Bringing Back Free Play

Do you remember the Free Play Podcast? You know, the funny yet informative show that Riknas, Andras, and Joe did? The podcast where every week they would get together and review a F2P MMOG? Yes? Good for you!

Wait, you don’t? What is wrong with you?

Hey again everyone. It has come to my attention that the Free Play Podcast is no longer available off of iTunes, nor can it be streamed through its original host, VirginWorlds. I personally find this to be distressing, and would like to see it restored. Fortunately, I have almost all of the records of the podcast on my hard drive; I just need to go through the necessary steps to put it back up. Hopefully it won’t be too difficult…

If anyone would be interested in helping revive this project, please comment here or email me at RiknasSarn (at) gmail (dot) com.

Until then…

Riknas, signing off!

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For My Fellow Secret Worlders

First of all,  I want to thank those of you that have stopped by to check out some of my Secret World articles. Since I don’t actually talk about the game a whole lot, today I wanted to mention some other places to help you get your fix for The Secret World.

Now, the main reason I know about the The Secret World MMO blogs is thanks to Triple Skull and his blog: One Shard. Even if you’re not a die hard Secret World fan, I recommend checking that guy out. Also, be mindful of the other Secret World blogs he (and I) personally recommends like “The Secret Malaysian War Agent“, CGN: The Secret World and The Hydra Initiative. Keep up the good work guys, I hope to see you in game soon!

Riknas, signing off!

Bio Broken

Honestly, I can’t think of a way to work the title into something kind of clever, but it sounded kind of cool to me. That said, today Syp of Biobreak put up a guest post I wrote about The Mobile Revolution in online gaming. Go check us out over there!

Riknas, signing off!

A Tragic Cycle

And I’m not just talking about the broken bicycle above. Look at enough articles on Massively, see MMO videos on Youtube, or look at the mmorpg.com forums long enough and you will see so many angry or insulting comments that the sheer amount of negative energy would leave a hippie catatonic and foaming at the mouth.

It seems that each year there will be one game in development that everyone will latch onto as the MMO that will change their lives and the game industry as a whole, and insist it can do no wrong. This MMO will be so amazing that it will cure cancer, end world hunger, and if someone is trying to mug you, mentioning the game will cause them to stop and ask if you’ll play it with them, then send on your merry way with their email address so you can add them to your friends list when this perfect game launches.

Meanwhile, we will scoff at every other online game in existence and then laugh or pity all the idiots that actually intend to play games that are not this upcoming messiah product. As such, every article not about the upcoming messiah game will be lambasted or dismissed; the game looks stupid, the devs are lying to us, or the update is too little too late because hey, our perfect game is already being released. Then there will be a small prayer about how the servers for these games should be shut down so that it can make room for the rest of the internet and we will no longer have to be burdened with the existence of these worthless games. Indeed, no matter what the article is we will find something wrong with it. For example, in the event World of Warcraft offered mohawk hair styles to other races, the forums would alight with a variety of opinions, all of them negative. The first would be in anger that all the previous hair styles were fine, why do we need more? Another would cry out how this is breaking Warcraft canon and doesn’t make any sense, while another cynic goes on about how this is proof that Blizzard is once again kowtowing to the Mohawk Overlords who always seem to pull the strings.

I know that many of us have agreed that the large number of MMOs have led to games cannibalizing each others populations, but guys, we really don’t to shut down every other game beside the perfect one; never mind the fact that after game’s release, we will then find at least half a dozen reasons to crucify it and say that the only logical conclusion is to wait on the next prophesied online game.

Eugh.

Riknas, signing off.

The Free Play Timer

Hey everyone. I just wanted to chime in on an interesting thing I’ve been hearing for a while now. “I’ll try it when it goes F2P in ___ months”. Don’t get me wrong, I understand the sentiment, but I think there are a couple disturbing implications with this attitude. Between buying the game, free trials and buddy keys, none of these options are compelling enough to even try the game out. Only when it’s entirety is available for free is it worth investigating.

Not only that, but saying that the game will obviously become free-to-play is also an insult to the people playing the game right now. Because apparently everyone enjoying themselves at the moment is simply a fool that doesn’t know they’re paying for something that is obviously not worth fifty cents a day.

