I just finished Deus Ex: Human Revolution after my second time through. My save files were corrupted right after I completed everything in Hengsha the second time around (about 80% of the game completed). As much as that had sucked, that actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because it turns out I had made some fairly silly augmentation choices.
- The various augmentations. Despite there being some really foolish augmentation choices, the overall system was well-thought out and true to the Deus Ex experience.
- The stealth aspect was superb. I learned to take out entire groups of enemies using just single takedowns and the cover system (no double take-downs, no noise reduction, no forced distractions, no invisibility). You can upgrade your abilities to further augment the stealth play-style, eventually turning into an invisible killing machine. But I loved the fact that you could use stealth to your advantage from the very beginning.
- The game offered multiple paths to reach your objective. I think it is a little misleading to say the game offers multiple options to complete an objective, because at the end of the day, you just need to get from point A to point B. The game does offer multiple paths to get there though. You can run and gun. You can use lethal takedowns and stick to the shadows. You can use non-lethal takedowns to pursue the path of being a pacifist. You can bypass most enemies en route to your objective.
- The moral dilemma upon landing in Hengsha the second time. I had played as a pacifist the entire game, and I had to choose to remain a pacifist or to save a character’s life. I ended up choosing the later. It is moments like these that make great video games, when you are forced to make genuinely tough decisions, where the option you choose isn’t the easiest or the most moral of the presented outcomes.
Did not Love:
- The damn boss fights. They sucked. They didn’t offer “choice” in how to handle the boss. Each boss fight was “pump boss full of lead till it keels over”. As a stealth player, I was sorely disappointed.
- The story, though well-written, can be summarized in about seven sentences.
- Stealth gameplay adds artificial length to the game. If you shoot your way through and don’t engage in side-quests, I don’t think the main story would take you more than 5-6 hours. Which is a little lame.
- The choice at the end was to literally press one of four buttons to see a different ending. I felt cheated at the end. I felt like the game had engaged me to make all of these decisions during my adventures, and none of those decisions eventually mattered because in the end I could simply flick the switch for whichever ending I chose, regardless of the logistical or moral choices I had made up to that point. I didn’t like that one bit.
Overall it is a great game, and one I would recommend for any RPG/Stealth lover. It has it’s flaws, but they can be (largely) overlooked. Give it a try if you haven’t yet.
Online Gaming Overload
I had slight MMO overload over the last few days. I played WoW almost compulsively, because it was so easy to invest just another half hour into it and get another level for your character. I had a small episode of a burnout, so I decided to purposely stay away for a few days. It worked. It has been three days and I am itching to play it again.
I have been dabbling a little into Champions Online. I am level 11 now, but the I am not quite happy with the Archetype I picked. I also read that this was probably the most balanced of the offered Archetypes, so if this is the best they have to offer without paying, then maybe I ought to focus my attention on City of Heroes, which has recently transitioned into an F2P model as well.
Good game to start off in, the tutorial levels are very well laid out, and I had a lot of fun with the smaller skirmishes. But I have my hands rather full these days and something’s got to give. That something has turned out to be Global Agenda. Not that it matters, because where I dropped Global Agenda, I picked up…
…League of Legends
God damn whoever made this game because it is addictive as hell. I have only played two games so far, but my DOTA flashbacks have effectively ensured I will be screwing around in this title for a while. I am going to try out all the free to play characters for now, just to get a better handle on the game, and I am not touching Dominion yet, simply because I must wrap my head around the basics first. I will also continue to research the paid characters and see which one best suits my play-style. All in all, good game, and I am glad (wroth) that I got coerced into giving it a try. Because now I am hooked. Damn it.
I am steadily getting better as a Protoss player. I have made it a rule to get at least four to five 1v1 matches in a week so my macro game continues to improve. But my true love in StarCraft II right now is playing with a friend in ranked 2v2. It is a treat to play and I am very happy with everything it has to offer so far.
Why I am Glad Diablo 3 is Delayed
There are a lot of high-profile titles coming in the next few months that will keep me quite occupied. Dead Island and Gears of War 3, two titles that I’d like to play, are already out. I just haven’t had the time to play anything else, so I have not bothered purchasing these titles yet. I am still working through my second run through Deus Ex: Human Revolution, still leveling my scantily clad made in WoW, and tinkering with the stupidly cute Shakes and Fidget browser game.
Game of Thrones: Genesis also comes out in four days. But I am not sure about that one. I am a hardcore fan of the excellent series by George R.R. Martin, and from what I have seen in the trailers, I have a bad feeling about this in my gut. Over the course of time, I have learned to trust my gut.
October will bring id Software’s latest foray into first person shooters in the form of Rage, the much-anticipated and pre-ordered Battlefield 3, and Batman: Arkham City. Rage is exciting because the studio is finally going for a new IP after so long. Battlefield 3 just looks sick, and Batman: Arkham Asylum was too good to pass up City.
In addition, one of the MMOs that I have always wanted to play extensively but the monthly subscription cost kept me away was Fallen Earth. The MMO is going free-to-play on October 12, so I will definitely be checking it out.
November will be hell month. We have Modern Warfare 3, Assassin’s Creed: Revelations and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim will release within the span of about a week. This, coupled with the releases in September and October (along with Champions Online, WoW and Fallen Earth) will keep me quite busy through the holiday season.
Hence, I am glad Diablo 3 has been delayed!
EA Won’t Let Me Play SW:TOR
“Hi EA, would you like my money?”
“No, we don’t like where you live.”
The wait for the next generation of MMOs is unbearable at this point. I have quit WoW. World of Tanks simply wasn’t my cup of tea. I dabbled in Lord of the Rings Online, but it was a barren wasteland, and I rarely came across any players in the first 22 levels in a “well-populated” server, so eventually I just got tired of playing solo and quit LOTRO as well.
