Category Archives: Allods

Instant Class Switches – The Last Bastion of Character Restriction

Some time ago Tesh voiced his support of Allods’ class change coupons in a minipost. While he called it the small and simple things, it is remarkable how this one feature among convenience features is still essentially taboo in most of today’s MMOs. And why is that?

When World of Warcraft started off in 2004, the answer to most player wishes concerning character freedom was NO. Over the years slowly but surely, the strict regiment of a character of one name, one race, one faction, with one same look and tedious respecs, changed completely. Today, there are hardly any final parameters left for an already created character. For a fee, you can not only change your server or your character’s looks but significant allegiances such as faction or race. With WotLK, Blizzard also introduced death knights, offering players not just a new class but instant level 55 character. For the Warlords of Draenor expansion, one instant level 90 per account has already been announced, in an attempt to draw parts of that retired audience back in.


These guys could all be one character

In the light of such overwhelming flexibility, the question of instant class switches remains unanswered. You would think that in this day and age, where players are not only used to extensive alting and multi-classing in other games (Final Fantasy XI already featured this for the same character in 2002) but adjusting quickly to race -, spec- or faction-related switches, there were no genuine reasons left to prohibit such freedom in WoW or elsewhere.

What does it matter if I choose to go shaman with my priest? Will I not put in my own time to adjust to all the new abilities and have quests and dungeon runs as my harsh teachers? If I ever went back for WoD, boosting my old priest to level 90, I would essentially have to relearn the entire class after all this time. How is that so different? And who doesn’t already have several high-level alts anyway (except for me…), so why not make different classes available on the same character for those who like?

It makes no sense any more. I wonder when they’ll notice.

With a Crying and a Laughing Eye: A Look at GOTYs of 2013 and MMOs for 2014

It’s that time of the year and we are all horribly stressed. Everyone demands things from us at work and they only just remembered, there are trips to plan and if you are very unlucky, a ton of last minute Christmas presents to buy for your more-or-less loved ones. I am looking at my Steam wish list and wonder what to gift myself. It’s quiet right now, outside the world of consoles.

Looking back on a year of gaming, 2013 was as MMO-starved as initially expected. Even Wildstar took a pass at a well-timed launch, eager to make Q2 of 2014 even more unmanageable. Only TESO has finally come forth and snatched the magic date of 04.04.2014, fingers crossed! We shall see – such are the words of wise (and burnt) MMO veterans. I gave up on Guild Wars 2 this summer after the Bazaar of the Four(thousand) Achievements event and I am still stuck at the gates of Moria in LOTRO (edro, edro!). Other than that, I’ve had a look at TERA and found it to be very beautiful and just as flawed. I played some FFXIV:ARR too, only to forget about it. Such was my year of MMORPGs.


In lieu of many new MMO stories to tell, I am excited for a new year packed with MMO launches and Wildstar isn’t even among them. Here go my most-anticipated MMOs of 2014:

1) The Elder Scrolls Online
While the game looks far from perfect depending on what gameplay video you watch on youtube, it shows all the flaws (ugly character models, clunky UI) of Skyrim – game of games. All things considered, I choose to trust those (as I have no choice here in the EU where no beta keys have been released) who have named it a true Skyrim experience and put my money on TESO for 2014. You can laugh and point fingers when the time comes as I’m sure you will. (I would).

2) Everquest Next & Landmark
Still unsure about how Landmark is going to work and play into EQN, I look forward to some of the design progress SOE intends to take up from GW2. Rallying Calls sound hot and the Adventurer Class finds me mildly excited. Not exactly boundless euphoria (the cartoony graphics are still a major turn-off) but I think we can expect a polished package from SOE, with some unique twists as usual. And if not, well it’s all free to play, right?

3) Archage
Another game to be published by Trion, Archage piqued my curiosity although I can’t quite say why. Maybe it’s because the entire character customization and backgrounds look like ArenaNet had some weekends to spare, or because the game is supposedly this awesome sandbox with 120 classes and non-instanced housing. I don’t care for naval combat but I admit sending other players to prison sounds appealing.

4) Skyforge
Nobody knows much about Skyforge, the fact aside that Team Allods and Obsidian Entertainment (Neverwinter Nights 2) have decided to join forces in developing a new MMO. While they didn’t bother releasing any information in English so far and the only existing “trailer” is a lot of repetitive blah in vibrant colors, I have lots of Allods love to give to this project. All that said, that 2014 launch is highly dubious.

MMOs aside, I look forward to The Witcher 3 (SO MUCH!), Dragon Age Inquisition, Child of Light and Tom Clancy’s: The Division. That last one looks like there might be some splendid coop play to be had and I need to compensate for Destiny not launching on PC.