The only thing worse is that we say that about every game now, therefore every title is doomed to become F2P. Is the subscription payment option failing so much? I hope not, but I guess we’ll see.

Riknas, signing off.

Free Play Reviews: Dungeon Runners (Archive)

By NCsoft.

Welcome to another issue of Free Play!

This is Riknas once again, and we’ll be going back to NCsoft once more, with their first F2P title, Dungeon Runners.

Getting Started

So, as you might have guessed (by the above screen shot), this is a fantasy game, however you’ll find that unlike most games that try to turn your game-play into an epic adventure after you’re first assigned to kill those super-scary-dangerous rats, Dungeon Runners openly mocks the Fantasy genre with slap stick humor and blatantly downplays your importance.

The character creation is very simple, you have 2 genders to choose from (shocking, I know), and based on that you’ll choose from several faces to have, hair styles, and hair color. It doesn’t matter too much though, since most people will mainly only be seeing your gear.

You also have to choose one of three classes, all three of which should be self-explanatory to nearly any gamer:

The Mage: The caster

The Ranger: The archer

The Fighter: I have big sword, me whack bad guys!

(Note: You can only make three characters, so I’m going to recommend having one character for each class, should you choose to play the game.)

So, now that you’ve got your Dungeon Runner set up, you should be ready to enter your brand new world.

After logging in, you’ll be sent into a rather cartoony world. There, you will meet a chipper, tiny dragon with a wide-smile, trapped in a box, with a large Exclamation point on top of it. He will teach you the basics mechanics of the game, while making you question whether or not you should take those anti-depressants your doctor prescribed to you.

Fortunately for the more experienced players, you can skim through it rather quickly, as the tutorials are really just text boxes. I’m going to recommend reading it thoroughly though, just in case. There isn’t too much to read anyway, so it’s not too tedious.

Story

The story, unlike Exteel(Covered in Free Play #1)), has an extremely in-depth story. And by extremely in-depth story, I mean they decided not to give us one. Admittedly, it’s a bit more solid than Exteel, but that doesn’t mean it’s actually good.

The only things we really know about it, is that there is a “King”, the players are the “Dungeon Runners”, and that the rat people have a black market on carbonated soda. At least it’s…different.

Gameplay

Similar to the story, the game play is rather…simple, in concept at least. Aside from the towns where you get your missions, the rest of the game itself will take place in instances, (or as they call it, Dungeons).So don’t expect any pick up groups in mid-quest.

The combat itself though is just as simple, (If not more) than the quests assigned to you, and is similar to the Diablo set up. To perform basic melee attacks or use your bow/shotgun (yes, shotgun). Simply left click on your enemy, and you will enter the necessary range to attack them, and perform your attack. Spells are also very simple, and you can left click on them from the small skill bar, and then left click on your target, or you can skip left clicking the spell the first time by clicking on the skill’s designated number key, (1-9, and right mouse button). Which you can adjust by dragging and dropping skills to various sections of the spell bar. (It’s just one horizontal bar at the bottom of your screen. The first box represents 1, the last one represents 0. Don’t try to find a “W” box or something).

Also, if you desire to do so, you can probably solo a good deal of the game thanks to the “Difficulty” setting of the game. Since the game is instanced, it allows you to alter the actual stats of the creatures around you to make things easier or harder. The higher the difficulty setting, the more health each creature has, and the more damage they do; although since technically they don’t change in actual levels, you won’t get any extra XP, but they are more likely to drop extra loot. This can, as a result, extend the lifespan of an older dungeon, or give larger groups more of a challenge or reward. While you are likely to be able to solo a dungeon your level on Normal, expect to see the graveyard frequently if you’re trying to solo higher difficulties such as “Formidable” or “Extreme”.

Although being killed has no negative effects, (aside from being sent to the graveyard). it can grow rather frustrating rather quickly.

Leveling is essential in nearly every MMORPG doesn’t mean too much in itself. In this regard it’s similar to World of Warcraft, where, also like Diablo, you are able to add 5 points to your attributes: Endurance, Intelligence, Agility, Strength. However, that’s all you get for actually leveling up. In leveling up, you merely unlock the ability to purchase new abilities.