I have now downloaded both Champions Online: Free For All, and Global Agenda: Free Agent, partly because I am itching to play an MMO, and partly because they were in my Steam “free to play” section, and it was just convenient to download and install both clients.
I had a lot of issues, I mean a LOT of issues, with Champions Online. I despised the title to the point that I could not bear to play the game a month past the initial “free” month. Even back then, must have been September/October of 2009 or thereabouts, I thought Champions Online would have benefited greatly if it was a free-to-play title, because it had a lot of things going for it. I am not saying free-to-play titles are allowed to have broken game mechanics or unpolished gameplay, not at all. I am just saying that it didn’t make sense to call it a AAA title when the game was dramatically and drastically altered on launch day itself because of blatant balance issues.
When I logged in this time, using the same username/password that I had used nearly two years prior, I was surprised to find my original characters still intact. Now because those characters no longer fit into the free archetypes that free accounts have access to, I could not load the world with those characters and play to my heart’s content, but I was grateful that my old characters were still intact after all that time.
I made a new character. I should rephrase, I am in the process of making a new character. had actually forgotten how incredible complex, deep and fun the hero builder tools could be in Champions Online. With literally thousands of combinations, even with in the free account, you can create a truly unique looking hero.
A lot of people who play this game had remarked that you could play Global Agenda for any length of time without feeling like you are tied down to a raid or dungeon run at a designated time. You could jump in and out of missions on the fly and play as your schedule suits you, not the other way around. Given the sheer shortage of time that has become the bane of my existence lately, this was a major plus point for me.
I have only played the tutorial of this game so far, and I have been quite impressed with the way the single-player (near) obligatory tutorial section is designed. It has a cool storyline, plenty of interesting cut-scenes and it introduces gameplay mechanics in interesting and unique ways. So far I have had a blast and I will continue to play it until I have a good enough handle on the game to start tackling mission and get into the MM part of this MMO.
The new Rift trailer kicks a lot of (rift) ass. The battle between the Ascendants comes full circle, birds get caught on fire, and it is revealed that if you have giant tusks, you can kick some serious ass! Seriously though, it is the most ambitious trailer for Rift to date and although my work schedule not permitted me to play at all, I was really glad to hear they were expanding the beta window to Saturday. That implies I can squeeze in a few hours and hopefully get a good idea of what Rift is all about. I will have a full write-up over the weekend, as soon as I figure out whether the NDA is in effect because there seems to be conflicting information on this. (Perhaps you can answer this one Scott?)
Let me also say that I was very pleasantly surprised that a representative from Trion Worlds actually responded to my ill-advised gripe about installation and launch problems I had with Rift. Not only that, he actually offered to help and look into the matter. I don’t quite know what I like / dislike about Rift just yet, but I have to say, they’ve got mad customer service skills yo!
Watch the new trailer embedded below:
DCUO launched mid-January. The game seems to be doing fairly well, considering new servers are being added to the game days into the launch. Champions Online also went F2P, and I don’t think anyone has any confusions about their decision to announce a launch date right around the launch of DCUO. I am going to try my hands at Champions Online again. I have had my reservations with the game, but it has been out nearly a year and a half now, and I am hoping most of the bugs have been filtered out by now. And if Patrick’s post is any indication, the launch went a lot smoother than the disaster we faced on the original launch day back in September 2009. The option to play F2P is also quite welcoming, despite the fact that Massively.com doesn’t think the locked archetypes are a true representation of what the game may have to offer. If you want to know anything and everything about the revamped title, you can read Massively’s write-up here.
Will I try DCUO? Not yet. I’ll give it a few more months. The initial response is, admittedly, enticing. But I don’t want to get burnt again by spending my heard-earned doubloons on a sub-par game because I got sold on the hype.
Battlestar Galactica: In-browser
While we are on the subject of trailers, the folks over at Big Point have released an in-game trailer, crafted from 100% in-game footage, and now with more Vitamin C! I have to admit, despite my initial reservations about a Farmville-esque botched attempt at re-creating the fantastic universe, I am a little surprised at how detailed, graphically rich, and accurate an in-browser game can look these days. Am I confused? Did they decide to go with a full-blown 3D engine and I missed that memo? Or are those graphics a little ridiculous for an in-browser game?
I haven’t yet, but I will sure as hell sign-up for the beta now! Take a look:
I don’t know what it is about superhero simulators, but I am inexorably drawn to them. I played City of Heroes when it first came out, actually grinding my way to the 3rd level50 character on the server. Then WoW came around and everything went south. A few years later, they released City of Villains, which was a delight in its own right, but again my time with it was short-lived, as WoW had sank its extensive claws deep into my gamer nerves, unrelenting, holding on for dear subscription.
Then came Champions Online, and for what it’s worth, it was an enjoyable joyride for a while. I had my fair share of grievances with the game, the lack of polish it exhibited and the lack of content that forced grind sessions. It still amazes me how modern MMOs can get that one most critical aspect wrong: not having enough content forcing players to grind mobs till they can tackle the higher-level zones/quests again. WoW got that right the first time and perhaps that is the single biggest reason they are so successful. That and the fact they continue to innovate and, you know, not suck.
Sony’s DCUO has been making the rounds of the MMO world lately, and has now been announced to be out later this year, in November to be exact. Part of me is hesitant, seeing as how the last three superhero simulators I invested in didn’t manage to keep my attention for any conceivable length of time. Yet, there is that inexplicable itch to try it out, see what its like, and hopefully find my dream superhero simulator.
I can dream I suppose!
I played Champions Online for a good three months last year. For those of you that actually read the blog know I was not particularly fond of mess the game had made, and the sheer lack of polish that Cryptic had the audacity to release unto the masses. I haven’t played the game in a good three months now, burnt out on lack of content, repetitious quests and in-game events that made me want to cry tears of blood.
