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Game by Night

Game by Night regularly provides entertaining and thought provoking content for members of the MMO community. Don't forget to visit the official site at gamebynight.com and subscribe to the feed!

Author: GameByNight

Good or bad, I'm the guy in the chaps

Posted by GameByNight Monday November 30 2009 at 1:28PM
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Yes, that's right. I celebrated my triumphant return to Fallen Earth like every good cowboy. I rooted around in some discarded trash until I found myself a pair of authentic (and only slightly soiled) chaps. Look at that folks. I like to think of it as “framing.”

I spent a good two hours in the wasteland yesterday and had a great time. Fallen Earth offers something unique amongst the swath of MMOs out there right now. Actually, it offers a lot of somethings, trash looting being only one of them.

Everything in the game just feels so authentic. Granted, who knows how life would play out if a killer virus actually did hit, but there's something very down to earth about the game. It's homey, in its own desolate way. Perhaps the most endearing aspect of the game is that you honestly feel like just about anything is possible – in a realistic sense. You're not going to fly if you jump off a cliff (for too long anyways) but there's always that chance of “hey, maybe I'll find something new, maybe a piece of old scrap, and I'll be able to put something together with it.” You use what you have around you, right down into recipes that need appropriate materials (say, fasteners, scrap metal, and leather, to make a crossbow). I love that. Logical loot, logical creation.

It also takes an interesting approach to the “stream of rewards” game play most often seen in AAA MMOs. Usually, games reward you with the new and shiny to keep you going. I find it very interesting that Fallen Earth does exactly the opposite and achieves the same thing. You're always upgrading, maybe from a rusty pipe to a rusty wrench or gold club, but your gear always retains that rustic feel you'd expect in this setting. Hell, even the best vehicle looks like something you'd find at the back of the junk yard. And players clamor for it.

I won't extol every virtue the game offers. I find myself particularly struck coming, literally, from WoW to FE. The difference is stark but it seems to make this play through all the more appealing.


I'll say this much though, Fallen Earth is best when played for big chunks at a time. I kept my mind on moving forward, and progressing, and before I knew it, two hours were gone from under me. WoW is wont to do the same (nod to George R.R. Martin) but in a totally separate way. It has me thinking about immersion, what makes that magic happen and why. Topic for the podcast? A blog post? Just maybe.

My wife made my day, after telling her about my chaps. A classic response from a non-gamer: Honey, trust me. You don't want to wear chaps, especially from the garbage. The person who threw them away probably had some weird cowboy fetish.

It's good to be a nomad :-D

 

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Community Spotlight #2: Tobold from Tobold's Gaming Blog

Posted by GameByNight Tuesday October 13 2009 at 12:44PM
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Welcome to the second edition of our Community Spotlight segment. This week is somewhat of a special treat for me and I hope for you too. Over this last week, I was able to pin down Tobold of Tobold's Gaming Blog to answer a few questions with me. If you have any doubts about who Tobold is, I'd have to assume that you're new to the blog scene. This kindly gentleman has been helped begin the MMO blogging trend and currently runs one of the most widely read MMO blogs on the internet. Though, if you were to ask him, he'd respond in his typically humble fashion.

We sit down and talk a little bit about WoW, MMO gaming, geese, and ice cream. Enjoy!

Chris: Hi Tobold and thanks for doing the interview. To begin, can you tell us a little bit about who you and what your blog is about?

Tobold: My blog is about MMORPGs from a player's perspective. I am specifically interested in questions of the consequences of game design on the behavior of players, how incentives modify what players in a virtual world do. The blog also contains some virtual world economic posts, and the occasional post about the real world. Finally I'm interested in the subject of blogging itself, so there are some introspective posts on the blog about the blog.

Chris: As a reader of the site, I know you're a big World of Warcraft. What's kept you playing through the years?

Tobold: I've been trying to answer that question for WoW and every other game for years, but there is no simple answer. I think it has a lot to do with a virtual "to do" list, logging on and having some goal in the game: Reaching the next level, getting a new piece of gear, beating some dungeon, mastering a new tradeskill. While all these goals are in a way trivial, games like World of Warcraft work by immediatedly rewarding you for achieving them. I think the sense of achievement and constant rewards is what keeps us playing for years, even if our intellect tells us that we are just collecting pixels.

