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Random reviews of games I've played

This time: The Chronicles of Spellborn. Good, clean, bear killing fun!

Author: biff10426

The Chronicles of the Bear Slayer: A The Chronicles of Spellborn Review!

Posted by biff10426 Friday March 27 2009 at 9:50AM
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After seeing a number of those World of Warcraft commercials featuring prominent stars such as Mr. T, William Shatner, Verne Troyer, and Jean Claude Van Damme, I was left wondering if Stephen Colbert played any MMO's himself. I know he mentioned he used to be some sort of Dungeons and Dragons nerd in his youth, so it wouldn't be surprising, but I did play a MMO today that I know Colbert never would.

It's called The Chronicles of Spellborn.

You may be thinking why, probably not, but maybe. Why wouldn't Stephen Colbert play this game? I mean, it looks somewhat decent, right? Truth is, after seeing all those WoW commercials, I'm thoroughly convinced that Hollywood's top talent just wouldn't give a “freemium” (sub-if-you-REALLY-want-to) MMO a chance. Nay, these big names are too...big for that. That wasn't the reason why Stephen Colbert wouldn't play TCOS though...

The Chronicles of Spellborn also has bears...lots of bears.

Confused? Perplexed? Somewhat interested in the rest of this article? Read on about my first few hours in Acclaims next attempt in the MMO market as I lace up my boots, put on some camo, and knife me some four footed omnivorous grizzlies in my own The Chronicles of the Bear Slayer.

Creating my Bear Slayer took a little longer than expected; TCOS surprised me by having a somewhat deep-ish character creator. I've been playing quite a few of these free2play MMO's over the last few weeks, and this is the first time I was presented with more than two options for hair, three options for faces, and eyes ranging from absurdly big to looking like my toon was long overdue for his next “fix”. Don't get too excited though, this isn't City of Heroes. TCOS may have more than what you're used to, but it's nothing worthy of an award. Not that it matters much, as in most loot driven games, as you're initial look will only last until you find that next shiny piece of armor or helm.

 

Bears, bears, bears, bears, WHEEEEE!!

 

Interestingly enough, TCOS isn't a loot driven game. At least by standard comparisons; you choose your armor and weapons right from the get go.

SPOILER!

Weapons and armor have absolutely no impact on your stats at all. Instead, you're to slot Sigils in them, almost like the materia system from Final Fantasy 7, only without the angst driven, spiky haired hero to wield them. These Sigils can be moved to other pieces of equipment any time you'd like, so you won't find yourself debating over whether or not you should take your new, crappy looking, but much more uber shiny over your cooler, more badassy, but shittier current equipment. This feature will at least ensure that while everyone will be running around with the same epic tier Sigils by end game, they at least won't all look the same.

As far as my weapons load out, prior experiences told me that not only is a knife the best tool for killing bears, it's also the manliest. Presented with the choice of becoming a Warrior, Spellcaster, or Rogue, I decided that Rogue would best fit my bear stalking nature. My eagerness to hop right into the bush and start my unadulterated massacre of the local bear population was waylaid by the token tutorial phase. To prove that I was strong enough, and a bit crazy enough, to kill bears with only a knife, I was tasked with aerating straw dummies and crates. After dispatching these inanimate objects with extreme prejudice only a Rogue can exhibit, I was told to meet the captain. After waiving off my roguish wit and charm, the kind female captain reminded me that the ship we were traveling through time and space with was currently under attack by some weird looking creatures. I passed her my digits and deftly leaped to the deck.

 

Bait...bear bait.

 

Showing off my combat skills, and almost getting killed in the process, I made quick work of these assailants. By chance, or fate if that's your thing, we arrived at our destination shortly after. The captain smiled and told me that we were not meant to be, and I should hurry ashore to get on with the damn game.

Calystix the Bear Slayer had made his arrival, and he was hungry...for blood.

Bear blood.

Turning down quest requests left and right, I finally met the person I had been looking for. This man had a problem, a bear problem, and was looking for someone to help out. I gave him a curt nod and, grasping my blade, leaped into the woods to track down these godless killing machines to make things just a little bit more right in this world.