Champions Online had a lot going for it, some of which I have even highlighted in the past, but does it have the chops to become a strong AAA title in a post-WoW arena? The fact that this question was posed by Patrick Mackey six months after the launch is enough of an indication that Cryptic made a lot of atrocious mistakes in the first six months. But perhaps there is still hope. Mackey over at Massively takes a look at the game and how it fares half a year after launch.
Worth a read, especially if you are looking to indulge.
Massively, in their regular segment The Daily Grind, asked players what they thought of Cryptic, developers of the superhero simulator Champions Online and the space-based Star Trek Online. You can find the user comments here. Here are some interesting snippets:
- “After 3 MMOs, I firmly believe that they do not make good games. I think of them as the “bench players” and BioWare or Blizzard are the “star players”.” – gerkshz. [Bronte: I agree with the fact that they don't make good games for the MMO genre. But I think it is unfair to compare them to BioWare. Although Star Wars has a rabid following and astronomical hype, I still don't think it is fair to judge a book by its cover. Especially if that book isn't out yet!]
- “They are good at giving players customization options and individuality. They are bad at putting in interesting content to keep those individuals engaged. They are good at making visually appealing worlds. They are bad at hiding the real reason they make their games is to squeeze every penny they can out of you.” – FrostPaw. [Bronte: I think this encapsulates my feelings on Cryptic the best. Cryptic is all about sticking to harsh development schedule without paying nearly enough attention to what the players may want. Also, although I only played Star Trek Online beta, I think this review from PC Gamer sums up my experiences with the MMO the best.]
- “Cryptic are the “own brand diet cola” of dev houses in my experience. They make pretty enough games, but seem convinced that writing a handful of missions and then vaguely re-skinning them is enough to keep people long term. It’s not, and at least for me I’d rather go back to “the real thing” after a couple of months in a Cryptic game (CoX, CO, STO… the similarities are glaring… and not in a good way).” – whitcombe. [Bronte: This is precisely the kind of thing I addressed in my experience with Champions Online on Are We New At This. Read up on some of my past posts on CO here.]
- “When Cryptic makes a mistake (and they do that often) they hold up their hands and admit to it. A lot of other MMO companies could learn from this.” – Renko. [Bronte: I agree. Cryptic may push unpolished content out the door, be insidious when it comes to squeezing every dime out of your pocket and may provide uninspiring gameplay and rehashed content, but they always admit their mistakes. That being said, what's the point in accepting a mistake and having an open dialogue on it, if the next iteration suffers from the same inherent issues?]
- “I think Cryptic needs to take their in their development and not rush. Two years of development for STO is not enough, they need another three or four years to develop the game. For Champions, maybe another two or three years. Both of those games still feels like it’s in alpha and beta.” – Vlo. [Bronte: That is one of the biggest concerns I had with CO. It always felt like the product was in beta stage, being tested live, but with paying subscribers.]
- “Personally, I think they make solid games but not good subscription MMOs – nothing they’ve made (including CoH) has had any lasting appeal for me.” – Vulturion. [Bronte: Again I have to agree here. Champions Online could have been a great single player (or even multi player) game. It had decent lore, an incredible costume creation tool, and other innovative elements. However, it was a terrible MMO. Social interaction was limited, you could solo 95%+ of the content and the zone chats were densely populated with crickets.]
- “Having experienced Cryptic at its finest, I will never waste my money on a cryptic product ever again.
(I) Massive game changing patch with no warning => i.e. the infamous Champions Online launch day patch. Way to break player trust from the very beginning.
(II) Perception of greed. Full sub + item shop for a game that offers significantly less launch content at launch than its competitors? Now that’s just silly. Every announcement about cryptic seems to be another money grubbing news item, Charging for ‘mini expansions’ which most other games include in the cost of subscriptions, charging for races like the Klingons and Ferengi, what a public relations nightmare.
(III) The perceived firing of Community managers. Once upon a time Cryptic had a pair of very excellent community managers. In spite of seeming to receive contradictory messages from their superiors, they worked very very hard and maintained a positive outlook. Then one day they disappeared without warning! What did the big bad Cryptic do to them? We will never know children. we’ll never know.
(IV) Lack of content. One should never have to chose between grinding mobs or completing every single quest in the game. *cough* Champions
(V) Some bugs should be caught and addressed quickly. If you have a bug that causes player mail to be eaten, it really should not still exist two months after launch.
(VI) Dismissive attitude towards players => certain Devs are more responsible for this than others.
I’m just going to stop the list right there. I went from a player who had been following STO from its development at Perpetual and prepared to plop down the cash for a lifetime sub product unseen, to someone who will never touch another Cryptic product ever again. If the two months that I played out of my 6 month Champions online subscription was worth anything, it taught me two things: That first that customization is something that every MMO company should put more effort into, the second is that I now know the true value and quality of a Cryptic product.” – marquis.montrose. [Bronte: I think this guy absolutely nails it. Well said sir!]
Some things stood out to me.
First, I understand that as a journalist, you have to be diplomatic about what you ask and say, partly to ensure you have a snowball’s chance in hell of being given the same opportunity twice, and partly to maintain a civil, unbiased tone. However, this does not imply that you cannot ask the hard-hitting questions or ask questions phrased in a manner to soften the blow or even detract from the truth of the matter at hand.
- “[At launch we] definitely could have been much better balanced, especially in terms of overall difficulty curve and resource(in-game currency) allocation on day one.”
- “…retcon pricing was very out of line early on.”
- “The crafting system definitely needs a lot of attention, as does the auction house.”
- (Not a direct quote) There was also a recognition of leveling gaps and a lack of content for the endgame players.
From the sounds of it, Roper is at least well aware of the issues Champions Online faces at the moment, which is a refreshing and encouraging thought. However, the vagueness of the following statements left a bad taste in my mouth.
- “We definitely want to keep adding content into the game, both within the current leveling curve and also at the end game.”
