Surprised by a free-to-play MMO

Ok, I haven’t completely fallen off the wagon and re-subscribed to an MMO, but I’ve been dabbling with A Perfect World for the past couple days after playing pretty much nothing but single player games for the past couple months.

My experiences with free-to-play MMO’s haven’t been too positive. I’ve tried Runescape, Maple Story, Atlantica Online, Mabinogi…maybe some others, but nothing that made an impression on me, or made me want to log back in after more than a night or two of playing.

I’ve been pleasantly surprised by A Perfect World. Don’t get me wrong; it’s still a long way from a Western triple-A title, but there’s enough in it to intrigue me a little longer than the previously mentioned titles.

Graphically, I think A Perfect World would fall somewhere in the Dark Age of Camelot/Lineage 2 era. Better than the orignial Everquest, not as good as Star Wars Galaxies or EQ2. It’s not stylized,  so comparing it to WoW is an apples to oranges mismatch.

I can’t remember now where I heard of  A Perfect World. It might have been one of your blogs, or it could have been John Davison from What They Play on the 1up ListenUp podcast last week. Actually, I think that was it. John had an interesting conversation (mostly with himself) about home the gaming market is expanding, and how there are more people interested in different types of gaming than the “hardcore” press acknowledges. I think A Perfect World was mentioned in there as an MMO that has 50 million players, and how Western triple-A titles are missing something in their approach. Link here to the podcast, if you want to check it out.

I’ve heard crazy player numbers for Runescape and Maple Story too, and I thought they were crap, but since I hadn’t heard of PW, I figured I’d give it a try. It was a 1.6 GB download, a pretty painless install, and I was up and running.

There’s plenty not to like about it if you’re only a fan of Western-style MMO’s. I won’t even try to convince you that you might be interested if you get annoyed by things like clicking where you want to walk, unrealistic jumping ability (including a TF2 Scout-style double-jump ability), and a lot of quests that require you kill X things, over and over.

If you can get past that, what I did like about PW was the sense of a big world, easy travel, plenty of gear upgrades and crafting opportunities. You can be a Human, an Elf, or an Untamed, which reminds me of Everquest’s Vah Shir, and you can choose to be a Tiger, Lion, Wolf, or Panda. The Panda looks like a big Panda wookie…I was hoping for something a little shorter and rounder.

As you level up, you gain Spirit points (in addition to your XP for leveling), which you can spend on a Diablo-style skill tree. You also get 5 points a level to assign to your attributes, so you can customize your build-out quite a bit.

I haven’t bothered reading forums or min-maxing, but I’m sure there are plenty of best-build ideas out there. I’m just having fun NOT paying attention to that stuff, and enjoying the feeling of running around in a new-to-me virtual world.

Finding how much I enjoy the spaciousness of PW reminds me what I didn’t like about WAR. I felt railroaded in WAR, I think. The zones felt constrained, like I knew where the edges were all the time, and there were only a couple ways out. I haven’t experienced any zoning in PW yet, and it feels like I can strike out in any direction from my starting city. I like that sense of freedom.

PW is an RMT game, although I don’t feel like I have to pay money to enjoy it. In addition to the usual cosmetic upgrades in the Item Mall, you can get additional mounts and items that allow you to level faster and gain Spirit faster. There are also healing potions for sale that will allow you to fight longer. When you get to half-health, the item will trigger and heal you back to full. I think it only has like a 10 second cool-down, so if you wanted to spend money on leveling safer and faster, you could. If you’re any kind of experienced MMO player, though, you really don’t have to spend anything to make money and level fairly easily.

If I do play for any length of time, the one place they’ll get money out of me is increasing your bag space and bank space. Your inventory is pretty limited, and it’s fiendishly smart to make that a paid upgrade. I could probably drop $20 on getting enough inventory space to avoid bag hassles.

If you’re curious what kind of things you can buy, the Item Mall on the PW website lists what’s available. 1 gold in PW equals 1 US dollar, so you can get a sense of what they think has value. If what I found on the PW forums is correct, I think some of the items from the mall can also be sold by players in-game, and the exchange rate is somewhere around 100k in-game coins for 1 gold. It’s a lot easier to spend dollars at low levels!

There’s PvP as well, in the form of Territorial Wars. I haven’t looked in to that much at all, as I’m not usually a PvP fan, but it does sound interesting, kind of a Lineage 2 style of guild-level PvP. If you want to take a peek, here’s the overview of Territory Wars from the PW website.

I don’t really expect to play long enough to get to the level of dungeon raiding or Territory Wars, since I’m still pretty burned out on being serious about MMO’s, but it’s nice to have a fairly decent new world to casually explore, especially since it’s not costing me a damn thing.