 

The hibernating bear sleeps. I'll make him sleep...FOREVER!

 

Combat in TCOS, much like fighting bears in real life, is not a lazy mans game; you're without the option to simply click an enemy then grab a sandwich while your character happily swings away at whatever target you gave him. Combat in TCOS is more akin to First Person Shooters, or your somewhat average action game. You're given a reticule, to hit something your target must be in, or around, the reticule. Clever! An attempt to make all those hours of grinding a little bit more exciting! Unfortunately, that wasn't the case. My usual battles with bears usually started with me trotting up to a bear, alerting him to my presence (real men don't back stab their quarry, no matter how dangerous), closing the gap so we where more or less standing toe to paw, then exchanging blows how one normally would in most other MMO's.

In short, while the combat tries to be a bit different and intuitive, it ends up breaking down to the same old same old. Keep in mind I was playing the game for a relatively short amount of time, so end game bears might prove a bit more crafty and mobile. I think this system could really get the most out of itself if epic bosses actually moved around the combat area, instead of sauntering up like the big bags of hit points that they are and exchanging blows. I look forward to exploring this combat system a little bit more, and hope to find some hectic battles later on.

After getting my ass handed to me by a pack of wild bears a few times, I decided it was time to look over my Skill Deck and make some adjust-

Oh, right. Instead of the commonplace skill bar you find in a lot of MMORPG's today, you're given one WITH AN AXIS! This bar rotates every time you use a skill, and is somewhat confusing and unwieldy at first. All skills are grouped into tiers and have to go to a corresponding “face” on your Skill Deck. This basically means that while you may have 300 skills at your disposal, you're limited to bringing only so many into combat. Using a skill rotates the Deck to the next face, presenting you with your next choices. You're free to configure your Skill Deck any time you wish, out of combat.

 

Ohgod ohgod ohgod ohgod!

 

The unwieldy part comes from the fact that left clicking will execute whatever skill you have highlighted. You have to use the number keys or the mouse wheel to change which attack you'll execute with the left mouse button. This takes some getting used to, and I found myself staring down at my Skill Deck 90% of the time during a fight. This would probably “fix itself” later on as you got used to your Deck's setup; eventually memorizing what skills you had where.

A quick reconfiguring of my Skill Deck and a short sprint later, I was destroying bears with a renewed fervor. It didn't look like I was alone; before I died it seemed that the bear population was somewhat scarce, as it took me almost ten minutes to kill five of them. After my respawn, I couldn't walk more than three feet without tripping over some bloody and still warm bear carcass. How wasteful! I suppose the low population of bears is reasonable; they don't exactly roam around in packs, especially when they know I'm on the prowl and have a quota to meet. For a largely non-loot driven game, I did seem to find lots of loot boxes popping up after downing a bear asking me if I wanted to take a “bear vertebrae” off the corpse. This lead me to believe that not only had I just killed this thing, I had LIQUIFIED it with my knife. A few pocket fulls of paws, spines, and other assorted bear parts later, I was stinking up the forest so damn bad that I was suddenly ambushed by a pack of boars that gored me but good. They would not have my bear parts, however. I cackled after looking back into my loot back after respawning, again, finding that the boars were the ones to come up short handed hoofed.

 

You will find me to be a sour meal, BEAR!

 

I decided ten bears were enough for the day, no need to cull the population too much and rob others of the satisfaction one can only get by slaughtering bears, and had a short talk with the man who gave me the task of killing these interlopers in the first place. He smiled, handed me some potions that would increase my maximum hit points for a while (would have come in useful while actually fighting the bears), and slipped some nasty looking coins into my pocket. Irked, I quickly looked around to see if anyone was looking and silently slit his throat and relived him of some money he was no doubt giving to other up and coming bear slayers, and quickly logged out.

