SOE is going to pleasantly surprise you because they are SOE

February 5, 2014

Oh Smed.

The guy knows he works for SOE right? The “we haven’t done anything right since EQ1″ studio? The studio that NGE’ed SWG probably shouldn’t be trying to get people back by reminding them of that, especially since the easy money is on whatever Smed is hinting at being terrible, because SOE.

Between this and “lulz Minecraft”, we will be entertained by the stumbles and bumbles of SOE all throughout 2014.



Might and Magic X: Legacy review

February 4, 2014

Gaming nostalgia is a weird thing. Sometimes the idea of playing something again is a lot better than the actual act of doing it. Ultima Online is one such game for me. It still holds up in many ways from a systems and design perspective, but the overall charm that it had in 1997 is gone in 2014. First MMO love and all that. The recently released Might and Magic X: Legacy is basically the opposite.

It plays like an old-school Might and Magic game; each move advances time, its turn based, you create a part of four, the world is quasi-open, it has a lot of older design elements going for it, and it has that (now iconic?) first-person perspective that is undeniable Might and Magic. The setting is post Heroes of Might and Magic 6, so if you have played that game, you will enjoy the references and recognize some of the characters (including the use of portraits straight from that game).

If rumors are true, it’s also a budget game from Ubisoft, testing to see if the market for such a game still exists. The graphics aren’t state-of-the-art (though very decent if you crank everything up), the total amount of content can’t hold a candle to something like Skyrim, and while charming, you do just get the sense that this was a small-team effort.

But man is the game fun. The mix of open-ish world and dungeons is fantastic. Just as you might be wishing for something more open, the dungeon ends and opens up more world. Just as ‘more world’ starts feeling overwhelming, here comes a perfectly timed dungeon with a new, interesting tileset. Towns and conversations are spaces such that you never feel flooded with text, or have a quest log suddenly stacked with a dozen new objectives. The flow (up to chapter 3 of 6 so far) is perfect.

Progression feels more meaningful than in any recent game I’ve played. Monsters that were tough become fodder a few levels and gear upgrades later, and with a wonderfully satisfying feeling to it. Party and character builds give you enough control that you can see other tactics working in a different playthrough, while also seeing your party grow and expand in capabilities as you go. Returning to a once-impossible boss monster to just barely beat him gives you that awesomely rewarding gaming feeling so few games get right.

Combat is simple but not insultingly so. You have a good range of spells and abilities to use, while at the same time you need to pace how often you chug potions or rest if you want to finish a dungeon without having to return to town to restock. There is no penalty (other than your gaming time) for restocking, so the difficulty is something you can somewhat control (the game also has normal and hard modes), which I think is a smart design decision and doesn’t force you to min-max your characters. That said, you absolutely CAN min-max and see results, which makes the inclusion of a hard mode a nice option for a second trip through the game.

The game has been a great surprise, and if you are looking for a bit of old-school RPG fun, or are curious what all the hype was for the Might and Magic series back in the day, MMX:Legacy is well worth your time.

The basics of RUST, and it’s lessons for the MMO genre

January 22, 2014

If many recent MMOs are 3-month titles, a game like RUST is a one-monther. Now, before you start raging, that’s not an outright ‘bad’ thing; many games aren’t design for prolonged play, and that’s perfectly fine. Unless, you know, your business model is based around keeping people long-term, but more on that in a bit.

What’s great about RUST is it gives you that sandbox feel without the usual buildup to get into a sandbox. The only character progression is finding and learning blueprints for crafting, and even that is somewhat optional since you can get and use everything in the game from other players; blueprints just allow you to craft the stuff yourself should you want to.

The other ‘core’ aspect of RUST is collecting stuff, and building a base/home to store said stuff in, yet again RUST is short-term here; there is only so much stuff you can collect that you need, and once you have built a few bases, that novelty wears off as well. At the same time, you don’t need to spend weeks/months playing before you can get into this aspect; you will likely build something in the first day.

What’s left is hunting zombies, fighting other players, or raiding an enemy base. Hunting zombies is an alternate path to collecting/crafting stuff, and zombies shortly stop being a threat once you have a firearm. Fighting other players is crude fun, but if you are really interested in FPS action, you can certainly find much better in other titles. Raiding a base is generally simple; bring some C4, blow through some walls or doors, and loot some crates. If you don’t really need more stuff (and if you have plenty of C4, you likely don’t), taking the stuff is more about the other guy losing it than you needing it. Again, you get a rush the first few times you do it, but beyond the novelty and the grief aspect, there isn’t a lot of meat here.