Chris: How do you feel about the pace at which new content gets added to the game? Does it concern you that other development companies seeming to be setting a higher standard compared to Blizzard's current rate?

Tobold: I do think that Blizzard is slow, compared to the competition, in the pace at which they add new content. That leads to noticeable dips in player activity between expansions. On the other hand, the quality of the added content, especially in the case of expansions, is usually quite high. Blizzard earns $500 million per year as profit, but it is hard for me to say whether they do not reinvest more into the game because they really couldn't produce high quality content faster if they hired more people, or whether they deliberately choose to use World of Warcraft as a cash cow to finance development of other games.

Chris: There was a definitive shift in the focus from "hardcore" to "casual" with the transition from TBC to WotLK. How do you feel about...

 

Continue reading the interview here

 

 

Your ideal zone?

Posted by GameByNight Saturday October 10 2009 at 9:55AM
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As I was driving home yesterday, I started thinking about what creates that "drive" that keeps me wanting to log into a game. There's a lot of factors but I think one of the most important ones has to do with the zones I'm playing in.

Maybe I'm finicky but I've come to realize that I have a definite preference for what I do and do not like to play through and for how long. I don't like it when zones last too long. If I'm there for more than 3 levels, it's time for a change. This is especially true if the zone is dark and dank. I'm one of those people where the lack of sunlight in the winter bugs me, so maybe I'm disposed to be in and out of these zones. Still, the longer I'm forced to play a zone that's 100% gloomy, the better chance there is I'm going to start feeling strained to log in and, if a change doesn't happen soon, I'll probably stop all together.

Am I the only one who feels this way?

If you look back over the various screenshots I've posted in the last couple of weeks, you'll notice they all have something in common. No, not just that sexy, sexy, Syeric. Rather, that most of those pictures are blue, grey, and purple. I'll be honest, it's started to bug me a little bit. So, on that drive I mentioned before, I also got the urge to spend some time in LotRO (where the greens are browner but the sun always shines... mostly... some of the time).

Don't get me wrong, I appreciate themed zones as much as the next guy. Duskwood was one of my favorites in WoW. It's really all about balance. Players shouldn't be made to spend too long in any one place and they should always have options. When either one of those is out of whack, it's a problem and limitation of the game.

If I had to imagine my perfect zone, it would be out in the open, with grasslands and forest. The zone would start off out in the sunshine but give way to darkness and gloom the further you went into it, building tension. Mobs would start off normal but become progressively more twisted as you approached the apex of the zone, probably ending in a castle of dungeon.

How about you, what would your ideal zone be like; am I alone how sunlight in games affects me or is there something to it?

Thoughts for a Saturday morning...

 

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MMO Wanna-Be's

Posted by GameByNight Wednesday October 7 2009 at 1:25PM
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(The title may not be grammatically appropriate but darned if it didn't look wrong without that apostraphe!)

Lately, it seems like a new MMO is launching just about every month. Games are coming out of the woodwork and pushing the limits of what we expect to see in a new MMO. This is a great thing and an exciting time to be an MMO gamer. If you have the money to try them all, of course.

Which I don’t. I can only go by what I read and see on YouTube. But what I’ve noticed is that, even though more games are calling themselves “MMOs,” a lot of them just don’t seem to fit the bill. Part of it has to do with what we really consider to be an MMO and, as Massively has shown with their “Redefining MMOs” series, there’s a lot of gray area under the current definition. If you and I see this, you can be sure that publishing companies see it too.

The result is the term “MMO” being used for marketing when the game itself may not live up that expectation. Usually, the companies cover themselves by removing the “RPG” portion of the acronym but, frankly, I think they’re being intentionally deceptive. When you hear the term “MMO” you’re thinking World of Warcraft and not CrimeCraft. As players, I think a lot of us take the “RPG” in MMORPG for granted, so when companies change the last three letters to “PWN” or “FPS,” we still have the expectation of RPG somewhere. Maybe it’s a matter of semantics and probably not very appropriate of us but it doesn’t change the truth.

So, when games come out claiming to be an MMO that “pushes the boundaries” of what we’ve come to expect, I’m always a little bit skeptical. Is the game really an MMO or are they just trying to capitalize on the insta-sales and publicity using that term promises? There are two games that come to mind here: All Points Bulletin and Cities XL.