- “We’re working on different game systems right now that will allow players to do a lot of different things over the course of their hero’s career.”
- “[New instances are] one of the many things we’re looking at doing.”
- “I don’t want to go into TOO much detail on unimplemented systems, but the best way to put it is that we’re focused on creating extensible game systems as opposed to only making new missions.”
- “Our goal moving forward is to combine the creation of new content with game play systems that together create many more options and hours of game play than we could achieve by making new instances or zones.”
- “Moving forward we’re going to continue to create scenario-based PvP maps as these seem to go over the best with our players.”
- “We’ll be making a pass through [the crafting system and the auction house system] at some point, but the sheer complexity of what’s there, combined with the work that is already on our “Master of all things Upgrades” is daunting.”
- “The game is just getting better and better, and that’s our focus moving forward.”
There were a few cool announcements as well. Nemesis: Confrontation definitely sounds like a lot of fun. I posted earlier today about Cryptic upcoming secret feature next week. I am 99% sure this is it. Part of the reason this new feature is so exciting for me is because the Nemesis system is sheer brilliance, and one of the most innovative elements of Champions Online. An improvement on the system can only mean a good thing.
- On the UNITY/Nemesis Crossover: “It’ called Nemesis: Confrontation. 5 heroes. 5 Nemesis. An epic villain of Legendary proportions bringing them all together in a distant locale. This is a repeatable Lair that has all-new rewards and threats. We’ve been spending a lot of time on it to make sure it’s challenging and fun for our level 40 heroes.”
Finally, they are also working on the next tiers of powers, the restriction being the next tier may reward specializing in one power tree. I am not sure if this is a positive step or a major blunder:
- “We are already working early designs for Tier 4 powers for exactly that reason – to give players a real reward and goal to push for.”
So there ya have it! Some cool new upcoming things, an admittance of flaws, and a whole lot of vague!
Champions Online apparently has a big feature coming out next week. What is it? We don’t know, because it is being kept a secret.
Cryptic does need your help play-testing though. So you can participate in a public test tomorrow on the PTS. the only hint is that you will need to being 4 friends in addition to yourself, all at level 40, along with a Nemesis.
Transfer your level 40 character, or on the PTS, ask a contact outside the powerhouse to level up your low-life-level champion.
Here’s to hoping!
MMORPG has a nice article up about the 5 additions Champions Online needs right now to be a great game.
Top of the list is zone-wide events. Now I have been quite critical of the Blood Moon event and how underwhelming it was. However, I have to agree with this article in that Blood Moon brought together the Millennium City zone community like nothing else. Prior to Blood Moon, the zone chat was filled with the infrequent announcements about a public mission getting underway or someone asking for help with a mission/instance.
Blood Moon kicked the chat in Millennium City into high gear. Players would call out gate openings and boss spawns over zone, several heroes would converge on the location to defeat the forces of evil.
I still stand by my assessment of Blood Moon. But I have to admit, the event did bring together the community like never before. Amidst all the criticism and rage over the lack of content and variety, at least Cryptic managed to
With a new launch at work, I have been working endless hours lately. Given my unhealthy addiction to Dragon Age, I am barely finding time to write.
But this piece of news caught my eye as I read up on the gaming world over the weekend. Cryptic, the studio that has been on my hit list for some time, took steps last week to build a better sense of community with their player base. Champedia was launched, an online database that details every power, character, mission super-group etc.
Some aspects are quite useful, such as the super-group (read guild) management interface that even allows you to change the message of the day from the browser, among other things. The character search is also quite detailed, although I don’t like that everyone can see my inventory and virtually every other stat, even without logging in to the website. The mission search is rather simplistic, and just offers the quest text for the mission.
It’s a step in the right direction, especially if they enrich it with additional features in the future. Despite all my whining, I still have high hopes for Champions Online. Let’s see what the studio pulls off with their next content patch.
Over the course of last week, plenty of news came out of the BioWare and Cryptic camps regarding their upcoming space-age MMOs.
Going Online Where No Star Trek MMO Has Gone Before
Star Trek Online will be released on February 2, 2009. This is very disturbing for me. Please understand that when I say I am a Star Trek fan, I don’t mean I liked John Cho reprise the role of Sulu as a Katana-wielding martial artist. I mean I own every episode of every series (except the animated one), and I have read all Star Trek books, including all volumes of TOS and yes, the narcissistic verbal diarrhea from William Shattner masquerading as works of literature.
I have been fairly blunt in my criticism of Champions Online in the last month or so. The game grew on me post-launch in unexpected ways. But the sheer lack of polish, compounded by the plethora of bugs / design flaws have taken their toll. I last logged in on Halloween, made this post about the sorry state of affairs in the game, and I haven’t gone back since. Of course it doesn’t help that I have WoW’s upcoming patch, EvE’s every changing world of political and regional conflict, Dragon Age’s anti-heroes and Borderlands’ cell-shaded, head-splattering goodness to keep me from it.
But I digress. Cryptic pushed out Champions Online on a strict deadline. Frankly that is commendable, considering the industry is notorious for development, publishing and release date delays. But there is a fine line between sticking to the deadline, and compromising content and design elements to satisfy the production timeline. In their bid to enter the fray during an economic downturn, Cryptic ended up relinquishing quality over release date rigidity. Blood Moon, the highly anticipated mini-event, aside from the incredibly fun PvP elements, was an unpolished, grind-infested and ill-designed abomination that may have turned away more players than it attracted.
It simply may be because the economy is in such a terrible condition, the only way for these studios is to push content out quickly and make the quick bucks to keep afloat. And I can certainly sympathize. Most recently Mythic fired 80 employees, which allegedly makes up 40% of the workforce directly responsible for 90% of the content. Meanwhile, Electronic Arts cut 1,500 jobs. What that says for the state of the gaming industry and the MMO arena in particular remains to be seen. But the need to rush content is no excuse for some of the sloppy and downright careless work we have seen so far. In retrospect, it is sad how these little elements, which individually would have had negligible impact, now stand between me and another $15 for Cryptic, to play an otherwise exciting and adrenaline-pumping title.
