Initial Thoughts: The Elder Scrolls Online.

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As promised, I have finally put together my initial thoughts on The Elder Scrolls Online. I’ve spent the last thirty days giving the game a good run and this is what I’ve concluded: In my opinion, the game needs work. At this time, it’s certainly not the game for me.

Let’s me preface this by saying, that I’m not an Elder Scrolls fan. I don’t dislike the series, I just simply have little experience with it. At the time of this writing, I have not played the first few games in the series and I’ve only logged about ten hours in Skyrim. I’m very much an Elder Scrolls newbie. This may be my whole problem.

I know the series by reputation and since this game is chronologically the first entry in the series, I was excited to see what an online version of The Elder Scrolls would look like. So let’s take a look.

First of all, like many MMOs, you have a choice to make before you even buy the game. Do you purchase the regular edition of the big fancy Imperial Edition. Typically, collectors editions will net you some cute vanity items or pets, sometimes even a couple items with very slight stat boosts. That is true in this case, but for the first time I can think of, the collector’s edition also allows access to an exclusive race for your character. This was a HUGE source of controversy within the community, and personally, I also think this is a poor idea. It’s certainly a terrible trend to set. Regardless, I took the bait and purchased the Imperial Edition of the game.

At first start, things begin much like any other MMO. The character creation process is familiar, but with plenty of options. This is a good thing. The description of the available races and classes are short but acceptable. In this game, you can also choose a faction to align with. I found that there no description for these factions during the character creation, which confused me a bit. So I had to tab out of the game to read up on them before making a decision. This was inconvenient, as the faction you choose dictates y our starting area and some of the early in-game storyline. Certain races are also only playable under certain factions. (That is unless you pre-ordered the game, in that case you can play any race, any faction — expect the Imperial race. That is only available for CE owners… Sheesh).

Upon starting the game for the first time, you enter a short tutorial phase. This is pretty cool. The zone is incredible looking and the quest itself is somewhat exciting. It really put me in the mood. So good job here.

 

The game graphics are superb and the storyline and voice acting are also very well done. The game controls seem a bit unusual though. The default setting on the PC is your standard WSAD scheme, but the combat is mouse-based. Left-click for attack, and Right-click for block. Occasionally, an enemy will jump over your head, requiring your spin around. There are also actions that are unlocked as you level. These are tied to the a stamina bar. So once it’s drained you, have to wait for it to fill before executing any special moves.

The in-game camera is also set just a little off kilter from your character, so you see things from an over-the-shoulder perspective instead of from directly in back. Alternately, there is a first person view. I tried it. It was neat, but I didn’t find it very functional. I also kept finding myself accidentally drawing my weapons when attempting to mouselook. Of course the camera is freelooking, so there is no click required to look around. It just felt off to me somehow.

The tutorial is very cut and dry and easy to follow. Once it’s over you are deposited into the game world and anything goes from there. There are quests to follow. Doing so will allow the game’s storyline to unfold. These also serve as an introduction to the many of the game’s instanced dungeons and other content. However, in true Elder Scroll’s fashion, you can also choose to ignore any of this hand holding and just explore. I found this very appealing at first, but it soon becomes obvious that without following the quests and leveling up in the intended fashion, you quickly become very easy prey for the many dangers lurking in the game.

Even though you select a class at the beginning of the game, this actually only determines the special skills that are available to you. You have complete freedom over what equipment to wear and what weapons to use, etc.

I know that the game features a PVP related area, and many players seem to flock to that. However, I have to admit that I didn’t make it that far. The game failed to snare my interest. I think I re-rolled my character about five or six times trying to get into the scenario and find my niche, but I always failed to do so.

I’m not sure why, but ESO just didn’t hook me. It’ a beautiful game, and the backstory and lore is vast and well done. But, I just didn’t see anything that I hadn’t seen before. I did not experience anything innovating or fantastic. I have not renewed my subscription.

I tend to think that in the grand scheme of things, ESO is going to end up being the MMO to play for Elder Scrolls fans. I think the general audience may largely pass it by. Time will tell. I plan to give this game another look after I’ve had some time to play some other Elder Scrolls games.

Because the content of an MMO is subject to change, I don’t “review” MMO games the same way I do single-player titles. But these are my thoughts on the title as of right now.

Other Reviews In This Series:

Arena  –     Daggerfall     –     Morrowind    –    Oblivion    –    Skyrim

Online: Initial Thoughts

Review: Diablo III – Reaper of Souls

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Normally, I do not include separate reviews for expansion packs. But this time, I feel obligated to make an exception. I’ve had several weeks to experience the Reaper of Souls add-on for Diablo III and I feel this release deserved a post of its very own.

For those of you who have been reading this blog for a while, Diablo III was one of my earliest reviews. Looking back at that review now, I cringe to see just how poor that write-up is. I suppose my blogging skills have improved over time and interestingly enough, so has Diablo III.

When the game was originally released, D3 was a bit of a mess. There were server problems, performance problems, and lots of controversy over the direction in which the game was taken. Over time, a lot of these issues were resolved through patches and changes to the title. The long-promised PVP system was finally added, and not long ago, Blizzard made the decision to remove the auction house system altogether. In doing so, item distribution was radically revamped in the game. Fans rejoiced and I was no exception.