PVP

This is the one thing you really can’t put a good flip side on other than, “Well, it’s THERE.”  This game just was not built with PVP in mind. You’d think otherwise, what with a class system made so that any class can get any ability if you have enough gold, making it easy to make a well-rounded character for balanced encounters, sprinkled with specialized characters. And yet NCsoft seems intent on alienating PVP players. Even though PVP takes place only in the special arena of “Pwnstown”, you can only access Pwnstown by playing in a PVP server. Other than the arenas, it works exactly like a PVE server, and is now just the “low population” server in my eyes. When all you can do is play Group Death Match, and the occasional one on one deathmatch, there is little point to having a whole server dedicated to housing one little zone, it makes it feel much less accessible, and like a waste of resources.

The Catch

There always is a catch, isn’t there? All MMOs need a way to make some income, and Dungeon Runners isn’t any different. In this specific case, they constantly encourage you to pay for the optional subscription of 5 dollars a month, (Or at a slightly reduced rate if you purchase 3, 6, or 12 months at once).

Fortunately, it feels a lot more like signing up for the subscription would be giving you something, rather than just making free players feel undeniably gimped.

As a free player you have normal functions and have a constant set of advertisements for different NCsoft titles at the top of the screen. This usually isn’t too bad unless the banner is particularly bright, in which case it can distract from the game play. Also, some load screens will delay you from going into the next zone, while it forces you to watch an advertisement. I found the captions for them to be rather amusing, though after you start to see the same one repeatedly, it does get rather annoying.

Being a paying subscriber means no more advertisements, (which is actually one of the reasons I feel almost discouraged to subscribe…)You also get a small bonus to how much gold you get (15%) and you gain experience slightly faster, (also 15%). On top of that, you get 4 more bank pages than a normal player (this really is not a big deal for the most part, at least for me, as I’m usually just selling everything I find due to lack of need ), as well as a discount for the amount of kings coins needed for specialty items.

What the hell is a kings coin?

A Kings Coin is (according to lore) a special coin from the Kings Vault, and acts like a gift card that you can turn in for a rare quality item designed exactly for your level, which you can turn in at the specialty stores by the bank. These are all orientated towards a certain class, so they’re not too godly, but they can serve a decent enough purpose, no equipment gives you the best of both worlds anyway. The big thing is that unless you want to grind special harvest items in the same dungeon over and over again, Kings Coins can become hard to come across. In subscribing, what might cost 5 kings coins for the normal player may cost only 3 for a subscribed player, or an 8 KC item might cost only 5 for the subscribed player. For me, this was one of the things where I really thought about pulling out my wallet, because this is one of the things you can’t necessarily just even out that a few extra minutes of playing couldn’t hurt.

Other than the KC, the subscription doesn’t offer anything major unless you really are an avid fan of the game, or want to be alone in the members only server (In which case, just go to the PVP server…)

Final Thoughts

Dungeon Runners is the “Rainy Day” MMO. You can log in and do some quests, and then log out if your strapped for time.

Whether or not you subscribe is as always, up to you. Either way you save more money than you would with a traditional MMO. However subscribing does not make it a new game, it will only lighten a few burdens. And come on, the ads are still funny, when they aren’t trying to pump Tabula Rasa back to life at least.

So if you’re still looking for that next MMO to call home, and nothing quite suits your fancy, give Dungeon Runners a try.

Nothing to lose when you play for free!

See you next week!

((This review was written in the year 2009, and the servers have since shut down.))

Fighting The Secret War

Riknas, signing off!

….Wait, that’s not how a post goes!

Hey again everyone. Today I wanted to talk about some of the comments people have made specifically about combat in The Secret World.

A fair number of commenters and bloggers have gone on to say that gameplay and combat in The Secret World is very “samey” or “standard”. To be fair, even I thought that for a little while. But having invested a much larger amount of time into the game over the past week, I feel l should clarify that this is very much not the case, and there are two key reasons why.

