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I have recently written a review of this game on thatmmoguy.blogspot.com/
If you wish to gain an honest opinion on this game without filtering through the various trolls and fanboys I recommend giving it a read.
Nice review and fairly accurate. I've been playing the game now for about 3 months. I decided to sub to it shortly after starting a char up due to how it plays and the review doesn't touch on a few of the things that drew me to it.
The game has a fairly low population but that means little to me. I don't care if a game has 1,000 or 100,000,000 players. What I care about is if there are enough players, at my level, for me to do the places I want to do when I want to do them on *MY* server. As such, this game shines. You'll see groups forming up and running across all levels from the teens on up through 55th level.
If I'd played the game for 2 years, I might mutter about lack of new content more but I've only been playing a few months now and there are tons of things to do. I don't see myself "exhausting" this games content for quite a while yet. Progression in the game is a far slower pace than in many others -- you won't "rocket" to max level in a couple weeks to then "go raiding". Some hold that as "the goal" but that isn't the largest portion of the population. Being as most of those types enjoy WoW more, you have a different "mind set" to the community in this game -- a far more mature and helpful community than I've run into in other games. The only other game I've found with even close to this ones "sense of community" is LoTRO and only on some of its servers.
The game is broken into 3 continents vs 4:
Kojan -- orient style to it -- it's a chain of islands. Isle of Dawn is actually a small island that is part of Kojan but unreachable except as an option at the start -- you may leave there but never return. It's the newbie startup area for trial accounts and the like with the isle not having some things on it that the regular game has. No mail (so trial accounts can't be setup to spam regular players), no bank (so trial accounts won't clutter up a bank with junk). The wood elves home is in the middle of the largest island there, etc...
Thestria -- traditional euro style continent with castle ruins and the like. North eastern area has the viking type guys and their longhouses with the south central area being where New Taragorn is at as a huge castle-keep with walled town to it. In the mountains in the central and western portions, are where the dwarves are at.
Qualia is more middle-eastern type layout with domes and decorative arches in the cities. The gnomes are from this part of the world and have gnomish bunkers in various areas towards the north east of the continent.
The game has 3 "spheres" of progression within the game:
Each progresses independant of the other. I have a char that is a 36th level weaponsmith, 22nd level adventurer and 15th level Diplomat. Unlike some games, these 3 can easily be done separate from the others to advance to max level and you gain benefits by being "of level" across spheres. Example: my guy can use any of the 30th level require rifts and rides a rather fast 30th level mount yet is only a 22nd level adventurer.
Mounts are cheap and easy to get. First one is available at 10th level for 2s and a few copper. 20th level is like 2g and change. 30th level costs 10g, etc.. with quest mounts and "faction" mounts available -- you can get your own flying mount later on too. Your faction mounts range across a huge assortment -- horses, spiders, lobsters, etc...
Ships are crafted and sailing exists in the game too.
As you point out there is a wide variety of classes and a lot of tweaking to how you can layout your character. From picking the race and class you can then select such things as the size, slant and depth of their eyes, angle of their nose, arm to torso ration, etc... You also are not stuck with what you picked as in any time you want to "tweak" your chars appearance, you can go back into the customization screen and modify them. The only thing you cannot easily change is your characters name (first and last) as well as the race and class you chose for that char but all physical attributes are adjustable any time you want.
The classes are not broken into 2 areas but into 4:
3 tank classes having 3 different styles of tanking with all 3 able to tank anything. Warriors = dual wield. DK = 2h wielders. Paladins = traditional shield + 1h weapon. *ANY* of the tanks can do the job in any encounter though some are a bit better at certain things but they all can and do tank every encounter out there.
There are no "useless" classes nor the old "only clerics *REALLY* heal" type junk. Any of the healers can heal a group/raid. You can read discussions on the differences with the usual class envy gig going on but the simple truth of the matter is that they all can and do the job as "primary" healer in groups and raids. (example: shaman mutter about not having aggro dump abilities from healing aggro while bloodmages gripe about resist rates from higher level bosses, etc...)
Healers are funky in that you have your traditional cleric type (albeit in heavy plate armor like EQ), shaman with pet/shape shifting, Disciple -- a melee "monk" based healer that heals others mostly by melee attacks and the bloodmage which heals more by doing damage like a caster and does some decent damage while healing their party.
Healers aren't "gimp" soloists in this game. They are some of the best classes to solo while learning and the like. As such, the old game of "need a healer and we're ready to go!" isn't very common.
The most recent changes in the game are to make some of the older raid content more accessable to the community -- what used to be 18 person raids is now going up to 24 person (some "hardcore" types aren't overly thrilled at this, others don't mind at all). The level increase to 55 from 50 has made a good deal of that content "trivial" for the main raiders and they've got their eyes set on the newer raid content.