 

Shhhhhhhhhhiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii-

 

Overall, The Chronicles of Spellborn is a decent looking game. It has some newfangled mechanics and controls which will appeal to some, but will probably drive off most. The targeting system, while interesting, didn't really do anything to make the game more exciting. I would say it would make PVP a bit more interesting, but I'm left to believe that most duals would quickly degenerate to your common knife duel, as seen in Counter-Strike:Source. The game is also psuedo-free: you're allowed to download the game at no charge and mess around in the world as you see fit until level seven. After you hit this lucky number, you won't gain anymore experience, and you'll have to pay for a subscription using Acclaims badly implemented “Coins Subscription”. Basically, you get a monthly subscription like any other pay to play, only every month you'll have to buy more coins instead of just the game automatically billing you. Bear slaying aside, a bear hunter has a lot of worries from day to day, and whether or not I have enough of these Acclaim Coins to keep playing should not be one of them. But hey, go ahead and give it whirl. You might like it...and you get to kill bears!

 

 

What dueling in The Chronicles of Spellborn probably looks like.

 

City of Heroes Issue 14: Mission Architect Impressions!

Posted by biff10426 Monday March 23 2009 at 8:29PM
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Issue 14 of City of Heroes finally hit open beta March 17th, finally letting its voracious subscribers a first look at the Mission Architect. Was the wait worth it? Was all the build up for this “new and innovative” feature really justified? Read on as I boot up the test server and give the architect a whirl in this City of Heroes Issue 14: Architect review!

Mission Architect Building

 

The first thing I asked myself after I logged it was, where exactly do I find this architect? As it turns out, there is one in almost every zone you'll come across. My character, a villain, was in Pocket D at the time. It wasn't long before I received a message from one of my friends that I should hurry to Port Oakes, where he was, to check out the Architect for myself. I got the impression that he was flipping out and going crazy, (as much as one can through text, at least) so I boosted up Super Speed and ran my evil ass from the D to the Architect in Port Oakes in record time. This was made easy; just open up your map and look around for a blue and white “AE” icon somewhere on your map. Upon getting close to my mark, I was somewhat surprised to see a HUGE building that was the Architect Entertainment building. In the game world, this new feature is explained as a sort of new entertainment, where people can create their wildest fantasies, then let other people try them out. Opening the door, I scooted inside...

 

Redeem tickets at the counter!

 

Players will be greeted to a very nice looking lobby which has a few friendly looking faces to help you out. Talking to one will give you useful information about the architect: How to use it, what you can do, how the devs go about policing stories that users come up with, and so on. From here, it's just a short elevator ride up to the action. When the doors open, you'll see another desk with a few more Architect employees. These are ticket vendors which will allow you to turn in the tickets you earn while playing created content, or while others play yours. A short hop downstairs gives you access to the computers; this is where all the magic takes place.

 

Architect main room.

 

In this large room, players will see a number of terminals presented to them. Clicking on one will bring up the Mission Architect's main screen. From here, you can choose various stories other's have created or, make your own. You can search through others stories with various search criteria, name, size, who created it, and so on. Each story will also show its average rating, as decided by the player community, and the number of votes it's received. Some special stories can be given the “Dev's choice award”, meaning the developers though it was something special, or the “Players choice award”, earned after an arc gets an average rating of at least five stars with 1000 votes. Any stories that have one of these rewards will permanently uploaded to the database and you can expect to received full experience, inf, and recipe drops while playing. If you think you have the creative talent to produce a story that might be able to earn one of those rewards, or you just have some ideas to vent, it's time to buckle down and dive into the Architect's mission creator.