Even without the expansion, Diablo III is a much better game today as a result of these changes. So, what does the Reaper of Souls add-on bring to the table? Here’s a rundown of some of the more important additions:

New playable class: The Crusader
An extra chapter: Act V – Reaper of Souls
Maximum level increased to 70
“End game” content
Difficulty adjustment

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The game still requires an internet connection, but my criticism on this has softened a bit over time. The game servers are much more stable than they used to be, and it seems that Blizzard’s vision for the hybrid single-player/multi-player experience has become a little bit clearer over the last two years.

Aside from new content and patches, several core changes have really made for an all-around better experience. The old tiered difficulty levels have been revamped and replaced with a new system that seems to be a much better fit. The game now offers Normal, Hard, Expert and Torment options. With the hardest option being very customizable.

I was a bit skeptical at first of the direction that the expansion would take storywise, but that too came as a pleasant surprise. I don’t want to spoil anything, but naturally at the end of Diablo III it seems like everything has come to a satisfactory close. Blizzard did a fine job of adding a new angle and continuing the plot. Upon completion of Act V, it is also clear that the Diablo story is far from over.

All in all, I have to say that Reaper of Souls is exactly what Diablo III needed to help round out the rough edges and bring the game to perfection. When looked at as a whole, my original review is now superseded by the breakdown below:

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Difficulty: Varies –  As mentioned above, the entire difficulty system has been redone, and for the better. Normal – Expert modes seem to be a very nice fit. Although later in the game, they do seem to be maybe just a bit easier than they should be. Regardless, this all goes out the window once you’ve reached the Torment option. From here, you can crank up the abuse to your liking. Why would you do this? Well, the harder the game, the better the rewards.

Story: The original Diablo III had a fantastic story, this expansion only adds to that. A few loose ends are tied up and a whole new villain takes the stage. Excellent stuff here.

Originality: This is hard to gauge considering RoS is an expansion. The new Bounty system and Rift system that becomes available upon completing the main scenario is very fun and extremely well done. It really helps keep the game alive even after completion.

Soundtrack:  The new in-game music is fantastic. Very fitting and well done. For an expansion, no expense was spared here.

Fun: Reaper of Souls really does a lot to breathe new life into a two year old game. I’ve had more fun with Diablo III now than I did when the game was originally released. This is Diablo done right.

Graphics:  Not much has changed here. This game uses the same engine as it always has. The graphic options for Diablo III have always been well done. Lighting effects are used well, shadows are well done. Everything is and was beautiful since release.

Playcontrol: No changes here. The game still works and controls as it should. I tried a number of different mice and I encountered no issues worthy of mention.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4- This expansion and the patch the preceded it were EXACTLY what Diablo III needed to make the jump from being a good game to being a great game. The price of the core game has been reduced to a mere $20 in most places. The expansion will still run you $40, but together they still cost what Diablo III cost upon release. In my opinion, if you’re going to experience Diablo III, Reaper of Souls is a must have.

 Available at retail and through Blizzards Online Store

Other Reviews In This Series:

Diablo –  Diablo IIDiablo III :: Reaper of Souls

Rise of the MMOs – Part 2

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So far, I’ve discussed a few of the early MMOs that I have had personal experience with. Of course, for every one I’ve played, there’s many more that I haven’t played. Most the games I’ve mentioned have been successful. But of course, what happens to an online game when it is NOT successful? Think about it for a moment. MMO games are, well, Online. If the game does not do well, there’s a good chance that the company behind it may pull the plug. And if the servers go off, so does the game. What happens to that $50 you spent on the retail box, do you get it back? Of course not. This is the risk of gaming online.

There have been several popular titles that have experienced just this very thing. Some of them like The Matrix Online, Tabula Rasa, and Star Wars: Galaxies did in fact go dark. Usually, when this occurs, the game developers attempt to have some sort of a sunset period that allows some closure for the players both in terms of storyline and player satisfaction. Others developers just pull the plug on a specified date and that’s it. The later is exactly what is happening to players of Sony’s Wizardry Online and Vanguard titles.

The first failed MMO game that I was follower of was the original version of Final Fantasy XIV.

Boss battle for Final Fantasy XIV version 1.0

Square Enix, the company behind the Final Fantasy series nearly destroyed their reputation with the original release of Final Fantasy XIV. Riding off of the success of their first online game, Final Fantasy XI, the company was admittedly lazy with their second online offering.

The game was beautiful, there’s no doubt about that. But upon release there was almost literally nothing to do. The game had very little content. On top of that, poor backend engineering led to server problems and a number of lag and congestion issues. The game featured a flawed combat system and the design of the gameworld was both repetitive and confusing for players. The title was almost universally condemned by both players and critics alike. As a fan of the series, even I stopped playing in those very early days and turned my attention towards other games.

Backed into a corner, it seemed obvious that Square Enix was going to pull the plug on the game. But instead, they replaced the game’s lead producer and made a startling announcement, something that no game developer had dared do before: they were going to scrap the existing code and rebuild the game from the ground up. And they did just that.

While keeping the service active, and attempting to improve the quality of life for current players, the developers were busy behind the scenes creating an entirely new game engine and content for a relaunch. This is something that normally take an average of five years, Square Enix managed to deliver the final product in just two. Upon its re-release, Final Fantasy XIV was a massive success. It is also my current MMO of choice.