So when I hear that merely four months after the release of Champions Online, the studio has a set-in-stone deadline for Star Trek Online, my heart sinks. The true tragedy of the matter is that my loyalty to the IP will likely force me to pick it up and play it, that maybe I will find a diamond in the rough. The initial impressions have been quite positive, so I remain hopeful. And hope (no, not love), is what makes the world go around.
Perpetual Entertainment, the studio that had been working on Star Trek Online for four years, shut down in 2008. On January 15, 2008, production was moved to Cryptic. Star Trek Online was officially announced on July 28, 2008. Last week, the release date was set as February 2, 2010.Technically, at release time, the game would have been almost six years in development. Cryptic is responsible for two of those years. So for all the criticism Cryptic has faced recently, maybe Star Trek Online will become the genre-bending space MMO that I have craved since the days of Earth and Beyond.
Pros and Cons:
- (+) It’s Star Trek, and you get to be the captain of a ship
- (+) 6-year long development title; Cryptic has spent over two years working on the game
- (+) Cryptic already has an MMO launch under their belt
- (+) You get to fight on ground in away teams and in space in tactical ship battles
- (+) The game promises to build a lot of nostalgic lore moments from the series into the world
- (-) Cryptic‘s track record for quality control and polished content isn’t exactly noteworthy
- (-) Content past release has been sloppy, repetitive and uninspiring
- (-) Like Champions Online, many features that sound exciting “might” be part of the game, like a Galactic, dynamic economy
Star Wars: Ye Old Republic
BioWare, normally, rests at the other end of the spectrum for me. I am, in many ways, their unpaid mascot. The news coming out of this camp has been quite heartening. Bear in mind that although I own every Star Wars movie, and have read quite a few of the tightly structured novels set in the universe, I am not as big a fan of the series as I am of Star Trek. So it goes a long way to show the studio’s credibility if I am still looking forward to the MMO.
For anyone who has played more than a few hours of Dragon Age: Origins on a high-end PC knows the game looks breathtaking. The first major skirmish between the King’s army and the Darkspawn horde gave me goosebumps in a warm, cozy, well-lit, room. Suffice it to say that BioWare is very well ahead of the curve when it comes to graphics and technology.
Yet, last week, they invested in a new occlusion culling technology from Umbra. In layman’s terms, the technology keeps track of what a player is actively looking at, and reduces the graphical intensity and polygon count of the unseen parts of the environment. This reduces the strain on the processor, freeing it up for more complexity and graphical richness in the immediately visible area.
Second, a new novel was announced that details the story behind the MMO. The release date is July 27, 2010, a full eight and a half months away. It would be natural to assume the MMO would be released after this date, ergo, the MMO is at least nine months away
Third, There will be no initial testing for the mac. This is great news. I hate macs. Justin Long can get bent.
Finally the Imperial Agent class was revealed by BioWare. I believe only two classes remain unknown at this stage.
If Dragon Age: Origins or Mass Effect were to serve as examples, we know that this is only the beginning of a torrential downpour that will form a flood of marketing collateral, eager to devour all in its path. We are barely seeing a trickle right now. You have been forewarned.
Pros and Cons:
- (+) It’s Star Wars
- (+) It’s BioWare
- (+) Stellar storytelling; 12 full-time writers, some of whom have been writing for the project for well over 2 years
- (+) Compelling morality dynamics in that Jedis aren’t necessarily righteous and pure, and Sith aren’t exactly evil or corrupt
- (+) Its a fresh foray into an old IP. There is no reference to the movies, the game is set millenniums prior to the events in the Lucas films.
- (-) Its a fresh foray into an old IP. There is no reference to the movies, the game is set millenniums prior to the events in the Lucas films. (See what I did there?)
- (-) It’s over-hyped. Granted BioWare always lives up to the hype, but this is a colossal IP, and brings with it quite a rabid fan base. Any faceplants may be back-breakers.
Time will tell… only time. And Metacritic.
I haven’t been able to play Champions Online much lately. Having already bitched about how complex and involved my life is, I won’t go into why I can’t find to play it. I am beginning to get to that inevitable stage of guilt over the monthly subscriptions, because I am not getting enough bang out of my buck.
This morning I finally managed to log in for a few hours, partly because of the guilt, partly because Super Teammates were asking about where I had been, and partly because I really wanted to check out all the zombie-smashing goodness of the Halloween-themed Blood Moon event. I patched, loaded in my primary character and sat back to enjoy the ride.
If you are short on time, the following sentence summarizes this post. Had it not been for the saving grace that is the Nemesis system, I would have quit Champions Online today.
This latest venture from the makers of the superhero simulator epitomizes all that is wrong with the MMO genre today. It is boring, it is tedious, it is designed to be a massive time sink, and it only serves to degrade the game further. The Blood Moon event’s central premise revolves around the Undying Lord Takophanes trapping the souls of 13 of Millennium’s City’s most revered heroes. The corrupted versions of these heroes are then turned loose on the city in 13 locations that look like demonic portals.
The first hero I fought was just a few blocks from the Rennaissace Center and the Super Jet. Her name is Amazing Grace. The event is set up as a public mission and it is fairly straight-forward. At the start of the event, the gate from the reset disappears and a crater appears. Zombies start crawling out of this crater. You have to kill 50 zombies (there is that arbitrary number again) and Amazing Grace’s protective shield drops. You then fight her and waves upon waves of zombies hell-bent on destruction. Once you kill Amazing Grace’s corrupted self, the portal reappears, and you can pick up a mission to go through it into Takophanes’ crypts to free her entrapped soul.
