an Excuse: The Armageddon.

Posted by Ozzallos Thursday March 10 2016 at 11:05PM
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It’s a common complaint amongst the more ignorant gaming masses: Why u mad bro? Or to put it in the words of a recent critic: “It's also funny when people are like "NO $$ Boycott this game!!!>.< spoiler alert: the game is free morons”.

Let’s take a moment to analyze this statement, because it is in actuality important to the future of free-to-play gaming. What this person is actually saying is that because the game is free we should by all rights hold it to a lesser standard than something that requires a subscription. On the surface, this seems like a reasonable request. You can’t hardly expect the same standards of quality from the guy coding in his basement with the budget of a ham sandwich to compare with a title that spent fifty five million in development.

Which is about how much Blade and Soul cost to make, incidentally.

No game with a budget of fifty five million should still have raging bot problems four years after release and to point, my angry commentator even tries to shore up his case with vitriol: “Complaining about bots? srsly? every game has bots man and if you're argument is that the game has been out for 4 years then look at wow.

Except that Blizzard broke Glide every patch, had an effective reporting system and actively brought litigation against the most egregious offenders. Not only was it a bad example to make a case from, it’s also completely beside the point. We as consumers shouldn’t care because this game is free, right?

Except it’s completely not.

First, this game was a subscription in Korea. To have these problems in a subscription game is completely inexcusable, frankly, and they’ve existed to varying degrees for several years. I’ve chronicled them so much in previous blog entries that it’s not even worth re-linking them in this one. While I would consider Archeage the worst example of this behavior, Blade and Soul has zero excuses. It spent fifty five million and saddled it’s users with a subscription, yet they still faced wall to wall bot spam in chat and on the map.

Say what you will about Warcraft, but it never had that problem to the same degree as I played from Vanilla to Lich King, I can count the number of bots I actually had to report on one hand because the community was actively policed by GMs. Sure there were bots... But Barrens Chat was dominate by Chuck Norris, not gold spam. Even TERA doesn’t have that problem if we compare apples to apples. You can actually chat in /global because there isn’t nonstop uninterrupted advert scripts.

But okay, sure. It’s free-to-play in the United States. I guess you could make that argument. But to do so you have to completely buy into the fact that NCSoft isn’t planning on making any money off the game what-so-ever… Like forcing people to actually buy something if they ever want to use the in-game mail system. Or the fact that costumes are running anywhere from $10-$20 per. Or the game economy overtly favors paying players by implementing Bid on Loot mechanisms.

The long story short is that these companies are clearly expecting to profit off of somebody, and what all these F2P apologists are forgetting is that there are gamers paying real money for the game. I don’t know about you , but if I’m paying premium dollars for leveling convenience, items and costumes, I damn well expect my gaming experience not resemble some amateur posting his game up on Steam for the first time. I expect simple things that Warcraft and Tera managed long ago—disallowing bots, warping hacks, and chat spam. You may be fine with expecting a free-to-play game to behave like a free-to-play game, but that all goes out the window once you start asking for real money…

…Especially with the premium prices BnS is asking for some of their stuff.

So yes, mister angry commentator, I have a very finite amount of patience for titles that pull this sort of BS. I am very hard on franchises that sink over fifty million in develop then charge outrageous founders fee for comparatively paltry returns while insisting on a subscription in its home market yet can’t even correct those problems four years down the road in another. And yes, these companies deserve to be punished for doing so.

All of which is a shame, because BnS is an otherwise great title once you the for-profit economy is set aside. In fact, I would wager there was better value in this game as a sub than the F2P ass-rape that’s going on now.

Blade and Soul vs TERA

Posted by Ozzallos Wednesday March 2 2016 at 11:11PM
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Blade and Soul vs TERA

After four years of waiting, Blade and Soul has finally released for North America and Europe, and If your question is whether you should download it, the answer is ‘yes’. The visuals and creativity are worth the bandwidth alone, but the real question you should be asking yourself is whether you’re going to want to invest the time and/or money into the game versus its competition. There have already been a lot of comparisons to Black Desert, but we’re going to take a step back and look at a more relevant comparison—Blade and Soul versus TERA.

The pair are closer in terms of release dates with BnS being released in 2012 while TERA released in 2011. Their actual content is also strikingly similar in terms of the action MMO theme. In fact, one could be forgiven for making the assumption that one was developed in direct response to the other.

So is it time to jump ship on TERA for a title that is in all actuality only about a year younger? Let’s find out.

Graphics.

To illustrate just how similar these games are, you may be surprised to learn that both utilize the Unreal 3 graphics engine. As such, neither is a slouch in the visual department. To its credit, TERA has remained one of the best looking MMOs under active development to date and given that fact, one would expect Blade and Soul to render just as competently. You’d be right, which would seem to make this category a tie.

Except it’s not. The attention to detail in BnS is exquisite. I don’t often offer that level of praise and the last time I can remember doing so was for DCUO. In fact, I’m notoriously cancerous when offering my criticism, but it is no overstatement to say this game looks amazing thanks in no small part to Kim Hyung-tae. His visionary artwork has been faithfully translated into the game itself and as long you’re on board with the anime theme, he can do no wrong. As I mentioned earlier, just looking around the game is worth the download by itself. Even better, the game makes your character look good even at level one, something a lot of developers forgo in order to abuse your appearance as progression bait.