This better be good!

As for my GOTYs of 2013

Outside the world of MMOs, 2013 has been a fantastic year for indie gaming. There’s no doubt in my mind that I’ve had the greatest fun with smaller titles this year, taking me completely aback and delivering the sort of experiences many AAA-games can only dream of. I’ve also been late to some parties in 2013 which is why not all of my personal GOTYs were actually released this year. Sue me.

1) Don’t Starve
This quirky, dark-humored and deeply complex rogue-like, with its Burton-esque flair and stellar soundtrack, is undoubtedly one of the craziest bangs for the buck of 2013. DS is a polished gem of hilarious proportions and everyone should get it! Nuff said.

2) Dust: An Elysian Tail
My great love of 2013, Dust is every bit the work of love of its tireless creator. It’s a beautiful game packed with retro and indie homage, intuitive and fun combat, deep story and loveable characters, secrets to hunt down (spoiler!) and a stunning soundtrack, making for an easy 12+ hours of gameplay at a ridiculous price. Not enough good things can be said about Dust: AET, indeed.

3) Bioshock Infinite
While much can be debated on behalf of BI’s story, there can be no doubt that it ranks among the greatest AAA-experiences of 2013. Stunning visuals, complex narrative and intriguing characters have made this rail shooter a must-play in my books (and I don’t shoot that often).

4) The Witcher 2
Rather late than never, I am currently still playing the Witcher 2 and have completely fallen in love with its characters and immersive way of story-telling. People have complained about the frequent cut scenes but you’ll hear no complaints from me. The Witcher 2 features some of the best dialogue I’ve ever seen in an RPG, a carefree way of making choices and beautiful, atmospheric settings (that to be fair, could be more completely accessible). Oh, and dragons!

5) LOTRO (my MMO saving grace!)
Impossibly late to this one, I started playing LOTRO between December 2012 and January 2013 and have been paying subscriptions ever since. Even if I’m complaining about the experience grind before Moria, LOTRO is probably among the Top 3 MMORPGs I have ever played, with hands down the most immersive MMO world I ever had the privilege to travel. Much of this is thanks to things like perfect scale and sound effects which we have yet to see in other games. Also: player music!

Looking back, I almost feel a little sad parting with 2013 now but nothing that a great new MMO can’t fix. Beware 2014, such weight already lieth on thy shoulders! Do we dare to unleash our expectations – or should we play it safe, for now?

P.S. I’ve played ‘Brothers – A Tale of Two Sons’ few days after writing this article and it is officially added to my GOTYs of 2013!

Battle Bards – Episode #7: City Themes

swtownIn this lucky seventh episode of Battle Bards, Syff, Step and myself are rambling about all things MMO city/town music and why we all hate the Stormwind theme! We also find out that Steff actually says “SWOH-TOHR” for SWTOR (I know, silly right?) and that I am apparently incapable of pronouncing Lineage correctly…I did give it my best shot towards the end of the show though!

Episode picks:

  • “Coruscant” from Star Wars: The Old Republic (comp. Lennie Moore)
  • “Stormwind” from World of Warcraft (comp. Jason Hayes)
  • “Imperial Square” from Allods Online (comp. Vladislav Isaev, Mark Morgan)
  • “Meridian” from RIFT (comp. Inon Zur)
  • “Seville” from Uncharted Waters Online (comp. Kazunori Miyake)
  • “Crossroad at Dawn” from Lineage II (comp. Bill Brown, Inon Zur)
  • “Kingdom of Light” from Aion (comp. Yang Bang-Ean)

There are cookies hidden in this episode! Also, we apologize for the overall sound quality this time around; Syp lives in a country where they’ve only just discovered electricity. As always, thanks for leaving us your feedback and don’t be shy on rating the show sometime!

[Allods] Would you like to….divorce me?

So I picked Allods Online up again the other night because that’s what we do, me and Allods have this steamy on-and-off latenight relationship. The game has changed much since last I played it – there’s been the Game of Gods expansion this February 2012 and the look of the game has improved in every aspect. Allods has always had great characters and customization, but now there are more choices and oh my god the bard class! That’s right, you can now play a BARD in Allods! I haven’t had much time to level one yet but apparently the class mechanics are somewhat similar to the bard class in Rift.

Personally, it makes me happy to see that Allods is still alive and kicking and that Astrum Nival were able to launch a full expansion stuffed with shiny new content. The game has always been described as shameless WoW clone, mostly due to its similar cartoony graphics, and no matter for how long dedicated Allods players and fans have been working on dispelling that notion, the comparison stuck to this much younger Russian MMO like duct tape from hell.

