Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The State Of Play.

Let’s get one thing straight, right here and now - I have always had a love/hate relationship with games. There are those games that I can lose myself in and devour their content. Unfortunately, it seems my tastes often relegate that most games I come across lack any appeal to me. To further torment me, I am often at the complete mercy to whimsical moods. Allow me to explain; do you ever just crave a particular taste to the point nothing else satisfies? You might have countless options before you that you could partake of instead and yet that burning, gnawing drive inside you roars at you declaring, unequivocally, that - nothing else will do.

Where everyone has cravings for food and the like, I am more often confronted by another kind, one that seizes upon my mind and imagination with the grip of an iron vise. To illustrate my point it was as a child that I discovered the pure joy of role playing games and the like. However as I grew to become acquainted I soon found myself wanting for a game that could meet the needs of my imagination. So I set myself to constructing my own. It grew to become a mix of various sci-fi elements that I could at the time not find anywhere else.

Recently I found myself in yet another such quandary. Having played World of Warcraft for several years I eventually became saturated with it’s content. That is the best way I can describe it. I had played so much of it’s setting for so long I simply discovered I wasn’t enjoying it anymore. Even the advent of the latest expanded content and with it the altered mechanics did nothing to rekindle my interest in the game. So, with a friends recommendation I gave Lord of the Rings Online a shot. Immediately I had found a renewed outlet for my passion and imagination, something with which I could entertain myself as I consumed it’s content.

Lord of the Rings Online went on to provide me with plenty of fun for quite some time, and still does. Honestly, I think I would still be logging in and playing even a little each day save for one simple thing. It isn’t a sci-fi game. Forgive me if I duck for cover before I continue.

Obviously, I am abundantly aware that it is a fantasy game. There was never any confusion when I started to play the game, especially considering as I am a well read fan of everything Tolkien. However, you recall those whimsical cravings I mentioned before? Yep, I became sledgehammered but one and the same. Before I could even realize it I was dying to immerse myself in something different. Something sci-fi, anything sci-fi in fact. So I set down and thought about it, and decided to see what I could find. How hard could it possibly be to find a game that could meet some simple criteria -

A. The game had to have some sci-fi elements to it. Give me hover bikes instead of a mount, let me traverse great distances in a spacecraft or something. Instead of magic and swords, show me energy weapons, high tech gadgetry perhaps some psionic powers even. Offer me genetically modified people, mutated races and aliens. Basically, I want an escape from fantasy, don’t give me more dragons and magical elves.

B. Don’t force competitive play on me, let me enjoy an engaging storyline and some good old fashioned PVE. If I want to challenge another player or group up for a quest etc, then I will. But, call me crazy, I just generally prefer to play at my own pace and loose myself in the game for a bit.

C. Please, whatever you do, don’t make me attempt some complex control system to try to play. Not everyone has the hand eye coordination of a savant.

Armed with these thoughts I started to look for something new to play, only to discover an interesting notion. Apparently, in the MMO industry sci-fi games are relegated to the areas of first person shooters, real time strategy and let’s not forget flight simulator styled shooters. None of them an appealing fit for what I desired. The only exceptions that I could find were Star Wars The Old Republic, and Star Trek Online. Having played the former during a trial weekend I can say it was a promising option, but it is also one that has yet to go free to play. Additionally, it is one that particularly appeals primarily to fans of the franchise. Being a fan myself that isn’t a major issue, yet Star Wars is a very particular taste on it’s own. Something with a bit broader appeal would be nice.

With regard to the other option being Star Trek online... Well, okay, let’s be fair here; I am and have been a Star Trek fan for a very long time. I have always liked the harder science to it as opposed to the more fantastical elements in Star Wars. I am one of the rare breed of geeks that likes both equally. That said, I gotta admit that Star Trek Online seems less of a rpg and more of, well, something else. I haven’t tried it yet but the more I watch about it, I regretfully don’t feel it’s pull to play it.

Those two pillars no longer really options at the moment I had more digging to do. Here is a short list of those free to play titles I have explored thus far and a few notes on my own findings.

DC Universe Online - I have always preferred Marvel over DC myself but being a comic book nerd and all I thought why not try out this renowned title. The game’s story and mix of cinemagraphics with comic styled splash screens was a welcome delight. Making my own Hero(or Villain if you wanted) was equally enjoyable. I was fascinated with how my character found themselves involved and was forced to make their way to freedom. The whole thing was quite a fun experience.

Yeah, there is a but coming. The controls. Simply put, the controls were very awkward for me and no matter how I adjusted things my mouse seemed to lag behind my movements. Perhaps it was partially due to my less than optimal spec’s but in any event it kinda ruined it for me. I considered the path of perseverance, but after trying a different hero I eventually reserved myself to turn my attentions elsewhere in hopes of unearthing that slumbering treasure that awaited.

Global Agenda; Free Agent - While the game proclaimed itself as a rpg based shooter I thought it was at least worth a try considering how little sci-fi games I was seeing. What I found was a game that was more shooter than anything and irritating controls. I can’t really say more about the game honestly. It had graphics that were ‘meh’ and the weapons I obtained really didn’t seem all that effective/appropriate.

Argo Online - Claiming to be a ‘Hybrid MMO’ Argo Online isn’t too bad of a game in reality. It has a fascinating view on a steampunk future with some fantasy mixed in in such a way that oddly works. The only real complaints I have about it is mainly in the garbled text for quests and the like. I can even accept that classes are presented as gender locked, but reading a quests description riddled with typos and gibberish just doesn’t set well with my brain. If you push aside some of the how’s and why’s of the story and just play through the motions of the game you can have a decent enough time with the game.