About the only fault I can find in the BnS arsenal is an over-reliance on instanced content, as if every other character encounter had to be set aside from other players. That said, the game runs amazingly smooth on my trailing edge GeForce 650. If more instancing is what is making this game run so effortlessly, I’ll shut up about it.

Verdict: Blade and Soul

Character generation.

Aside from the attention to detail, Blade and Soul goes by the moniker ‘Boobs and Soul’ for a good reason, and that is due to its propensity to display skin and cleavage. This is largely due to Kim Hyung-tae’s influence, but it’s realistically no worse than TERA. Both are equal opportunity employers, with the guys looking just as buff and ripped as the girls are well-endowed and curvy.

Like TERA, every aspect of the character can be tweaked in some way shape or form, be it the boobs in question or something as subtle as the eye angle. Once the preference for artwork is set aside, the two games are nearly identical in their ability to customize a character; to the point that both even feature a race of lolies. About the only difference there is that I don’t feel like a perv for rolling a BnS Lyn versus TERA’s Elin.

Blade and Soul, however gets a nod for allowing to player to view their character in different lighting scenarios, something that has caused me to reroll too many times to count in other games just to get things perfect. It also lets you save appearances to a template and recall them at will for use. These are functions every MMO character generation setup should have in my opinion, and the call narrowly goes to BnS for it.

Verdict: Blade and Soul

World Content

Not to be confused with graphical prowess, this is the game’s ability to entertain you through questing and content. Frankly, this section is going to be short because neither game really excels in providing an original experience for the would-be player. Most of that consists of ‘Fedex A to B’ runs or ‘Kill X of Y’ quests. That said, Blade and Soul provides platforming elements where the player has to negotiate terrain and obstacles in order to clear some areas, but they’re is just sprinkles on the already bland meal deal.

World PvP is handled in a unique manner that I couldn’t help but to approve of. Cross faction open world PvP does exist and it’s as simple as putting on the right clothing. Multiple factions exist and each has an opposite that can attack you at will as long as you’re wearing the uniform affiliated with your faction. Don’t want to PvP? Don’t put on the clothing, that simple.

Regardless, neither the platforming nor the unique PvP switch make up for the fact that both TERA and BnS feature a very one dimensional world in terms of their content. Yes, it all looks amazing, but after that, there’s not much to it, let alone anything unique.

About the only other item to note here is NCSoft’s inability to control gold spammers or in chat, to the point where some have been noted connecting to the game via remote client to insert their advert. Your 50 name ignore limit will fill up quickly and there’s always more than that spamming the channel. In contrast, I can’t recall the last time I’ve seen a real spammer in TERA. Botting is very blatant and somewhat worrisome in a title that has effectively had four years to fix the issue If Blade can’t control this very important social aspect of their world, this particular category could easily slip into TERA’s favor.

Verdict: Tie.

Combat Mechanics.

By now, you already know that both games are action oriented, meaning your skill plays just as much of a roll in your victory as the numbers running behind the scenes. Both games require you to move, manually target and make skill shots in order to be effective, unlike a World of Warcraft target and cast setup. Though Blade Soul and TERA can be classified as action MMORPGs, how they go about executing that description is vastly different.

TERA is what I would call a 50/50 setup, relying just as much on traditional casting mechanics as it does player interaction. The game features a hotkey bar that can be rearranged at the player’s leisure and a rudimentary talent tree. While skills can often be combined, TERA is more than happy to facilitate the process for you with the simple- and sometimes repeated -push of a button. TERA also features skill based healing and traditional ranged DPS roles, so there is something for everybody.

Blade and Soul, on the other hand, is most definitely a skill based setup. It’s like somebody took a technical fighting game like King of Fighters or Tekken and made it an MMORPG. Combos, counters, breakers and other fighting game elements feature large in BnS, and none of it is handed to you on a single keystroke platter. For instance, a level 12 Kung Fu Master will have you leaping to strike an opponent from afar, Leg sweep to trip, maneuver to grapple, head-butt for HP return, block their counterattack, trigger automatic parry, attack with shoulder slam to stun and charge in with another strike to close the gap that move opened up. Aside from the automatic parry, that is all manually actuated.

At level goddamn 11.

Make no mistake, playing Blade and Soul is like learning an arcade fighting. You’re going to love it or hate it and I don’t see a whole lot of in-between here. Even the caster classes will have to contend with this, let alone the Summoner who will have to micro manage their pet in order to get the most out of it. Again, there is no world of Warcraft auto cast pet where the only real decision you make is to set attack or passive.

While classes can heal, it’s a side thing. There is no dedicated healer nor will you ever find a group looking for one. Like Guild Wars 2, it’s all DPS or crowd control. Normally I would have a problem with that like I did in GW2. It was a game whose content was dominated by DPS zergfests with CC being built in as an unconscious byproduct. In BnS, you have to know what you’re doing at all times in order to not only mitigate damage, but to actually DPS. Can you lock down your opponents? Yes, but it won’t come from button mashing and assuming equal skill levels, it won’t come easy either.

The combat system is what saves BnS from being just another pretty MMO whose world content is ultimately one dimensional and derivative. Assuming you can handle the fighting game aspect to begin with, you’ll find yourself too preoccupied with actually learning your class to care that it’s just another Kill X of Y quest, and even better, the mobs will start to incorporate those combos into their attacks as well. They start off as the same mindless mobs featured in every other MMO, but unlike those MMOs, become more than just HP sinks. They will attack, parry, combo and lock you down as well.