A panned out view of combat from Final Fantasy XIV 2.0

During my stint away from those troubled early days of FFXIV, I found myself seduced by a game known as RIFT. This title, in many ways is very much a World of Warcraft clone. I say this in terms of gameplay, not so much in a storytelling and art direction. But really, that’s ok. RIFT had my attention pretty heavily for several months, but once I reached the endgame content, I found myself bored with it. Apparently, I was not alone. As the game’s population dwindled and profits started to sink, there was much concern over the fate of the game. To resolve this, RIFT switched from a subscription based model to a Free-to-Play model. This has appeared to work very well for the game. Although, I do not play RIFT anymore, I’m glad to see that it did not end up being just another game on the list of deactivated MMO titles.

This same scenario occurred for another very popular title, the long awaited Star Wars: The Old Republic.

SWTOR

From the beginning, Star Wars: The Old Republic looked doomed to fail. The game had been in development for many years and the hype surrounding the title had reached epic proportions. I mean, who does’t love Star Wars? Everyone wanted to play this game. It was supposed to the Warcraft-Killer. I think maybe we expected too much. Signs of concern started even before the game was released. The game came with a premium pricetag both for the standard and the collector’s edition. On top of that, for the first time the Collector’s version of the game seemed to offer more than just a few vanity items. The CE actually featured a whole in-game vendor with a stock of gear only available to those willing to pay the extra money for a special edition of the game. Upon release, the game featured a very rich experience at the beginning, but for players who rushed to reach the endgame content, there was little there. Rather than fail, Star Wars also switched to a Free-to-Play model. However, unlike RIFT, some of the business decisions for SWTOR drew heavy criticism. For example, certain content is locked out for free players. Even some UI elements are unavailable unless you’re willing to pay a little extra. Regardless of these issues, the game does seem to be thriving under its current pricing model. Now… if only I could get that $200 back that I spent on the original Collector’s Edition…

So what’s the next for MMO gaming? As I type this, everyone is keeping a close eye on The Elder Scrolls Online. At this very moment, the game is currently in its Early Access phase. The game goes live for all players on 4/4/14.

The Elder Scrolls is a well respected and loved series of single player RPG games. So its only natural to want to extend that to an online world. Personally, I hope the game is successful. I have purchased the game, and I plan to begin getting my feet wet this evening. But despite my anticipation, the warning signs are already showing…

The Elder Scrolls Online

I participated in the beta test, and much like the original launch of FFXIV, the beta version of the game felt VERY incomplete. Yes, I realize that a beta test is just that, and early TEST. But trust me, there’s some things that should be fully working. I encountered frequent disconnects, incomplete textures and other strange issues during the test. Also, there’s again concerns with this game’s Collector’s Edition. Whereas SWOTR offered a CE exclusive vendor, TESO is offering a whole playable race that’s only available to CE purchasers.

I’m very curious to see what happens with this game. So instead of being an observer, I’ve decided to do an experiment. I’m going to use this blog to chronicle my thoughts on the game. I’m not a huge fan of The Elder Scrolls. I purchased the series Anthology but I’ve only logged a few hours into the most recent entry; Skyrim. I really like what I’ve seen of the series and I do plan to catch up in the near future. But for the time being, I’m a rookie. So to me, this is going to be a whole new experience.

I’m going to approach the game with an open mind and I’m going to try my best to set aside any expectations and pre-conceived notions I may have. The game comes with a free thirty days. I’m going to take advantage of the time and then make note of my observations. If this interests you, please look forward to the posts.

Rise of the MMOs – Part 1

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The nineties were a truly epic time for gaming. This decade saw many changes in the home console market. Handheld gaming became mainstream. And of course, PC gaming took off at a rapid pace. With the ever growing popularity of the internet, a new concept in gaming began to rise to the surface: online connectivity.

The first online multiplayer game that I ever played was a text-based adventure game hosted by a local BBS. It was called Legend Of the Red Dragon (LORD for short). The game was quite simple actually, but it totally floored me at time. The BBS in which it was hosted could only handle one or two connections simultaneously. When trying to connect during peak hours I’d have to command my modem to dial over and over until I was finally able to get on. LORD is a hard game to explain these days, but essentially, the first time you played it you made a character and you could perform a certain number of tasks daily. This is includes things like fighting monsters, exploring, flirting with the taverns girls, etc. I don’t believe you could participate with other players in real time, but you could leave notes for other players that they would see when they logged in. Also, a log of player actions and accomplishments were posted so that everyone could see what had gone on during the day. At the time, the whole concept was fascinating to me and I have many fond memories of the title.

Example of the LORD interface courtesy of Moby Games

LORD was a watered down version of what is known as a MUD, or Multi-User-Dungeon. These text-based games allowed multiple players to interact together to one degree or another. MUDs were the first “MMOs” in many ways.

The first full blown Massive Multiplayer Online game that I truly experienced was Ultima Online.  I had been a fan of the Wizardry series for many years, and I had recently came off a binge of playing every RPG game I could find on the PC. as a result, I had just finished a marathon of Ultima games and the franchise was on my mind. I remember seeing the game on the shelf of my local computer store and I recall the fierce debate that raged inside my head; do I really want to pay to buy this game and then pay to play it?

I had a somewhat moral objection to revenue model for this game. I had recently read about it in a magazine and I was appalled to learn that the game was going to have a monthly subscription. In my mind, paying for the purchase of the game was enough. I had all but decided to boycott the product, but yet, actually seeing on the shelf – I couldn’t resist.

