Category Archives: Everquest

2014: Year of Voxels

A voxel (volumetric pixel or Volumetric Picture Element) is a volume element, representing a value on a regular grid in three dimensional space. This is analogous to a texel, which represents 2D image data in a bitmap (which is sometimes referred to as a pixmap). [Wikipedia]

I’ll be honest and say that I never really paid attention to the term voxel before SOE revealed upcoming EverQuest Next and Landmark this fall of 2013. In my very simplified terms, I understand voxels are basically cubes on a grid for all intents of 3D-gaming purposes and they’re what makes extreme sandbox experiences à la Minecraft possible – although Minecraft is in fact NOT a voxel game and mixing up the two will get you educated swiftly enough in certain corners of the gaming world. I can’t say that I am particularly concerned with the terminologies.

Quite clearly voxels are the new megapixels and everybody has them or if they don’t, well then they’re going to! Five minutes casually spent browsing the Steam store will yield results such as upcoming Forge Quest, Castle Story and Craft the World, alongside Vox which looks a bit like Trion’s upcoming Trove, and let’s not forget Picorama’s somewhat troubled Cube World project. While most are not content to simply copy Minecraft and/or Terraria gameplay at this point, I think we can agree that we’re going to see a lot of randomly generated sandbox crafting worlds in 2014, Year of Voxels.

I guess it’s understandable that two years into Minecraft’s great success, other developers finally decided it’s time to get a part of Mojang’s cake. As someone who enjoyed MC quite a bit, especially for its high customizability via supported server and client modifications and its community inclusion, I wonder a little how upcoming voxel sandboxes will be faring. No doubt, it’s a great concept for allowing players to go wild at content creation while running on your average PC. Yet, I think the longterm challenges of running a pure, crafting oriented sandbox game, likely online, can be greatly underestimated. Depending on how profitable you would like it to be, anyway. While Minecraft made an impact on this particular market just the way WoW was able to for MMOs, such mainstream debut successes aren’t easily recreated.

There is such a thing as “sandbox fatigue” for the average traditional player who, once basic mechanics have been internalized and the dream house was built, doesn’t really know what to do or where to go from there. Randomly generated maps have a tendency to become a little blah after a while, too. Then, there is the question of how well similar titles can set themselves apart from the competition; like for MMOs, players will likely opt for one or two such games at the most. This is where the degree of freedom offered in each game, combined with innovative play modes or successfully mixing genres in new and fun ways, is going to make all the difference.

Personally, I’m unlikely to jump on the voxel train; I did tolerate Minecraft’s graphics style because as the first of its kind, it’s become an amazing milestone of player creativity. As far as longterm commitment goes however, I like my (online) worlds a little more shiny and less quadrangular, as well as a little less randomly generated. After a few months of going back to Minecraft, I also did find my personal crafting fatigue, but that’s not to say I won’t be watching the voxel trend while playing some hopefully shiny new MMORPGs soon.

So, what about the rest of the MMO sphere – are you excited for any upcoming voxel sandboxes or sticking with your guns, TESO, Wildstar and Co. next year? Or maybe both?

EQNext’s Sandbox: A look at Landmark and the Adventurer Class (Gamescom)

This year’s Gamescom has come and gone and with it, more juicy info on Everquest Next was let off by David Georgeson during SOE’s presentation. What caught my eye in particular, were some very new and interesting tidbits concerning EQN Landmark and a so far unrevealed class concept, called the Adventurer Class. Okay Sony, this is how you get my attention.

(For those who still aren’t quite sure what EQNext Landmark is: Landmark is essentially the Minecraft mode for new Norrath. Players will not only get creative/constructive but social tools to realize and share their own idea of a virtual fantasy world. Landmark is to be released this winter 2013 and is free-to-play.)