As for TERA? Meh. Things haven’t changed much since World of Warcraft and the minion thing was a fail gimmick from day one.

Every class has its own learning curve to keep you busy in BnS. It features two sword classes, a rogue like class, two pet classes (warlock to be added later), a mage class and an unarmed fighter class. Since you are dealing less in cast times and more in reaction times, ping does matter.

It’s not all gravy though. Key binding aren’t exactly a simple matter of drag and drop into the hotbar. You’ll have to manually set those in the options and even then, not everything is 100% changeable. If I had to level any one complaint against the system, it’s this one, and don’t even think of using your mouse to click your skills. In the end, I think the good vastly outweighs the bad and is ultimately what saves BnS from being a TERA clone or Guild Wars DPS spammer.

Verdict: Blade and Soul

Economy

This is where the Free to Play element usually comes in. It can either make or break games as it did Archeage and many, many others. By now you should know that leveling is no longer the gate of choice in F2P gaming and neither TERA or Blade and Soul overtly hamper it.

TERA has had a run time of four years now and the economy is a mess. Anything worthwhile in the game runs you several thousand in currency, while crafting and cosmetics represent the bulk of the F2P sink. While you certainly don’t look bad through the leveling process in TERA, the game definitely makes it a point to dangle better costumes in front of you as an incentive to pay more and level faster. Blade and Soul, on the other hand, lets you look good from level one and you only get to look better. It’s a refreshing approach to the carrot on a stick costume mentality because in the back of your mind you know that if your character looks this good now, what can you do with actual money?

I find that incredibly fair and amazingly refreshing.

Whereas TERA has inflation problems in its currency, BnS is an absolute miser unless you pay for premium. Even at low levels you can already tell that currency is going to be the F2P gate of choice in order to hamstring encourage you to pay into the system. Mobs might drop gear and other crap, but they won’t drop a dime unless you drop hard cash on the game. NCSoft also loves the key scheme even more than EnMasse does. For example, you got that cool weapon from a drop, but you need to unlock it first. Keys don’t grow on trees and you may not have the right one. Go buy it. And then it probably needs to be unsealed using a special unsealing charm. Since you don’t have those fabulous drop rates, you’re buying that too and the game is going to go out of its way to make sure you aren’t rolling in cash. See where I’m going with this? Make no mistake, your quality of life will suffer. Enough to make you /ragequit? Hard to say.

In terms of hard metrics, $5.00 will get you 400 NC coins and that’s about what it costs for a new character slot. EnMasse will sell you the same thing for 495 of their EMP and 1000 of that will run you $10, so we’re roughly equal in price here. Elite Status in TERA will run you nearly 2000 EMP or $20 for a 30 day period. 30 days of premium in BnS will cost you 959 NC Coins, or somewhere under $15.

Name change scrolls in TERA 995 EMP, or almost $10. BnS prices them at 1200, so that’s going to run you about $15. Character alterations in BnS is an even 1k NC Coins; just over $10. EnMass will sell that to you for 995 EMP, so again, there’s parity. Let’s take one more look, less at a quality of life purchase and more at a cosmetic. From the TERA standpoint, you can pay anywhere from 995 to 1400 EMP for a costume. BnS costumes price in the range of 800 to 1200 NC Coins… Almost not enough of a difference to matter.

There is a tie breaker, however. To do something as basic as send mail in Blade, you have to buy something with real money at least once. Dungeon modes also feature Loot Bidding where instead of rolling for loot, you bid for it. Given how stymied player income is for the free players, it’s a mechanism that goes out of its way to encourage players to pay into the system.  There’s even a key/seal system to bar you from unlocking gear easily if you are a free player. For the mail money grab alone, I’m tossing this one to the veteran.

Verdict: TERA.

Final Verdict

So the final verdict on all of this? I’m going to say it’s going to all hinge on just what kind of game you want. If you can roll with a highly technical combat system where reaction times matter and tactics are rewarded… and are willing to pay for them, I’m going to say hands down Blade and Soul. This and the creativity invested in the environment as a whole save the game from mediocrity when it probably had no right being saved.

That’s not to say TERA doesn’t have its share of technical combat, reaction based encounters and instances where tactics matter. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it deserves your money just as much as BnS does. TERA is a more casual experience, however. And again, that’s an apples to apples comparison, not against something like Warcraft whose experience is downright sedate when compared to either. Regardless, once you start talking free to play, the value ratio dramatically shifts into TERA’s favor.

Still, I cannot stress this enough: If you were that girl or guy who hated fighting games down at the arcade because of the need to learn some fancy combat system, Blade and Soul might cause you to stab you eyeballs out. Granted, there’s no complex joystick maneuvers to learn, but the learning curve is comparatively steep when contrasted against TERA… And probably every other MMORPG you care to name.

But if you can stick it out, or perhaps choose one of the more forgiving classes, Blade and Soul is worth the hype and perhaps even your wallet.

Bot & Soul - Called it.

Posted by Ozzallos Monday February 1 2016 at 3:06AM
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I so want to like Blade and Soul.