I played Ultima Online for a couple of weeks, but I wasn’t able to really get a sense of understanding for the title. It looked and played like some of the later titles in the series. But the online element felt rather chaotic. Also, to me, there didn’t seem to be any clear-cut goals to accomplish. Maybe I just missed something, but by the time my free month had expired, I decided that the game wasn’t for me and filed in the back of desk drawer – swearing to ignore these types of “pay to play” games from now on.

Of course, a year or two later I was persuaded into trying the latest and greatest multiplayer title, Everquest. You see, by this time I had moved on from hanging out on BBS forums and I was a full blown Internet user. I used to hang out in an IRC chat room with other local people and all of them were big Everquest fans. They raved about it non-stop. So, I bought the game and indeed, I was impressed by the way the title looked and operated. I was quite ignorant about the inner workings of the game, and I didn’t really understand the community aspect that already formed around the game, but I was enjoying exploring and checking things out.

Everquest

It was only a few days after getting my feet wet with the game that I again decided, this was not the title for me. You see, every time my character would leave town, I would be attacked by a group of players. Being new and inexperienced, I was no match for them. I would literally take one step out of town and BOOM. These guys would kill me. It was my first experience of being griefed by another player. It was all I needed to say “That’s it. I’m done.” Despite this bad experience, the game still intrigued me. I could see the draw behind the game. Everquest reminded me a lot of Dungeons & Dragons. (The tabletop role playing game that I played a lot as a young teen).  I found the setting and most aspects of the game very appealing. But at that time in my life, I had very little patience and being held back by other players was just unacceptable. Today, the game is still active and in fact recently reached its fifteenth birthday. Since the time of its original release, the game has changed dramatically, nineteen expansions and countless updates, the Everquest of today barely resembles the Everquest that I played in 1998. In fact, I believe it is even Free-To-Play now. I’m also sure that the type of player-killing I encountered now has some safeguard in effect, so for the curious, the game might be worth a look. It’s also important to note that Everquest spawned a sequel, Everquest II. A third sequel is also rumored to be on the way.

Due to these experiences, I stayed away from MMO RPG style games for a long time. My multiplayer experience was restricted to first person shooters almost exclusively. Then, one day I saw an article stating that Square Enix was looking for players to help test a new online game, this game would be Final Fantasy XI. This struck a chord with me. I had enjoyed the Final Fantasy series immensely and for the first time in a while, I found an MMO that interested me.  I’m not going to go into too much detail here now, because one day I will post a whole article about XI. But, this game is the MMO that finally managed to hook me. I played the crap out of this game. I have wasted years of my life… seriously. It’s actually kind of sad.

Final Fantasy XI

In Final Fantasy XI, I found the perfect balance I has always been looking for in a multiplayer game. FFXI has a wonderful storyline. So, you’re not just walking around killing monsters and getting stronger for no apparent reason… you’re doing it so that you can continue experiencing the game itself. In fact, everyone is doing this – as a result, teamwork is encouraged. It finally all made sense. FFXI really opened my eyes to the magic of MMO games. Since that time, I have tried several titles over the years with varying degrees of success.

No discussion about MMO games would be complete without a mention of what is arguably, the most popular of all time, World of Warcraft. WoW is the title that really brought MMO games into the public consciousness. I should go on record as saying that I am not really a big fan of World of Warcraft. I have played it, and I enjoyed it quite a bit. But by the time WoW popped up on my radar, I fully invested in Final Fantasy and WoW did not offer enough compelling gameplay to tear me away from my home. That being said, Warcraft certainly offers a lot for new players and it’s very easy to get into.  One feature that really set WoW apart from the other games at the time was the concept of player alliances. You see, when creating a character in World of Warcraft, you have to choose between creating an Alliance character or Horde character. This represents your character’s allegiance or affiliation. Originally, this had a big impact on gameplay. You could only befriend and talk to other players on your faction, members of the opposition were considered enemies. This has become very watered down over the years, and the concept really doesn’t mean as much as it once did. In many ways, the World of Warcraft has reached the sunset of its lifetime. Over the last couple years, the game population has dwindled as more MMO games have captured the attention of players. Now, players can often even create characters that are instantly granted maximum level in the game. This is a practice I disagree with.

Regardless, WoW really did wonders for the genre. It introduced concepts and practices that were very much needed and still permeate to this day. For example, in Warcraft, when you encounter an NPC that offers a quest, there is an icon floating over the head of that character. This let’s you know that they have something interesting to say. In prior games like Everquest and Final Fantasy, there was no identifier. To uncover quests and assignments you pretty much had to wander around and talk to every NPC that you encountered. WoW also popularized the Quest Tracker. This provided an in-game log of assignments and your character’s progress on them. Until now, these sorts of things had to be kept track of manually on paper by the player.

Character Creation for WoW

After the success of Warcraft, it seemed that there was a new MMO popping up every time you turned around. Conan, Vanguard, Guild Wars, the list goes on and on. For the most part, I managed to ignore most of these games and stuck with Final Fantasy. But occasionally, I ventured off my tried and true path.

I admit being suckered into buying the original Guild Wars and all of it’s expansions. This game intrigued me with its beautiful art-direction and pricing. You see, unlike most other games, Guild Wars does not require a monthly subscription. It functions off a model known as Buy-to-Play. After paying for the initial boxed software, you can play the game for free. As a result, the content in the game is somewhat limited compared with other MMOs, but there’s certainly no shortage of things to do.