Let’s look at this just briefly. Yes, Allods looks like WoW at first glance. Yes, it also pretty much adopted the questing system and the talent tree isn’t all that different. The zones are a little empty here and there despite looking nice. Combat works different from WoW in certain aspects, for example there are pre-charged attacks and no auto-attack. Experience gain used to be fairly slow but over the years the developers improved the system several times to make both combat and progression feel smoother. Also, Allods is a free-to-play which means RMT is part of the deal and a very stylish item shop is an integrated part of the game – which doesn’t mean you cannot enjoy this game without spending money. I do.

Other than that? Allods is awesome. The overall graphics are much sparklier than WoW’s. The polish, music and performance have always been top notch, especially for an FTP. Races like the Arisen or Gibberlings are legendary. There is quirkiness, humor and atmosphere in the world. There’s also the rather refreshing Russian flair which shows in some of the NPCs or cities. In short: Allods doesn’t feel one bit like WoW and from what I know about endgame, it is a different game entirely (there be lots of war ship PvP up in astral spheres!). If you’ve got any spare time to dabble at some free games, don’t skip Allods.

Amazing armor! …Wait what, divorce papers?

One thing I’ve not mentioned yet is Allods’ armor and how that too has taken a massive step up since I played it last. Now, if you’ve got any love for the eye candy, customization and gear in MMOs, you will love this game. If anyone’s going to emulate WoW’s graphics, they should at least do better than WoW in the armor department – and Astrum Nival have. You want wicked armor? Allods has it! I browsed tons of high-level gear and tier sets and was dazzled by a flamboyant carnival of colors, fabrics and quite possibly the greatest cloaks ever! If you’re going to pose in your shiny epics, it better look like this:

Too sexy for my shirt!

Like to see more? Fear not, I finally added an Allods gallery. I need to highlight my favorite piece here though because….whoa – this gotta be like the greatest, badass look ever:

He’s got a raven!

I named this guy the Scarecrow and if you’re still wondering what he’s got on his back, that’s a wooden box (I bet full of torture tools). And there’s a black raven perching on his shoulder! Amagad! *worship*


Thus hunting down irritated high-level players for screenshots, I came across a chapel the other night and found this:

I’ve certainly heard about MMO marriage before, wedding bands and ceremonies and whatnot, but divorce papers? Now that’s new. I started digging a bit and it turns out Allods Online has possibly the most intricate and complex marriage and divorce system of them all. And unlike so many other games where the union of two players is merely symbolic, marrying in Allods comes with a list of special, spouse-related spells and abilities to give the relationship more meaning. Getting married isn’t quick and neither is getting rid of a spouse – so hedge therefore, who join forever!

For those of you who prefer a TL;DR version of the above link, I’m going to highlight the few most remarkable points about Allods’ marriage system:

  • You are eligible to marry a person of the same faction, minimum level 15. There is no restriction for enlisting same-sex relationships.
  • Every faction has dedicated wedding manager NPCs who will offer a quest to the person properly equipped with a wedding ring. Both players will have to take vows and actively consent to the union….and pay a tax.
  • Once legally declared married, you will receive special wedding gifts along with several “spousal spells”. These are unlocked for both characters and draw on a resource called heart affection.
  • The spousal abilities can be leveled while both players draw on the same pool of heart affection. Just to give one example of such an ability: “Enheartening: Your spouse’s health is increased by a certain percentage if you are within 50 yards from each other.” (aww)
  • In case of a divorce, players lose access to their spousal abilities. Both partners will have to be present for a particularly sad quest and have one minute each to consent to the divorce prompt.
  • Astrum Nival have announced an upcoming shop item, a bottle of champagne, that will be required in special cases of a forced divorce where one spouse has been offline for a very long time.

One must wonder what exactly that champagne bottle is for! I think we can agree they do take their weddings seriously in Allods (is there any MMO that comes close?). And a system that comes with bonuses like this may well appeal to a wider audience than just a roleplay corner. To me personally it’s a fascinating approach and illustrates the many depths of MMO dynamics that still haven’t been explored fully, by a wider range of titles.

[GW2] Asura: The most badass "MMO shorties" ever?

Gibberlings / Gnomes / Taru-Taru

Most traditional MMORPGs with a classic race palette feature them – just as much as they struggle with them, too: short folk. Put in to create racial and character diversity which is usually lacking in customization menus (you cannot create seriously short characters yourself), many MMOs still fall horribly short (!) with their portrayal of short races. In fact, heavy cliches will often overpower the whole purpose behind racial diversity, completely.