Really I do. The attention to detail is a rare treat and the combat mechanics are second to none in this humble reviewers opinion. The F2P economy is just this side of hostile to free to play gamers, but you can live with the pain and I would say that the game does a good enough job nearly everywhere else that it might actually deserve your money.

Well, that is if NCSoft can get the bots under control.

Which they won't.

As of this moment, the chat channels are wall to wall gold spam. You can ignore them, but NCSoft thoughtfully allows its players a fifty name limit on the ignore list. If you guessed there might be a hair more than fifty bots, congratulations! You have common sense. In other words, if you value the social experience of world chat, you're shit out of luck.

Worse yet, it appears that farming bots are running just as rampant as they do in Archeage. If the linked page should be removed, the relevant videos appear here and here, as well as my initial concerns on the matter and those links posted here.

I really do wish there would be some sort of consequence for this behavior. No, not the botters... The publisher who decides its okay to import a game with known problems- a game who has already had a three year head start in other markets to fix these issues -then have the balls to ask top dollar for it. Sadly, I don't see that happening with this title, but I don't think it will have the life span NCSOft is expecting it will. When you combine these botting problems with the advesarial F2P element (almost no money drops for F2P players, TERA-like key schemes, inability to mail items unless you spent real money, etc), I believe it will negatively impact the game long term. It won't kill it, but it won't engender player loyalty either.

It's a fun game... but I don't like the feeling that you'll be tossing your money into a pit if you spend it here. Don't say I didn't warn you.

ASTA... la copypasta?

Posted by Ozzallos Wednesday November 4 2015 at 11:11PM
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When it comes to MMOs, I sometimes feel like North America- and by extension Europe -is the Gamestop bargain bin-- you know, the dumping ground for discounted games that didn’t quite make the cut. While that describes quite a bit of the F2P market, it especially describes ASTA – The War of Wind and Tears. The first thing you should know about this game is that it is no longer being supported by its original developer, which makes future content beyond the core game a somewhat iffy proposition. Just keep that in mind if you’re feeling spendy.

The next piece of criticism you’ll hear about ASTA is that it is the Warcraft of the East, and again, there’s no denying that this game is almost a wholesale clone of Blizzard’s flagship title. Be that as it may, I feel the stereotype sells the game short, especially since most of the MMOs made within the last decade are unapologetic Warcraft clones. While that could be a bad thing, there are two things to consider before writing ASTA off completely:

First, it plays like vanilla Warcraft, and that’s not a bad thing folks. World of Warcraft was already pretty user friendly when it first launched, but the current iteration is so dumbed down it’s not even funny. It tries to be all things to everybody and in the process has turned into a very mediocre product. ATSA plays very much like Warcraft before it was weighed down with kludge.

The second thing to consider is that when people are describing this as the Warcraft of the East, they quite literally mean it. From the storyline to the world you play in, everything is imbedded in Eastern mythology to the point that while there is a theme park structure, it’s barely recognizable. Adding to that ambience are the voice overs. None of it has been transitioned to English aside from subtitles, giving it a more immersive feel.

Beyond those two elements, you’re getting pretty much what’s on the tin; a product that Blizzard pioneered a decade ago with a few minor nuisances. ASTA features five classes and five races spread out across two factions. Movement, cooldowns and combat are handled like its Warcraft forefather, though with the wrinkle of adding your own stat points that accumulate with each level. There’s even a talent tree to invest in for each level after nine. Sound familiar?

Graphically, ASTA isn’t going to win any awards. Where the vanilla Warcraft comparison certainly helps in the gameplay department, it unfortunately holds true in the visuals as well. While Blizzard’s title has undergone a number of graphical updates, ATSA obviously has not, so don’t be expecting cutting edge visuals regardless of the fact that it is using cryengine. What is to like is another similarity to that of Warcraft’s environments, and that is creativity. The game definitely has its own unique style and goes all-in on the mythological Asian theme without becoming too cartoony.

Character models are well done—Better than Warcraft, even. Much of your character is customizable and there’s enough races to keep everybody happy. Humans inhabit both factions, but those of the Ora more or less represent the undead. Though cross faction humans are usually the same regardless of what they’re called by a game, ASTA does a good enough job making you feel like they’re different. As an Ora, you kinda feel damned through a combination of the game visuals and starting environment.

Speaking of starting environments, so many games fail at this it’s not even funny. Even TERA, which I personally like, sucks hard at this, and by this I mean dumping every race and every faction in the same goddamn starting zone over and over to ensure you want to stab your eyeballs out when leveling alts. Fortunately, every race has their own starting area like Warcraft in order to help stave off that eye-gouging boredom. You can even go back into the other allied race’s starting content to cleanup those quests for an extra boost, something I always particularly liked about Warcraft.

And hey, there’s even PvP battlegrounds to round out the package.

So what does all of this mean for you? Well, you get a near Warcraft experience that has so far demonstrating itself to be somewhat fair at the cash shop while allowing you to enjoy something familiar; especially if you’re of the mind that it all went downhill after Lich King. It’s likewise familiar but not quite, as if World of Warcraft got an eastern expansion pack tacked on to it. That’s not to say it’s anywhere close to competing with the source material and even then, Warcraft’s dominance is in its twilight anyway. With all the competition in place, we’re certainly not blazing any new trails here.