Massively have an article up on that specific part in SOE’s GC presentation, which starts around 14minutes into the embedded video on the bottom there. Here’s a summary of the most exciting takeaways, even if not all of it is completely novel:

  • Players can create their own, completely customized MMO world having the entire design repertoire of EQN at their disposal. Whether they create a more high/low fantasy, sci-fi or pirate themed setting, is up to them. You can basically go wild with the tools you are given.
  • Players will start off playing the Adventurer class in Landmark. This is a new class which introduces players to overall character mechanics in EQN. Not just that, by playing Landmark the Adventurer class will then be unlocked for players to play in EQN. Which means, multi-classing becomes available from level 1 for those with an Adventurer toon. In addition, players can transfer their Landmark character to EQN, if they so desire. (Unfortunately Georgeson doesn’t give further details on “what type” of class the Adventurer will be within EQN.)
  • “Landmark” is the name for the random starting locations in the world. They’re represented by giant monuments and meant to serve as hubs for players to find each other – and as the game progresses, to create and set up open-air player markets. There will also be teleport stones called Wizard Spirals.
  • Players can plant flags in unclaimed territory inside Landmark, claiming a spot to shape further and utilize for themselves (early American settlers will know that one).



All miiiine!

There is more and it’s definitely worth watching the entire video, if you’re interested in this sort of gameplay and EQNext’s sandbox. Ever since John Smedley made that bold claim, players have been on the lookout for proof and indication that EQNext is indeed not going to be just another themepark/buffet/whatever. And so far, we’ve no reason to believe it isn’t going to be; a lot of what have been actual EQN reveals this August 2013 point at an MMO using Guild Wars 2’s notebook and adding more scribbles.

Not that this is bad by any means – I love what GW2 has done for the genre, and I like to see EQN improve on that (especially where events and NPCs/questing are concerned). I’ve also sorta given up on my wishes for a sandbox MMO that actually does what the definition inspires for me – by now, it’s as wishy-washy a term as any other. That’s why SOE’s two-lane approach might actually be the better thing and it seems clear that anyone yearning for that more sandboxy, radical open-world gameplay might be looking at Landmark as their game/world of choice. While SOE keep adding reasons for Landmark players to also want to play (and pay for goods in) EQN, I wonder if they’ve not created some strong competition for their new MMO from within. That’s assuming Landmark will indeed prove to be a fully fledged, independent MMORP world – without the standard “G”.

We’ve yet to hear how SOE plan to earn their money with EQN but unless they intend to monetize both titles equally, they will want the main force of their player base to play EQN eventually, rather than just Landmark. So what does that truly mean for the quality, independence and allowed scope of the latter? I guess we have to wait and see.

Many subs, handle it!

This last week may well have been the weirdest in 2013 MMO news: EQNext surprised (me) with its cartoony graphics, Wildstar announced a 2014 launch and not-so-hybrid sub-PLEX model and today, The Elder Scrolls Online is officially on board with the olde subscription model, too.


So there we have it. 2014 is officially loaded on AAA-MMORPG goodness. What a springtime that will be, it’s fair to say I shall be planning a vacation. While WS just got completely uninteresting to me on account of both its recent announcements, I will be playing both EQN and TESO, hoping they won’t launch too closely together. Assuming SOE stick with their free-to-play intentions, that seems like a fair undertaking. As for the two sub-based MMOs; bets are open which one will convert to f2p sooner (as this seems to be a fast growing trend) and how they will fare competition-wise. The “race” is on and it’s safe to say the MMO blogosphere is going nowhere – sharpen your pens, comrades!

EQNext’s Rallying Calls – A Reason to rally?

Personally I’d like to know […] what type of spin SOE intend to put on traditional questing. Frankly, I don’t think anyone can do much better than ArenaNet in this department. ~ Syl

One of the great achievements of Guild Wars 2 will always be the introduction of more dynamic, or shall we say more complex and genuine public events than ever before in MMO history. Some have tried to downplay this achievement for various reasons, but as far as I am concerned ArenaNet have completely altered the state of traditional MMO questing and set a very high bar for AAA-MMORPGs to come in the exploration department.