They also are smoothing out the leveling requirements for 50-55 which many found to be a very steep curve plus a variety of other fixes and adjustments to the game.
This game has an extremely nice crafting system to it. Very complex and not a "cash sink" as many games I've played tend to position crafting. From the start you can make things of use and continue to make more and better items. It is fairly complex on how you make things and "complications" arise as you proceed through the creation process. For smithing, you may end up with cracked metal or under/over heating which you than need to fix to continue to progress and you only have so many "action points" to spend on making an item. As you advance, your efforts progess faster and fix problems faster but the recipes also change with the "tiers" of progression so it keeps pace nicely.
The primary tool for advancing crafting is Work Orders. You visit an area with crafting facilities and there is a taskmaster that has a list of things that the outpost needs made. You bring your skills and tools and they pay you for your work with rewards and experience -- effectively, you are a "contractor" with the primary materials provided -- only consumables are needed to make the stuff and those cost like 5 copper per stack where you'll make 50c to over 3s per order completion. Doing work orders also is an excellent way to gain faction with the cities.
Thus there is no "cash sink" to craft in this game for crafting. You *CAN* craft all the way to max level via work orders without making anything for use or making things for use and all professions make a good deal of items that can be sold -- not just "fluff" nor "weaker". There are some better drops out there but I've yet to find a lack of market for what I have made.
Making equipment (armor, weapons, etc...) each item spans 5-7 levels that it can be created for. A lower level 12 item can be made for level 8 use, etc... The differences between making it for lower level use aren't drastic but are noticable -- a few points of armor less, stats a little lower and the like. At lower levels, this isn't such a big deal but at higher levels... When you have a 40+ level adventurer, making something that can be used *NOW* instead of waiting a few levels to use it... At those points players may find they'd prefer not waiting just to get a few more points of stats and the like.
There are 3 continents and 3 different styles to what you make -- each style granting different benefits but you can "enhance' the itme in different ways. Applying enhancements lowers the stats on thie item or replaces an effect so making wisdom based chest armor with healing focus on it will replace the energy pool bonus of the armor. Making an envenomed dexterity dagger will lower the dex and health by adding the envenomed effect, etc... Quite complex.
Crafters also make the components for houses/guild halls in the game and those range in size and complexity. My guild hall is a multi-story job with a few fire places in it. In the main room is a flying sleigh with a snowman in it, towed through the air by pigs (warped sense of humor there, that much I'll admit). The one piggy that didn't "make the grade" is on a spit in an upstairs fireplace...
There are user owned boats in the game as well of differnet styles (continent based), colors and sizes (sloops through galleys). Bigger = harder to make and more expensive (generally the biggest goes for around 6pp right now).
Diplomacy is a mini-game where you have "cards" you play against an NPC in a parley. Parleys are of a type and winning enough parleys in an area will grant a 1 hour buff based upon the type of the parley for *EVERYONE* in that general region. A "mass group buff" of huge scale. At different times, different buffs are "raised" by diplomats -- example: during prime raid hours, you'll find adventuring buffs up in many locations where raiders will visit to get 1 hour buff then head off to their favorite dungeon. At other times, you'll find diplo and/or crafting buffs up.
Diplomacy also grants many other benefits and is a fairly "safe" way to build up a bank while helping others out with the buffs. Each parley has a chance to give the diplomat special rewards which can include recipes and/or items for other spheres.
As you do parleys, you'll gain "prestige" with the various factions as well as reputation. Prestige points can be spent to obtain special rewards as well.
Overall the game world is huge. The options in it allow for a variety of play styles though, as you point out, PvP is lacking for those into that. There is a PvP server but the classes in the game are not "balanced" for PvP play though, for those into that aspect of the game, they hold a deep passion for it.
The game has a "very late beta" type feel to it right now. As you point out, that is mostly due to it's poor launch and "not throwing good money after bad" business logic. Development is based on "pay for itself" so the more or fewer players in the game, the faster/slower the world expands and things get fixed. As long as the user community remains sufficient in quantity, I don't see SOE canceling it or the like and, as you point out, the community is growing albeit slowly.
If I had to pick a game to "relaunch", it'd be this one. For those that played EQ, they'd find this to be more a descendent than EQ 2 was. The world is vast and just the "feel" of the game is more like EQ without the focus on "just raiding". There *ARE* a lot of "grind" type activities in the game if one choses to follow those paths.
Again, overall, a decent blog article there with only a few things I think should have been pointed out a bit more.
I read the review and it pretty much sums up the VG experience. I too feel this game is the true spiritual successor to original EQ.
Thanks for the feedback guys