All of that said, I’ve seen games do worse. A lot worse, so try the beta. See if you like it. Usually titles that try the Warcraft thing screw it up because they fuck up a proven formula. ASTA mostly doesn’t and ultimately comes away better for it.

Death of an MMO redux: Warhammer 40k Eternal Crusade

Posted by Ozzallos Thursday October 8 2015 at 6:59AM
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How to kill your Silver Bullet MMO franchise in one easy step:

What business model will the game use?

Eternal Crusade will be available in retail, for digital purchase, and a free-to-play option we call “Free-to-Waaagh!”. By purchasing a copy of the game, you will have access to it forever with no need for a subscription. There will be post-launch expansions as well as a cash shop for aesthetic customizations and side-grades.

You can play Free-to-Waaagh only as an Ork Character. In contrast to the premium Ork progression, some options will be locked, but you’ll be able to go anywhere and fight for the Waaagh! If you like it, but don’t want to pay the full price, you can unlock some of the missing options with micro-transactions.

-Warhammer 40k: Eternal Crusade FAQs

Billing yourself as a Free to Play MMO from the outset is a risky proposition. Name brand recognition is almost mandatory and even then you’ll need some way to make profit on the backside so you can keep the lights on. Most of your player populace will be free to play until you can entice them to spend money and to do that, you need to give them a taste of the game. Like crack, if you will. The analogy is probably more relevant than not, but that’s neither here of there. Without that foot in the door, you will fail.

While no Star Wars in terms of franchise power, Warhammer 40k isn’t exactly a slouch for fandom, so let’s be generous and say that we’ve at least got a foot in the door. The next is convincing players to spend money, and that’s where Behavior Interactive has gone horribly wrong. Take your favorite MMO, for example. I don’t care which one, but pick one. Got it? Good.

Now you are only allowed to play humans. All other factions are locked out behind a paywall. What? Your MMO is only a single race type game? Okay, you only get to play fighters. Mages, Clerics and thieves are locked behind the same pay wall. While the latter example is less accurate, you get the idea. Free to play lives and dies by giving players a taste of their game. Most of them are not dumb enough to lock a majority of their content behind a cash shop veil from the outset, and that’s where the critical fault here lies with Eternal Crusade. I hear you like orks. So here’s some orks with some orks and a motherfucking cash shop for anything else.

I’m sure you can picture the meme well enough without me having to post it here.

Of the games out today, their business plan seems to resemble Guild Wars 2 the most, but let's be honest-- Does anybody here think Arenanet's game would have been even a fraction as successful if they had forced all F2P player to play just Charr until they ponied up the cash? Say it with me: Nope.

Now I’ve hear that part of this is on purpose. Behavior-if I remember right –wants there to be the hordes of Orks just like there is in the fiction. While it certainly serves the purpose, I can’t help but to think that you’ll completely devaluate the gaming experience by creating an us-versus-them environment, and not simply on the battlefield. We’re talking the have and have nots. The pay versus free players. This can already be a poisonous topic among the player community without going out of your way to actually instigate it as a policy. More to the point, you’re subtly insinuating your free to play user base is an expendable horde.

If this game is planning on surviving as a F2P title, it’s deliberately handicapping itself by locking a majority of its content out from the outset for those free players to sample; and make no mistake, that will be the majority of the player population. It’s also creating a poisonous environment by design and frankly, I don’t think there is enough of an initial paying base to sustain the actual pay portion. Yes, I know it’s Warhammer 40k… but most of this game’s potential audience doesn’t have a figure of Slaanesh on their desk or a 40k rulebook for reference.

I’m predicting one of two things here: Either Behavior Interactive realizes that /wrists is really a bad idea and opens up the race archetypes to everybody or this game implodes faster than the grimdark plot of Warhammer 40k itself.

Leveling – The Gateway Drug

Posted by Ozzallos Sunday October 4 2015 at 5:02AM
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Free to Play publishers. You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.

Whilst perhaps not the wise words of Obi-Wan Kenobi, it's certainly a close enough description of free to play’s state these days. A company that cannot find a way to get money from you now (subscriptions) will find a way to get it from you later and perhaps with more desperation (F2P). The cash shop was and still is the facilitator of this big reach around, and is largely used to actuate the pay to convenience theme we all know and love. Buying all out gear advantage is usually frowned upon by most players, but speed leveling items are commonly accepted as only a minor sin.

With so much competition these days, publishers have to walk a fine line—They want their game to be playable in order to attract eyeballs, but not too playable. They want you to buy something from them at some point, and that has traditionally been to alleviate level grind; and therein lies the rub—We gamers are a patient lot when it comes to free stuff. Years of half-baked MMOs have numbed many of us to the grind to the point where we accept it as a fact of life. To put it simply, level grind no longer serves as an effective incentive to wring cash from us.

For the Free to Play publisher, that’s a problem. One of their primary revenue gates is being rendered ineffective, and if they can’t get their cash now or later, they’re pretty much screwed.

Now I’d feel sorry for these people if Free to Play was being used as a fair and equitable transaction of money for entertainment, and there are a few companies out there that really do deserve our business. But by and large, it’s not. Right now, I can go to Greenman and pre-order Fallout 4 for $65, a title that is 100% complete and shines through and through. It quite literally has thousands of hours of voice, a plot, and the graphics are stunning. There is nothing about this game that doesn’t scream quality entertainment.