One of other side effects of this sort of pricing I discovered, is the general immaturity of other players. Up until now, I had found MOST other game participants to fairly friendly and mature. This was especially true for Final Fantasy XI. WoW certainly had its number of jerks, but nothing like what I experienced in Guild Wars. I’m not sure how it is today, but back in 2007/2008 you could almost guarantee that the first thing you would see when logging into the game was a line of half-naked women dancing or people arguing in open chat. One time I asked another player if they wanted to team up for a quest and I was told repeatedly to “eat his farts”. So… free to play and buy to play gamers, be prepared to grow some thick skin against this type of nonsense.

The beautiful world of Guild Wars

I’ll be continuing my thoughts on MMO gaming in another post within the next couple of days. If this is a subject that interests you, stay tuned.

Review: Quake III Arena

Right on the heels of my Unreal Tournament review, comes my thoughts on its main competitor; Quake III Arena. Both of these titles are similar in terms of gameplay and they were released only days apart. So how does Quake hold up? Let’s see.

First, let’s talk about what Quake III is not. It is not a direct sequel to either of the previous games in the series. Nor is it packed with loads of single player content. Quake III, much like Unreal Tournament, was designed to be a multiplayer/arena style game. It does feature a brief single-player scenario to help new players get familiar with things, but this can easily be played through in a matter of hours. The single player campaign features a very loose story regarding a race of aliens that pluck contestants from various points of space and time and force them to fight in gladiator style areas for their own amusement. Once you’ve got your feet wet against the computer, you’ll be ready for the true focus of the game, which is pure multiplayer action.

As far as the game goes, it is very well done. The arenas are plentiful and fairly diverse. The level design certainly has that “Quake” feel to it. But I found the arenas to be rather small and somewhat overly symmetrical. I found some of the best maps to actually be community created content.The weapons are diverse and will be familiar to anyone who has played the previous entry’s in the series. One big gripe I have with the game though has to be the character models. They seem to be well done overall, but the models don’t really feel like they belong. Some of them are cartoonish, while others are photo-realistic (featuring the faces of the developers). I couldn’t really find one that really suited me.

The gameplay itself feels a bit looser than UT, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The slicker playcontrol in this title gives the illusion of faster-paced combat. But If you’re used to the feel of UT, there’s a small period of adjustment that will take some getting used to.

Overall, as a combat arena themed game goes, Quake III is a classic and ranks right up with the best of them. However, there’s quite a bit of content missing from the original release. Aside from Deathmatch, there are not other modes of gameplay available unless you purchase the “Team Arena” addon.

Quake III Team Arena is a separate product that adds new gameplay modes like Capture the Flag, Overload, and Harvester. These styles of play are mostly team-focused but feature some alternate gameplay modes that multiplayer gamers have come to expect. The odd thing is that they are not available free of charge (as they always have been). In its day, these features seemed to cost quite a bit and many players initially overlooked the expansion. These days, the two games are often bundled together for one low price.

Quake III was a juggernaut when it hit the scene. Despite some of its shortcomings, it was unarguably the gold standard for first-person shooters for many years to come.

Difficulty: Variable–  Needless to say, all bets are off when playing against other people. The difficulty in multiplayer mode is directly related to the skill of your opponents. In the single player campaign, you can choose between several skill options. The AI is pretty good, but it does feel to be a bit more automated than UT.

Story: The background story in QIII is pretty weak, but do we really need much of one?

Originality: Many people wanted to point fingers at either Quake or Unreal back when these games came out. The debate over who ripped who off were endless. Despite both being arena-deathmatch focused games, each title feels pretty unique. Quake III certainly manages to keep the “techno-gothic” feel the series is known for.

Soundtrack: The background music very appropriate and well done. The sound effects are familiar and somewhat recycled from other games in the series.

Fun: Despite its age, Quake III is still fun today. It’s still fairly easy to find active players on the net, although many of them have moved to “Quake Live” (a free and mode modern version of Quake III Arena). The BEST way to enjoy Quake III today might be with a group of friends. But make no mistake, there’s lots of fun to be had.

Graphics: Quake III has a very unique graphical style. If put head to head against UT, I feel that QIII comes in second place. Although, I have to admit, many of the arenas have some very well rendered visuals. Despite this, the overall graphical tone of the game seems just a sub par.

Playcontrol: The default controls are pretty much perfect. The modern standard of WSAD is included out of the box and is implemented flawlessly. The mouselook seems to be a bit looser than previous games in the series. This can be adjusted, but even in its default state doesn’t take much getting used to.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 3Quake III is an excellent multiplayer game.  I recommend it to almost anyone with an interest in these types of games. However, when compared directly with Unreal Tournament, I have to say I feel it falls a little short. Don’t let that put you off though. Quake III is definitely worth your time.

Currently available on: Steam

Other Reviews In This Series:

QuakeQuake IIQuake III Arena – Quake 4 – Enemy Territory: Quake Wars – Quake Champions

 

Review: Unreal Tournament

Continuing my dig thru the archives brings me to the ever popular Unreal Tournament. This game is not a direct sequel to the original Unreal, instead it is designed solely around the concept of a multiplayer arena. The nasty multiplayer code from the original game was fixed and enhanced with an in-game server browser allowing players to find live ongoing games at any time. This game also takes the beautiful graphics of the original Unreal and boosts them even further with the inclusion of optional high-definition textures and few tweaks here and there. I should note that the game focuses on violence and is pretty graphic and bloody. (But, honestly, that is kinda what makes it so cool.)