All Points Bulletin


The game looks fun, in a Grand Theft Auto kind of way. As a big GTA fan, I’m not complaining. But, based on everything I’ve read, seen, and heard, this game is not an MMO. It has more in common with an Xbox Live game than an MMO. They say the world is persistent, yet it is also very segmented. Players do their dirty work in “districts” (instanced cities) limited to 100 players. That’s a lot of people in a small area, sure, but it still breaks apart players so much that you could hardly consider it “massive.” You can get together with your friends in the “social” districts where you do your customization but it’s hardly a “whole world” experience like what most players in the genre would want. If we call APB an MMO, then we may as well call Battlefield an MMO too.

APB might be a fun game and worth the box price but it falls short on its promise. It’s actually far less of an MMO than even Guild Wars. APB is a game I’d expect to stack up against other online games on my console, not games like Fallen Earth and Aion.

Thus, I dub thee: MMO Wanna-Be

Next, we have…

Cities XL


Cities XL, again, is probably a fun game but it’s not an MMO. It’s SimCity 2009 without Will Wright’s support. As Gordon notes, you can choose to play the game all by yourself if you want to. In my mind, that makes this a single player game with a multiplayer option. This is the kind of thing you’d expect to see city builders evolve into, just like how the Sims went online, but it’s far from an advancement of the MMO genre.

Again, for all of the touting the title got as being an MMO, it falls short of its marketing.

Thus, number two, I call you: MMO Wanna-Be

At the end of the day, it all comes down to how we define an MMO. Yet, defining it really won’t amount to anything because the term “MMO” is married to “RPG.” Publishers can call a game an MMO all they like and defend it by taking the literal definition of the word but it doesn’t change the fact that it’s really just a money grab. Syncaine’s theory on WoW Tourists is more than that, it’s social trending, and the game’s industry is well aware of its truth. The minute you attach “MMO” to your game and start spreading the word, you guarantee immediate sales from the most devoted of genre fans. Fish, here’s your worm, ignore the hidden surprise it’s impaled upon.

It’s time for a new term to describe these games. The movement of games from solitary to social was a natural and expected part of the internet explosion, so why do we need to confine it to such a generic and misleading term? That’s a consumer thought when the answer is obvious: money. They want it, we have it, and we’re more likely to pay for something familiar than daring.

 

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Actually, story does matter.

Posted by GameByNight Monday October 5 2009 at 3:02PM
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Sometimes, trolls get the best of you. I mirrored yesterday’s post on WoWRiot and the very first commenter, Pink, threw this out at me:

“go rp nerd. no1 cares about what a quest involves, only what the reward is.”

The asshat couldn’t have even read the article because what I’m saying is that I stopped reading quest text but we’ll put that to the side for a minute.

I’m going to come out and say that, even if you’ve never RP’d or read a quest in your life, story matters. PvP fanbois such as Pink might not think so, but, whether they like it or not, it’s true.

(This is Pink. The Pink from WoWriot is a guy. Draw your own conclusions.)

Here’s why:

Without story, there is no context

If story was irrelevant, some of the best and most epic encounters in MMO history would never have been. Take WoW for example. If no one cared about story, Blizzard wouldn’t have bothered to design Onyxia, BRD, Blackwing Lair, or the upcoming Icecrown Citadel. It wouldn’t matter that those world dragons are corrupt or that somewhere there’s this thing called the Emerald Dream. Elwynn forest? Well, I guess that’s just a happy little fairy tale town that’s got no use for a history behind its name.

You could just as easily stick a boss in a big white room, I imagine him as a cube, and tell people to go to town. The why doesn’t matter. Just the reward.

Doesn’t that sound just a little empty to you?

Want a game where context doesn’t matter? Download Pong.

Without story, there’s only grind

You know, before MMOs came about you had MUDs and, sorry, most of them were entirely grindfests. Those that did have quests and story had little and it was usually held on a few web pages written up by the game’s maker. You know why that’s not the case anymore? People want a reason to do something, even if it’s shallow. Without that, why even have a quest giver? I bet it’s a lot easier to come up with a vending machine to hand out new objectives. When I played MUDs, the closest thing we had to a quest was Mob Mastery. You’d type ‘mobm’ and it’d hand you a mob to hunt down. Want to spend 80 levels doing that? Without story, what else is there?