Or I can go to Wargaming and spend that same $65 on a Tirpitz tier 8 battleship-- Basically a fragment of a gaming experience in a game that is rife with balance issues. A game that is missing core features not due out until 2016. A game that is in no way complete regardless of its launch status.

Now if it sounds like I came here to specifically rag on Wargaming and World of Warships, you’re only half right. I’m actually using them as an example of where the more unsavory elements in the Free to Play industry are taking their brand. We’ve known for a while that manipulating player psychology plays a big role in getting users to spend hard cash. The most egregious example of this is the in-game Slot Machine. Or lottery. Or cash shop random prize box. Regardless of what you want to call it, it achieves the same end as gambling does in a casino: The thrill to maybe win big with odds heavily weighted in the houses favor.

Reaching back to Firefall’s beta, this same tactic was used to simultaneously used to encourage players to retire horded currency for lack of meaningful content as well as stimulate real cash growth for the company as players bought more game currency. They could have added any of those new visuals to the cash shop as promised, but nope. Fuck you, players. We want… no, we need money from you whether this game is called free to play or not.

This is the state of most F2P today: An adversarial relationship between publisher and consumer; where one tries to exploit the psychological weaknesses of the other.

And like ebola herpes, it’s evolving.

It’s a trend I’ve been noticing across several free to play titles and perhaps you’ve noticed it too: leveling is getting easier. Taking World of Warships for example, it’s not the actual grind that’s the problem. You can get to late game ships easily enough… It’s staying there because the economy is specifically rigged to force you back down into the mid-tiers so that you can produce enough income to play at the higher ones, like some fucked up gaming yo-yo. Conveniently, you can abdicate this by buying premium time and/or premium warships to produce the cash to stay at the desired gaming levels.

Archeage provides us with another example, as I touched upon in my review of that game. Leveling and combat are almost untouched in terms of the player’s ability to play the game for free. Heck, you can even craft your way to max level. For the majority of the game, you may think you’re getting a pretty fair shake until you realize it’s not the grind they want you to pump money into... It’s everything else. Housing. Ships. Production. End game gear Etc.

Even new arrivals such as Wildstar are showing hints of this. Leveling in this game is not hard, but you start to see a hint of what the game wants to focus your finances when it comes to simple things such as dyes and cosmetics with prices now scaling into multiple platinum.

The TL;DR version is this—The scum and villainy of F2P are still looking to separate you from your money for as little as they can possibly get away with but their tactics are changing. The old barriers of enforced level grinding are just as good at turning potential players away as it is funneling them into cash shop, or even not at all. In its place a new form of psychological manipulation has sprung up—

Attachment.

The game you’re playing just made it fairly painless to level up to 100 and now you’ve got this somewhat awesome character. It dual wields two swords of +4 badassery. You’ve grown attached to it. It has a big number to go with. And now that you’re up here, you’re going to really want to compete, right? Pimp that bitch out. Buy some cash shop coins. Throw some dye on that costume you just bought. Ease the crafting grind that you really didn’t think was mandatory before.

The levels were a diversion. The real threat to your wallet was waiting up here at max level the entire time, hoping that you’ve become so psychologically attached to your character that you’ll pay the publisher to get bent over on the backside. The addiction of 'just one more level!' is now a tool of the trade.

Hey, even I’ll admit this can be a fair exchange depending on the company involved. But do yourself a favor. Well, two favors. Find out what the money sinks are before you invest the time. Second, just assume you didn’t find that single golden nugget amongst the industry flotsam known as free to play, because you probably didn’t.

Free to Play needs to change. I'm struggling to think of an industry that is so manipulative to its consumer base as to resort to such deception in order to get their sales; one that goes to such great lengths to disguise their commerce model in order to ass-fuck you for a dollar.

This it'snt the future of gaming. This is the death of gaming.

Blade and Soul: Feeling Proud of Itself

Posted by Ozzallos Friday October 2 2015 at 12:07PM
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Call this one an NCsoft double feature of sorts. It’s taken Blade and Soul nearly four years to get a North American release date, but we finally have one on the table for beta: October 30th. I’d have been more enthusiastic if not for two things—First, having learned that Blade and Soul is yet another title extremely porous to hacking. The second is their Founder’s pack pricing model; as in holy crap does this game think highly of itself.

Now maybe NCsoft will deal with the hacking issues in the localization from here to there. I’m doubtful, but it could happen. The pricing for the founders packs are, however, less than optimistic. The lowest level doesn’t buy you much at twenty five dollars—The most notable being beta access and 25k “premium points” of dubious value. To get anything meaningful, you have to take the next step up and spend seventy five fucking dollars. Want more than that? $125. Pay up, bitch.

Now I’m going to go out on a limb here and just say that this looks amazingly similar to how players got boned for Archeage early access. I know the game looks amazing and NCsoft isn’t usually horrible, but Blade and Soul is starting to look like a game poised to anally rape you and your wallet from the outset. And with the distinct possibility that the same hacking problems will be present in this version as well? Likewise, it's not as if these games are startups in desperate need of cash. Blade and Soul has already had a successful four year run in another market... WTF is it with the exorbitant early access pricing scheme?

Do yourself a favor, folks… Don’t be the early adopter on this one. Let somebody else get burned first.

