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“Blind we are, if creation of this clone army we could not see.”
Yoda said this in Star Wars Episode 3. There he was of course referencing the creation of the clone army that led to the fall of the Old Republic. However these words have some relevance as well to the online gaming world, as more and more releases are cropping up.... and more and more people are realizing that these games are just reskinned versions of World of Warcraft.
Many online gamers are understandably jaded, and almost as quickly as new gamers are discovering the genre old gamers are getting sick of the hype, sick of the grind, and sick of the mash-and-forget style of online gaming.
But while some gamers are venting their frutrations on newbies screaming at them to go back to WoW (nevermind that the player whos saying this hasnt really left it!), other gamers are adopting a philosophy of let no stone go unturned. These gamers have embarked on their own quest to find the holy grail.
No Stone Unturned...
My own personal quest has brought me through many games. Ultima Online was where it began for me, in late September 1997. As many are no doubt familiar, this was the beginning of the old great days of UO. Unprecedented freedom. Unheard of brutality. Amazing fun. But it didnt last. A year later EverQuest was opening its doors. I checked it out... but something about the game bored me.
Fortunately Asheron's Call came along, not a second too late either, and gamers like myself congregated on the Darktide Server where everyone was a cutthroat, no matter how good you pretended to be on the surface!
Since then Ive migrated. Asheron's Call 2 was great, but was a departure from the original game and didnt garner enough new playerbase to replace the old playerbase who had voiced lack of enthusiasm for the product. Shadowbane.. meh.. too easy. Toss in a few free to play games, Age of COnan, a home purchase, and some career time, and you had enough time for the epic holy grail of grails.
Except that it wasnt.
Darkfall Online turned out to be absolutely horrible. Not in the game itself. The concepts were great, and the gameplay was too. The game was however a grind on such a scale that most Korean MMO publishers now will try to imitate it only to squeeze that much more cash out of their item mall players. The game was also very hacker friendly. Who hasnt seen the video of the boat bouncing away like a beach ball, leaving an army of stranded swimmers goggling and asking "WTF?" And I wont even get into the lack of promised features.
Toss in some free to play games by Perfect World just to kick up a few more stones. Fun, but basically watered down, expensive versions of WoW. Im still there, but its more for the community than the game itself.
On a whim I tried Chronicles of Spellborn, a game recommended to me a few months ago by a guy who I considered an epic MMO Tourist and consumnate gaming failure.
Can I please buy a ticket?
Chronicles of Spellborn has polish. The graphics engine isnt the most modern, but its far from Asheron's Call! It passes for modern, and fortunately has low system requirements. Though my girlfriends laptop cant run it, it only just barely fails with a GeForceM 5200 128MB Shared graphics card and 3GB system RAM (on Vista). I suspect on XP it would probably do ok, though she would miss some of the immersive glitz. What glitz you say? How about wildlife you can kill that doesnt exist for your XP gain. Like squirrels. How about airships constantly in the sky above you, moving people in and out of the area? How about full day/night cycles that arent just boring slight dimming of the lighting in the sky? Theres more of a list.
Im going to skip character creation, mainly because I could write quite a few paragraphs on it. Theyd be true, but theyd be boring. Suffice it to say you make a detailed character with a unique appearance.
Immediately you are thrown into a tutorial, like most games, and if you pay attention you will learn basic mechanics. Since you cant really pass it, I guess you need to take your 10 minutes and do it. So do it, noober!
At the end of the tutorial you get an epic combat sequence vaguely reminiscent of Final Fantasy XI. Not a hard combat, but it sure looks deadly! Youre then thrown into the newbie starter town.
This isnt a hold your hand kinda place. The mobs are aggressive. They will kill you. The quests have no guide saying "Heres how you finish! Press enter to be routed to your destination!" There's no easy button. But its not hard. You simply have to play the game! And surprise, its fun!
How about a slice of quiche?
Give you a dollar if you can name the game that quote is from!
Combat is engaging. The scrolling combat bar keeps the pace steady, and the FPS style combat means you can control your hit rate, dodge rate, and position while at the same time fighting the mob. No lame invisible dice rolls! The NPCs are also interactive. In the shot below I was being attacked by a large group of mobs that came out of nowhere. I ran to the safety of town and what happened? The guards started helping me fight! And a few of the guards died helping me! RIP.
At 200+ ping time (Im in California) I still find the game quite playable, thanks in part to the rotating skill bar. Its got its own internal timer, so regardless of how fast your connection is, you still have the same rate of fire as someone with a slower connection, by and large. While dodging is tricky for me, I still manage to pull it off. So its not bad.
Just when you think youre getting the hang of the PvE though, suddenly it gets tougher. The quest chain will lead you into fighting mobs youll have to manage in groups of 2-3 instead of singularly. You can try to kite one away, but the AI is reasonable in this game. An injured foe will sometimes run back to its friends, or you think youve got one mob, then realize that some are in the trees firing spells at you. Its at that point you realize that if you can run and hide, you'd better do it. Also the terrain itself acts as a shield sometimes. High grasses make you hard to spot. Jump over walls to your safety as enemies struggle to find a way into your haven! Sneak up on enemies by using terrain to your advantage! Very reminiscent of Darkfall. I like it!
PvP from what I hear is pretty balanced. You can however test this out for yourself. Theres arenas near every town where you can engage in single fights, or in group brawls, which are scored on your own personal ranking sheet.
This house for rent...
Not every story has a happy ending though. The developers of TCOS went bankrupt, and the game is now in the hands of Frogster (Runes of Magic) and Acclaim (2Moons). Not saying thats a good or bad thing, however Frogster has committed to turning this game into a Free to Play game. Of course the cynics are coming out of the woodwork, crying failure, etc.
The truth is TCOS was released in May, 2009 after a beta period encompassing late 2008 until mid spring 2009. Can you guess what was being hyped up, open beta tested, and released during that exact time period?
If you guessed Darkfall you are correct.
This game is a great product, but at the time it probably looked like Darkfall Lite. Since Darkfall has not been able to deliver though on any of its promises in a truly complete manner, this game may have a chance at redemption on the markets.
There are some things though that I personally think need work in order for this to happen, though, the most important of which is the guild system.
The guild system in TCOS is pretty much just a tag over your head and a chatroom to call your own. There's no real point to it currently. Rumor has it this is being looked at by Frogster, and theres a possibility of Shard Conquest being added to the game as a guild feature. Sounds like a start. The original developers were rumored to have been working on housing. This should be expanded into the guild scope, and implemented both as single player housing and guild halls.
We dont need to build a town of our own. But it would be nice to own parts of one!
I'll stop on this topic though and save it for another day.
The long and short of it...
To keep a long story short (or an epic review slightly less beastial), TCOS is a great game, with alot of unrealized potential. Done right TCOS can be an amazing free to play product, and as a standalone product even now it is quite alot of fun.
If you are looking for a unique gaming experience, in a world that is not your standard fantasy clone, with a method of playing that is not a World of Warcraft wannabe, definitely check this game out.
And tell your friends. The best way for a game like this to survive and flourish is if we the players make it happen.
Thanks for reading. If any current Spellborn players want to take retributive action on me for my words here, my name is Magyar, and Im a noob on the PvP server! [i]Raaar![/i]
Crappy, petty people breed and raise crappy, petty kids.