And, apparently, Blizzard agrees. According to this article, people didn’t have as much fun without quests. Hence it now being the biggest quest driven in existence.

Without story, “RPG’s” become just “G’s”

That’s right homeboy. Isn’t the point of an RPG to deliver some kind of story? If you take context out of MMO gaming, you’re left with a shallow gaming experience that lacks purpose. In any other world, we’d call that a waste of time. MMOs aren’t here to provide challenge. They’re here to give us narrative social experiences that we can get devote a lot of time into. Compare the difficulty of WoW to any modern single player RPG and you’ll see what I mean.

Can you get lost in stats and killing blows? Yeah, probably. But that’s what Counterstrike is for.

I’m not going to ramble on and build up some huge case. The sheer ignorance of some people in our community is astounding to me and I had more to say that what could be held in a single comment.

If you don’t care about story, context, or world in your MMO, I’d just like to know why you even bother paying that subscription fee. You’re playing the wrong genre of game.

Call of Duty ----> is that way.

Update: I'll let Tom Chilton lay it out for you.

"What we found was that all the feedback that we got from our alpha testers was that once they ran out of quests, the game got boring. They were like, 'I don't know what to do any more, and I don't really feel like playing any more once I run out of quests'. We came to that realisation that, wow, this quest thing really works. We need to do this throughout the entire game!"

 

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Did NCSoft fire their writers?

Posted by GameByNight Sunday October 4 2009 at 3:46PM
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Just a brief quote that made me wonder. This is from Gamasutra’s interview with Brian Knox, lead from the Aion Online team:

“We had some really talented writers -- still do, actually.”

Okie. What I read from that is that some of the more remarkable writers got cut. His little correction (“— still do”) kind of makes it seem like the majority of the one’s remaining are run of the mill kill/collect fodder. Realistically, that’s probably about the truth of it. The more skilled writers would have had more experience and been receiving better compensation for it. If you’re short on money, who’re you going to cut, the big earner or the $9 and hour rent-a-pen?

Note to self: don’t write quest text for an MMO company.

Maybe that assessment of the remaining writers isn't fair. I'd be willing to bet they're stifled in what they're allowed to write. If the end objective of any one quest is the same, how creative can you really be. It's like trying to find new ways to say the same thing.

For all their talk about story, I’ve found that to be the single most lacking area of the game. I read quest text but quests in Aion, though well worded, amount to nothing for the first 20 levels of the game. When it all amounts to kill this, bring me that, I find it truly hard to care about the reason.

The main issue here is that there’s nothing truly unexpected. Tell me, NCSoft, when I know the end of the story (the objectives) why should I care about reading the plot? I’ve had more fun playing the game since I stopped trying to get something from the text that, to be quite honest, isn’t there. There is very little exciting and original in 99% of the story and that bugs me when they talk about how great and amazing it is.

It’s a cool setting. There’s a lot of atmosphere and, yeah, sometimes it’s good to read the text to get a feel for it all. But don’t expect anything that great. If you set your expectations accordingly, it makes the experience that much more enjoyable.

I guess that wasn’t that brief.
 

 

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So you've decided go casual

Posted by GameByNight Wednesday September 30 2009 at 1:07AM
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Greetings fellow casuals and welcome to your first lesson in the wonders of casualhood. It's a strange game we play, you see. Some feel that we're “doing it wrong” or “wasting our time” or that we should “go back to WoW.” To these people, we flip the bird. Seriously, they can screw off.

You see, you and I have a secret, an equation if you will, that they can only guess at. It goes something like this: real life + family + money = important. Let me break that down, we don't live with mom and dad. Heck, most of us probably are moms and dads (except me, I don't have the hips for it) and that means we're stuck at work before we can get online. Or maybe we're married and the other half gets pissed when we yell obscenities at our incompetent group mates. That's live. C'est la vie or some crap.

But we still want to play video games! I mean, what do you think we are, grown ups? To hell with that. We grew up in the video game age and will die with a paddle in our hands. As my dear grandmammy would say: fiddlesticks'll fry.

So, now that you've got your bindle stick packed, slung, and ready to roll, let's go over a few of the most important facts of life every casual must eventually face.