1. More Action Based Combat

I know it sounds very lame to say, “The further you go, the deeper it gets” but that’s the truth of it. When you first start playing the game, especially if you are beginning with melee combat, it comes across as pretty standard affair. However, as you learn new abilities you will find the need to carefully balance them pretty quickly. As you develop your character, the enemies become stronger in a way that you can no longer stick to your standard attacks, and they will force you to keep moving, literally. Many higher/moderately ranked enemies have special attacks with different area of effects. These are high damage, however you can avoid them if you pay attention to their animations and a white outline displaying the attack area. These shapes can be as simple as circles that might pop up around you or, or a long box appearing in front of the enemy. As such, you must continue to move your character to avoid these attacks. If you end up fighting multiple enemies like these, the faster pace quickly becomes a frantic dance as you try to keep up a consistent wave of damage without taking too much yourself.

The big guy says you can’t hold still.

Another thing that’s cool about the combat is that you have a limited number of ability slots. Hold up a second while I explain why that’s good, okay? In the “average” MMO you slowly fill up your hotbar with different abilities and then you need to assign new keybindings to have easier access to them. By end game, you have set your character movement to the left mouse button instead of the WASD keys, because you ran out of other buttons to use as shortcuts for your massive line-up of abilities to be used like some sort of super-powered conga line.

The Secret World isn’t like that. Instead of having an ever growing list of powers on your hotbar, you unlock new abilities without the hotbar expanding. The Secret World forces you to be efficient, carefully picking your abilities for the best set-up you can come up with. Often after each difficult battle I found myself stopping to look at all the different abilities I had and wondering if I should switch one ability I have out for another… Which actually brings me to my next point.

Normally, you wouldn’t even be able to stop and think, “Man, I should change my set up,” without immediately groaning afterward. Changing your character’s specialization is often a long process, an expensive process, or a long and expensive process. Not in The Secret World. Of the nine powersets available, you can use two at any one time. Pistols and Assault rifles? Sure. Sword and shotgun? Go for it. Bronze knuckles and blood magic? Be my guest. The other specializations aren’t forever lost to you, you can start putting points into those other abilities whenever you like. The only caveat is that you can only have 7 active and 7 passive abilities at any one time. And while this might seem like a hindrance at first, you have less skills that you have to keep track of so you can focus on your target and tracking their movements. At the same time, this also stops you from crippling yourself while trying to switch out to a new build. Early skills come quite quickly and you should be able to replace your old abilities with new ones without much problem.

Even then, almost any combination is valid because each weapon type has two primary uses. For example, while my pistol abilities can be used for damage, they can be also used for support; I can shift myself toward healing and defense without stopping myself from doing damage again later. This can be great if you want to get in on a raid and they already have enough DPS, or whatever your preferred build is. But even when it just comes down to damage, there’s still wiggle room to be had. My second weapon of choice is elemental magic, and with that I often find myself deciding between chain abilities (attacks that hop from one enemy to another) and higher damage single target attacks. Even after I’ve acquired those abilities, I’ll be able to switch them as necessary when the situation changes. That zombie mob went down fast with my chain lightning, but then I might need to switch to using heavy flames and a rain of bullets when I meet that demon around the corner.

2. The Secret World Mixes It Up

At one point I went on to say that the quests were more interesting and compelling than regular quests. Each quest opens with a unique cut scene and has multiple tasks to stop them from being as simple as “kill ten zombies”. Indeed, you might kill ten zombies doing the quest, but that’s because you went to a phone book to check for locations that might have valuable supplies, and while you went to the gas station to pick up oil and the diner to find cans of food you happened to kill some zombified waitresses at the diner and some demented sea creatures for when you passed by the beach.

But the thing is, it doesn’t actually stop with “slightly more interesting” quests, it also has “completely different” quests, times where you simply can’t just fight your way through a mission. With quests categorized as “Sabotage” and “Investigation” you will need to rely on stealth and careful thinking if you want to succeed. At one point, a Sabotage mission actually had me jumping over and maneuvering around laser sensors, and then I needed to evade  spotlights attached to cameras, because someone actually rigged them to explode if I triggered any alarms. Later, for an Investigation mission I was inspecting a room of paintings, trying to determine which one might have a clue that would lead me to some ancient artifacts. To stop me from simply looking at all of them, several would have their own riddles on the back to throw me off the trail; if I was going to save time I had to know what kind of painting I was looking for. At another point I had to look up a site via the in-game browser so I could check the materials I would need to do a makeshift repair on a radio tower. How many games will have you do something like that?