You then enter the portal, and fight through a series of crypt hallways and chambers. I spotted two bugs during this process that I thought might be worth illustraring with the help of screenshots.
First, see the screenshot to the right? The door shatters and a few zombies pour into the room to fight you. Whichever lazy programmer desgined this mini-event, forgot to hide the door mesh when the door breaks. The result is that you hear the door breaking, you find its splinters littering the floor, and zombies come out of the solid door that still stands before you.
Second, the instanced crypt is divided into three sections. You get to each subsequent section by interacting with a door that awards you with a loading screen followed by the next identical room. But once you port in, more often than not, you see a dark void having consumed the world. Only movement negates the effect.
You could argue that I am nitpicking, but the fact of the matter is that this shows a lack of commitment and polish. Polish that we have an indisputable right to as paying consumers of the game. Coupled with some of the bugs I have detailed before, and the game’s Executive Producer’s statements of late, it goes on to show how Cryptic cares more about making quick bucks and pushing out content on strict deadlines than the quality of their products or the sentiments of their customers.
The crypt finally ends in a desecrated alter. The soul of the hero you just fought on the streets above hovers in limbo, and a Harbinger of Woe, a powerful Super Villain, controls their fate. You then have to defeat this Harbinger in order to free the hero’s soul.
Sounds good on paper right? It is, and it is fun the first time around. Here is the catch: this process is repeated, without a single detail altered, for each of the 13 heroes.
Let’s use a bulle point list to illustrate the monotony. Anjin would be proud. For each hero:
- There is a portal location in the city.
- Each portal resets in the same amount of time.
- Each portal is a public mission, divided into two stages.
- The first part of each of these 13 missions is killing 50 zombies to spawn the boss (corrupted hero).
- The second part of each of these 13 missions is to kill the boss.
- In each case, when the boss is defeated, you pick up the mission to enter the crypt that conveniently opens right next to you.
- Each crypt is exactly the same. There is zero difference between the crypts. They follow the same path, the same turns and throw the same tricks at you for each iteration.
- Each crypt ends in a room with the hero’s trapped soul and a Harbinger of Woe.
- Each end objective is to kill the Harbinger of Woe to save the hero.
Someone at Cryptic came up with a neat idea. Someone else decided it was so cool, it had to be endlessly replicated. Sound familiar? That is because I have commented on this trend before. The end result of this needless cloning is content that is frustrating, boring, repetitive, unimaginative and a major let down.
And don’t get me started on Takophanes himself. He respawns every six hours. He spawns in a random location. And his better drops are rare.
In short, Blood Moon, so far, is full of fail. It only serves to discredit the studio as a legitimate, respectable contender in the MMO arena.
Courtesy of I’m Talkin’ Games, I just came across this in the game myself. And cried tears of blood. Getting a little tired of defending this game, when Cryptic can’t be bothered to show any consistent level of polish before releasing content.
Why is it that no prison in MMOs can successfully keep its prisoners under lock and key? Regardless of the type of prison or the safeguards put in place to ensure no untoward incident takes place, there is always a riot or an escape or a combination of the two. Do they always hire NPC guards that are complete imbeciles? Or are the walls made of cheap pixels? Perhaps the head jailor is a sado-masochist who gets off on getting beaten to a pulp by escaping prisoners every reset?
To illustrate the spread of this plot device, let’s observe some examples from a few popular MMOs.
World of Warcraft
Prisons breaks are to WoW as George W. Bush is to retarded. It just seems to come naturally.
First up we have The Stockades. This is a high-security prison complex beneath the canals of Stormwind City. The instance is home to henchmen, masterminds and diabolical villains alike. More recently, there has been a riot, and the place is under complete control of the criminals. The only problem is that they stay inside the walls of The Stockades and refuse to leave. It would be the Prison Break equivalent of Micheal Scoffield killing every guard and administrator inside Fox River so no one can stop his escape. And then choosing a new cell as his new home.
Wrath of the Lich King introduced the Violet Hold, a magical prison in the southern district of the floating city of Dalaran. It is now being attacked by the blue dragonflight under Malygos‘ orders. The prison guards, being the perpetually inept, blithering idiots that they are, need the players’ help to fend off the blue dragonflight and to keep the prisoners in check.
The biggest examples of ‘prison’ encounters would have to be C’Thun and Yogg-Saron. Both were Old Gods cast into earthly prisons by the Titans and now corrupt the thoughts of any foolish enough to get close to their prison. Why? Because the guys that designed the prisons were criminally retarded and made the prison out of marshmellows. The solution? Go into the prison and kill the pesky bastards.
In Millennium City, one of the first public missions you will participate in involves preventing some of the most dangerous criminals from escaping during a prison riot. Cryptic‘s Producer of Naming Originality was on vacation the week they named the event, for the event is called “Jail Break”.
Next up is Stronghold, the Desert Zone prison. Unlike Millennium City’s rehabilitation center, this facility is designed to contain and keep watch over the most nefarious and powerful supervillains. A storm knocked out the power in the ’80s, disrupting the power inhibiting fields and allowing nearly 40 supervillains to escape and wreak havoc. In the early 21st century, Grond escaped with the help of a disgruntled guard, killing several guards in the process. And rest assured, the troubles of the facility are far from over.
The Nemesis system is one of the most unique features of Champions Online. But in the interest of this article, it is worth nothing that even your Nemesis can escape from prison, forcing you to hunt the guy down yet again.
Age of Conan
Conan himself founded the upcoming Iron Tower, a towering structure of heavy stone and black iron. Intended for civil confinement of the most vile of Aquilonia’s criminals, the Iron Tower continues the Tarantia Common District story arc. And yes, you get to go in, and bring the swift and unforgiving hand of justice with great force down upon the insidious prisoners and their minions.