Let’s take Allods’ Gibberlings as a first example. One of the most original attempts ever made in an MMO, namely to make the player character appear as a group of three with individual customization and name for each, falls flat on its nose by serving every conceivable stereotype associated with short and therefore less intimidating people. Or as the Allods Wiki describes them:

The Gibberlings are creatures from a destroyed part of Sarnaut. Due to their curiosity, peacefulness and friendliness, they quickly adjusted to the new conditions. They are trusted, reliable friends for their allies and a dangerous foe for those that don’t take them seriously. However, unlike other races, they have no ambitions for this world. Their greatest desire is to return to the times of Isa, when the whole world was open to them for exploration. Will the Gibberlings find a way to be as happy as they were before, or will they think of something new?

The only bone thrown towards the Gibberlings’ prowess is that they’re “a dangerous foe for those that don’t take them seriously”. Oh, wicked! That aside, they are everything you can expect from a friendly, inherently good and physically weak civilization: they have no ambitions, are great pals and wanna explore the world in peace. Ahem…too bad you’re also supposed to pick them for your alter ego in a game mostly revolving around war and combat! Who feels like picking the Gibberlings for battle when they also happen to be all furry cuteness, big eyed with a goofy gait? Don’t get me wrong, I think they’re adorable but that’s about it.

Next up, World of Warcraft’s gnomes. While directly ripped off the awesome gnomish races of engineers established in classic D&D storytelling, I’ve never been a fan of the presentation of gnomes in WoW – despite the odd crazed and power hungry NPC persona among them. Gnomes are no doubt cunning and smart a people, but they’re also awfully cute; freaky hairstyles and colors aside, they come with the classic baby-face effect, a-sexual bodies and childish voices. They appear as infantilized humans when they should be an original race in their own right.

To complete a trio, let’s consider the Taru-Taru of Final Fantasy XI online. A race of powerful magic users, Tarus live in a peaceful and lush Forrest town, deeply devoted to their studies. Unlike other races, they are unable to age physically, they look and move like children, come with a cute button nose and have been referred to posses “chipmunk-like” attributes.

…I think we are getting the picture. No need to continue with Hobbits or other races from the classic fantasy genre. Obviously we are dealing with a stereotype that could be called positive racism – at least as far as the magical or intellectual capabilities of all these races go. And while we do get a degree of stereotyping for most races in classic MMOs, I still need to ask why in fictional, magical worlds especially, small statures must equal a cute, friendly and nerdy personality?

Enter Guild Wars 2: Asura

To follow up my question, I am not opposed to cute or peace-loving characters in MMOs (paradox as it may seem in places…), or even entire races/cultures. What I do object to however, is that the great majority of these characters are also short folk. Surely in a world of powerful magic, body size is not exactly a limiting factor? And how come that traits like being nice and cute are automatically associated with being little? If you follow that train of thought, you’ll end up at the underlying suggestion that having a tall, athletic physique leads to aggressive or evil behavior, whereas a lack thereof takes that choice away and somehow forces short people to be friendly people.

Can the MMO genre not outgrow the idea of small folk as human children already? Add to this that in most games, the short race is always on the good/alliance side if such exists (in WoW too goblins were a neutral faction a long time before getting added to the horde). Why should short races not be inherently evil? Badass, scary and intimidating? Aggressive and combative even? Well, a first and second look at Guild Wars’ Asura has me filled with hope in this department. Already briefly featured in GW1, many players like myself currently waiting for GW2 will not have encountered this unique race before. By no means innovative on every account, a few aspects stood out to me when checking beta reviews and footage. The Asura do come with the same associated knack for technology and study as gnomes in WoW, but that’s where the similarities end.

For one thing, the Asura are not your standard aww-inspiring staple shorties; there is something very uncanny, almost creepy about their facial physiognomy. Indeed, the Asura are about as cute to me as the tooth fairies in the Hellboy movie. It is remarkable character design that evokes such feelings despite the small stature, big eyes and floppy ears. The pointy teeth undoubtedly play a part and then there’s many arrogant looking or grumpy stares to be found in their character creation. I don’t know about you, but I don’t feel like pinching an Asura’s cheek!

Spot the cute Asura!

Naturally, there will still be some cute asuran faces, especially for the females (shocker) which is why I included one in the above picture. However, these appear to be a minority. It gets very obvious that cuddliness is not the standard overall theme for this race. Many Asura look angry, superior or plain ugly – and unlike some players have commented on GW2 Guru, I happen to love it!