In UT there are a number of gameplay options. These include: Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, Domination, and Assault. While the first two are pretty recognizable to most, Domination and Assault may be a bit unfamiliar.

In Domination, players are divided into teams and must try to tag several “control points” on the map. Once these are tagged, that team will earn points as long as they maintain control over those areas. If the point is tagged by an opposing team, that team will earn the points instead. Whichever team earns a predetermined number of points will be declared the winner.

In Assault mode, players are again split into teams. An offensive team and a defensive team. In this mode, the goal is to invade the defending team’s base and complete a number of objectives in a pre-determined amount of time. If this is completed, the sides switch and the previously defending team now have to complete the same assault they previously defended against and they have to do it in whatever amount of time the previous group was able to achieve.

I found these modes of play to be unique and very original. I’m not sure there was anything like it at the time the game was released.

Aside from the built-in modes of play, there is a variety of mods and other community-created enhancements for the game available. During my recent playthrough, I encountered a number of custom maps, weapons, and even modifications that changed the basic physics of the game. When digging through the server list, you never know what you might encounter out there. It’s also important to note, that some of these mods are not always “safe for work”, as the “Hot Bang Porno Theater” level I stumbled my way into. So beweare, these mods all download automatically when you join the server hosting them.

While the focus of the game is multiplayer, the game does include a single player scenario that consists of a simulated multiplayer experience. In single player mode, you compete with and against AI controlled bots. As you progress through the single player scenario, other modes of play are unlocked. Upon completing everything, you eventually get to challenge the reigning champion in a one-on-one deathmatch battle.

Yes, the single player mode does has some semblance of a story, which I guess actually carries over to multiplayer mode as well. In Unreal Tournament, you are a competitor in a series of high-tech gladiator style tournaments hosted by an extremely powerful corporation known as Liandri. The tournaments have become a shady, but legal method of sadistic entertainment. So there you have it.

Unreal Tournament, like many games of this type offer a number of interesting weapon options and various helpful items such as armor and in some cases, relics that boot your abilities temporarily.

There are four official add-on packs that add new player models, maps and other little goodies. Modern players will probably also want to seek out some of the unofficial patches that really help the game function on modern hardware. I found that a large number of active servers also support these unofficial patches as well.

Difficulty: Variable–  Needless to say, all bets are off when playing against other people. The difficulty in multiplayer mode is directly related to the skill of your opponents. In the single player campaign, you can choose between several skill options. I founds these to be very well done and accurate. The AI that the bots in the game display are really spot on.

Story: The background story is a nice addition to a game that is essentially an e-sport. While a little shallow, it does seem that the lore of the Unreal universe does tend to become clearer with each game in the series. At beginning of each match in the single player mode, you’re also given a little lore snippet of the area and the other contestants in the game. This is a nice touch.

Originality: Technically, Unreal Tournament was the first of the big name “arena” style deathmatch games. It was released a mere few days before the juggernaut Quake III Arena. In terms of design, both games are similar. But Unreal Tournament offers multiple modes of gameplay right out of the box. I’m not sure which of these two titles was actually announced first, but its safe to say that each game is different in its own way, and UT certainly offers a slew of unique features and gameplay elements.

Soundtrack: The background music very appropriate and well done. But overall doesn’t stand out in any particular way.

Fun: If you enjoy multiplayer FPS games, you can’t go wrong with UT. Even today, fifteen years or so after its release, there’s still an active community of players. With a variety of gameplay options to choose from, there’s a little something for everyone.

Graphics: Gorgeous. Even by today’s standards. For the best look this game has to offer, I recommend finding an updated openGL addon for the game, and installing the HD textures that are included on the second CD. If you purchased the game on Steam, these can also be found on the web with just a little sniffing around. The screenshots in this review should speak for themselves.

Playcontrol: The default controls are pretty much perfect. The modern standard of WSAD is included out of the box and is implemented flawlessly. Even the mouse-speed (which is customizable) seems to be exactly right.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – I love Unreal tournament. Until this playthrough/review it had been years since I touched it and I was surprised at how well it’s held up. My original intent was to simply play through the single player scenario and write my review, but I was have having so much fun that I spent another day just exploring various servers and checking out all of the random mods out there. This game is an excellent example of a multiplayer PC title.

Currently available on: SteamOther Reviews In This Series:
Unreal   Unreal Tournament   Unreal II   UT 2004  UT3

The Death of Wizardry Online

Well. Honestly. Who didn’t see this coming? I have mixed feelings on this. I really do.

As a lifelong Wizardry fan, I was extremely excited to hear SOE was bringing this game to the US. But, I admit I was extremely let down by the product that was delivered.

Longtime readers of this blog will know that I was VERY hyped for this game. I even started a podcast aimed at Wizardry Online. But, once I got my hands on it…. my excitement faded. Fast. So that leaves the question… what happened?

I know that Wiz Online is healthy in Japan. I don’t know if their client is identical to ours or perhaps has a bit more polished… but the success can’t simply be chalked up to cultural differences.
Look at other j-mmos like Final Fantasy. FFXIV 2.0 is thriving in both Japan and the US.

I really hoped that Wizardry Online was going to spark a new interest in the Wizardry series here in the west. But now, I fear that it will actually be the final nail in its coffin.

Perhaps one day, years from now the rights will change hands again and someone will reboot the series, restoring Wizardry to its former glory.

One can hope.