He doesn’t look like it, but the blue guy an solve a rubix cube pretty damn fast.

The Secret World is far from being a “standard” game, and that’s no secret.

Making it stick: Guilds (Archive)

This image isn’t directly related, but it looks cool doesn’t it?

The topic has been tackled many a time before, but I figure it is worth mentioning once more. That said, let’s take a look at guilds. In Champions and City Of Heroes they are Super Groups. In some games they were called clans, EVE called them corps, but the most universal term we use are guilds. While the power a guild could have varied, they all still hold true to the same concept. In Age of Conan it allowed to be a collection of people creating a keep. The “City Of” games, as well as EQ2 gave you the option to create teleporters to save you some trouble in transit; For a fair number of F2P titles, it was just another contacts list to keep track of, while in EVE it opened up new opportunities in both trade and conquest. Not only that, without an official guild system people still tried to create their own makeshift communities in games, like in Runescape, and even Diablo 2 (Though the quality of the latter was very, very low). Of course, if you wanted you could go farther to apply this to real life as we have towns, cities, and government. There is nothing particularly new about guilds culturally, no.

But that’s not to say there is nothing interesting about it, quite the contrary. It’s said quite often that if you want to better dedicate to yourself to a game, you join a guild. In the case of EVE, it’s claimed to be the only viable way to play. But this is also a time where solo play has grown more prevalent. In fact, most of the “executive” gamers that review MMOs are rarely associated with a guild. We go into these games alone for the most part as we make our observations. Though, it’s also worth noting that for a long time many of those folks had horrible retention span. But now is a time of flux, as it is made clear Tobold is mostly a WoW guy. Meanwhile, Syncaine is sticking with DarkFall; though rumor has it is no longer the case, the Virgin Worlds crew, along with what I have named: Virgin Worlds Europe ( Van Hemlock and the Yellow Spandex guys) are all playing LOTRO. While these folk do not have a guild per se, they do have a static group. And let’s not forget Karen who runs Revelry and Honor back at EQ2.

A cohort of mine once told me a long time ago in City of Heroes that he thought guilds were a bad idea. He reasoned with me, “MMOs are social games, and creating guilds just divides us.” The statement reeked of a philosophical debate better argued out by politicians; Though I had to admit, he had something of a point. Guild drama had torn people apart, and while some had stayed in their respective game because guilds moved, people have also moved because the guild wanted to. However my friend forgot the nuances of the situation. That wasn’t at the heart of a guild, but ultimately problems with the people. In the end Guilds are just a tag and some tool sets that better allow us to work together. I can’t imagine EVE would be very fun without guilds, and large raid content would be thoroughly trashed without guilds to provide sufficient structure. I can’t imagine life without guilds, but I imagine there must be flaws. I’m sure if they were so great, I would have found my way into a good one by now. Are you a solo player? Is it by choice? If you’ve got a guild, what are the pros and cons? Do you see any barriers to joining a guild?

I’m curious.

Fit The Part: Feeling Like A Hero (Archive)

((This archive post has been edited with new images and  change of sentence content))

Now, it is a rare occasion indeed where I feel so compelled as to let people know what I’m doing in terms of gaming. Because to be quite honest, I doubt any of you care. More often than not, I don’t think about what everyone else is playing. Tobold might be finding the time of his life playing Hello Kitty Online, but it doesn’t mean a lot to me. Syncaine is playing Darkfall? Whatever. Unless you are doing something so amazingly out of this world that you’re actually not even playing an MMO, but are instead locked into the Cyberspace of the internet because you tried to shove a fork into a USB port, I’m probably not interested. Rather, I am reading to hear your theories and thoughts, hopefully something profound. Perhaps it is a bit hypocritical of me to say, since very rarely do I say anything concrete, but I do like to believe that there is something we are trying to convey to people. Using your blog as just a form of twitter without a word count isn’t really all that great. Drop it.

