Sunday, June 28, 2009

Mabinogi Review

Free to play MMORPG
Official Website

Mabinogi is a game that just refuses to die.
It has not only existed in one form or another sense 2003, it has managed to stay financially successful the entire time.
That is an obscenely long lifespan for any Korean MMO without the word “Lineage” in its title.
Just the same, I had passed on the game countless times, because it just didn't look interesting.
Based on the screen shots and promotional videos it just looked like another mindless, cutesy, big eyed anime mob grinder drifting in a sea of countless other mindless, cutesy, big eyed anime, mob grinders.
In fact the only reason I finally took the time to download, and try the game at all was, because I wanted to find something to write a totally negative review for.
I admit it.
I was intentionally fishing for a crappy game.


the beast I ended up dragging to shore was absolutely nothing like I was expecting it to be.

Okay lets just get this out of the way right now.

Mabinogi is an ugly, ugly game.
Most of the graphics and sound are barely more complex then Mega Man Legends; a PlayStation 1 game released in 1997.
The games music sound like old MIDI files.
Many of the games older zones have a locked draw distance that is so short that you can barely see any object at all until you are almost at interaction range with it.
The newer zones draw distance is much better, but just makes the fact that the old zones draw distance is so low that much more annoying.
Even with six years of graphical upgrades with shades, and bloom effects, shadows, and lighting the game just looks ancient.

However as some ugly person once said,
"But I have a great personality!"

So lets talk about whats under the hood then.

If I had to try and draw comparisons to exactly what this game is like, I would have to say it's something between Asheron's Call, and The Sims.

...Allow me to expand.

This is a game where you quickly discover you have a lot more choices on how to progress your character then just declaring jihad on the local rat population.
In fact many players will argue that combat is not the focal point of the game at all.
When you first start the game your character is essentially a blank slate (if your character is human anyway; more on this later).
You learn new crafts and abilities from NPCs, books, or other players, ranging from various combat maneuvers to farming, to crafting, to learning how to actually write and play your own music.
You can tend to a flock of sheep, or get a part time job in town.
Get your own house, open up your own store, or even join a guild, and build a whole town of your own.
It is conceivably possible for a especially pacifistic player to happily play the game, and level up a fairly high end character without even so much as picking up a weapon.
Your character also ages, the longer you play, the older your avatar gets, you eventually gain the option to have your character reborn which rolls them back to a level 1 child, but retaining all their belongings and skills.
Another point of interest is that NPCs also have a more predominate roll in Mabinogi then they do in most MMOs.
Many of the games quests, items, and abilities are accessed by interacting with the games many non playable characters using a keyword conversation system not so far removed from ye olde text based adventures of long forgotten yore.
Your character may even become friends or enemies with many of the NPCs depending on how you treat them, which can in turn change how other local NPCs react to you.

All this text is surprisingly well written; not the best I have ever seen, (Neo Steam still holds that title) but considering the head crushing amount of dialog in this game, it's more then serviceable.
Put all this together and many of the games players have gravitated to playing the game more like a online Harvest Moon rather then a Everquest.
However even with all of the alternatives to combat, the game has not slacked too much on the more traditional MMO conventions of burying an axe in a goblins skull.
The game offers many random dungeon locations that change their layout, mobs, and loot depending entirely on what kind of item you sacrifice to the alter located at the entrance.
Mabinogi sports a battle system that functions some what like a momentum based game of rock paper scissors; which is fairly easy to learn, but may take a while for most players to master.
Blocking beats combos, Smash attacks beat blocking, so on and so forth.
Many players may quickly find combat in the game overly frustrating though. especially early off as Human characters as most battles either end because you killed your target in two shots or because your target killed you in three.
This is where the Elves, and Giants come in.
Where Humans are pretty much blocks of clay that can be sculpted into any roll given enough time. Elves and Giants are a bit more like prefabricated model kits.
Giants excel at melee combat right out of the box, and Elves master bows and magic very early in their tutorial quests.
The disadvantages being they are nowhere near as flexible with what skills they can access as Humans are.
They are locked out of much of the early games Human generational quests and content as well.

PvP in Mabinogi consists almost entirely of either “whoever has the best gear, and the highest level abilities wins”, or in the rare case of two evenly matched opponents, “whoever gets the first hit in wins.”
I have yet to see any of the big faction war battles advertised on the games website, I don't know if anyone has actually, so its restricted almost entirely to duels.
This results in an atmosphere where you have a lot of kids swaggering around town looking for fights solely for the purpose of stroking their E-peen over all the “skill” they have for one shotting newbies.
I don't know about other people but I found this a major turnoff, and I couldn't help but notice almost everyone wearing combat armor behaved this way.

