Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Granado Espada Singapore Version (English)

Hi everyone,

Sorry for my absence of late, I had a week of midterms, followed by a holiday, followed by a week of midterms! And in my few spare moments I've been playing Granado Espada (GE).

I definately recommend you check it out at its in "Closed Beta", but pretty much everyone who applies gets accepted. Its a different spin on an MMO, and quite enjoyable.

The Closed Beta ends March 19th, afterwards it shuts down for 2-3 weeks to upgrade to a newer version of the game. Which then leads to pre-open beta sometime in Mid-April. There will be a character wipe between closed -> pre-open. But there will be no wipes after pre-open beta. I'll have a in depth review up after it closes on the 19th, for those who didn't get to play.

If you are playing, drop your family name in the comments below, and maybe we can duel! Hasn't been much else for news in MMO industry since, other than Acclaim's "Top Secret" project, where they are selecting members of the community to design an MMO that they will then produce. But there is no details on that yet, so for now we remain in the dark.

As always, enjoy!

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Lord of the Rings Online: Review

Hey all,

As many of you know, I've been in beta for LOTRO for a few months now, and after the stress test last weekend I decided to write a current review on the game.

So lets get to it!

Lord of the Rings Online has been in development..for almost 6 years publicly. It started as "Middle Earth Online" being produced by Vivendi Universal. However, after a few years, they decided (not sure of the reason) to pass the game onto a company called Turbine. Turbine had
previously made and managed Ascheron's Call 2. So, after almost 6 years the game finally entered into closed beta Q3 of last year. It's advertising points being that it stayed as true to the
books as possible and offered an exciting MMO experience.

Now that we've gotten that covered, lets get into the actual game itself. I of course like to start with the core game system. For those who like to speed read, LOTRO can be descried in one word: WoW. The game systems are eerily similar, almost to the point where it should be a copyright infringement. The characters have no modifiable stat points, ie, each level you gain does absolutely nothing for you except the possibility of learning a new skill if you've reached the next level threshold. In fact, the skill system appears to be an exact replica of WoW. Once you reach level X, you can buy skills W,Y,Z..etc. Therefore, I was EXTREMELY disappointed in that aspect of the game. As for the stat system, you can modify them through your equipment, and something called "Traits". You gain traits by completing "Accomplishments"; exploring, doing the lore, and just plain grinding. For example, if you kill 1000 goblins, you may become
"John the Goblin Slayer", which is simply a change of title. But, if you find all of the 7 ancient stones in a particular area, you may gain a trait that gives +1 to int. These traits can be applied to your character by talking to the town's Bard, who will set them into one of your trait slots(you gain more as you get higher level). They can be switched out at any time, so it does allow for a slight bit of difference between characters, but you need to have alot of time on your hands to get the various traits. Traits would be an excellent compliment to normal stat system; but if they serve as the only means to differentiate yourself, they become more of a time sink.

Moving onto the graphics. As Turbine has been known to produce some good graphics, I was expecting the very best when first signing into LOTRO. And I was not disappointed. With graphics settings on max, the game looks absolutely stunning. From the life-like water, to the facial design, to the details of the buildings, everyone was done to perfection. My only qualm is that the overall graphic style and especially the fonts, look EXACTLY the same as WoW. If you changed the name and put the graphics on low it would be very hard to tell the difference for a novice MMO player. Irregardless, Turbine did an amazing job on the graphics (6.8 gb client!) and I'm sure as they near closer to release they'll only get better.

Now, getting to the classes. The current list of 7 includes: Champion, Guardian, Captain, Minstrel, Hunter, Burglar, Lore Master. The first question you might ask is "Where is the wizards!?". Turbine decided not to include the Wizards because it would go against Tolkien's Lore, as there were very few wizards in the books. But, nevertheless, the Lore Master serves as a pseudo-wizard for those who desire Magic. The rest of the classes are the standard run of the mill classes, so I wont say much about them. There are also 4 races, Human, Elf, Hobbit, Dwarf. With certain limitations on what class each race can choose. For some reason, they decided that you should not be able to play the evil races from the lore, I'm not entirely sure what sense that makes.