Unless you actually have something you want to say about the game’s mechanics or style, let’s try to keep it real. “I’m having fun” doesn’t help me at all. My sister is still probably having fun playing Web Kinz but I’ll be damned if I think that her having fun on it will equate to me enjoying myself on it. Some men may enjoy wearing high heels or other women’s clothing, but again, that doesn’t mean I want to go and do it. Why are you having fun?

Why do I feel like I’m going to see you again?

Surprise surprise, this does relate to what I was previously saying. As I recall, I do believe Ethec over at Ten Ton Hammer did a post about feeling cool in an MMO (Though, from the sheer length of the newsletter he may very well have a post about existing in the universe). In particular, he said he felt cool grinding in Aion. Now, this had very little relevance to me at the time, because even as an Aion player I never felt particularly special during the grind. In the end its still a grind to me. That said though, I must speak of something far different, for recently I began to look at Champions Online. From the things I heard, I went into the game with a very heavy heart. However, I was amazingly surprised to find that all the words of mediocrity washed away to become instant moments of glee as I finished using Cryptic‘s famous character creator, and popped into the game. Never mind the impressive graphics, but I was amazed at how I just felt a degree of joy that seemed to stomp all over my experience in Aion. And when I became aware of this, I became horribly frustrated.

Was this just the new rush that I felt from playing a new game, why did I enjoy this compared to another game? The cutscenes perhaps? No, they were few and far between. The cheesy voice-acting? Certainly not. And I pounded away as I looked at the game. Perhaps I really enjoyed making a superhero. I did enjoy City of Heroes a fair bit after all, and that did seem to be a logical similarity, and became my conclusion, though I felt sorely unsatisfied with my answer. Only when I looked at the tag of a simple gray enemy as I passed through the tutorial area that suddenly Ethec’s article came to mind that I was able to piece two and two together. And what was the tag of the simple gray enemy you might ask? It only said, “Henchman”. But the concept worked all too perfectly as I pondered on it further. One thing that Cryptic had mastered so perfectly was capturing the feeling of being a hero. The costumes and graphics helped a lot, and the combat was good enough, but I had for ages failed to consider the importance of the categories of enemies. So many games have us fight creatures one at a time, sometimes two, maybe three, unless you are an AOE fighter.

In both the “City Of” Games, as well as Champions, we would fight countless henchmen before meeting the boss. But we would fight these creatures in packs. The base concept of many an Online Role Playing Game of Massively Multiplayer origins involved you fighting one enemy at a time. When has it ever been okay to pull in a Raid? Never, to my knowledge. There is a very precise limit to how many enemies you could fight on par at your level. In both the hero games though, you can take down countless weak henchman on your own, and only does it become a one on one fight as you take on the apparently equal supervillain (Or hero) that stood in your way. By the end of that, I truly felt like a hero, a step above the rest. It may be mostly psychological, but Cryptic struck a gold concept that needn’t remain just in the Super Hero genre. This was briefly touched upon by the early Tabula Rasa until the developers felt that players were burning through enemies too quickly, which would ultimately make content too easy to progress through.

Conclusion: More fodder, more special feelings!

What’s a Nerdy Bookah?

Really guys, I can’t figure it out. I mean, I get what it means to be nerdy, sure. But what’s a Bookah? Is it even supposed to be capitalized every time? Is it just “bookah”? My first thought is, “Well, I guess its a weird misspelling of ‘booking’.”  But that still doesn’t make a whole lot of a sense. I mean, sure. You can book something. But what’s a nerdy booking? Are they even booking anything?

Maybe I’m not even going in the right direction. Bookahs might actually be some kind of strange animal that no one bothered to put in the dictionary. It could be that these bookahs” are just extremely nerdy. Actually, maybe bookahs are a type of animal that are specially geared toward booking things, does that make sense? Hmm…

….

So…I did a guest post on Mobile MMOs and MMO applications at the Nerdy Bookahs blog. Go check it out.

Riknas, signing off!