I also welcomed the information in an article on Talk Tyria (which beat me to this topic!) that introduces Asura as a very competitive culture, haughty and dismissive towards everyone else to the point of plain racist. There exist dark ambitions within special factions among them (called Inquest), displaying amoral and cruel behavior. The entire article is a very interesting read, especially if you happen to love your lore and roleplay. I also quite enjoyed reading ANet’s developer commentary where Heron Prior talks about the challenge of creating a less boring and fresh look for their shortest race – and how difficult a task this was considering the overall more realistic character design of GW2.

He also mentions that the Asura were given a clumsier movement style to counter their arrogance with an overall “more endearing” feel. I can understand how this choice is unpopular with some GW1 players. From their point of view, the original Asura have been softened down or goofed up to appeal to a wider audience in GW2. Having not played GW1 myself however, they are still one of the most refreshing races in the game, the most badass short race I’ve personally come across and at the very least, the most well-balanced one compared to other games!

For the very first time ever in an MMO am I actually considering playing a shorty; they’re a very close second to my already announced Norn crush. I will definitely spend some time on creating an Asura alt when GW2 finally launches, they are pure win!

Which MMOs are you holding on to?

A comment by Telwyn on Syp’s most recent topic got me thinking of all the MMORPGs I currently got installed on my PC. I used to be such an exclusive WoW-player for some time, but gradually when things changed in that department, I returned to older games or started to pay new titles more serious attention. There used to be a time when religious “MMO fatalism” forbade such unfaithful practices, but these days a great part of any MMO player base will actually leave and come back, re-sub or sneak around several online worlds simultaneously. The big, dramatic quitting gesture is more and more becoming a thing of the past. And a good thing too.

There are currently five MMOs linked on my desktop, vying for my attention. And I realize that there’s no common pattern (or in places no sound logic) in why I choose to keep them installed on my PC (which is rather desperate for space) for that long. The reasons why we hold on to some MMOs can vary greatly (apart from actually playing them actively); sometimes we genuinely believe we’ll be back, sometimes we’re just too lazy to uninstall…but in other cases?

 MMOs I keep installed on my PC

  • Allods Online; Allods is my secret MMO crush. I’ve long decided that I cannot play Allods due to its forceful RMT concept and I do not intend to go back and retry in fact ever again. Still, I cannot bring myself to uninstall this MMO, I just love the Arisen so, so much! Call me a weirdo, I will hold up my Allods torch for some while to come, damnit!
  • Age of Conan; I re-subbed to AoC a few months ago when I was still deluding myself that it might fill the dark days of November and December and take my mind off the GW2 wait. Going back once more and testing the new PvP server was fun for a while, but it didn’t last as long as I hoped it would. Too much of the old concerns are still very much alive in Hyboria and they don’t get less vexing the second time around. I’ve no idea why I haven’t uninstalled the game yet – I think I should do that now.
  • Rift; I’m actually playing Rift again at the moment, after having been un-subbed for a very long time. I always meant to re-visit the bard class and lo and behold ended up enjoying the rogue path! The moment I re-subbed, I was instantly reminded of all the things I liked about Rift initially; this time around I am actually more relaxed about it, exploring and leveling up in peace together with my partner. We both know that Rift is just a temporary distraction, but I am very glad I decided to give it another chance. I guess that shows that not every MMO needs to fulfill that big, all-encompassing purpose.
  • Minecraft; Okay, not strictly speaking an MMO, but the way it can be played on private servers comes close. MC is one of those online worlds I will hold on to for a long time – if only to see how things progress in the future, what features will get added, new biomes or creatures to find and explore. I still feel very new to MC and its initial fascination has not diminished, while it’s also the perfect game to have as your “casual backup plan” whenever you want to go unwind. I’m an on-and-off guest there and the place I’ve built for myself is magical and special to me. Not uninstalling this one in any foreseeable future.
  • WoW; Yep…I have not uninstalled World of Warcraft up to this day. I can’t say why I’m holding on to it, certainly not because I harbour any secret wish to re-sub. I don’t. I’ve long learned that lesson. And yet, somehow it was too painful to get rid of the game entirely. I’ve gotten so used to the icon on my windows task-bar over the years…it’s almost as if WoW has become “desktop furniture”. I’ve cleaned out most folders to free up disc space long ago, but a part of me dreads the finality. It’s complete utter silliness, but there you have it. Maybe it will have to wait until I feel I’ve found an adequate replacement. A game that will put an end to the homesickness, maybe. Oh, to be young again and foolish!

Time for truth (lots of questions): 
How do you decide it’s time to dump an MMO?
Are you among those who hold on to MMO installs for purely sentimental reasons? 
Can you imagine not uninstalling a game despite no intention of returning?