You're going to fall behind

It's true. There's about no chance of you ever being on top again. You're raid ladder is now the corporate ladder and Onyxia is now something you read about when you should be working. As your guildmates level up and start raiding and PvP'ing, you're probably still going to be grinding through Thousand Needles and mining copper. My suggestion? Learn how to fly solo and only turn on vent when you want inspiration. They'll tell you all about what you're missing, rest assured.


The two kids thought they were hardcore.

Grouping is for sissies

Yeah, you heard me. Here's the guy who just wrote an article about how he likes grouping telling you not to group. Well, I have a confession. Sometimes I like to wear high heels too but it's still not socially acceptable. You're a casual and grouping is for people a little more hardcore than you. Those guildies are just going to out level you anyways.

I should probably make myself clear here. I'm not telling you not to group. I'm telling you not to plan on grouping. That clever one liner about your guildies out leveling you? It's probably going to be true unless you find someone equally as casual to play with. In which case... L2P noob.

It's best not to fight it

That's right. Take it in stride because if you don't, well, you're a lost cause. If you're casual, it's because either you want to be or you need to be. There's no in between. If you want to be, then you're probably already self-actualized, in which case, why the hell aren't you writing this article? If you need to be, it's because be happyyou have priorities that are more important than gaming. Too bad. Real life kicked in and this is the hand you're dealt. Move on, grind boars, and smile. In the words of Bobby McFerrin, don't worry, be happy.

It's not all bad...

I don't want to send you away thinking your MMO career has gone carebear. It hasn't. Even though you're no longer “hardcore” you still have some “core” left in you. Your games are going to last way longer for you than they ever have before. Seriously. That 1,500 hours you dropped into your first three toons? That's like 5 years for you now. Think of it this way, playing MMOs can now be in your 10 year plan and if that's not some kind of “core” I don't know what is. You're hardcore with an outlook...

And that's it for our first lesson. There are your three key things to know before you continue on in Chris' School of CasualCraft. And yes, we're calling it CasualCraft because if Crimecraft can do it, so can I.

Congratulations recruit, you'll never have to worry about burn out again. We've moved you from the Mustang to the Oldsmobile of MMO gaming, from the passing lane to the carpool lane, so sit back and enjoy the ride. Ahh.... that sweet, sweet, leg room.

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Always looking forward

Posted by GameByNight Tuesday September 29 2009 at 12:33PM
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One of my favorite things about following MMOs is the excitement that comes from looking forward to a new title. This year, it was Aion. Last year, it was WAR. Neither title could live up to the massive amount of hype it received even though both are fun games in their own right. As a result, people feel let down, burned, and jaded. I know that happened to me after WAR. It leaves a bitter taste, not unlike getting a sweater on Christmas morning.

Yet, after the fact, I don’t regret falling that far down the rabbit hole. It was fun and it gave me something to look forward to during the doldrums of my WoW career. And that’s why, even though some people might not understand it, I find myself now looking at games like SW:TOR and All Points Bulletin that I really didn’t give a wit for before Aion’s release.

As an MMO fan, I think we have a unique place amongst the gamer community. When we care about something, we get invested in it; it can be a class, profession, playstyle, whatever. I seriously doubt as many Xbox fans can say the same thing. Which leads me to wonder, do MMO bloggers occupy an even more unique place in how we look forward to games? I don’t know whether the average player cares enough about the genre as a whole to have that “always looking forward” attitude.

We know that MMO players follow trends, hence the WoW tourist effect. I would be willing to wager, though, that most of those players only find look into those games within the month before they come out and probably from the more “hardcore” players in their guild. I, on the other hand, make it a habit to check sites like Massively everyday.

I love the little pieces of meat the developers throw to us. I love having something to look forward to and wonder about. It gives me that “night before Christmas” feeling more often than I could ever expect to otherwise because I love these games that we play. I’d imagine that most general MMO bloggers are the same, otherwise, why put up the effort to write?

I’m having a great time in Aion, as my review probably suggests. When I look back over my front page, I see that screenshots from the game make up the bulk of what catches the eye. I don’t see it as a problem but we’re not an Aion blog. I plan on staying with Aion but, like always, I’ll be looking forward while I’m doing it.