The fact that fetch & delivery have all but gone in this game, with travel and exploration actually focused on the environment with random events triggered all around you whether you be there or not, have spoiled me completely for older games such as LOTRO where the fedex-grind is still alive and well (ftr: I like LOTRO but questing is tedious). Fans of traditional questing have argued that a mixture of public events and traditional questing would’ve created a better outcome for GW2 – I’m not sure I concur. Guess I’m just too loaded with kill-ten-rats-angst to delve further into this subject.

Now, just to remember briefly why GW2’s dynamic events are mostly amazing:

  • Randomly popping up, free-for-all, location-bound scenarios with individual loot; it’s true that they’re actually on a timer but the average player such as myself doesn’t really track this and probably won’t for a while to come (unless you’re after specifics).
  • Multi-stage events with various outcome; the wiki calls this the “cascading effect” which basically means some events will trigger more events (sometimes) and with various outcome depending on if/how the group succeeded.
  • Multiple targets / solution finding; most quests allow for different playstyles in order to be solved – be it slaying monsters, gathering items or setting roofs on fire. Unlike for Wildstar, paths exist in GW2 without being a determining and lasting choice.


TERA didn't get the memo!

TERA didn’t get the memo!

Still, events in GW2 aren’t perfect. There’s certainly room to improve, especially where mechanics and impact are concerned:

  • Repetition & lasting impact; many events reset too swiftly with the environment going back to base one. Sometimes you see structures re-assemble right after your quest marker popped up. While MMO worlds must restore much of their status quo for obvious reasons (and we all hate phasing), there could be longer and more lasting public events overall, shaping the face of the land and story.
  • Scaling; this never really worked well in GW2. Encounters become a trivial zerg in larger groups, difficulty doesn’t scale as dynamically as it should. That said, this is a very tricky task to master as group size often changes constantly.

EQNext’s Rallying Calls

During the big Las Vegas reveal, SOE introduced their “holy grails” for EQNext, one of which are Rallying Calls (RC). Yet another word for public events, there seems to be a lot of added depth and complexity to RCs which may greatly improve the dynamic events we know so well from GW2 – in theory, anyway. I am all for permanent change in MMOs, public events and collective server efforts; what WoW veteran doesn’t think back fondly on the Gates of Ahn’Qiraj? In this context, I admit the promises of SOE sound exciting –

….Long-term, multi-chapter public scenarios (3 months or more) which continuously change and shape the environment? Multiple problem solving? Different / random order of events on different servers? – I like it!

We can do with a lot more randomness, secrets and continuous change in this genre. It’s the spice that adds excitement and authenticity to our virtual worlds which all too often boil down to a static and broken record, no matter their pretty paint. Now, if SOE are going to pay as much attention to things like environmental / weather and sound effects as they do for events and permanent change, this upcoming title might truly evolve questing and exploration to the point of new-found MMO immersion.

This is where I say a prayer there shan’t be added “traditional quests” in this game (“…please don’t let there be a quest log, please don’t let there be a quest log!”) – or are there any traditionalists out there longing to see the fedex routine return to EQNext? If so, I’m all ears!

That EQNext Update and whether we should be excited

So EQNext is officially more than that green picture ever since the big Las Vegas SOE reveal this August 2nd. TAGN made a nice round-up of MMO blogosphere reactions in case you’re still catching up like I do. Wilhelm calls himself cautiously optimistic which is all I’ve ever been in regards to this title. Much is riding on the big name; very bold has been the sandbox boasting in the past. I’m not a fan of developers who talk more than they’re showing, so at least now we’ve finally got some facts and videos to add to that grand idea that is EQNext. So let’s have another brief look while I’m trying to reign in the MMO summer-malaise sarcasm.

The “sandbox”
As a Minecraft fan I am mildly excited by the Landmark feature, especially in regards to real world implementation. Player created goods and services are always healthy for virtual worlds, although I am not sure how much I care for the destructibility of the environment. It sounds like a gimmick given it’s restorative nature.

Classes and combat
As much as SOE try to be innovative, the combat and class system of EQNext sound like a perfect hybrid between Final Fantasy XI and Guild Wars 2 (which is not a bad thing). Tons of classes and cross-class combinations have existed in Vana’diel since 2002, while active combat with a very limited set of weapon- and class related active skills is one of the reasons why I like Guild Wars 2 as much as I do. Means, no complaints here from my end; I am all for class freedom and fast paced, minimal UI combat!