 

Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn – Thoughts on the Beta Test

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Well, the fourth and final test phase of the new Final Fantasy XIV beta test is now complete. I spent the entire weekend putting the game through it’s paces. Overall, I had a very positive experience. Launching an MMO game is much more difficult than most people realize. It’s certainly more challenging than releasing a single player game. Knowing this, also take time to consider that data had to be imported from the old version. This makes for an even trickier launch.

The beta started out great for most, but by the second day error messages started to crop up for a large number of players preventing them from logging on. After more than twenty-four hours of this issue, SE was finally able to identify the root cause and issue a fix. The beta was extended by a few hours as a result. While I heard about the glitch, I did not experience it myself.

As I said, I really put the game through it’s paces. I completed a good chunk of the main scenario story, a few of the class quests, several levequests and guildhests, I even participated in an instanced raid and founded a Free Company (guild).

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Personally, I feel that game is ready for launch assuming SE has, in fact, sorted out their server issues. I think the test as a whole was an overall success. No launch is without its problems, and considering that this weekend was actually still a phase in the beta test, I am assuming in good faith that SE now has whatever data they need to ensure a successful launch day. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.

I enjoyed this game enough to declare without hesitation that FFXIV is certainly going to be my new full time MMO of choice.

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The Rebirth of Final Fantasy XIV

In just a few hours the fourth and final beta phase of Final Fantasy XIV 2.0 goes live. This phase is significant because all content and progression will carry over to the actual release of the game. Nerds everywhere are quivering with anticipation. I am no exception. I haven’t talked about it too much on this blog, because I was waiting to discuss Final Fantasy XIV after I had a chance to review the other games in the series. Of course, at the rate my playthroughs are going, that may take a quite a while.

So, allow me to introduce Kijimuna…

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Kiji is my Final Fantasy XIV character. I have not had a chance to spend any quality time with him since the original version of the game went offline back in November. I wrote about this briefly at the time. You can view that original article here:

A Look Back at Final Fantasy XIV 1.0

In a nutshell, the original version of Final Fantasy XIV was poorly received. It suffered from major issues at release. Everything from lack of content to massive server lag cause players to quit the game in droves. Reviews of the title were brutal. Even many hardcore fans, such as myself, had to admit that the game was a complete bomb.

Things got so bad, that most of the original development team was fired or assigned to other projects. A new producer was promoted and after a long hard look at the current game, he declared that the current implementation of the game was simply unfixable. His solution was a complete redesign, starting with the very game engine itself. Never before had such a massive task been proposed. Many players expected Square Enix to simply pull the plug on the title and cut their losses. Luckily, the corporation threw their support behind the idea and now, almost three years later, we are on cusp of the long awaited Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn.

To usher in the change, the original game continued to be patched and improved on while the new version was being developed. Many of the original issues that plagued the game were fixed but a good number of them, such as server lag and UI complaints remained until the very last day of service. To keep players interested, special storyline content was added to the game. This once-in-a-lifetime content was only available to players who continued to subscribe while the new version was under development. Perks like exclusive titles and equipment were made available during this time. Also, players who subscribed for more than 90 days during the original run also had their game accounts flagged with a special “Legacy” tag. Legacy Accounts are treated to special pricing as well as some in-game perks when the new version is finally released. I’m proud to say I was a supporter through both the good times and bad. I was there for early access, and I was there until the very minute the servers were shut off.

Even though the official release is still just under two weeks away. For many of us, Phase 4 represents the start of 2.0.

I imagine I will post a brief update after a couple weeks, but I’ll save my big review of the game for later. In the meantime, those of you interested are welcome to read my in-character XIV blog located at the address below:

Dear Friends – In-Character FFXIV Blog

Review: Wizardry Online

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So after that long trip down the Wizardry memory lane, I’m going to spend a few moments to give my review of the first major Wizardry release in the US since Wizardry 8. Of course, I’m talking about Sony Online Entertainment’s latest Free-to-Play MMO, Wizardry Online.

If you are a frequent reader to the blog, you may know how excited I was for this game. When I first heard that Japan had an online version of Wizardry I was extremely jazzed at the prospects of a western version. I scoured the net for any news I could find. So passionate about Wizardry, was I, that when it was announced that SOE would be publishing a version of the game in English I rushed out and founded the Gilgamesh’s Tavern podcast. The show ran from June-November 2012. However, upon participating in the closed and open beta tests of the game, I became so disappointed with what I had seen that it killed my spirit regarding the game and I retired the podcast.

Despite my initial disappointment, I decided to give the game another honest chance upon release. I found that while a few of my initial gripes and complaints had been addressed, the game still left me a bit disappointed.

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Sony advertised Wizardry Online as being a triumphant return to the old days of RPG gaming. They tout the game as being for hardcore players only. They point to things such as always-on PVP, permadeath, and player corpse looting as examples. I found this claim to be a bit misleading. While all of these things are certainly possible, most of them don’t actually take effect until much later in the game. In Wizardry Online, when your character dies, you actually do have a chance to resurrect. This chance goes down the older and more powerful your character is. If you happen to fail a resurrection attempt, your character is reduced to ash. If you botch the resurrection of an ashed character… Well, it’s bye bye. It’s important to point out, that you can increase your chances of resurrection by sacrificing items. Interestingly enough, the items that tend to increase this chance the most are items bought with real money in-game store. AKA: The Royal Shop.