Maybe you’re a frequent re-installer? Or still of the rare, MMO-monogamist persuasion?
Is there any symbolism in the “mighty uninstall” or is it generally overrated (and silly)?
Any MMOs currently “rotting” on your PC (fess up!)?

It would actually be very interesting to know how long WoW players (veterans?) take on average, before ever choosing to uninstall, if at all. I’d wager that in this particular case, my own hesitation is not so unheard of.

All rise to the Arisen dance!

In case you don’t know who the Arisen are, they’re possibly the greatest race ever to star in an MMO. They’re part of the evil or empire faction in Allods Online, a very polished free MMO I have briefly reviewed in my previous article this week. Now while I don’t play Allods actively, I am utterly in love with the superior air and style of this undead cyborg race –  if you got nothing else to play sometime and are up to dabble with a free game, they’re one good reason to look into Allods!

But this post isn’t about promoting free MMOs: it’s actually about dancing. That’s right, dancing!!

I’ve always loved fan-made MMO dance videos, I am that silly! They’re just another proof of how inspiring games can be to those that love them – whether you blog, write fanfics, draw fanart or make awesome fraps videos, you’re being creative (and it’s actually not so easy to make a good dance video where everything fits!). There’s a few fun WoW dancing videos on youtube which I’m sure most have seen by now.

But I bet you haven’t seen the Arisen do Daftpunk yet, have ya?! Well here’s two clips nobody should miss:

I don’t know if it’s my love for the race or the fact that the creator chose one of my favourite Daftpunk songs to go with it, but I love this video!

  • Arisen Rave  (I’m not much for techno, but it really fits here!)
*dance dance*

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Or: the fastest way to rekindle your WoW passion

The good old pre-expansion blues is taking its toll on guilds and WoW players all around the globe. Bloggers struggle to find topics to write about while waiting for new content (or argue a lot more than usual), gamers run the same old 5mans on their alts or hunt for the last achievements they can possibly do. This is the twilight hour of the MMO: the old sun is setting as we wait in darkened shadows holding our breath, longing for the new dawn. But Cataclysm is still a good 2 months away, if we want to believe the optimistic voices.

For some it’s been too long a wait already. They take their leave from the game or website communities, some to take a hiatus, others with the firm intention never to return. Some question if they still got any future in the world of warcraft.

Well I have good news for you: if you feel your passion for the game dampened, if you doubt whether you should even bother to play Cataclysm, there is a very quick way to make up your mind. You can do what I’ve done the past few weeks, if you’re hooked to the genre like I am, knowing that you’ll always want to play an MMO because it’s ruined all the single-player games for you anyway.

It’s simple: go and check out the other MMOs out there. Get a trial subscription or try some of the free MMOs that are supposedly “not too bad”. There is NO better way to rekindle your WoW spark than by looking at what alternatives the market has to offer you.

Believe me when I say I’ve tried

The past few weeks and months, I have tried, tried real hard too, to give another MMO a chance. Even if I’ve played and loved WoW since the beta launch, I am not a fanboy, I’m generally equally positive as I am critical of the game which makes it hard for more extreme Nay-sayers or Yes-sayers to place me. I don’t love WoW unconditionally, I have too many comparisons for that. It’s still the best game I ever played and the one that has changed me the most, so that counts for something. I can discuss pros and cons of games in a dispassionate manner and I am open to new things. I am also frankly bored of WoW, so I took some time browsing general MMO sites and talked to friends to make my picks.

The games I eventually opted for were Allods, Age of Conan, Everquest 2 and Rappelz. I also meant to try FF14 at some point but alas, that ship has sailed. I intended for a mix of MMOs that complement my previous experiences and chose some of the more popular ones as much as a few free games with a small, die-hard player base. I’m not a big fan of micro-transaction MMOs but I’m still interested to see what some of them have to offer in return.

It was a dizzying and ultimately enlightening journey through the jungle, or should I say “Black Morass” of the MMOs out there. Not that I expected much in the first place, but there were a few surprises along the way, even if the painful experiences outweighed the positive. I am fully aware that I am not the most forgiving customer: if you have a strong WoW background, you’re basically spoiled, you take a lot of features for granted. Many of these MMOs have got between 50’000-100’000 subscribers. For 2010, EQ2 is said to sport approximately 200’000 and AoC around 160’000. That means the vast majority of MMOs has plus-minus 1% of the player base that Blizzard can work with.