 

MIssion settings

 

One would think that making their own missions would be a daunting task; filling in all the dialog, which enemies should populate your story, which map to choose, but the architect is rather streamlined and user friendly. At the start you're presented with the mission overview page. Here is where you'll choose the contact the players will interact with during your story. You can choose from a number of predefined contacts, ranging from various in game characters and objects, or create your own. From there, you move on to setting the mission's enemy group. Much like the contact, this can be groups that you've encountered during the game or you have the option of making your own. When making your own enemy group, you can opt to pull select minions, lieutenants, and bosses from enemy groups that already exist. In my mission, for example, I looked around for all the different types of robots found in the game and conglomerated them into a single enemy group. Those who want to spend the time making something really original have the option to create each of their enemies from scratch, using an interface much like the one you used when you created your own hero or villain. This option is actually a little more free form than the standard hero or villain creator tool you used, however, as it will allow you to give them practically any power set combination in the game. In short, you could give your enemy the Assault Rifle set, normally used by Blasters and Corruptors, and also give him Plant Control. This allows for pretty unique enemies which are sometimes a bit hard to take down, depending on their rank. The Architect lets you pick whether your creation will be a minion, lieutenant, boss, elite boss, or the ever-so-evil Archvillain. This feature may leave some players a bit jealous; as this level of power customization isn't available to players.

 

Custom enemy creator, look familiar? (Elec Man)

 

After setting up your enemy group, you'll have to pick a map. You can't create your own, but there is a wide selection of maps to choose from. Players pick the overall “theme” of the map they want, then can hand pick the exact layout within that theme. Depending on how many different objectives you have during a mission, you may have to switch your first pick to a larger map to accommodate. From there you can set how the mission's mobs are scaled; front loaded for hard baddies early on, back loaded for a late push in difficulty, have the mobs ramp up in difficulty, or staggered for something a bit more random. At the end of the mission, your players can find “clues”, or little reminders of their exploits, and you can fill in the details of those here as well.

 

Objective settings (Bubble Man)

 

After setting up the mission, your mission needs goals. The second part of making any mission has you choosing which goals your players are to tackle. These can range from fighting a boss, to collection an object, to escorting a person out, defending or attacking an object, and more. Creators won't find anything new when it comes to these goals, but you're at least able to mix up a variety of them in your mission keeping things somewhat fresh. Each goal has its own little settings you can adjust. In my story, I decided that the players would have to defeat the evil Dr. Wiley and his Robot Masters from the Megaman series. This meant my missions were largely “defeat boss” missions. I could decide which faction the boss fought for, the animation he would do when you find him, the animations of his surrounding mob, how hard that mob was to be, and the general location that this boss should show up. The Architect doesn't allow you to place a goal in any specific spot, instead you must choose between random, front, middle, or back. These options sometimes puts them in the general area they should be, but in my mission with upwards of eight Archvillains, sometimes they get a bit cluttered depending on the map. After setting up the parameters of your goal, you can set the text associated with them if needed. With bosses, you can write their bio, or what they say when first encountered and beaten. This adds a little bit of depth and personality to your characters, not that mine had a lot to begin since they're robots.

 

Custom enemy group editor.

 

With all the text editing and options, what about mistakes? Thankfully the Architect will notify you of any errors in your mission, telling you where you can find and fix them. Even more thoughtful: clicking on the error will automatically take you to the error so you can fix it. Some of the errors are straight forward, while others a bit more vague. I was told my custom group was invalid, but not told why or how to fix it. Some fiddling around and all was well, for the time being. Players also should be aware that there is a size limitation on your overall story, not just the mission you're creating, and it seemed the patch introduced on March 23rd lowered that limit by quite a bit. If you can create your mission with no errors, as well as being under the size limit, then it's time to test!

 

Ice Man in action!

 

Cut Man looking to slice and dice!

 

Quick Man looking...quick!

 

Testing a mission is just like playing through any mission of the game, and allows you to further tweak your enemies' attributes, looks, and placement should you feel the need. During testing you won't earn any experience or architect tickets, those can only be earned if your mission is published. You can still earn Architect specific badges, however, which should appeal to the avid “badgers” in City of Heroes. If you're happy with your creation, you can publish it which will make it available for play to anyone and subject to voting. You're limited to only three published stories per account, but can un-publish your stories anytime you want. There is no limit to how many stories you can have unpublished. Playing through a published story will give you full experience and inf rewards, but no enemy or mission completion drops. You will, however, earn tickets for defeating enemies and completing a story. These tickets can be redeemed for a plethora of goodies, ranging from Architect specific unlocks, to enhancements and reward rolls. Some of the reward rolls seemed a bit expensive (4000 tickets for a random Task Force recipe roll) but I found that the Bronze rewards, enemy recipe drops, to be not only cheap at just 35 tickets, but rewarding as well: my character got his hand on a Crushing Impact and a Efficacy Adapter from just the five rolls I did for fun. Tickets earned go into a pool which can be claimed at a Ticket Redeemer by any character on your account but, once claimed, can only be used by that character.