Basically, RUST is shallow, but thanks to being shallow you can get right to the good stuff quickly and enjoy yourself for a few weeks or so. If RUST was an MMO, it would be a disaster. As a standalone game, it’s great, especially as it and the mods around it develop more, making revisiting it at a future date appealing.

At the same time, I think it’s a perfect example of what’s really needed to make an MMO work. Just being a ‘sandbox’ isn’t the key, because RUST is most certainly a sandbox. For your MMO to work, you need long-term progression. You need some form of a working economy where players see value in things longer than a few weeks. Basically, you not only need variety in content, but that variety has to be a sustainable cycle. I do A to build up for B. Doing B gets me to C. C is the ‘fun stuff’, but doing it causes me to need to go back to a version of A (different not due to the content itself, but the player change and approach). Rinse repeat, add in D and E to provide additional options for the players as dev time allows.

Far too many MMOs today allow you to finish A and move on to B, never returning to A. Once you finish B, the ‘real game’ starts with C, which often is highly grindy, repeat as needed stuff. Because C is ultimately unsustainable, you ‘soft reset’ (expansion) everyone and put them in at the start of a newly developed version of the A->B->C cycle. That’s very hard to sustain, and each cycle you run the risk of alienating people who really enjoyed the previous version, or hate the new one, or simply don’t want to restart the chain yet again.

If your content is sustainable, you don’t force these resets on your players. Rather, you allow them to keep doing what they are doing if that works for them, but you also expand the appeal and options with D and E.

Sustainability, it saves the planet, and MMOs.


Rust is not an MMO

January 17, 2014

Picked up Rust to play with some friends. So far (2 days in) it’s fun. Alright killed someone and had them rage in global, and yes, it’s ‘that type of game’.

I also think Rust is a perfect example of systems and mechanics that work great for a game you play for a short burst, NOT something you are intended to play month after month. If you are playing it now, while at the same time being a disgruntled MMO fan, keep that in mind and consider why. I’ll have more on that at a future date.

Edit: Just to be 100% clear, I was not expecting Rust to be an MMO.

Tower Wars Review

January 7, 2014

More tales from the Steam Winter Sale; this one about Tower Wars.

Tower Wars is a tower defense game, but with a twist! (gameshow voice) in that you are also responsible for buying, upgrading, and sending the unit waves against your opponent. The game has both single play and online modes, looks good for what it is, has a nice comical style, and so far has been relatively bug free. At the Steam sale price, especially for a 3-pack, it was an easy buy.

Some highlights:

This is a “build a maze” type of tower defense game, rather than the “place towers in pre-set spots” style.

The different maps do play differently in terms of strategy, plus the game randomizes the location of your three gold mines (upgrade to get more money), which take up 9 hexes , so even the same map will change a bit game-to-game.

Tower variety is somewhat limited (8), but they cover all the basics. A nice twist is the lava tower, which takes up 9 hexes and has 6 ‘attack points’, making it very effective but also somewhat difficult to place.

Same goes for your unit options. You have 9 units, all with different stats and abilities. Along with three levels of upgrades per unit, you also have a general unit tree where you can upgrade health, armor, shields, etc.

The AI is solid. It knows how to build a maze, sends unit waves using some basic strategy, and overall will give you a good battle as you learn the ins and outs of the game.

Online 1v1 ranked play works well (10 games in). I’ve not noticed any lag, matches take between 10-20 minutes, and in those 10 games I’ve seen more than a few interesting strategies.

Three Player Co-Op has entertained us so far. It uses a unique map that gets semi-random parts destroyed as you go along, and is a pure “you build and fight off waves” style rather than having to balance building with sending units.

I can see a lot of potential fun in the 2v2 and 3v3 modes, but of the one 2v2 match we got, it took a 10 minute queue. No luck (in limited searching) for a 3v3 match. You can play vs random players, or invite friends off your Steam buddy list.

If you enjoy the tower defense genre, and especially if you have a small group to play with, Tower Wars is a solid buy. Feel free to friend me on Steam (Syncaine) if you pick it up, we could use a few more to play some 3v3 games.

This perfectly sums up a few games

December 16, 2013

Favorite part was finding a fountain in a chest and placing it outside. What a pretty fountain it was. After that I lost interest. Not sure if there is more interesting stuff out there. – Fabrulana at TAGN

SotA, EQNL, etc.

(Yes, blatant content theft on a Monday morning)

BG1:EE complete, on to BG2:EE

December 11, 2013

I think I finally understand why people play through Baldur’s Gate multiple times. When the game initially came out in 1999 I played it, but at that time my hardware was such that it was pretty painful (oh those load times), and I never finished it. When I got it off and modded it, I did finish it, and part of my hesitation for buying the Enhanced Edition was I wasn’t sure if it was going to be that fun again. Having just finished BG1:EE, I can safely say that yes, going back through it again is indeed very enjoyable.