Prison Break: The Convenient Plot Device
Prison breaks are one of the most over-used plot devices. What morally upright (experience-points-starved) MMO player would miss out on a chance to rid the world of a villainous menace of diabolical proportions? (Side note: what exactly is a diabolical proportion BTW?) What heroic (loot-hungry) adventurer would give up on a chance to bring an uncompromising and swift end to the dubious and undoubtedly evil pursuits of the scum of the earth?
I understand the twitch reaction that causes developers to build the inevitable prison break story into the macrocosm of the world. It is a classic, convenient setup that requires minimal explanation. It doesn’t take much for the MMO player to go in charging after those foolish enough to challenge the (questionable) might of the MMO’s law enforcement agencies.
What if we thought of prisons in MMOs in a new light? What instead of keeping prisoners in, there were quests that involved breaking people out? What if a prison instance was designed to facilitate the advancement of lore without being lured into the seemingly inevitable prison break quagmire? What if designers gave us choices requiring us to question our own sense of morality and justice, instead of forcing us to choose the obvious, morally upright choice regarding prison escapes?
For all its flaws, one of the greatest missions in Champions Online involved getting defeated by VIPER forces on purpose. You wake up in a lab, and escape your captors, making your way to the inner depths of the instance searching for an evil genius who was otherwise inaccessible. It was a brilliant concept, well-implemented and flawlessly executed.
Can you think of ways this device can be improved or altered that challenges the norm and expands on the classic paradigm?
One of the coolest things about Star Wars: The Old Republic is that every in-game individual, be it a playing character or an NPC, will be fully voiced. Apparently that is too much work for Cryptic Studios, who’s first MMO, Champions Online, has recently come under some criticism from the blogger community.
I couldn’t disagree more. As a gamer, immersion is one of the core elements that attracts me to any game. Syp over at Biobreak has already commented on how NPCs in MMOs seem to always have their feet glued to the ground. This in effect works against the immersion factor tremendously and causes the player to be subliminally aware of the static and stagnant nature of the individuals he or she is interacting with.
I believe the same logic applies to in-game voice overs. Not to belabor the obvious, but you will never walk up to your friend who needs your help moving, only for him to hold up a placard with a wall of text explaining why he needs your help and the logistics involved therein. Voice overs create a unique and stylized sense of immersion. The NPC you are interacting is no longer a cluster of 3D pixels and animation with no personality and no depth. That NPC now has a voice, an agenda and is now a vibrant part of the game world.
What’s more troubling is the rest of Mr. Zinkievich’s statement:
The statement above effectively tells me that the Star Trek Online team is more worried about adhering to strict deadlines than being focused on providing players with a feature-rich immersive world. The pipeline and associated deadlines exist for a reason, yes, but if that reason violates the sense of association with the player or shatters the illusion of it being a ‘living world’, then that pipeline needs to be revamped.
Cryptic Studios, a new contender in the MMO arena, is currently neck-deep in three MMOs.
The first is is Champions Online, that I have been writing about quite extensively over the last week or so.
The second is Star Trek Online. Criag Zinkievich, Star Trek Online’s executive producer has recenly confirmed to Videogamer.com that Federation ships will ship (lame pun intended) sometime in early 2010. Anyone who was present for the launch phase of Champions Online has Vietnam-esque flashbacks to the game-breaking changes that were introduced on launch day and beyond. Let’s hope the launch of the studio’s first MMO was a major learning experience and the quality of Star Trek Online is not sacrificed in the name of maintaining said deadline.
Disclaimer: It has been brought to my attention that I have bitched too much about Champions Online as of late because of a few things that have really annoyed me. So to balance out all the bitching, and in the interest of fairness, I am putting together a partial review. I am choosing seven things that stand out to me. I am also trying to be as positive as possible, and not commenting on the flaws in the game design. There are, however, sections below which mention some of the drawbacks, as they go hand-in-hand with the qualities that stand out. Enjoy.
One: “Fresh Foray” or “Moar Supaheros Plz!”
It’s a fresh setting. Sure the superhero sandbox has been tackled years prior by City of Heroes and City of Villains, and the upcoming DC Universe will be worthy contender in the arena. But Champions Online is a breath of fresh air in a largely neglected genre of MMO gaming. You get to be a superhero. What more do you need?
Two: “Where is the Damn Half-mask?” or “I’m Batman!”
Not enough has been said about the character creator in Champions Online. It is smart, sophisticated and provides the user with literally millions of visuals iterations for what their character can look like. I have been playing the game for over a month now, and every day I come across a costume that I have to stop and admire. The level of creative freedom the character creator allows is unprecedented.
The system is not without flaws. For instance, it is not very intuitive, you have to dig in menus and sub-menus to find a look that you feel is just right. But that being said, overall, I have never had so much fun with a character creator. I have found myself spending hours upon hours obsessing over small details of my characters, trying to get my champions to look precisely as I envisioned him.
Naming is another aspect of character creation. Unlike most MMOs which check your character’s name against the existing names on the server to ensure no two players have the same name, you have the liberty of picking any name you want. This is because in Champions Online, it is your account name that is unique, not your character. So I could make a character “Bronte”@theelementals, and a friend could make another character “Bronte”@friendsaccount, and we’d both be Bronte. Another added advantage of this system is that once you befriend someone through the in-game interface, you will always know when they are on, regardless of which character they are playing. The friend system saves information through the account name as well, so instead of being friends with “Battleship” or “Black Arrow”, you will be friends with @accountname1 and @accountname2.
The system does impose some minor restrictions. You can’t for instance name yourself Spiderman, or any other major superhero in pop culture. Not that it stops anyone from the bajillion Iron Man (Iron Hand, Steel Man, Iron Colossus, Iron Armor) and Batman (Dark Knight, The Dark Knight, TheDarkKnight, The_Dark_Knight) clones.