 

Various rewards you can buy with tickets.

 

Overall, the Mission Architect is something fresh and innovative when it comes to MMO's. Being able to write your own story arcs for at least your own personal amusement is sure to appeal to the creative minds out there. The badges that can be earned will keep the “badgers” busy for at least some time, and the tickets system ensures that running though other's stories isn't a waste of time when compared to running regular missions. Still, one has to wonder how long this appeal will hold. I play on Virtue, the unofficial RP server, and was told long before the Open Beta started that a lot of my friends had plans to make arcs related to their character or Super Group. On Freedom, a “normal” server, most players may choose to simply run the regular content over any of the Architect created ones once learning theres no recipe drops. It will be interesting to see how many of these missions are being run after a few months of Issue 14 going live, and if the devs have any plans to add to the allure of playing player created content.

Along with the Mission Architect, there is also a number of small changes being implemented to the game which can be found here:

boards.cityofheroes.com/showflat.php

 

From SHMUPMMO to MLBMMO....hmm

Posted by biff10426 Monday March 16 2009 at 11:21AM
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With the baseball season just around the corner, Games Campus is looking to bring a baseball MMO to fans who are looking for a little more action than their fantasy league can offer. Combining some parts fantasy league management and the game play of a baseball game for you console, MLB Dugout Heroes could be a home run for people that enjoy baseball games, but are looking for some more player to player interaction.

Unlike Ultimate Baseball Online, where players would control an individual player on the field, MLB Dugout Heroes lets players control their whole team. After creating an account and logging on the first time, you'll be prompted to select an official MLB team to field. These teams will have the official 2009 rosters, and I would suspect these will change as the years progress. After selecting your team, you're also prompted to name them. This may seem odd, but other people may be playing the same team in the game, and this helps distinguish them from one another. Though two players may have selected the Pirates for their team at the start, however unlikely, over their career and their owner's choices, the two won't be so identical. The players on your roster earn experience points in various stats during the games these play. For batters these include: Power (which affects your raw hitting distance), accuracy (the affect of this wasn't clearly defined, though may affect gap hitting, how often they may foul or others), Run (affects how fast that player base runs and how fast he runs when he's fielding), Fielding (affects throwing power, speed, and their error rate), and Throw (which affects their throwing speed and accuracy). These stats grow based on the players batting order, fielding position, and other events in the game such as hitting a homer. Pitchers also have stats, but they are broken down to their individual throws instead of raw stats. The more a pitcher uses a particular pitch, the more it will develop. Pitchers can also learn new pitches during their career.

The game allows a lot of leeway when it comes to deciding which areas your players accelerate in. Having a player bat first will increase their accuracy and running speed and having them play second base will increase their fielding and throw statistic. Switching their batting order and fielding position will change what stats grow and how fast. This allows you to make a power hitter or a fast running base steal, if you wanted. You could also make a well balanced player who isn't overly fantastic in any one area, but he wouldn't be lacking in it either. This appealed to me, as I saw a few players on my team who were lacking in a few departments and by simply switching their order or fielding position, I could expect to see some increases in those stats before switching them around again. This feature of the game will allow two players fielding the same MLB team to have a vastly different play style. One player playing the Pirates (again, unlikely) could have built up his team to be power hitters and pretty accurate when it comes to putting the ball in the gaps, but perhaps lacking in the fielding department. On the same note, the other player could have built his team up to be extremely fast in the outfield and can gun down a player trying to make a steal, but only so-so when it comes their turn to bat. Pitchers wouldn't be excluded from this example either; one player could have worked his pitcher's fast balls for blazing speed, while the other could have worked on his curve ball or sinker making his pitches slower, but more confusing to the opposing team's batter.