Moving onto the Combat system. The combat at ground level is very similar to WoW. Well, to be precise, its exactly the same as WoW(Starting to notice a theme?). Regardless, there is some
details that you cannot see without actually playing the class. First and foremost is the combo'ing of skills. If you were a Hunter, you could fire a "Barbed Arrow" which would cause the target to bleed and run slower. Once you caught up to the target (or they to you), you could slash them with your dagger, aiming for the wounded area by using the designated skill, and do a large amount of extra damage. This is just one of the simple combos present in the lower levels of the game. They get far more complex later on. The most exciting of which is the "Group Skills", which allow a "Fellowship" (party) to attack in unison doing many complex combos. It truly adds to the group-based combat and is a fantastic idea. I'm not entirely fond of the solo combo skills, because they are powerful enough that they become the only skills you use, making the other skills grossly inefficient and therefore useless.

Next we go to the environment of Middle Earth. The world itself is massive and quite well detailed. The mapping system is again very similar to WoW, and travel can be done by foot or through renting/riding a horse. Guess what? You need to be level 40 (or was it 30..) to purchase a horse, and it costs an arm and a leg. You can rent a horse to go from area to area, but it follows a designated path. But you can jump off the horse at any given time, which is nice. However, most of the game before level 40 you'll be walking, so prepare for a lot of walking (hrm..sounds like WoW). There is also an auction house in every major town, which works the exact same as WoW's does, so nothing too exciting there.

Going onto what is pretty much a standard system in MMO's these days; crafting. The different professions of crafting are: Prospector, Forestor, Scholar, Cook, Weaponsmith, Woodworker, Metalsmith, Leatherworker, and Jeweler. Its obvious to see which ones are denoted as "Primary" and which are "Secondary". The primary crafts, or rather the collection crafts are very similar to WoW. You gain a skill that helps you locate your respective resource, and then you go and collect that resource by equipping an axe, or a mining pick, etc.. Once you've collected from one resource (ie, a mound of copper, a branch of rowen), it disappears and you go off to the find the next one! When you've gotten enough of the resource, you go back to town to turn it into something useful with the secondary professions. You may whittle the wood into a bow shaft and then into a bow. After doing this so may times, you advance the craft and get to go collect the higher-level resource and do fun things with it. As I'm sure you've noticed this is almost identical to the WoW system. The items you make are useful, and usually stronger than what you can buy at the NPC's. But it takes a significant amount of time to level it up enough to keep up with your level. So I wouldn't rate it as anything amazing.

Nearing the end now, we get to the Questing. Questing is the basis of LOTRO, you actually start the game in an instance quest, and then once completing that, you enter a pseudo-instance world. Where all the new players exist, but once they complete the quest they are warped out into the "real world". Questing is where one of my biggest complaints with the game lies, so I'll try to be as unbiased as possible. The basic system is again similar to WoW (or any other MMO), you go kill X monsters and you'll receive Y money/exp/items. Or, go find the NPC named John and then return to me with what he says, etc.. Again, nothing is new. But, the annoying part is the absolutely massive amount of exp/money you receive from doing a quest, as compared to just grinding. You may get 1-3 exp for killing a wolf, but get 800 for killing 10 and completing the quest. It makes absolutely no sense to "grind" in the game, and thus the rather boring questing is forced upon you. Some of them require a group to go kill boss monster X, which is NOT instanced. This leads to a lot of spawn camping (even in closed beta) that makes it not enjoyable.

Lastly I'm going to skim over PVP. There is no PVP in LOTRO. Turbine decided that it was against the lore to have humans fighting hobbits (so why didn't they enable evil races, I asked myself). Thus the current implementation of PVP is going to an NPC where you get to take over a mob and fight other players with that mob. I really don't have much experience in the matter, because quite frankly it sounded boring and there is level restrictions on it. If anyone actually did try it, please post in the comments a little review and I'll add it if its appropriate.

To sum it all up, I'm quite disappointed with the overall features of LOTRO. My belief is that when it started, these concepts were all new and quite enjoyable, but after the years of development, they are now antique, with the exception of the graphics. I do feel that with a modifiable stat system and a slightly better skill system the game would be top notch, as it does contain many good MMO features, and some new ones (group combos). With that said, I think it will steal alot of players away from WoW, because of the obvious similarities and the fact that its simply a new game in the same genre. And because they followed the lore so closely, even in the quests, it will attract a lot of Tolkein fans. We'll see what new content Turbine thinks of after the inital development phase is over. But for now, I would avoid any high hopes, as there are other better games already released, or being released at
the same time as LOTRO.