Welcome to the third review I am writing for this game. I hope if your new here you can take something away that isnt confused by the usual white noise of shills and trolls that accompany the launch of any new MMORPG and use this as a base to decide whether to try Spellborn or not.
I will say agian, I AM a fan, most regular posters here will know that. I don't hide it, nor am I ashamed of it. This isnt a stick haters can hit me with, it dosent hurt me.
That being said, in this case this dosent make me unobjective or uncritical. I don't feel threatened by other people not liking it, and I don't feel the need to convert those that have played it and don't 'get it'.
Again, this is being written for those that are 'should I, shouldnt I?'.
This review has taken a little longer then usual to get out then the others, not because of any dwindling of enjoyment or interest in this game, but rather the fact I chose to ditch my Wrathguard at L27 and start a Runemage, but here it is finally. I cannot say that repeating the content has been the same rush, but what this re-run through the same content twice has been good for though is giving me what I think is a balanced view of Spellborn (SB).
What Spellborn is;
A co-op soclal play themepark mmo that is suprisingly 'hardcore' in it's features for the modern genre, but one that can be played casually. Note that I personally do not agree with the common view that 'casual' has to mean 'easy'.
This is a niche game, designed for a smaller crowd taste-wise then, say, WoW and it's visuals and core systems won't be liked by everyone. Nothing unique ever is.
My views at Level 30 as a Runemage;
Ok, well, of course the graphics are the same quality that I have always personally found appealing. This dosent change.
I love the art style, I love the way the characters look, and I love the way everything is just on the right side of 'ugly weird' without stepping to far over (for me personally anyhow). The game continues to have a general other wordly beauty to it that to me dosent exist in more pedestrian looking games.
But has anything changed in the last 10 levels? Well, I would say yes, but maybe but not enough.
Though the art direction is still me favourite of any fantasy mmorpg I have played, the variety isnt what I had been expecting recently. I have now left Hearth behind (more or less) and travelled through the Green District (stunning visually), Brightvale (a bland continuation of AV really), and Gravesbow (a pretty forgettable moor like zone) and found the game visually falling into a bit of a rut. There hasnt been enough WOW (not WoW...) moments delivered from the environments imo.
Both the instances of Aile and Exarchyon deserve special mentions for art style I think. Both are simply beautiful and are, with the GD, the only things that are stopping me marking the art down at this down a little. They are good enough to rescue the mediocre Brightvale and Gravesbow for me.
Well, the quests remain the same pretty much.
Spellborn still includes a variety of story driven FedX, Kill X, and Runaround quests, with a smattering of instances thrown in to break it up. Nothing unusual for a quest driven themepark MMO, though the humour and quality of the lore definitly manages to set it above other games I have played.
Has SB delivered a brand new quest driven exprience? No.
Do I need it to personally? No.
I am not going to defend SiL's use of standard quest formats in this game, because personally I do not think there is anything wrong with it. It is what it is. For me, the quests remain well written and, usually, enetertaining, and that is good enough for me right now.
Low points personally have been Gravesbow and Brightvale, which really do not seem to want to deliver a unique feeling of progression through the world, but rather settle for more of the same we say in Aldenvault. This is a shame.
The two vault quests, though potentiolly brilliant experiences, have been marred for me by buggs. there really just isnt any excuse for this in my mind. These are core event quests and should be a flawless experience for the player. The next patach promises to fix these though, so lets see.
High points for me have been Exarchyon (even with it's bugged ending) and the Citadel of Aile, both of which I got a massive kick out of initially and have a great time revisiting since.
The Green District's quests were fun as long as they lasted, but the area felt under utilised considering the quality of the zone in general.
Only BV and GB as zones keep me from hiking the score here up another point, they drag Exarchyon and the other zones back imo.
To me to see a rise in the score that I have given I would need to see more OPTIONAL (non essential) group based content the quality of an (unbuggy) Exarch. SB still hasnt imo got enough guild/ group content to bring us together and play. I am not asking for raids (small group content always please), but grouping is an essential building block in a healthy mmorpg community and should be supported. Like I say, do not make it obligatory, but please do defiinitly give us more. As a co-op social play gamer I want to group with my guild and friends and i want to share my ingame experience.
More group content please.
I havent been partcularly awed or newely inspired by the environmentals or music over the last few levels, apart from Exarch, but it remians a high quality.
As ever, the music is beautiful. atmospheric, understated, but epic.