Wildstar: Reloaded F2P Review

Posted by Ozzallos Friday October 2 2015 at 10:29AM
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Wildstar F2P, eh?

It doesn’t sound like such a bad deal when you think about it and it’s really not, depending on your MMO needs. As many of you already know, Wildstar started its life out as a subscription based title, but failed to generate enough player interest to sustain continued, long term operation. NCsoft came on board and Wildstar was re-launched a year later as Wildstar Reloaded. Going F2P has changed some aspects of the game, of course, the biggest being that F2P gamers are only allowed two character slots per realm and you cannot create or invite to guilds.

That’s not so horrible, right?

Two player slots does strike me as a bit chintzy but not overly crippling, and as long as you don’t have any guild aspirations, it’s a pretty fair deal. Of course, there’s other minor drawbacks—fewer auction house slots, costume slots, etc, while Signature access either alleviates the above or significantly overpowers the bonuses to many aspects of the game. Yep, pay to convenience is alive and well in the new Wildstar F2P but that’s only a crime if you don’t get something in return, such as a great gaming experience.

Not much has changed insofar as content goes—Wildstar still has that edgy B-Movie sci-fi cowboy plot going on, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing, in my opinion. If there is one thing the title has in spades, it’s style and attitude. A lot of MMOs take the safe route and lean on more familiar settings, such as ye ole China, but you can tell somebody cared about the Wildstar universe and its presentation to the player. Quality narration is plenty and even the simple act of leveling up greets with a rockstar welcome. The cartoonish art style is likewise distinctive and probably single parallel I’ll draw to World of Warcraft in that care went into its design. For some, the cartoonish presentation of the characters and the world may not be there thing, but there’s no denying it was well done. Finally, Wildstar goes out of its way to tell a story and does so better than bioware and its multimillion dollar flop.

So why didn’t Wildstar succeed?

There’s very little fresh about the title, in my opinion. Like Tera, it utilizes an action driven combat engine to interact with the bad guys world. Unlike Tera, it’s not nearly as fun. First off, most of the classes are casters to some degree, with only two being proper melee types. It results in a lot of standoff spam that may or may not be your thing. In PvE, it makes for a pretty sedate experience that gets a bit more exciting in PvP because real players don’t stand around waiting for numbers to fall off of them. In the end, it results in somewhat bland gameplay since the mobs always come to you but you really never have to go to them.

The other part of it is the telegraph system that dumbs it down even more. This was originally sold as a feature of the game, but the more I play it in Wildstar, the more distain I have for it. It literally dumbs gameplay down to the point where you mindlessly avoid the red zones that enemies spawn with zero guesswork. Sure boss battles change that up, but in doing so almost completely invalidates this mechanism with unavoidable attacks and the like. Needless to say I’m not a fan of this system and if would never make it into any MMO I would care to build. Even PvP features this system, which makes it more annoying.

“Oh crap, there’s a giant cone of red death getting charged up. Better move out of the way!”

It’s pretty much like that, but more hectic.

The leveling system is pretty much standard fare after that. You level and get new skills, f which you can only put eight on your action bar at once. This is my frowny face. You can individually improve those skills through a point structure and have yet another point structure to get more skills. Frankly it feels like this system was slapped together as an afterthought, but serves its purposes toward specializing your character.

Faction balance is likewise lopsided. A huge chunk of the gaming population invariably chooses the Exiles due to some poor decisions on Carbines part. First, they are pretty much the theme that Wildstar advertises on the tin, not the shady Dominion Empire. Seconds, they get the underdog freedom fighter backstory. Third, and most importantly: Furries. Exiles have all of these innate advantages while the Dominion doesn’t get nearly enough advertising screen time, and now history is repeating itself in F2P.

So there you have it. Wildstar’s biggest sin was being a mediocre game with a great story, much like Old Republic. It wasn’t a bad title, just not enough to actually interest players from the other mediocre titles that were already free to play or the handful of excellent ones that easily eclipse Wildstar’s gameplay. As a free to play title, I predict success, however. Free is just the right price and the care invested in this title’s backstory is worth that alone.

World of Warships Review

Posted by Ozzallos Sunday September 20 2015 at 10:16PM
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The latter part of 2015 is shaping up to be an exciting quarter due in no small part to Wargaming's newest release: World of Warships. I've been playing since the closed-but-kinda-open-beta phase, which was basically a soft advertising release the moment they started to sell shit. Now the banner ads are plastered across every for-profit review site in existence, which means its absolutely fair game in terms of reviewing what Wargaming deems a release ready product.

Yeah, about that...

While World of Warships isn't as launch ready as Firefall was - that is to say not a flaming pile of ass stank -Warships doesn't meet any industry standard of being release ready aside from the fact they'll happily allow you to pay while you test their product for them. In other words, welcome to free to play gaming, enjoy your stay.

So let’s get the bad out of the way first, if only because there's a lot of good to look at. Probably the most glaring issue Warships suffers from is ship balance. It's atrocious at the moment. Of the destroyers, cruisers, battleships and carriers currently at your disposal, the game heavily favors cruiser to such a degree that they pretty much dominate player populations. They invariably have the rate of fire and maneuverability to inflict substantial punishment. When combined with the broken fire mechanism Wargaming insists isn’t a problem, they are the ideal class. Carriers have likewise struggled to find a home, an issue aggravated mainly by Wargaming’s policy of pigeonholing aircraft into specific loadouts by nationality. If you’re playing a United States CV, you get worthless dive bombers and fighters. If you take the Imperial Japanese Navy, learn to love torpedo bombers and the inevitable pendulum of nerfing that comes with them.