Yes, this game features a cash shop. Which in itself is not really an unusual option for free-to-play games these days. However, for a game like Wizardry Online, which features the chance that you might lose your character forever, it certainly changes things. Whenever a cash shop is involved, I prefer to see it filled with things like vanity items, mounts, costumes, etc. While the Royal Shop does feature some costume items, it also features items of advantage. One of the more popular things for sale are medals that protect your items from being looted off your corpse by other players. This is something that I tend to disagree with. An optional subscription is also available that bestows the player with experience perks and beneficial items.

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Pay-to-win controversy aside, I find the game itself to leave a lot to be desired. In a lot of ways Wizardry Online seems like a Wizardry game in name only. The combat system in the game is action based, and as a result success can be somewhat dependent on server stability. At the time of this writing, the game has been open to the public for a little over two weeks. And even today, server lag and stability is a major issue. Upon release, the game suffered from overcrowding and SOE’s servers buckled under the weight. It reminded me a lot of the problems Diablo III experienced upon release. Once the connection issues were resolved, the game suffered from massive server lag. Rubberbanding has also been a major issue. As a result, many North American players have resigned themselves to migrating to the less populated European servers to avoid crowding.

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Whereas cash purchases and twitch combat certainly don’t feel very “Wizardry-like”, there are a few nice throwbacks to be found in the game. The game features the standard core races and classes of the original Wizardry series. (For trademark reasons, Hobbits have been renamed to Porkuls.) An upcoming expansion in Japan will expand on this a bit and will add several of the advanced classes as well.

Character creation will be very familiar to legacy Wizardry players. It features a point assignment system that is complete with a randomly generated bonus roll. I found this to be a nice touch.

For me, the highlight of the game is its atmosphere. The dungeons have a feel and ambiance that are exactly what I hoped for. Things are dark and mysterious. The sounds are creepy and appropriate. The feel and mood are certainly a part of the game that the developers got right.

It’s important to note that success in this game is very dependent on playing with others. It is nearly impossible to solo through this game, especially in later dungeons. Of course, with the game being what it is, one must have companions they can trust. Teaming up with a stranger could result in an ambush. I fear this will be something that will turn many prospective players off. Wizardry Online is so radically different from other MMOs out there that many players will find their friends are simply uninterested.

I’m afraid that I do not see myself spending very many more hours with this title. For everything that it does right, it is overshadowed by everything it fails at. It is my predication that the game will end up with a small but very dedicated following. I only hope that it is profitable enough that the game remains up and running for years to come.

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Difficulty: Very Difficult – MMOs are always hard to gauge in terms of difficulty. But Wizardry Online is a unique exception. This game was designed to be difficult and hardcore. If that was the goal of the developers, they have certainly succeeded. This is not necessarily a negative. There are many gamers out there who are looking for a challenge. And by advertising the game the way they are, SOE is certainly not out to deceive anyone.

Story: This game actually has quite a bit of backstory and lore to be found in it. However, it’s not flashed before the player and one must be diligent to appreciate it. The Wizardry Renaissance universe that this game takes place in has proved itself to be a worthy successor to the old days of the Llylgamyn saga.

Originality: In terms of modern MMOs, Wizardry Online is certainly unlike any other. No one can ever claim the developers just used the tried and true cookie cutter format that most fantasy online games rely on. What makes the game unique is it’s balls-to-the-wall approach of doing things it’s own way. All the while, building off the basic elements of the preceding Wizardry series.

Soundtrack: The soundtrack to the game has several very catchy and appropriate tunes. Several others leave a lot to be desired. I own the official Japanese game soundtrack and I find myself skipping over many of the tracks. In game, they do tend to work better. But it’s a mixed bag.

Fun: The hardcore elements of this game will be a turn off for many players, yet it will also appeal to some. For me, I found the game to such a chaotic jumble that I was turned off by it. The combat system and UI was done very poor in my opinion and the game suffers as a result.

Graphics: This is hard one to gauge. The game doesn’t look bad…. but yet it doesn’t look all that good either. The graphics seem to be a bit on the soft side for some reason. There’s a lot of fog and a lot of bloom used in the game. I feel that these effects may be a bit overused actually. But, overall, the graphics are fitting of a title of this type.

Playcontrol: This is probably one of the games biggest failures. The UI is horrendous and it is not very intuitive at all. There is little to no customization in the game and what is presented by default leaves a lot to be desired. The game uses a variation of the standard WSAD control scheme that most PC games do these days, but the combat is either mouse driven or managed by hotkeys (numerical). The camera doesn’t seem to respond as one would expect and everything feels both loose and clunky at the same time… how is that even possible? I decided to try the game using a gamepad as well, but I was even more disappointed.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 2 – I really wanted to like this game and I tried my best to approach it with an open mind. I can honestly claim that my disappointment with the title is not due to it’s deviation from it’s original Wizardry roots, but rather I just feel like it’s a subpar game. There’s a lot of potential here. But I worry that it’s going to go unrealized. I think the biggest thing that’s going to hurt the game here in the west is it’s publisher. SOE has a notorious reputation for being a money-hungry company that takes a good game and drives it into the ground. So far their ignorant attitude towards server issues and customer complaints seem to validate these fears. Time will tell. I fear that the glory days of Wizardry may be behind us.

Currently Available: Free Download from www.wizardrythegame.com   —-  UPDATE:  SOE HAS DISCONTINUED THIS TITLE

Other Reviews In This Series:

III IIIIVVVIIVIIVIII

Forsaken Land – Labyrinth of Lost Souls – Wizardry Online