CHARACTER CREATION/ DEVELOPMENT
A lot of this is carried over from Pt. 2 of theis review, so please forgive me;
The character class/ skill/ skilldeck progression system is still my favourite of any fantasy mmorpg I have played. Easy to learn, harder to master, SB has found a holy grail that other games have been searching for. The problem with this, of course, is that to achieve it it has to invent something new and that has thrown a lot of people off.
I feel like my character is developing ability wise at an ideal rate, not too fast and not too slow, and the sigil drops I am getting to enhance that are what I would expect.
Gear is another thing though, and it's something I am starting to get a little jaded with. What there is is great, but there just isnt enough of it. While I was very much impressed with the intitial character customisation system, SiL need to get some depth into the itemisation.
The shops need to be stocked. The quests need to be giving non buyable rewards more then they are. Nameds need to be given better loot tables. At L10+ people want to be seeing more and more options to change how they look. I see already gear being worn by NPCs that I seemingly can't get, and facial hair, tats, and hairstyles I am not being offered... Why not?
I am also getting tired of seeing everyone now wearing the same items, variations on a theme, in a game that touts customisation as a feature. The basic character customisation system is brilliant, I love it and think it's the best one I have ever personally seen in a mmorpg, but giving me the same items as quest rewards that I can buy in the shops is... confusing.
Sure, keep a lot of armour/ weapons/ clothes as quest only rewards, that how it should be but please let us buy entire collections of visible gear that we can swop out and mix and match. Give us a 'Wardrobe' tab on our BP that attuned visible gear can be stored seperatly.
For the future, I would also like to see a tattooist and barbar NPC ingame to allow us to purchase new brightly coloured tats, and change hair/ facial hair. I won't ask for cloaks and robes, because I know they are already on the Dev radar.
The P2P community is still overall excellent. the more people I meet the more I am impressed. While the server has it's vocal whingers (you know who your are!), the vast bulk of people are what I would call 'cynical optimists'.
The less you have to visit Hawksmouth, the more of a culture shock it becomes when you return though lol.
What this game does need though, imo, are Shard wide chat channels. Drop the zone wide one please and let us talk to each other wherever we are on a shard? (be sure, if you do this, though to plz restrict the freemium players to their own trial channel that we can turn off if we want ;) ).
The game also needs more robust community management tools, from deeper guild options and monitors to a LFG mechanic with appropiate filters. Integrated chat would also be excellent. It is early days yet though, so i am willing to wait for this kind of thing.
BUGS, STABILITY AND PERFORMANCE
These are a real, but fixable, set of problems right now. A lot of the optional and required quests are bugged at some point, though there are often workarounds, and the Vault quests as said before are doable but not the pleasure they should be. The last big patch didnt nail nearly as much as I had hoped, despite the delay, and we still have a raft of very obvious problems that affect overall play quality.
A few of the quests are buggy and a few seem to be broken, and people are crashing a lot. Nothing gamebreaking, mostly, but it all needs fixing asap. A LOT of these shouldnt still be in the game.
I am hoping that they address the majority of issues in the patch coming very soon. It looks big enough to.
I have faith in SiL to be aware and working to make things better, but for now it's all somewhat frustrating.
Original, engaging, wel written.
It is obvious that SiL are all about the story and every quest NPC takes it into consideration.
I would happily read books and play a PnP RPG set in thsi world, and thats something I have never said about an original IP MMORPG before.
If anything, the lore of this game is getting more and compelling and immersive as I find out about it through quests.
I purposefully don't read spoilers online, and the world being unveiled to me as I play is excellent.
I fully recomend others to play this way as well. SB is very much about the journey and not the destination. Unlike other games, which seem to treat levels 1-49 as just time fillers before the real game starts at L50 (*cough* AoC *cough*), Spellborn is fun all the way through, and in a big way it's the way the lore has been handled that has achieved this.
Crafting is a system of collecting recipies and ingredients and combining at a forge to create. There arnt any craft skills, anyone can have anything made by the smith if they have the components.
I personally love it. No grinding x1000 arrows to level, no byzantine rules set.
I said before, in review 1, that this wasnt a game for full time crafters. I am actually starting to thing I was wrong for saying that... it is becoming clear to me that to be an effective crafter you need to invest a massive amount of time. Sure, you are approaching that crafing in a different way then, say, EQ2 but it is imo nonetheless as demanding.
In Spellborn crafting requires you to have a broken item, normally a drop. If you don't get it randomly, then you have to go out and kill the correct types of mobs for it. This takes time, research, and usually personal/ community knowledge.