 

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My early Aion review

Posted by GameByNight Saturday September 26 2009 at 7:12PM
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Aion’s been out for about a week now and people all over are posting their impressions. As a fan, I think it’s only fitting that I post mine. A little caveat before we skip the potatoes and hit the meat: I’ve played Aion for some time but I’ve yet to hit the Abyss or any high level content. This “review” will be based on my experiences within the first 14 levels. An actual “Should I Buy” style post will come later on down the line.

Combat:

Combat in Aion is immediately familiar to those of us who’ve played other keybar based MMOs. Despite being familiar, the game adds extra depth in several ways. First, as I’m sure you’ve read about by now, you have combo attacks that fill up your skill buttons when they’re ready to go. Second, and lesser know, are abilities that operate exclusively on DP (destiny points, Daeva points, what have you). These skills are interesting because they tend to be very powerful but extremely limited in use. Like XP, you earn DP when you kill things and, also like XP, it accrues slowly. Deciding to use a DP based skill can push your towards a win at the moment but, when you’re without it later, you may find yourself regretting that you used it. I can only imagine that this is more impactful in Abyss PvP than in PvE.

Since the game went live, I’ve been playing an Assassin where the skill rotation you use can make or break your damage output. Between managing cooldowns and using the right buffs at the right times, there’s a certain amount of complexity to playing effectively. I wouldn’t call it difficult but, like most things, you get better as you go.

Combat is fast paced and responsive, more or less so depending on what class you decide to play. If you’ve played WoW, expect a similar feeling if not even a little faster pace. Sounds and animations during combat are top notch. The eyes of Asmodians glow red and, as an Assassin, I’ll often see my weapons burn bright as I land crits (which have a nice explosive sound when they hit). Combat in this game may spoil you. Be warned.

Graphics:

Unlike most people, I’m not enamored with the graphics in Aion. Sometimes they look great, like the character and monster models, but other times they’re plain out ugly. The game makes heavy use of textures, which helps its performance, but, like any game that does so, suffers at times because of it. Still, on the whole, it’s nice to look at and is no worse than our loveable little Warcraft. Use that a basis for comparison to how poor some textures can be and you’ll have an idea for what I mean.

Bad texture compared to most

The art style is great. Some things are anime-ish but I find that I don’t really mind. It’s a nice mix of East and West and both blend well with the world NCSoft has tried to create. Despite how others may feel, I don’t think either influence greatly overpowers the other when taken as a whole.

I personally love some of the small touches in the game. For example, chapels have swirling clouds along the top of them that give a very mystic vibe that I really like. The architecture is neat and the zones have a very cohesive and “done” feel to them. All of the little touches are there, from the birds flying in the forests to the balls of light that swirl above some of the lakes (or ghost fish if you’re Elyos). I’ve yet to find a place that feels unfinished or lacking.

A small note: much like LotRO, the mining resource nodes just don’t seem to fit. A lot of times, iron deposits look tacked on to the landscape and silver has a very spider’s leg feel to it. I’ve yet to find a game where mining resources really look “right” though, so maybe it’s just me.

Another small issue I’ve noticed, at least early on, is that a lot of the armor is fairly bland. I’ve gotten to level 14 on my Assassin and noticed very little change in how I look, despite going through three sets of armor (most pieces, anyways). Some of the upper end gear looks great but I wish that there were a little more variation.

Animations:

Animations are, hands down, excellent. I’ve talked about the combat animations above but I can’t say enough good things about them. They just feel right.

Apart from combat, the much criticized walking/running animations are right on task too. The gait and speed of your avatar is just as you would expect it to be and doesn’t seem off at all.

NPCs and mobs still roam and meander as they do in all MMOs. Nothing new there.

The only thing I really don’t like about the animations is when you’re talking to an NPC. Your character will mirror the NPC’s movements to a tee. You nod when they nod, gesture when they gesture. It doesn’t feel right and even a little timing difference would be much appreciated.

This cutscene features less epic and more nag

Performance:

The game runs great but it does get choppy at times. On my desktop, I have a 260GTX and I’m almost always at 80-100FPS on max settings (no AA), except when I’m in Pandemonium. However, a better measure is probably with my laptop that’s running an 8600GTM and a 2.1GHz dual core processor. My laptop, on second to highest settings and no AA and pull an average of 35FPS. I’ve dropped as low as 25 and spiked as high as 45. A lot of it depends on how populated the area is with both mobs and players. Pandemonium though? Forget it. Both machines run that at about 15FPS, even when I drop the graphics to their lowest.