Levels and progression
Sadly the one big oversight in Guild Wars 2, I am happy to hear EQN will do away with leveled progression. As far as alternatives go, we have yet to hear how exactly player progression is to be paced in this game. Personally I’d like to know how grouping / group setup will be balanced and what type of spin SOE intend to put on traditional questing. Frankly, I don’t think anyone can do much better than ArenaNet in this department.

The look
Maybe the biggest disappointment for me personally was the overall look of EQNext, combined with the action scenes shown during Part 2 of the presentation. Nobody was more surprised than myself to see SOE go for the cartoony Disney aesthetic that comes dangerously close to the butterfly in my MMO venn diagram, rather than opting for a more traditional medieval / high fantasy style that so many Everquest veterans no doubt expected. While I’m no veteran myself, I had high hopes for EQNext to put a modern touch and polish on what I associate with the olde D&D vibe. Instead, SOE presented us with Belle and the Beast (who looks strangely like World of Warcraft’s alliance crest come alive) jumping, hovering and rolling their way through a dirt parcours in platformy fashion.

Oh God…whyyy?


“…both a little scared, neither one prepared..”

I’m having a hard time recovering from this blow. While graphics aren’t everything in MMOs, the chosen style dictates a lot of the feel and atmosphere of the world. As far as cartoony graphics go, there is almost always a level of slapstick, popculture referencing and general lack of seriousness involved. That is one WoW legacy I could really do without – although SOE might have more reasons for this move than trying to follow World of Warcraft’s wide appeal and “longevity factor”. I think one can greatly over-credit WoW’s graphics style in this context. People still play WoW because it’s consistently managing to be a polished package that has a great deal to offer. That’s why players are willing to overlook its by now dated, cartoon graphics – not vice versa.



In general, the emphasis on things like facial expressions and clothes movement seems strangely overstated in Georgeson’s speech. While it’s nice to have detailed character customization or flowing fabrics in MMOs, I found myself cringing at the above selection of comic faces. This level of detail supposedly adds to our characters “coming to life” – I guess that’s where the presenter lost me. I always treat my MMO characters like alter egos and I’d like to think that it’s me, my personality and way of playing them that adds life to them. Heck, players have breathed life into 8bit pixel avatars since the beginning of video gaming. So no, I don’t like these EQNext characters at all. As for how they move around terrain, I hope combat won’t be quite as platformy as it looks like. I am of course blown away by yet another mage with blink…

Emergent AI and NPCs
If there was any mention of AI and the role NPCs are to play in EQNext during this reveal, I missed it. Either way, this feature is still my biggest draw for the title (see this great article on US Gamer for some more recent info). I’ve been excited for Storybricks ever since Namaste went more public with the concept and I can’t wait to read all about questing and NPC relations in EQNext. That might be the one thing winning back some of my sympathies. Having greatly enjoyed Animal Crossing New Leaf for the last couple of weeks on my 3DS, I am once more amazed at the mightiness of complex AI in video games. If SOE are really looking to innovate, this is one of the great untapped goldmines in MMO gaming. Fingers crossed!

Battle Bards – Episodes #8 and #9: EQ2 and Tavern Music

It’s Battle Bards time and as usual I am looking back on the last two episodes which there were the elaborate soundtrack of Everquest 2 and a personal favorite: tavern music. The Prancing Pony is one of those oddities in the world of MMO taverns, so in case you never noticed why that is, it’s time to tune in to this latest show and hear what we’ve got to say about wandering bards, fire places and jam sessions in LOTRO, WoW and elsewhere.


Never has a Battle Bards episode revolved around a more fitting topic or been recorded with such perfect timing (for it was Weatherstock that same night) – one might say the podcasting stars were aligned for this one!