Other complaints I have with the game are things like the inexplicable fact that if you close out of the game it will empty your hotbars, yet it remembers them from switching characters or even accounts.
Another thing I can't stand is XP loss when you die.
XP loss from death was, is, and never will be a good design choice, and I spit on whatever bastard that first came to the conclusion that it was.
Mabinogi ups the ante Ultima style by making not only XP loss a penalty for death but the chance of you dropping your hard earned equipment also a very real danger. . .


Here comes my biggest gripe with the game. You either pay $9.50 for something called Nao's Support Service, or $14.90 for the Fantasy Life Club.
Services that prevent the drop of your items from death along with a bunch of other varied, and mostly pointless bells, and whistles depending on which one you buy.

They expires every 30 days.

You know that sounds an awful lot like a subscription to me.
Which I would really have no problem with except for the fact that other things like pets, and mounts also cost real money, and have to be bought individually for individual characters for upwards of 10 dollars or more each.
Which reminds me, any additional characters after the first have to be bought for up to 10 dollars each as well.
You tally those numbers up for an avid player, and this free to play game quickly becomes potently the most expensive MMO I have seen since AOL stopped charging by the hour for the original Neverwinter Nights.

Mabinogi is immensely deep for a Korean MMO; maybe the deepest ever.
Get past the pug fugly presentation, and it might just suck you in.
Be aware, while fully possible to play the game without ever paying a dime, Nexon, the games publishers have done their damnedest to inconvenience you as much as possible for it.

I recommend this game for people looking for an alternative to all the pure combat focused online games out there, however if you plan to spend any substantial time with the game, just be warned Mabinogi does not like cheap dates.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Sighting: Battle of Destiny Open Beta

Battle of Destiny

Official Website

Chinese online 2D Brawler RPG, "Battle of Destiny" has just started it's English open beta a few days ago.
I have not got a chance to try it yet, but if you are an adventurous sailor of the Obscuria the client is only 1.1gigs, and you can't beat the price of free.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Neo Steam Review

Neo Steam
Free to play MMORPG

In a world where the slick shininess of a games website had a direct correlation with the quality of the game itself, Neo Steam would probably be one of the finest, most polished, F2P games ever forged.

Anyone who has spent any real amount of time around these F2P games know that reality is usually the opposite.

I already was well aware the base Neo Steam game was garbage before I even installed the American client.
I had installed the Filipino version some months before, and uninstalled it in disgust in less then an hour of play.
So why try it again? Because the US client is being handled by the new online gaming branch of Atlus USA a company well known for their legendarily epic quality localizations of Japanese console games, I figured if anyone could salvage this game it would be them.

Were they successful?
Neo Steam is a standard point and click to move Korean MMORPG set in a fantasy/steampunk world called Chrysalis where a war between two factions, The Republic of Rogwel (Steampunk) and The Kingdom of Elerd (Hippies) are in a state of constant warfare over this blue glowy stuff called Neo Steam; some kind of magical fuel used to power machinery.
The game has seven playable races two of which are exclusive to one faction or the other.

I have to stop right here, because this is where the game gets weird, and I encountered the first of many inexplicable design choices I have found in this game pop up.

When you create your first character in Neo Steam you have to select one of the two warring factions. What they do not tell you while you are doing this is once you roll your first character, that is it.
You can not play on the other faction on that account PERIOD; not even on a different server.
You have to set up a whole nother account to be able to play as the other faction.
The second comes immediately after selecting your faction while creating your character.
You will notice there is a gender select option, however it does not actually work for any of the races except one.

So you want to be an Elf? You are a girl.
You want to be a Lupine or a Tarune? You are a guy.
Lyell? Girl.
Human? Two separate races entirely; one male, and one female for absolutely no logical reason I can ascertain.
The only race you can select the gender for is the Pom.

These things.


Gameplay wise this is pretty much the definition of a Korean MMO.
You point, you click, you run up to random mobs, you click on them, and you trade blows till something falls over dead.
PvP is mostly same song different verse.
You get a list of skills you can learn, and power up by using TP you gain from either fighting and leveling up, or
(here comes another one of those design decisions.) by sitting AFK in front of certain NPCs for several hours.
Atlus tried to adding WASD controls to the game but as the games movement was designed for point and click, the WASD controls just feels sluggish, and awkward.
If you don't like how any of the of the controls are set up, too bad because there is no option to change them.