Three: “Warrior Mage” or “Warlock Paladin”
The game, technically, has no class system. You don’t have to get boxed into a pre-determined set of abilities or roles for your champion. The game offers you basic “classes” to choose from if you are feeling lazy or uninspired, but you are at complete liberty to pick and choose powers from literally every pool of power frameworks available. The only drawback is that the game, understandably, rewards you if invest in powers from the same power-set. However, if you mix and match powers from different sets, it will take you longer to unlock higher tiers of power. So if I have a champion with Power Armor abilities, I will need two powers from the Power Armor set to unlock the third tier of Power Armor abilities. However, if I want the third tier of powers from another set (say Dual Blades), the game will require that I have three powers (as opposed to two in the same power tree) from another power-set (in this case Power Armor) in order to unlock that tier. It’s simple, its effective, and it allows for countably infinite combinations of unique champions each with their own powers and abilities.
Champions Online also has a plethora of power-sets to choose from. Martial arts, fire, telekinesis, gadgeteering, bow & arrow, the game has it all. This gives the player a large pool of abilities to experiment with. Want to be a gunslinger who can freeze his enemies with frost spells, throw around goons with his thoughts and pick up vehicles to toss at mobs? Sure, the game will let you do that!
Perhaps the most striking thing is how soon the game allows you to gain your travel powers. At level 5, you can pick one. Swinging, flying in a blaze of fire, flying on a hover disc, flying with jet boots, tunneling, super jumping, super speed and so on. There are no restrictions as to what travel power you can have. What’s more, in the 30’s, the game also allows you to pick a second travel power. I dream of the day when I will fly into a pack of mobs, kick the shit out of the one I am after, and then simply teleport out. Unlike my plans involving Megan Fox and two large cans of whipped cream, this one is much more realistic.
Four: “Shade Those Cells” or “I, Candy”
The graphics are gorgeous. Cell-shaded game worlds are not necessarily everyone’s cup of tea. But believe me when I tell you this, if you have a decent PC that allows you to maximize all your settings, the game world is a sight to behold. Teeming with life, stretching out as far as the eye (or I suppose in this case your graphics card) can see, all brought to life in vibrant colors and sharp outlines. City of Heroes was good in its own respects, but one of the (many) things that led me to eventually quit the game was the cookie-cutter graphics in every part of the world.
Gone are the days of endless slabs of concrete, the bland building designs, and the ever-repeating texture patterns. The environments in Champions Online are exquisitely detailed, littered with objects you can pick up and throw at your enemies, and non-repetitive texture mapping.
Five: “Kaplow!” or “How to Survive Getting hit in the Face With a Pickup Truck”
The combat in Champions Online is explosive. I am playing with three characters right now, Bronte the Archer, Power Armor-based Prometheus and Martial Artist Obsidian. Regardless of which power set combinations I use, every fight is filled with sounds of fists smashing into exposed teeth with a satisfying thwack!, arrows piercing enemy defenses with a powerful thup! and energy bolts slamming into goons with ceremonious fwoom! With every character, I am literally throwing myself into packs of mobs, hitting punching, kicking, firing in rapid succession till they fall defeated at my feet. Most of the fights in Champions are designed to be group fights. You are almost always fighting 3 or more enemies simultaneously. Do you take your time and deal with each one on a personal level? Do you root one while you dispatch the other two? Do you force them to crowd so you can use your area effect abilities? Combat in Champions Online is a visceral, perhaps at times over-simplified, but thoroughly enjoyable experience.
Don’t for a moment allow this description of a highly satisfying combat experience misguide you to believe that the combat is easy. Mobs aren’t pushovers, especially if they are even a single level above yours. And they can get tough in bigger numbers or with tougher variations.
Six: “Face Melting 101″ or “I Hate Root Abilities!”
Say what you want about the PvP system, and the balancing issues, but I have found the PvP to be a heart-pounding, adrenaline-pumping, face-melting experience that is unrivaled. Unlike the predictable AI controlled mobs, PvP is unpredictable, fast-paced and dynamic. The Hero Games I have participated in so far involve 5on5 matches, with 15 kills of the opposing team the victory condition. Tight quarters and winding hallways further ramp up the difficulty as range classes maintain their advantage over melee for only so long. All-in-all, it is a bone crunchingly fun experience that entertains tremendously.
However, like all other systems in the game, this system too is inherently flawed due to the incredible freedom awarded to the player in choosing their powers. Because of the sheer number of powers and associated combinations, there are certain abilities in the spectrum that give a significant advantage in PvP. And because of this simple reason, I don’t think there is a permanent way to balance the large amount of power combinations that can enter any given arena. The retroactive drawback is that experienced and smart PvP players always choose powers that will benefit them tremendously in PvP, thereby heavily tilting the balance of the match in their team’s favor. Couple this with the fact that retcons (the game’s version of a respec), cost an ungodly amount of money, and it completely defeats the objective of encouraging players to try out both PvE and PvP. The cost of retcons is literally that restrictive.
Seven: “Anti-champion” or “Bestest Enemies”
At level 25, you get to create your own Nemesis. That’s right. You use the same editor you used at the beginning of your career to craft a being that is the very essence of your antithesis. You get to pick precisely what they look like, and what base power-set they will have. (The restriction is that you cannot pick individual powers, just a power framework.) You even get to select what sort of minions they will have.
This effectively starts a brand new chapter of interaction in Champions Online. Occasionally, the game will randomly ambush you during a routine mission with minions of your Nemesis. Sometimes they will drop items that will lead to clues about your Nemesis’ latest location and nefarious activities. Throughout the later levels, you face off against your archenemy and try to capture him for the authorities.
This is one of the coolest features I have seen in an MMO yet. Instead of fighting pre-designed mobs with pre-designed abilities, you get to pick your greatest enemy and give him your own personal flavor. Not only does this allow you to play the game with content that, in effect, you have had an active and guiding hand in designing, it also builds an unprecedented level of interactivity and reciprocity with the game.