The various options for statistics growth and where to put your players where is probably the most complicated, but good, feature of the game; actually playing one is much simpler. Before the game starts, you're presented with your opponents line-up, and can make any last minute changes to yours. During the game you're allowed to make substitutions as you would in a real game of baseball. I wasn't sure if you were able to switch a runner out for a pinch one. Depending on your game length, however, you may not need to make any subs at all. You can set a match to be three, five, seven, or nine innings long. During my play testing three seemed to be the most common, and pitchers hardly get tired before that. When the game goes live, however, I would expect to see more games being played at longer innings as it would suspect it would be an opportunity to earn your players more experience, and a game at nine innings is closer to the “real thing”. Each of your players has the ever so well known “HP”, or hit points, stat on the field. It didn't seem like it affected anyone else besides the pitcher. Each pitch available to your pitcher costs them HP to throw, some more than others. It could be safely said that leveling up your pitches would more the likely lower the HP cost for a particular pitch. Relief pitchers' pitches cost significantly more than their starting counterparts, though they're only meant to see the last few innings of the game. On the flip side, however, their breaking balls are incredibly wicked.

The controls, like the majority of the game, were designed to be simple. The game is played with either the mouse or keyboard, but you can choose which you use the most. Left clicking will perform a majority of the the actions in the game, while using the WASD keys will decide which base you throw to (or try to steal). The overall view of the game is the same for both players: from behind the batter. While batting, you'll be presented with a strike box and a little icon that closely resembles the tip of a bat. Your objective, as one might guess, is to put this icon over the incoming ball and click the left mouse button to hit it at the appropriate time. I was unable to test whether hitting a pitch with different parts of the icon largely affects how far or where the ball would go, but it would be a pleasant surprise if it did. You have the option, if you dare, to switch to “power” mode. This makes your batting icon much smaller but, supposedly, hits the ball harder. I didn't notice any large gains from using power mode and decided to save my self the trouble and stick to normal mode. Your player can also bunt and is useful for making some sacrifice bunts if the situation calls for it. Pitching, likewise, is also easy to pickup and execute. Before the pitch, you're presented with all the pitches your pitcher knows and their associated HP cost. After choosing, you'll click anywhere inside, or outside, the strike box to start the next phase. After choosing the location of the pitch comes the wind up; a small bar will appear below the strike box. Your objective here is to click once which will set a marker to the right of the bar. This will set how fast the pitch is. Click again to set the speed where you want, this will start sending the marker to the left of the bar. Now your objective is to set your pitches' accuracy. Getting it right on the goal will ensure your pitch goes where you initially set it to go, messing up means it might be off by a little or quite a bit. I noticed that as your pitcher gets more exhausted, the “bad zone” of the pitching bar gets bigger and bigger. If you're not too go at twitch based mechanics, it might be a good idea to switch him out at the point. If you're somewhat better and more precise, you could probably afford to keep him out there a bit longer.

After a ball is hit, the view will switch to the field. The camera will follow the ball and your fielders will, more or less, try their best to position themselves under the ball. In the case of a grounder, they'll try and put themselves in front of the balls path. This bit of the game is semi-automatic; you can't really make your fielders to any better or worse at this point. If they miss a catch or drop the ball, you're then free to correct their mistake and move the player after it. Throwing the ball is as simple as using the left mouse button, holding down longer will make them throw the ball harder, and using the WASD to decide which base to throw to (W for second, A for third, S for home, and D for first). You also have the option to make cut-off plays. While the fielding section may feel a bit too “hands off” for many baseball game veterans, it sticks with the over all “simplistic game play” Games Campus was going after. Base stealing is performed while your batting and is similar to how the fielding controls work; using WASD to steal bases, while the pitcher uses the same to try and gun them down.