What Atlus did right was the translation, true to their reputation they have made another world class effort, I dare you to find another F2P Asian MMO with a better more seamless translation into English. Not only does all the text, and NPC dialog make perfect sense, but characters are even given personality though your exchanges with them.

Visually the game has a mildly interesting anime art style, the graphics are far from the best I have seen out there but some of the environments with the games dynamic lighting options turned on can be actually quite pretty.
However any praise I give for the graphics are immediately taken away because of the atrocious amount of pop up, and the just god awful way the characters in this game move.
It is not something most people think about, but in any MMORPG your character running is the thing you are going to see more then anything else, in Neo Steam everyone runs like a tard.
Every single playable race. I honestly couldn't believe it, that has to be some kind of record.
Elven warriors wielding eight foot long battle axes run like eight year old girls late for the bus,
Humans look like they are about two seconds from falling flat on their face.
Tarune, and Lupine look like they are struggling in vain to find a bathroom.
And Poms do this bazaar run that looks half waddle, and half Nazi goosestep.
And that is just one animation loop.
Just about all the games character animations are awkward, ridiculous, or just plain strange.
This extends to a lot of the enemy models as well.

The games music and sound is pure derivative fantasy fodder.
I can not remember a single track that stood out, and I wrote most of this review with the game running in the background.

I really was hoping Atlus could have done something with this game, but I can not recommend Neo Steam to anyone.
I appreciate what Atlus USA is trying to do, branching into MMOs. But why on gods green earth they picked Neo Steam to be their first online outing just befuddle me.
You polish a turd, all you are going to get is a shinier turd.

Boring same Jane gameplay, crappy forgetable music, gimpy absurd design choices, stupid animations, The only thing the game has going for it is the writing, and for an open world MMO that is just not going to cut it regardless of how good the writing may be.
Do not let the pretty website fool you, just stay away from Neo Steam.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

GhostX Closed Beta Impressions

What do these three games have in common?

Absolutely nothing.

Until I found GhostX
Game Website

A weird looking, horribly translated free to play South Korean online game in Beta Testing I figured I would play for a day, and delete.

It has been over a month and I CAN'T STOP PLAYING IT!

GhostX is a game that has absolutely no obvious reason to be as fun as it is.
The graphics are horrible, the game is laggy, the missions are insipid, and repetitive, the Bosses are either stupidly easy, or stupidly cheap.
I could go on, and on naming reasons why this game should suck;
yet it doesn't.

The general idea of the game is you are some anime looking schmo in downtown Seoul South Korea fighting an invasion of demons and spirits that look like they escaped from a Tim Burton fever dream.

Rather then fight with regular weapons, you have these little freaky one eye creatures that act as both a noncombat pet, and you're weapon. the whole game is centered around building, fusing, evolving, and collecting them to get more and more crunk looking weapons. It's like Pokemon, only instead of Pikachu getting some crappy single animation Thunder Turd at level 12 it turns into a electrified battle axe that lets you cut down swaths of monsters.

I became so enamored with this game that I even made a video.

Then I made another.
And another.
And then another!

It is the classic peanut butter and chocolate scenario.
The combination of Brawler, Online RPG, and the gotta-catch-em-allness of Pokemon create a game that while technically doing nothing that new, still feel fresh and interesting enough to warrant far more attention then this little diamond in the rough has been getting.

Requiem: Bloodymare Review

Requiem: Bloodymare
Free to Play MMORPG.

If I had to sum up the entire game into one sentence it would be this.

"Cyborg Elves with rocket launchers shooting mutant feral Zebras in half."

Try to get your head around this setting. a fantasy world goes all futuristic and ends up nuking itself to hell.
A couple hundred years later you play as one of the only four sentient races to survive the blast, fighting to keep yourself breathing amid the armies of now mutated fantasy creatures and derelict steampunkery.
Despite the over use of brown, gray and over the top violence, I dug the setting.
Other then Humans who seem to be immune to awesomeness no matter what, the other 3 playable races are all fantasy gone twisted. Orcs are now big gray spiky dudes with Wesley Snipes hairdos. Dark elves are now over sexed bioweapons with massive demonic talons, and High elves have thrown out all their hippie crap and have turned themselves into machines.