I also got into the Ether Saga closed beta. Ether Saga is also developed by the Perfect World team, and oh my god, it’s cuteness overload. It’s aimed at a much younger audience, and I’ll probably show it to my daughter and see if it’s appealing to a 9 year-old. It’s still pretty rough, lots of Chinese that hasn’t been translated to English yet, and some of the English translations are hilariously incorrect, but hey, I can’t speak a damn word of Chinese. I won’t bitch about bad translations 🙂

The one feature I really liked in Ether Saga, especially since it’s aimed at a younger audience, is an auto-pathing option. If you get lost while you’re doing a quest, you can open up your quest log and find the quest giver and the quest target as green links in the quest text. If you click either link, your character will enter auto-pathing mode and run themselves to the quest giver or quest destination. I found that it was handy to use auto-pathing even when I knew where I was going, so I could re-arrange my inventory, or distribute skill points, or read the Help files. Ether Saga works much the same as PW, just aimed at a younger audience.

If you’re dead bored with the MMO’s you’re playing, and you’re not too excited by any new Western MMO’s coming soon, PW might be worth a few nights of exploration. If you’re still happy playing Western MMO’s, this probably won’t give you much to get excited about. I’ll be curious to see how long my own interest lasts, for sure.

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Fuck Gamestop

My train ride home takes me through Center City Philadelphia, and I’ll sometimes stop at the Market East station if I have a little shopping to do.

There’s a Gamestop just around the corner from the train platforms, and holy god, it’s a hell hole. The only non-PC gaming I do is on my daughter’s DS, so I could give a damn about console titles. Over the last couple years, with the market for trading in used console games increasing, Gamestop has pretty much abandoned any sense of presentation for PC games. They still have a couple shelves of PC games available, but it’s usually a pretty odd selection. New titles, some random old titles, and quite a lot of crap titles are mixed in together on the shelves.

A friend on The Well mentioned recently that he’s doing most of his PC gaming through Steam, and that’s a trend I’ve noticed in my own gaming. Between Steam and my Gametap Gold subscription, I’d rather do all my PC game buying online. I can look at a game requirements, trailers, and Metacritic scores through Steam, and sometimes I can download a demo before I decide to buy.  Steam can carry a lot more titles than Gamestop can manage to stock in any sort of appealing manner, and Steam has the advantage of catching my attention every time they run sales on titles.

The Gametap Gold subscription is just as good for slightly older titles. For $60 a year, I get access to over 1,000 titles across a variety of genres. Quite a bit of it are games I’ll never play, but there’s more good titles in there than I’ll be able to get through in a year’s worth of play time.

Plus, there are older games that I did love playing that I somehow lost track of…”Hey Rick, can I borrow your copy of Fallout? I’ll get it back to you when I’m done…”, and it’s simple to download and play from Gametap without needing a library of boxes, disks, and licenses. The same is true with Steam. Both systems are convenient, easy to browse, and a pleasure to experience. Why the hell would I ever want to support the PC gaming clusterfuck at Gamestop?

I missed a lot of great single player games while I was an MMO addict over the last ten years, and I feel like a kid in a candy store with Gametap. Civilization IV and the Warlords expansion, Psychonauts, Beyond Good and Evil, both Homeworld titles, the Prince of Persia series, the Codemaster’s Colin McRae series, classis Bioware RPG titles and all the expansions, Fallout 1 and 2, the Dawn of War series, all the Sam & Max titles, Sid Meier’s Pirates, Overlord, the Hitman series, the Splinter Cell series, the Deus Ex games, the Stronghold series, Supreme Commander, Far Cry, S.T.A.L.K.E.R (which is wicked cool)…the list goes on and on. Sure, there’s stuff there I’ll never play, but $60 is a great value.

For the price of a couple games at fuckin’ Gamestop, I get access to a ton a great titles on Gametap. Steam brings me a lot of the new games that I might be interested in, and has sales on other older games that may not be on Gametap (although there’s some overlap between the two).

I don’t know that I’ll ever be a brick and mortar PC game buyer again.

Eve Online: Band of Brothers infiltrated, decimated, and disbanded

Old news now, I guess. Destructoid had the news up 23 hours ago, and they weren’t the first, but they’ve got some pretty key links there. Mittani’s audio on how it went down, BoB irc chat logs from the Kugutsumen link…epic stuff.

The whole irc chat log is well worth a read, to get a look at the dawning horror as BoB folks realized the extent of their betrayal. Here’s a couple quick summaries though, pulled from Kugutsumen’s excellent coverage of the official Eve forums.

<@Mako> who is arkannen
<@Mako> some with that name took al the wallet from hat
<@Mako> and left reson
<@LadyScarlet> huh
<@Mako> the mittani says hi
<@LadyScarlet> omg
<@LadyScarlet> you have got to be shitting
<@Dian> rut roh

and…

Did we pay our bill?
I’m sure it was paid
get the internal security guy!
It was this guy who did it!
But hes still in the channel!
Kick him!

Epic pantsing.