The next major obstacle to your enjoyment of WoWS is the economy. Now none of us really have any right to complain about the grind. It’s a fact of free to play life. Where Wargaming goes horribly wrong is in the upper tiers, where you cannot regularly afford to play unless you are a premium, real-money paying player. As a free to play gamer, you will lose money even in winning, forcing you back down to the mid-tiers in order to afford high-tier gameplay. Even their latest premium ship offering, the Tirpitz, will cost you nearly $65 to purchase in the here and now. Yes, for the price of a 100% complete game by a first string developer anywhere else, you can buy a single ship.

What. The. Fuck.

And not even that great of a ship. Can I afford $65? Sure can. Am I going to throw it in Wargaming’s direction to buy a fraction of a gaming experience that frankly isn’t even complete yet? To answer that, please take this moment to imagine me at the Waragaming homepage, flipping my monitor off.

Fortunately, it’s not the end of the world. As long as you can accept that you can’t play in the upper tiers indefinitely for free, it’s not like you have to buy a $65 ship, and juggling port slots for your ships is doable. There’s still quite a bit of experience to be had sans payment, which brings us to the good stuff.

The graphics have only gotten better with each patch. As silly as it may sound, water textures and movement are an integral part of what is, in effect, a naval warship lite simulator. World of Warships has the best I’ve seen, period. The skies likewise have their own mutating patterns, even if actual weather has yet to be implemented. The lighting is superb and ship models a joy to admire. A map or two is usually added with each new patch, which is the main reason I didn’t list the currently limited map rotation as a detractor in the bitch rant above. Eventually there will be a ton of them, I imagine, even if it’s hardly enough for a ‘release ready’ title.

In any case, it’s hard not to forgive Wargaming the moment you pulverize another battleship into broadside versus broadside submission and watch your opponent’s fiery hull slip beneath the waves. It’s just that good.

Audio is likewise great for the most part. It has its quirks here and there and also seems to undergo varying degrees of adjustment from patch to patch- not always for the better –but it’s still high quality stuff. Ambient noise, battle damage, and even the sound track are all well done. Patch adjustments aside, I really can’t ask for better.

The ships models themselves are wonderful when balance isn’t an issue. Individual components, such as turrets, rudders, torpedo tubes and the like can all take damage. Fires can and inevitably will break out aboard your ship along with flooding, forcing you to affect simplistic damage control. As long as you can deal with the healthy dose of arcade in this simulator lite, you should be able to deal with it and  the occasionally obnoxious random number generator working behind the scenes to infuriate you.

As of the moment, there are only two Navies—The United States and Imperial Japanese Navy. Other nationalities exist, but mainly only as premium ships. Destroyers represent the glass canons of the fleet with low visibility and the potential to nuke other ships with their torpedoes. Cruisers play the role of assault and damage while battleships make up the backbone of fleet with their ability to take punishment and sledgehammer blows… Between lengthy reload times and terribad turret traverse. Carriers, on the other hand, are the real time strategy component of WoWS. Your firepower is in your air wing, which you can control and target like a real-time strategy game. Some like it, while others call it “sky cancer”.

From a purely gameplay standpoint, I would like nothing better to categorize World of Warships as a win. While not release ready by any stretch of the imagination, each patch and subsequent update has shown measurable progress forward, not simply dicking around with meaningless systems. Balance continues to elude the title in many areas, but its obvious Wargaming is trying…

…Which is ironic since it is Wargaming itself that I hold the biggest reservations about when it comes to recommending World of Warships. Like many Free to Play games, the intrinsic desire to ass-fuck the player’s wallet over is present everywhere you look. We all understand these people have to make money, but $65 for a ship reeks of profit whoring. I also cannot state this enough: Just because you bought that premium ship doesn’t mean it’ll actually be worth anything. Witness the IJN cruiser Yubari, sold as part of the Closed Beta promotion. The ship is a buggy, nerfed POS that meets none of its advertised criteria, let alone behaves as a "premium" ship. In other words, don’t be the early adopter. Let others get burned first before you pull the trigger.

Then there was the entire Murmansk debacle, where Wargaming advertised a Russian Tier 5 cruisers, port slots and gold as a reward for taking part in the E3 Humble Bundle promotion. Once it was over, Wargaming claimed it was only for the trial period and promptly revoked the aforementioned loot, much to the outrage of the player base and repeated assurances that players would be able to keep the ship permanently. It took nearly two weeks and constant pressure to get Wargaming to keep the terms they advertised, not the ones they retroactively decided upon.

When combined with adversarial late game economy that tries its hardest to skirt the ‘free’ in ‘free to play’, it’s hard to actually say that I trust the company to do the right thing in regards to its users as matter of policy. To point, we still haven’t seen the shared economy like the one that exists between WoPlanes and WoTanks, even though it was one of the first things players were promised.

World of Warships is loads fun, even in the partially completed state it launched in. It certainly has tons of potential and is imminently playable… That is if Wargaming as a company can get its head out of its ass and stop trying to screw the player base over just because it thinks it can get away with it.