The gameplay for the most part is pure WoW mimicry. Kill X number of Z quests, Battlegrounds, flightmasters, hell all the games classes even play as remixed versions of the classes from World of Warcraft.
Now one could try and debate that WoW's classes cover such a large range that you would always have overlap in another MMO. To which I would mostly agree, but when the “Warrior” class does the exact same Charge ability and has a taunt that uses an icon that almost looks like a recolor of the one from Warcraft, one does start to come to conclusions. Not that mimicking the most successful MMO on earth is a crime, and it's not that the game does not bring in a few interesting twists of it's own, kudos to being one of the only traditional style MMOs I have ever played that allow you to move and cast spells at the same time. Also Kudos for the ability to target both a friendly and a hostel target at once, as it makes it the first MMO I have ever seen where the main healer can toss attacks between healing without ever having to switch targets. The games raid UI also surprisingly far more useful and robust then WoWs default setup.

Unfortunately even with the positives I can not recommend Requiem for two reasons.

Number One: the game has a level 70 cap, yet only has 30 levels of actual content.
Meaning from level 1 to 30 you can happy quest at a fairly brisk pace to gain levels, however after 30 the number of quests and “finished” dungeons pettier off until you have no choice but do nothing but grind mobs for hours and hours on end. The last time I checked I was pretty sure we were completely over this kind of garbage around 2005.

Number Two: The game has not been given any major updates bug fixes or patches in almost a year.
The developer of Requiem, Gravity Interactive (also the developers of Ragnarok) are in serious financial trouble over the development of Ragnarok 2 a game that has been stuck in development hell for nearly 2 years beyond it's original launch date. For lack of money and resources they have all but abandoned poor old Requiem.
Compounded with an ever shrinking community bringing in less and less money, the future of Requiem is almost as bleak as the world it's set in.

Requiem was a solid foundation that never got built upon, which is a damn shame because it could have become something great. Don't let my words stop you from trying the game though, just don't get too attached to it if you do.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Chronicles of Spellborn Review

Spellborn came completely out of left field, never noticed it, never heard of it.

Screen shots really do not do the art in this game any justice, here's a Youtube video I found.

Much like World of Warcraft the game runs on a fairly unimpressive graphic engine, however what the artists did with said engine rivals even the artistry used in Northrend.
That's what first caught my attention, but what interested me even more was the gameplay, something very hard to describe in a condensed fashion; but I'll try.

battle is a hybrid of first person shooter, third person action, and a card game.

To clarify, there is no traditional MMO targeting system in place; instead you actually have to manually aim at a target, likewise if a mob attacks, and you move out of the way, it misses, no dice rolls, no stat checks, it just misses.
The pseudo card game aspects come in the form of how you set abilities in a tiered "deck" and how most abilities have double edged effects, like a fireball that does a crap ton of direct damage, and a damage over time effect to a target, but drops the same DoT on the caster if the conflagrated target is struck in the next 8 seconds with a physical attack.
Another departure from traditional MMOs is the games complete disregard for gear.

In Spellborn all weapons and armor have no inherent stats on them, and no class limitations. anyone can wear or wield anything they want.
Instead of gear with preset stats, players can either find, make, or quest for items that can be inserted into these blank pieces of clothing, and kit them out to have whatever stats the player wants.

What makes the game even more appealing is the price point.


Well actually thats partially a lie.

While you can download and play for an unlimited time for no money, you can only level up to a maximum of level 8, and you only have access to 2 of the games some odd 24 zones.

There is no 50 dollar box to buy to go beyond that, but the game does have the usual $14.99 a month subscription fee. This was during my time with the game, enough of a deterrent for the legions of cheap bastards that never intend to pay for anything on the net to stay behind.

There is a jarring disparity between the numbers of those that are under level 8 choking up the first two zones and those that actually shelled out the dough to press on, the world beyond is hauntingly beautiful and begging to be explored, but the most massive hurdle I have encountered with the game is after the first couple of zones, (which are very solo friendly) the game focuses more on group oriented quests, which would be fine of course except 80% of all the players are still dicking around in free land making the task of gathering a group together for a quest past that point from the pool of the ridiculously few people in any given area a frustrating and often fruitless endeavor.

Other complaints I have with the game are the frequent and loooooooooong load times both for logging in, and moving between zones. Serious, I literally went, and made a sandwich once and made it back to the computer in the time it took to load in to the game world from the menu. No real means of fast travel implemented at all at this point, no mounts, or checkpoints; everything on foot. Vague useless tool tips on abilities make selecting skills when you level up a gamble. Also lag spikes seem to happen every now and then that render you helpless, and at the mercy of whatever is beating the crap out of you at the time.

Most of these things can be considered minor complaints however, as the game is still very new, and I imagine most of it will eventually get smoothed over.

As is, the game is a surprisingly polished product giving how young it is, and both it's gameplay and European art style make the game a unique fish in a sea of “Me Too” MMORPGs.

Chronicles of Spellborn is a game definitely worth checking out.