I should note that I can turn the “important” graphics all the way up on my laptop and compensate by turning shadows down to half and the water effect to the second highest step.

I’m interested to see how my laptop will fare in the Abyss. It handled Alterac Valley wonderfully in WoW, and most other games like a charm, so I have high hopes.

The game isn’t a beast but it looks like it should run a lot harder than it does.

Questing/Story:

I haven’t been impressed. There’s no getting around it. Don’t get me wrong, some quests are great and have some neat cutscenes attached to them. Most are very routine kill/collect quests. The writing is better than normal but is somewhat diminished by the fact that you can skip 90% of it and still know to kill those five Mosbears.

With that out of the way, why don’t more games have cutscenes? Even the little fly over/voice over bits they do before quests seem like a natural thing that should have been part of MMOs for years and just hasn’t been. Some are better than others but all are better than none and I’m happy they’re in the game. A few are downright epic, especially the one that ends the Ascension quest line.

[Aside: Does anyone know what the hell Odella is? I’ve had to stop these mole-things from growing it multiple times now and I can only assume odellaJuiceit’s some kind of lettuce tobacco or something. I think I missed something early on but, either way, I’m tired of doing quests around it. Enough with the Odella.]

Anyhow, and most importantly, quests are more difficult and offer less reward than a lot of other games. At first, you’d think this was a bad thing but I’ve come to feel otherwise. When I say they’re more difficult, I say that for the sole reason that mobs are harder to kill. They fight more and aren’tafraid to smack you around a little bit when you step out of line. I was frustrated the other night because I died three separate times trying to kill a mob that was two levels higher than me. But you know what? Good. Mobs should provide a challenge. The alternative is mobs that don’t and I’d rather have to think as I fight than turn off and wait for the XP to roll in. Mobs in Aion fight level appropriate, so if you’re trying to take on a mob that’s “elite” you’d better be prepared for an elite fight.

When I say that quests are also less rewarding, I mean that both in terms of experience and equipment rewards. Most of your gear from 1-15 will probably come from drops, private stores, or the auction house, unless you have a friend that crafts. {Update: Keen reports that at 18, he's getting some really excellent level gear from drops. The color quality he's talking is exceptional and would cost a pretty penny kinah to buy} They do provide more potions, which help you complete future quests. Since the game requires far more experience to level than other games at these early levels, it can seem rough. This is countered, however, by the fact that killing a mob your level is likely to give you about 1000xp a piece, sometimes more, sometimes a little less. The dreaded “grind” so many people bitch about is a non-issue too, in the fact that 1) you don’t have to do it often; and, 2) when you do, it’s not for long unless you choose to. Players who grind have a definite advantage over those that don’t, however. Mob trash sells very well, so these players are earning extra money, crafting materials, and experience which will in turn make their questing that much easier as they move forward.

Oh, and yeah, the death penalty. It’s there. It’s also easy to dismiss and, honestly, easy to not even notice until you’ve died multiple times without fixing it.

Extra Stuff:

Fluff

The game has a lot of polish and, yes, fluff. I was surprised to find that one of the first quests after you leave Altgard (your first stop after leaving the newbie zone) gives you a reward that lets you turn into an angry cornstalk. How very appropriate for our Halloween season.

Some call it fluff, some corn. Both are edible but only one goes well with butter.

Private Stores

Interesting feature. I like carousing these to find the best deals because private sellers will often try to beat the auction house. Besides, private stores aren’t ran by ferrets with female voices and hats.

Ferret thing that loves you

Still, you see a fair share of spam as a result of them and I suspect that they’re a big reason for the lag in Pandemonium.

Crafting

Crafting is interesting. I enjoy doing work orders because it’s an easy, repeatable, way to raise your skill level. I haven’t taken it too far (mainly because I’m trying to keep up with the Jones’s in terms of leveling) and I’ve spent most of my time gathering so I can power level it up later on. Aion’s crafting is interesting because you can level every skill up to 399/400 and “master” two all the way to the max. As far as I know, all of the skills require some form of gathering but I haven’t looked to far into this. As a tailor/weaponsmith, I’ve been collecting iron and animal pelts to prepare, both of which are every where. Mining nodes are everywhere if you look for them, at least at this stage of the game. They also don’t seem to be randomized, so it’s entirely possible to create a little circuit and run it indefinitely.