My final judgment can still only be from a very personal and biased viewpoint. This is how new MMOs will have to convince new customers to switch over – they will be measured by what’s considered a standard in 2010+. They don’t have to be perfect and they don’t have to copy WoW (they shouldn’t, in fact), but they will have to deliver good reasons to play them instead of WoW. They will have to deliver a ‘package’, because that is what Blizzard really achieved: neither the best graphics, nor the most content depth, nor the best or most complete features, but A LOT of everything! It’s a well-rounded and coherent world we play in, with a high playability and variety that caters to more than one or two types of gamers. Even if it’s not perfect in every respect, it still achieves to be good or very good in most. When we criticize WoW, we’re criticizing on a very high level.

So I’m not gonna be particularly forgiving or aim for completeness and fairness when presenting my experiences. I’ll be short (kinda..) and selective in retelling what impression the games I picked made on me during my very first hours of gameplay, because that’s when most of us decide to continue or not. The average MMO player does not grind his way up in hope for entirely different or better endgame and that’s usually not what you’ll find anyway. I am also personally not so interested in the endgame raiding aspect anymore, like I used to be. I’ll try and be specific about why I stopped in each game’s case.
(Continue reading via the link below)
The Good…

As mentioned earlier, I was positively surprised once or twice during my ventures, namely by Age of Conan and Allods Online.

Like Rappelz, Allods is a gpotato deal. I chose to play it because it’s a rather remarkable WoW clone graphically and I was intrigued about the Russian team behind it. As expected the game has huge polish from the second you enter the character creation screen. I loved the style of the different races and even if Allods looks a lot like WoW, it shows originality in character design and other cosmetic aspects like armor and world atmosphere. I absolutely loved the Arisen, this gotta be the coolest race ever! You start your journey in a sort of intro scenario, fighting your way out of your homebase and the game controls are easily handled and intuitive.

That’s when the grind begins… keep doing the same fetch&delivery quests we got bored of in vanilla for a very long time and combat is slow. At some point, even though this is one of the best free MMOs out there, you ask yourself “why am I doing this?”. Why play an MMO that looks like WoW when you can play WoW without the micro-transaction deal and in the company of a lot more people?

Allods doesn’t only look good, but managed to copy many good aspects of other MMOs while still retaining its own style and unique feel. It runs smoothly and should appeal to a more mass market audience. But it ultimately fails to deliver enough reasons to switch over from WoW. Also, most gamers want to pay subscriptions rather than dabble around with ingame shops all the time.

Age of Conan
While Age of Conan drove masses of players away at its launch in 2008, Funcom have continuously improved the game since then. I spent several weeks playing (and paying) it, before I rested my lvl 60 priest for good. AoC manages to provide you with a coherent world and lore like WoW does, with its unique style and graphics that succeed to create an immersive atmosphere of High Adventure set in the more barbaric and rough world of Conan (there will be blood!). After a very elaborate character creation, your journey begins with your character washed up at a shore, trying to remember his past from there. You’ll spend your first 20 levels more or less following your own ‘destiny quests’ before you get tossed out into the actual world. The zones are beautiful and of an epic scale, I loved exploring while listening to some of the wonderful tunes. The pseudo real-time combat is fast (especially for melee) and the solo features in the game are great.

I had a good time with AoC, but I was surprised at how little care was given to the UI and controls which are highly inflexible. Features like the clunky quest log and grouping tools make it very hard for beginners to find their way around. I was also baffled that an MMO wouldn’t even bother to provide you with proper friendlist functionality. The skills and talent system are rather complex and it took some reading up to work out specs.

But these are things I can deal with. What really discouraged me and my friends from playing together, was the horribly imbalanced group mechanics and at stages dubious difficulty levels for certain dungeons or zones. It was impossible to group up without an exact number of people and classes present (even for dungeons you should out-skill) and once you managed to find the right pugs to join you, it still ended in a very frustrating experience. The tanking mechanics are supposedly better at max level, but aggro control and CC are hideous when trying to level or pug. And while the healing approach in AoC is really refreshing to a WoW healer, it leaves you tearing your hair out due to the broken group mechanics and balance. Apparently this is also a big issue on the PVP side of the game.

So while AoC is possibly the most mature and unique MMO besides WoW and should cater to a more grown-up audience too, it is not quite there yet. The good aspects outweigh the bad, but it’s still a trade-off in parts. I might re-visit it at some point though.

…the Bad…

Rappelz is one of many asian, free MMOs that regularly pops up in respective top 3s. While the overall graphics and character design look okay (if not slightly hermaphrodite) compared to others, the world and game play are horribly stale. The maps are boring and the music is either dull or annoying. That’s just the more superficial aspects of a game but they shape your first impressions nonetheless and are rather significant when it comes to atmosphere and immersion.