A lot of that is the content itself, as it’s fantastic and has held up amazingly well. What jumped out to me this time around is how flexible the game is. While it does have a main quest line that you must complete, it doesn’t dominate the game, and often you can elect when to move it along in between everything else. All of the side content is optional, and while you need to complete some of it to gain experience and items, WHAT you complete and when is totally up to you. What class your main character is, and how you build your party, also changes things more than in most games of this sort.

In short, BG1 is a sandbox RPG, but it’s not the open and sometimes almost pointless ‘sandbox’ of a title like Skyrim. In Skyrim you have entire sections of the game that never even comes close to touching the main storyline, and you also have a lot of ‘stuff’ that is almost completely outside the general events happening. In BG1, even the side stuff generally connects to the main plot, so you always feel like you are working towards the ending, rather than just running side quests. Not sure if I explained that well, but hopefully you know what I’m getting at.

The above is how I’m now playing BG2:EE (yea, picked it up at full price, wallet vote and all that), and it’s just as enjoyable. I identified the party members I wanted to bring along this time, and a somewhat general order for content up to the point I’m most familiar with. So far, I’m loving it.

Pillars of Eternity Gameplay Teaser

December 11, 2013


:rapidly throws money at screen:

Can something be Baldur’s Gate 3, but not be Baldur’s Gate 3, but yea, pretty much be Baldur’s Gate 3?

Video says: Yes, yes it can.

SC: Developer deja vu

December 5, 2013

The 2013 Chris Roberts cult worship reminds me of 2006 Richard Garriott cult worship.

If you look at their Wikipedia pages, their careers look amazingly similar. RG has Ultima, CR has Wing Commander. RG has Tabula Rasa, CR has Wing Commander (the movie). RG has Shroud of the Avatar, CR has Star Citizen. RG has gone to space. CR is currently making RP vids as if he is in space.

I’m not saying Star Citizen is going to be Tabula Rasa (though gun to my head, yea, CR is going to end up closer to TR than to EVE-level design success), but I do find the (basically) blind faith in CR a little strange, if not outright creepily similar to RG back in the day.


Star Citizen: Whale-sized expectations

December 4, 2013

There is only one option for Star Citizen at this point; it’s going to be a huge explosion.

Now, that explosion could be a birth of an awesome MMO, or it could give us the greatest rage bubble burst of all time. Allow me to explain.

There are a good number of people who are $1000+ into SC already. A lot of that money is for pre-release insured ships, something that may or may not be possible post-release. Now sure, some of this over-paying is just general good-faith for the game and handing the money over to help fund it. Like any Kickstarter initiative, you accept that when you give $100, the T-shirt you get in return is not outright worth $100.

But there is a serious gap between even a $100 offer and being $1000+ into something. For all but a few, $1000 is a decent chunk of change to drop on a whim, so just with the wallet vote these people have some very high expectations, both for what their pre-purchase money has bought them and the game in general. How great does SC have to be to make you feel that $1000+ was money well spent?

If SC is released and you love the hell out of it for three months, those at the $1000 level effectively paid a monthly sub fee of $333ish. There is no MMO out today, including EVE, that I would pay a monthly fee of $333 for. Sorry, but no game is THAT good. I’ve said in the past I’d gladly pay $100+ for a newer but equally-great version of Mount and Blade, and I happily paid/pay $30+ for EVE, but again, there is a GIANT gap between a few hundred bucks and numbers in the thousands.

So the question remains; how long will you have to enjoy the hell out of SC to make that $1000+ initial fee ‘worthwhile’? It’s only after the tenth month that your ‘sub rate’ drops below a hundred bucks per month, and of late, how many people have stayed subbed to a new MMO for that long? Its one thing to hope an upcoming game is good, it’s another to wallet-vote that it’s going to be so over-the-top awesome it’s the next WoW/EVE.

On top of that, how many of the SC whales expect their pre-release money to get them something significant in-game come release? Early access to alpha/beta is nice, some forum fluff is just that, but is that REALLY what drove the whales to spend? I doubt it, and some of the SC ‘hype’ has suggested buying now gets you something special come release. So how special does that have to be? And if it really is awesome stuff like ‘bound’ ships others can’t get, what impact will that have on everyone else? The market for P2W games is pretty limited last I checked (at least outside of Asia).

However it ultimately plays out, SC will be an interesting story to follow, given the odds and the expectations.


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