Overall, the testing phase was enjoyable, though short. There were quite a number of bugs at this stage of the game; freezing, players getting stuck, not being able to tag players, and some other various MLB rules technicalities. Hopefully, these will be cleaned up for their Open Testing phase starting the 19th. For baseball fans looking to show that their team is the best, to casual gamers just looking around for a decent game to play, MLB Dugout Heroes is a free to play MMO coming out soon everyone should keep their eye on.

Official Site here:
http://mlbdugoutheroes.gamescampus.com/index.asp

Good game play footage here (thanks to a MrNormsHGW):
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QA2w9E8k5zo

MMO SHMUP? Yea right...

Posted by biff10426 Thursday March 12 2009 at 10:22AM
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Ah yes, the good old shoot 'em up. Who could forget classics such as Galaga, Gradius, or Raiden. The challenge of trying to pilot your ship through barrages of enemy fire, collecting power ups to down ships faster, and always trying to achieve that high score. While the shoot 'em up, or shmup as some fans would call them, isn't as popular as they were back in the heyday of arcades back in the 80's to 90's , theres still a devout community of fans who can't get enough of the genre. More interesting still, theres some game companies that still produce them from time to time. These companies do realize that their fan base is relatively small, but that fan base appreciates it when such shmups like Ikaruga hits the scene. NC Soft may seem foolish to try and market a micropayment/free2play MMO based shmup since MMO's usually rely on a somewhat large player base to keep them running, but Valkyrie Sky (Valkied Saga) is sure to appeal to that fan base and, hopefully, draw in some more to keep it alive.

 

 

If you already haven't guess, Valkyrie Sky plays largely like any other shmup you may have played, but adds RPG elements such as levels, stats, and gear to the mix. The ability to play with four players at once, various trade skills, and an auction house, rounds out the “mmo-ish” features to the game. Trying to make an MMO out of a rather simple game genre and concept may seem silly, but it works. Even if you're not into partying with other people, Valkyrie Sky is a solid single player experience as well and with four classes with 3 sub-classes each available, it does have a replay value to it since each class has its own little challenges during solo play. The swordsman, for instance, does great damage but can only attack enemies a very short distance away. The upside is that the swordsman can also deflect enemy bullets with her sword swings making her a viable choice for solo play, and a godsend when partying. Wait..yes. I did say skills. What is an MMO without skills? Each class and sub-class in the game is presented with four skills to choose from. If you get bored of them, or are looking for a little more variety, you can choose to cross class to another sub-class to mix and match your selection. This is a good feature; like in most MMO's, not all skills are what some consider 'good' or 'useful'. Don't fret over losing your old classes' skills, though, you're allowed to take any four skills you've learned during your play time with you into battle, so picking the ones you like best to suit your particular play style is not only possible through the basic “pick your class”, but through which individual skills you decide to use during stages as well.

 

The game has a very simple, and intuitive layout, as well. You won't find yourself running from one end of a continent to the other to get quests, or find that item you need to finish a quest, or to load up on items at town. Instead, you fly. Navigating the world can be accomplished by either manually moving your character, or simply clicking the destination while autopilot takes over. There isn't a lot of detail in this world, but it's the action thats important, since you won't be spending much time actually out in the world anyways. Once at your destination, you can either wait to be picked up by a party, form one of your own, or take the challenge solo. An interesting little quirk they added to the game is the stamina system: each stage attempt requires that you spend so much of it. The game switches from day and night cycles, and tackling stages at night consumes twice as much. The only way to recover stamina is to eat food, wait around at night, or to listen to music played by other players. This Valkyrie's sky attempt at player interaction and some sort of economy, I suppose, but I think the system could be dropped without a problem. Food can only be made by catching fish, and music can only be played by people willing to spend money on a flute and consumable music sheets. I did crack a smile when I saw that you could charge money to allow people to listen in on your performance, wondering if there would be some sort of price gouging during the night cycles when the game goes live.