Then you have to have it converted at a forge into a recipe at a pre-set cost. This will detail what materials you need to remake the item.
Then, and THIS is the fun bit... You have to hope you have the mats required in your backpack. If you havent, expect a long trip out to get them from harvest nodes or mobs.
Is crafting in SB grinding over a hot forge for 5 days? No. Is it straightforward? Yes. Is it easy? No.
The time and effort required to remake some of the broken drops is astonishing, and noone can compleyetly understand that value of the mob loot they get given until they understand crafting. People who complain that the loot in this game is rubbish just havent understood it.
These days I get as excited over 'heavy iron plate' dropping as I ever did a magic sword in EQ.... tragic but true heh. And thats ONE mat required for an item... Crafting is SB is a very under estimated facet of the game that looks simplisitic to the point of idiocy, to the outsider or newcomer but definitily really isnt.
Saying all this though, they DO need to give us banks and shared guild banks. The new Market Place will also be a massive help and allow us to all start trading mats to get what we need. I normally hate AHs tbh, but SB is definitly, with it's 100s of resources and waste items, a game that requires it.
The game also needs item linking.
Spellborn is a wolf in sheep's clothing. It really isnt what it pretends to be on first glance. It can be brutal, it can make you rage, but it also can take you to a place of excitement and woot yeahs that I havent felt for years in a game. Thats it's beauty. It realises that to have highs, you have to have lows. In a world where we are all 'special', noone is.
PeP is an ingenious sysyem for making you care about success and failiure (a death penalty that does that without impeeding progrees? Brilliant) and SB plays on that all the while, bringing you to the edge of your seat without you even realising it.
It really is the most nerve wracking mmorpg I have played since classic EQ, and for that I love it.
SB continues to really please me.
It is still proving to be an engaging and involving game that I am still enthusiastic over playing. I want to see L50 not becaue of some silly 'endgame' but rather becuase I want to play more of the game itself.
I must say though, this is a themepark mmorpg and in a themepark mmorpg content is king. Right now, I am loving SB and what it offers, but easily within 3 months I, and many many others, will be L50. SiL has to think about that.
With things standing as they are now I never want to level another alt through HM, AV etc. Twice is enough because there is only 1 path of content to play and I found even the second time to be a lot less. I have now done that story. This in effect means that once I reach L50 and have seen everything in the game, I will be done with no reason to carry on playing.
I am not the kind of guy that can do the arena for a year with no word in the hope they get more content in.
What am i asking for then?
One of my suggestions to get more value out of the existing zones would be to drop in at least one whole new quest chain (with new stories, nameds, items) designed to take me from L1 (allowing me to skip the tutorial) to L50. This will allow me to start levelling an alt and carry on enjoying the game in that way while I wait for shard conquest and more L50 PvE with my main. Do this every 3 motnhs and we are golden.
This would even go a LONG way to solving the simplisitic and maybe too straight forward quest problem in Hawksmouth, making the game's 'shop window' much more attractive to the trial people. Right now, it's a mediocre display and could be a LOT better.
I want to carry on playing, but SiL have to give me the reason to. This isnt a sandbox game, and it will need constant updating and implementing of new rides. If these can't be done now, which I accept given the nature of SiL as an indie Dev, then I want clear timetables, projections, and communications of when they will be. They know their game and resources enough now to make this possible.
Sure, SB has it's problems (mob balancing, bugs, and broken quests and character abilities all need looking at sooner rather then later), but I find myself finding this game worthy enough to ride out the rough early days and looking towards finer weather.
This is the ONLY game that I would pay a sub for even if I was taking a break (while they stick new content in), feeling that it is important to support indie devs who are trying to bring new approaches to a stale genre. In my mind, if we arnt part of the solution, we are part of the problem. If mmorpgs are going to get better, it's only our dollar that will make it happen and if we havent got that maybe just not hating for the sake of hating will be enough. If we keep throwing money at deriviative uninspired games with no community or longevity, then thats what we will get.
If anyone supports the evolution of the hobby, IMO, they should be supporting this game in spirit at least. Even if you hate the look/ mechanic of the game, fine, but everyone should support the sales model at least. It is the most open, honest, and generous one I have ever seen. SB dosent threaten anyone's pet game and dosent need to be trolled... It is a niche game for a smaller audience, and thats fine. Noone who plays it thinks it will be a WoW killer or anything. We know it isnt
This isnt about giving SiL 'leeway' but rather understanding that if they succeed, we all succeed, even if you never play the game itself.