The game play does nothing to improve things: you start grinding your way into the first town with two basics skills on your hotbar. 10 levels later, you’re still grinding boring mobs on a boring plain, pushing the same two buttons (attack and smite, yay!). When you finally get to ‘upgrade’ your talent tree and chose a more individual skill path, you get rewarded with a shocking number of 0 new skills or abilities. I kept going until I received my first supposed ‘elite-quest’ and went all “Yay, finally a challenge!”, looking for a group because the NPC told me I’d need one. On my way to find people, I accidentally killed a mob which turned out to be the ‘elite mob’ for my quest…

But that wasn’t the worst about Rappelz, really. The worst is the controls: no mouse-control or WASD, Rappelz is one of the CLICKY-games! If you want to move your character, point and click the environment is all you’ll get. It annoyed me no end and I cannot fathom why some devs still think this is a good idea in an MMO – gawd what were you thinking??!

…and the Ugly

Everquest 2
EQ2 marks my grande finale. I am still utterly baffled about those that told me EQ2 was “that other game beside WoW” or allude that it’s somehow similar. Now I’ll be fair and say the free-to-play feature of EQ2 is currently in its beta but still, the game was released in 2004! That makes it as old as WoW maybe, but definitely not as good.

Yeah I care for things like character creation and looks, you know what, it matters! And EQ2 is HIDEOUS!!! I went temp-blind trying to customize one of the TWO available character models for humans and apparently they’re one of the more agreeable races. Seriously Sony, seeeeeeriously??

Maybe I shouldn’t have chosen the green-violet starting area of the silly fairies, but the optic aspects of the game didn’t improve from there. At least you can run the game smoothly, even after you fought and scrolled your way through the gazillion available ingame menus and submenus to max performance. The gameplay wasn’t so bad, it was easy enough to find your way around the UI and first quests which are rather similar to WoW; the beautiful zone map (…) assists you there. Also, EQ2 makes up for all the skills and abilities Rappelz is so reluctant to distribute: for every level gained, you get at least 2 new spells for your hotbar. At level 14, I was already half-way to filling my 3rd, losing track quickly of what each of those buttons do and when I should use which and why. The skill and talent system is equally confusing: 3 different tabs on ‘alternate advancement’ that give you no hint whatsoever on where to start, while the game keeps reminding you that you got unused skill points lying around!

The game is kinda big for letting you know stuff like that…It also tells you that your two bags are full, after which you will have no peace and won’t be able to loot anything until you found the one vendor NPC that lets you sell trash items. You’ll have to make your way there at reduced speed because apparently walking gets harder after you picked too many flowers and mushrooms.

And then there’s that pesky annoyance of a pop-up that you’ll get to click away every 10minutes, telling you to upgrade to the game’s “silver version”. Apparently that’s Sony’s subtle way of encouraging their free-version players and trialists to buy the upgrade. I’m sure that works really well……not.
There’s actually a GOLD version popup following that silver one, I hear!

If you’ve played WoW for years and decide to test EQ2 nonetheless, I wish you good luck. At least you won’t have to wait for a long install and patching procedure, because the game is smart enough to download most of its ugly maps while you’ve already started playing. That is, if you can get the launcher to run without issues, depending on your windows version. ^^

A look ahead

I give every game a chance but I’m merciless if it manages to annoy me already at the start, fails to meet the most basic standards or doesn’t manage to motivate long term game play after several hours. If you want to hook players or lure them over, you better create some motivation quickly! I don’t think I’m harsh, but I got a clear focus on things like overall atmosphere, coherence and playability when having my first look at an MMO. After that, I’d like a new title to feature something unique instead of just copying WoW: it’s not enough to be as good, you’ll need to be better and different! Try and excel where WoW is lacking, have a good look at how the fathers of the genre created content depth. And make sure you’ll deliver a package, because you’ll be dealing with WoW players with a low tolerance for bullshit.

I would love to give another game a go but looking around, I doubt 2011 will change a lot. Very few games of the past years have shown promise, but they aren’t quite there yet. I have the same feeling about upcoming titles such as SWtoR or The Secret World, even if I’m probably going to look into the latter.
However, most of the current MMOs out there, free or sub-based, are a waste of space, time and nerves. It’s something Blizzard ultimately benefits from, aside of WoW being the king of MMOs for many other reasons.

Before I agree to settle for less, look like some ugly hobbit on steroids or move my character around like a unit in some freakin RTS, I pre-order my Cataclysm copy and let it be known: it’s not perfect, but it’s definitely your best bang for the buck folks!