 

 

Then theres gear. Ah, gear. What's an MMO without gear or loot? During stages, enemies can drop various items such as crafting components or weapons and armor themselves. Gear adds points to your stats, and are usually somewhat of a rare drop. You can craft your own arms and armor, if you wish, but I found that the choices of what you could make were rather static and not very appealing compared to what you could buy at the store or find during normal game play. Don't think that the crafting components or salvage dropped during stages are entirely useless, however, they can still be used to upgrade your current equipment. The downside, however, is you might spend a considerable amount of time saving up money and components to upgrade your weapon or armor, only to find an item drop that surpasses your current upgraded item and could've used your resources to upgrade that instead. Another good feature they added was that you can break down any equip able item you find into components used for crafting so, in essence, everything you find can be used for something. It's often a better choice to break down items since the market didn't seem to give you very much cash for selling it. There's an auction house, as well, but it wasn't used very much during the beta.

 

 

As with gear, what would an MMO be without grinding? Every stage and quest you complete rewards you with experience points to get you ever so closer to that next level. Gaining a level earns you five stat points with which you are free to distribute to various stats. Each class in the game has a main stat which will increase the damage of their main shot, or attack, along with other secondary effects such as increasing your critical hit chance, how many items you can carry, and your maximum stamina. You're also rewarded with skill points, which will increase your skill's damage, along with allowing you to store more uses of that skill. Mastery points for skills can be gained simply by using them during game play, and these will decrease the cool down of your skills. To encourage cross classing, there is a skill board system where linking two skills will unlock a passive skill. Certain passives can only be obtained by linking skills from other sub-classes with each other. With only three sub-classes per main class, there's not very many passives to get, but during the beta I did notice a number of sub-classes that were locked and may be available when the game goes live.

 

 

RPG elements, gear, and all that is good, but what about the actual game play? Each area in the game is divided into five stages. At stage three you encounter a mini-boss of sorts, then the big area boss at stage five. New areas become unlocked as you progress in levels. The game play was surprisingly tight and lag free. The only lag problems you might notice is other players running into bullets, which should kill them, but they look like they just pass through them. On your end, however, running into a bullet will kill you, resulting in losing a life. You get three lives during a stage which are restocked at the end. Some traditional shmup fans may be put off by some of the classes, as the Archer is the only class in the game to most resemble your traditional ship with lasers. The mage automatically locks onto enemies and shoots them down with lightning bolts. The summoner is similar, as it's pet will hunt down enemy creatures and harass them until destroyed. The swordsman, as explained, can only hit enemies at very close range and is prone to dying a lot in unskilled or unfamiliar hands. Enemies killed not only drop loot and items, they also drop Valkyrie Points, or VP. This will charge a gage and, when full, gives you the option to go into “Valkyrie Mode”, which will temporarily increase your damage and shot speed, or unleash an ultimate attack. The ultimate attack somewhat resembles the typical 'bomb' attack in most shmups; it makes you invincible during it's duration, but won't “eat” enemy bullets. This makes the ultimate attack a double edged sword, while you're safe from enemy attacks your friends are not. This is made worse as some classes' ultimate attack, such as the mage, makes it somewhat hard to see enemy bullets. As one might think, having four players flying around may make it hard to discern who's who on the field (especially if theres more than one of the same type of class), but they tried to remedy this by having any player you get close to turn invisible. This does help a little, and after playing for a little while, you learn to pick out who you are. Controlling your character is possible via the mouse or keyboard. I began by playing with the mouse, which worked fine, but switched to keyboard controls during later areas when things got a little more hectic. You can switch to “focus fire” mode, which will slow your movement speed allowing you more precise movement to slip between enemy bullet barrages, but I thought that a visible hit box during free fire mode would've been a good idea considering that not all classes look or are shaped the same.


Overall, Valkyrie Sky is a fresh take on the MMO genre. It's easy to pick up and somewhat hard to master game play will appeal to fans and newcomers alike to the shmup genre and the combination of gaining levels, finding loot, and the option of playing with up to three friends will keep you coming back for more. The Closed Beta ended just a few weeks ago, and there's no official word when it will hit live.

More information about the game can be found at:

www.valkyriesky.net/ehome/index.php

 

Trailer/gameplay can be watched at:

www.youtube.com/watch

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