Conclusions

I’ve been having a great time in the game so far. Dying to PvE is something I haven’t done this much since I first got started in MUDs and it’s strange to find these limitations again. I find questing all the more exciting because of the challenge, however, and feel all the more powerful when I truly lay waste to mobs.

Aion isn’t a perfect game. It’s not innovating and making a new box outside of the one most MMOs fall in to. It’s a fun game, though. Leveling has all of the charm of WoW and more, which is saying something. I’m looking forward to continuing with the game and seeing what it was to offer and it looks like I’m not alone. If the rest of the game lives up to the standard I’ve seen so far, Aion really will take the #2 spot just behind WoW and may just set the subscription bar higher than the other AAA games that came before it.

Should you buy it?

Like I said, I’ll hit on it later when I do a complete review. For now, if you need a second or third opinion, I’d say yes. Absolutely.

Rating right now: 9/10

And... because I like them...

Thaaaaat's all folks!

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The problem with grouping

Posted by GameByNight Wednesday September 23 2009 at 4:07PM
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For the longest time, I wasn’t a fan of grouping. I played solo, talked in guild chat, and was happy with only teaming up when it was time to run a dungeon. It stands in contrast to how I’d played MUDs beforehand. I had been social before and would meet up with friends I’d made in-game to adventure often. Yet, when I made the jump to a “real” MMO that disappeared. I became a voice in guild chat and the occasional raid buddy.

Nowadays, things are much different. I love grouping, talking in vent, and generally being a community member instead of just a player. So, I ask myself: what happened?

I think it all comes down to opening the door on the MMO genre. The difference between then and now is that I had been playing WoW and now I’m not. Warcraft jumped into the field and proclaimed themselves to be the MMO for the non-MMOer. It was the game that opened doors except that, in doing so, they closed others in the process.

For some reason that I’ll never fathom, they decided that people who group to complete quests should be punished. Maybe it’s that that they want to “guide your experience” and leave less to chance. But why punish? At the end of the day, unless Blizzard tells you to group up, and sometimes even when they do, you’re going to get less xp per kill and progress slower than if you went it alone. If that’s not the nail in grouping’s coffin, I don’t know what is.

For a single game, the “solo to level-cap” ideal wouldn’t much matter. The problem is that game studios and, more importantly, publishers want to emulate WoW’s success. So, we see this model repeated until soloability becomes the expectation. No big game “forces” you to group. They might encourage it. But there are always ways to advance, even if it’s plain old grinding. Yet, that fact is one that gets lost in the complaints that players shouldn’t be “forced” to do things that “aren’t fun.” As a result, games release more “casual” content so people can play by themselves in these massively multiplayer worlds.

I didn’t realize the bubble my playstyle had been in until I escaped the WoW-trap and hopped between games for a while. I don’t like feeling like I have to do something any more than the next guy but I found out that taking risks and trying something new can actually wind up being a lot of fun. Darkfall, for all of its hardcore-i-ness was one of the single most fun MMOs I’ve ever played for the simple reason that it was the single most social game I’ve ever played. Yet it stayed true to its MMO roots. I’m not talking Free Realms social with Darkfall, I’m talking get together and overcome social.

Even though I’m not playing WoW anymore, it’s still the industry trend setter. It’s the Big Daddy of the MMO world and when it moves, people turn and look. And if, one day, it wears a blue shirt, it’s not unlikely that the other kids will start to wear blue shirts too.

You know, for all of the good WoW has done the industry, I kind of wish they’d never taken up a leveling model. I know, it’s the natural move, but doesn’t level separation create walls that’re hard to overcome? Someday, it’d be nice to have a game with all of the MMO bells and whistles that will let you hop in and group with from the get go. Levels don’t let you do that.

For the time being, I’m contented. I can solo when I want and group up when the mood strikes me. That’s something I really like about Aion right now. The K&G and Havok community are active and fun and a pleasure to talk to on vent. They say that community makes or breaks a game and I’ve found that true. As we move forward, I hope the WoW approach to grouping is something we leave behind. Keep the option, drop the penalty, and we all win.

 

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