Episode picks:

  • “Prancing Pony” from Lord of the Rings Online, composed by Chance Thomas
  • “Tavern Rock Volume 1” from Dungeons and Dragons Online, composed by Stephen DiGregorio
  • “Tavern” from World of Warcraft, composed by Jason Hayes
  • “Spelunken und Tavernen” from Drakensang Online, composed by Tilman Sillescu and Markus Schmidt
  • “Deepwater” from World of Warcraft, composed by David Arkenstone
  • “Pub” from Ultima Online, composed by ??
  • “Inn Music” from Final Fantasy XIV, composed by Nobuo Uematsu

A big thanks to those who have already left us a voice message lately, we’ll be getting back to you on our upcoming shows!

A Cautious look at MMOs in 2013

The beginning of a new year is a good opportunity to look back at a year full of games, posts and arguments – or alternatively, to look forward and muse on things to come. I feel like doing both, but today my avantgarde self has won the upper hand. What is it I am looking forward to about the future of MMOs in 2013?

PC Gamer have published a rather great and lengthy 2013 videogame preview, going by the bold title of “The best PC games of 2013“. Every genre has its dedicated section, so it’s not just an interesting sneakpeek overall but a recommendable read for anybody (of course it’s page 5, 9 and 3 where it’s really at!).

Sooo…newbie MMOs. Dare I even pick three of you from the crowd?

My horses in the 2013 races

1. The Elder Scrolls Online

While I dislike the idea of a “Skyrim MMO” with classes, restricted skill paths and formulaic MMO style combat as much as the next person, the truth is I am going to play ES Online no matter what. I cannot not look into this franchise taking an online dip! If they get the world right, the feeling of scale, atmosphere and adventure, then it will still hold enough interest for this explorer here (and then I haven’t experienced outdoor dungeons in a long, long time). To claim that some of the already confirmed disappointments are enough to keep me from wandering a polished Tamriel is to kid myself. And then there’s of course always the unquenchable hope that things might even turn out that bit better than expected. We never learn.

2. Wildstar

I have as many strong reasons not to want to try Wildstar as the other way around. That makes it a balanced pick, I guess. The comic style of the game screams WoW, there’s the holy trinity I am not too keen on (hah) and the self-proclaimed “friends & family” label. I don’t expect Wildstar to be daring in any way or attract my kind of community (or age range). Still, of all MMOs announced for 2013, Wildstar is the one title promising package and polish more than any other. Things have looked great in that department for a long time now and Carbine is ever eager on getting player feedback on twitter. Then, there’s the unquestionably brilliant housing system, the Bartle inspired questing mode and a quirky attempt at spicing up an otherwise classic combat. Hmm.

3. EQ Next versus Neverwinter

I’ve considerable misgivings concerning both these games which is why they share third spot for 2013. As much as I want to go more oldschool or niche, both EQ Next and Neverwinter have me tap my fingers nervously on the keyboard. As if expectations towards EQ’s “true successor” weren’t big enough, with obscure rumors circling back and forth for years, SOE’s president had nothing better to do than proclaim this title “the largest sandbox MMO ever designed” – when all we’ve basically seen so far is that one same green image. Yeah, that one…So for now, all I know is that SOE aren’t short for words and we’ll see about the sand. If it even comes out!
Neverwinter on the other hand, great as diving back into the Forgotten Realms may be, manages to both intrigue and scare with smaller but no less bold words: content creation tool and player created questlines. A lot of potential. A great many potential outcomes!

Unless something most unexpected comes along this year, that’s probably it for me in terms of new MMO dabbles. I can’t say that I am super excited about any of my picks but that’s what I’d roll with to satisfy the curiosity. I am obviously a somewhat restrictive player when it comes to non-fantasy settings or panties – truth be told though, I feel so content playing LOTRO at the moment while also far from done with GW2, that between playing older MMOs and a full Steam library I’m completely okay with 2013 making no grand attempts at the genre. I feel a little tired with the speed of MMO releases every year; I’d like to play less games but play them longer. And from that point of view I place my trust in Middle-Earth and Tyria, while a return to Telara is certainly not unthinkable.

Yep, I think I’ll be just fine.

P.S. I would of course love to hear what other people’s picks are from the PC Gamer overview!

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!