I can’t say Argo is a perfect fit for me by any means, especially with so much fantasy still interwoven with not quite enough sci-fi. However, in a pinch like my own I have to say it is one of the more serviceable options out there.

Rusty Hearts - Upon reading the words ‘solo dungeon gameplay’ I immediately knew I had to give this one a shot. Rusty Hearts is for lack of a better term Frankenstein game of sorts. It manages to fuse cell shaded anime styles along with cgi rendered animations. The whole thing is then wrapped in a neat little action focused horror themed game. Seriously, all the characters you can choose to play are plucked straight out of a Gothic story anime as it were. There is your mysterious man bitten by a werewolf, a reluctant vampire, even scantily females with blades and guns etc.

What I have played so far has been interesting to say the least. Again, Rusty Hearts is a far cry from my target but I think I could see myself picking this one back up from time to time to play more. I think it would really depend on how the storyline develops etc.

Vindictus - A gem I never would have ever had the pleasure of otherwise. Granted it isn’t at all what I was looking for it stuck out as it kept popping up in my searches. In Vindictus you take on one of 5 characters, something I actually didn’t like the idea of in fact. But the reality is that you select one of the 5 not as a set persona but as a base mold as it were. You could just as easily call it your race and class rolled into one. After a brief intro sequence as a unnamed hooded rookie you get to have a taste of gameplay before settling in to define how your character looks etc.

The game itself is a very action combat focused mmorpg, that kind of reminded me of something like a diablo game was before diablo 3 but from a 3rd person perspective instead of the top down view. Out of all my finds thus far this is one I can’t help but recommend more people give a try.  

RF Online - Another hopeful gamble I quickly found myself having second thoughts. A game that looked to lean heavily on some great Sci-fi elements I had actually thought maybe this could be the one. Not so lucky. As soon as I installed the game I was greeted with the surprise that apparently all the servers were down because of some mystery issue. While I awaited an official update to inform me they were again available I poked around the forums and continued my searching. One of my first inklings was an almost lack of activity from other players on the forums. To further weigh on me was the realization that I wasn’t seeing any official posts of updates, explanations etc. After waiting almost 2 days I finally decided to try logging in again just out of curiosity. To my surprise everything was back up and running and nothing had ever been said. Not. A. Word.

But, I could deal with such matters, I could - if the game was worth playing. Which, RF Online could be. It has so much potential to be a great game. And yet right off the bat my 1st character started off with 3 different weapons for him to use and all of them did as much or more than the highest level gear in any store. I literally one shotted just about everything I came across, and with one of them being an artillery launcher that meant entire clusters of critters were powerless against me. At level one, that is not okay. I played for a little while and my levels just climbed rapidly, in fact I quickly had the trouble that my levels were going up so fast I couldn’t manage to keep my skills leveled high enough to enable me to use a lot of the gear I was being rewarded with.

Like a spot light turned on someone with a migraine there was so much that screamed at me that wasn’t okay from a design standpoint. Everything you killed dropped sometimes 6-10 small shiny cubes. To pick up your loot you had to click on every single item. One. At. A. Time. The whole thing rapidly lead to crammed bags with no real way to sort through what was worth gathering up and what wasn’t. Another headache was the fact no npc had any way of marking if they had a quest for you or not, and if they happened to, they wouldn’t say if you even could attempt it. To further irritate you those same npc’s refused to explain how to refine/process any materials or how much such a service might cost if they could provide it. The whole time I played I collected tons of materials and never once found what I could've done with them period. There wasn’t much sense in selling them either because they had 0 value, and everything else that could be sold did me 0 good either. Like I said - you start with weapons so far advanced you have no reason to invest in any that you could by. Hint - When you you spend a couple hours and only then begin to find a weapon that might do not even 10% of your base damage, well, that is not a good thing.

Don’t even get me started on the ridiculously slow speed that your character ‘runs’ at. Covering vast terrain that you are required to is infuriating at best. I still want to like this game, it whispers so many great promises like a bad ex tempting you back but overall it will just keep hurting you.

Sevencore - The most recent game to land on my screen is Sevencore. Like Argo it seems to be a mixed genre game but unlike Argo it has fewer choices in classes. There is a total of 4 races and yep you guessed it 4 classes. Now, they are not gender locked so you can make a male or female of any race and or class you prefer. Gameplay so far seems fairly generic with vanilla go here kill x number of this and retrieve this item type quests. Leveling seems to be fairly quick and the whole routine is pretty standard. You level up, get awarded a new skill or the like and turn in your quests for a new or improved piece of gear. One interesting thing to point out is that it looks like there is no set healer class. Instead each character has potion like items resembling burgers and sodas or some such and you can set a slider on your health/energy to set when you will automatically consume said resources. The whole process automates self healing leaving you free to do what most players enjoy - killing the monsters. Weather this will be a blessing or not I can’t say.

My next step I think will be to categorize the games that will see further play before a more permanent decision is reached and which will get the axe of deletion to make way for any further gambles. So, by all means if you happen to have a game to recommend or your own observations to share then I am all ears. And if you're in a similar situation then I feel for you, perhaps I can save you some of the frustration of debating about what to try. Either way just bear in mind that your mileage may vary.