And maybe the most interesting snippet from the irc log…

<@cflux> I just need an answer was it paid or not, if it was paid, for sure, someone gurantees his mother that it was ****ing paid, I call the batman hothline.
<@cflux> and thats heavy duty batman hotmail. but i aint ****ing ringing if it was our screwup
<@LadyScarlet> a gm ?

Hmm, are they saying what people think they’re saying?

Does he really know Batman’s phone number??

Truly an epic moment in MMO gaming. It’s like a train wreck, I can’t stop looking.

GRID: Giving me my PC driving fix

I’ve spent the last couple nights playing Codemaster’s GRID, available for free on Gametap (if you’re a Gametap subscriber).

I’ve been a racing fan all my life. I didn’t do a lot with my dad growing up; he wasn’t the kind of dad who hung out with his kids very much. One thing he did do, though, was take my brother and I to dirt track races on Saturday nights in the summer. We usually went to Flemington Speedway (close to where I grew up in New Jersey), but we’d occasionally visit other Jersey tracks as well. My dad might not have spent a lot of time with us, but he did pass along his love of racing.

Racing was also the only sport my dad watched on TV, and I remember, from a very young age, watching the Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500 on television. This was in the 70’s, and long before every race was televised, so the 500’s were big events. Looking back, I think it was the only time my dad ever said that we were watching what he wanted to watch; I don’t think there was much else on TV that interested him. It was rare to see my dad get excited about anything, and to let my brother and I share that with him, so I think racing meant a lot to us when we were kids, getting to share that time with our father.

Naturally, I was always drawn to racing video games. I’ve played a ton, from the Atari 2600 and mall arcades back in the 80’s when I was a teenager, through the Papyrus Nascar series, and now the Codemaster games. I wrote about Colin McRae’s Rally here before (also available for free on Gametap), and now GRID has me hooked.

Graphically, GRID blows me away. A lot of the old games I mentioned required quite a bit of imagination to create an entire racetrack around you, but GRID is spectacular. Gorgeous cars, detailed locations, and plenty of landmarks on and around the tracks that you can really memorize your lines and braking points. You can check out movies and screenshots on the Codemasters website. Warning, though, it’s a busy site, takes a while to load on my non-gaming work computer. The screenshots are in the Media section, and the videos should be available right in the middle of the page. The game really does look as good as the screenshots, although once the race starts, you’re usually going way too fast to notice.

There are a ton of great cars (45, I think), spread out over three series. I’m playing the Career Mode, and I started my own racing team after making enough money racing for other teams. You can buy more cars, get sponsors, hire other drivers, and unlock more racing series as you develop a good reputation.

Because of my NASCAR/dirt track/rally perspective on racing, I have to admit that I struggle to find the right words to describe the type of racing you’ll find in GRID. There are three series, but there’s quite a bit of variety in those series. Instead of me fumbling to use the correct words to describe the series and cars, here is a one minute video from Ralph Fulton, one of the GRID developers, talking about the series and the cars.

I’m not a hardcore racer, worried about physics and exact simulation. I play the game using the keyboard, which is probably anathema to sim fans, but I really appreciate having fun racing without requiring a peripheral. I’m sure my driving would improve if I used a wheel, or a good gamepad, and the game’s difficulty could be increased to match my improved driving, but I like that I can just sit down and play without needing extra peripherals plugged in around my desk.

GRID is really accessible. You can adjust the difficulty of the game, and you can restart any race from the beginning if you’ve crashed horribly. There’s also a Flashback option, which lets you rewind your race (usually after a crash) to an earlier point, so you can attempt to get through without a wreck. There’s a cost; you’ll pay in reputation points for a Flashback, but if you’re on the last lap of the 24 Hours of LeMans, and you make a mistake, it might be worth the reputation points to get a do-over. Ralph Fulton has another short video talking about damage modeling and the Flashback feature. Even if you already get the idea how Flashback works, this is a wicked video showing full speed crashes in gameplay footage. There are moments where I blink and think that the game could be a video clip from TV.

The Codemaster games really appeal to the perfectionist gamer in me. I love memorizing each track layout, trying to find the perfect lines, getting in and out of a corner with a minimum of tire squeal and maximum velocity. It’s easy to pass other cars if you don’t mind inelegance; it’s possible to wreck other cars and get around them, but there’s not much challenge in that. I prefer trying to make clean passes (relatively clean, a little bumping is just racing 🙂 ) and trying to drive like I imagine real racers drive. If I make mistakes, it’s so easy to restart or Flashback that I don’t feel punished for my perfectionism.

About the only thing that’s missing is some sort of driver reputation system, where you get in trouble for driving like an idiot. At least, I haven’t noticed it yet. I might not want to turn it on, since I do make mistakes and crash through corners, passing 5 cars at once because I caused a wreck, but it would be a fun way of increasing the challenge level.

I’ve said it before, but I absolutely love Gametap. My first year subscription isn’t up yet, and I’m still not through all the games I’d like to play. It’s the best $60 I’ve ever spent. GRID is definitely going to get a lot more play.