Path of Exile: First Impressions

Shiny! Such shiny! As shiny as it gets in shadowy Path of Exile...

I’m finding it nigh impossible to blog about Path of Exile.

Every time, I start the game going “Ok, today is the day I will take some screenshots and, during gameplay, try to formulate some coherent thoughts with which to begin a blog post…”

…I end up surfacing nearly three hours later with nary a thought in my head beyond having played inventory tetris, trying to figure out the complex barter/vendor system currency to determine if I should identify items before selling or sell them unidentified, plotting the next target skill I want for my character after having explored the next tiny offshoot of PoE’s crazy skill tree, desperately trying to stop myself from the “just one more map, one more quest, one more waypoint” compulsion because it’s way past midnight already.

And barely any screenshots either, because there was just too much action going on.

Really now, be honest, would you stop to screenshot, or would the first thing on your mind be to check out all that shiny loot?
Really now, be honest, would you stop to screenshot, or would the first thing on your mind be to check out all that shiny loot?

Also, Path of Exile is dark.

As in, the aesthetic is grim n’ gritty, grimdark, shadowy dark, and downright gloomy.

It is as filled with black and mud brown and shades of putrescent green and grey as Wildstar explodes with cartoon rainbow laser light show effects.

This is a stated preference by the devs, so it is what it is.

Neither aesthetic is a problem for me, but it might be for you.

And it certainly doesn’t make the game very screenshot friendly.

It sort of reminds me of the period where I played a Dark/Dark defender in City of Heroes
It sort of reminds me of the period where I primarily played a Dark/Dark defender in City of Heroes and through all my spell effects, became a connoisseur of all things dark: darkity dark, dark tinged with green, dark tinged with purple, black tinged with purple, dark lightened with grey, absolute black, and abyss.

My very first few battle encounters in Path of Exile were mostly of the “I can’t see shit, or what I’m hitting, or IF I’m hitting at all” variety.

During my graphics tweaking for performance, I turned off shadows and think it’s a much better visual improvement to not have even more monster-shaped patches of black moving about obscuring the action.

Your field of vision also drops as you lose health, so things can get claustrophobic in a hurry.
Your field of vision also drops as you lose health, so things can get claustrophobic in a hurry.

Despite the lack of photogenic appeal, Path of Exile has a powerful draw in other ways.

Its Diablo roots, for one.

The general gameplay of these types of games involves lots of clicking, lots of mobs that die in a few hits per encounter to make you feel powerful, and waterfalls of loot.

Which you then sift through, learning to ignore the lower tier items and leave them on the ground in short order, and being thrilled to make out like a bandit when you get a lucky desirable rare drop from RNG.

Growing steadily more powerful from leveling, picking up skills and loot with better stats, so you can go to harder areas and kill bosses, which usually have a much higher reservoir of health and more interesting attacks and patterns to learn and overcome.

Plus, the ‘trash’ mobs start their own ramp ups in power, skills used and start using various sorts of movement tactics, etc.

Unsoweiter, challenge and difficulty rising to unimaginable levels, and you eventually finding your way to a comfortable, profitable level of challenge and trying to push  it a little higher when you think you can.

Path of Exile does this very well.

I earlier criticized Neverwinter for being simplistic in its combat, because it mostly involved clicking (or clicking and holding) and waiting for mobs to die.

In Neverwinter, there was very little discernable difference in the pattern while killing kobolds, orcs, magical zombies, or human bandits. There were always little groups of minion health mobs which could be cleaved through using autoattacks or a wide aoe sweep skill.

Periodically one or two medium health melee mobs that would use a three-quarter AoE attack hitting front and sides (solution: dash through mob to get to its back, turn around, continue hitting.)

Periodically one or two medium health caster mobs that would use a targeted AoE attack, centered either around the player or itself (solution: dash out of the AoE field, continue hitting mob when safe to do so.)

Periodically a large slow attacking big telegraph ogre-like mob that would take eons to swing (solution: treat much like melee mob, dash around to its back and whack while it is stuck in a slow frontal attack animation.

The most complex thing I encountered in Neverwinter was attempting to solo the starting five-man dungeon The Cloak Tower with just a cleric hireling and me. This mostly enforced understanding of the above tactics as each mob had larger health bars and so took longer to whittle down.

The trickiest and main cause of initial repeated death was the first boss, who was a caster type who would summon two medium melee types when it got down to 3/4 health, creating overlapping zones of serious damage that became tricky to avoid.

Eventually, I powered through one melee mob using healing potions to get rid of the overlapping kill zone, and proceeded to learn in depth how to best avoid the caster boss – swing three times, completing one attack animation chain, start moving one quarter of a circle clockwise or anticlockwise to move out of the way of the AoE it would cast, swing three times, move again.

In Neverwinter, the skill tree mostly involves increasing percentage damage, or percentage defences. Lateral viable options are lacking, reducing depth.

I have an AoE skill? Well, use it when I have multiple mobs, and just keep spamming it for extra damage because it doesn’t cost me anything to use it regardless.

I have a skill that does damage and heals me for a bit of the damage done? Spam whenever off cooldown.

I have a skill that knocks an enemy prone? Oh. For once, I actually have to think about timing. Let’s use it on vulnerable mobs (aka non-bosses) when they’re starting their aoe telegraph attack so that I have more freecast attack time then! Still spammed whenever off cooldown.

In Path of Exile, you do click, or click and hold, and wait for mobs to die…

…but you probably would have done well to think about exactly how you were planing on getting them to die in the first place.

poe_skilltree

It begins with the crazy looking skill tree – of which this is only a partial shot.

On character creation, you get to pick one of six different classes. (The seventh class, the Scion, unlocks after you’ve nearly played through the standard game once, I believe.)

Three classes are aligned with the major attributes Strength, Dexterity and Intelligence as pure representatives of that attribute. The Marauder is the Strength brute, bringing to mind something hard-hitting and very tanky and armor/resistance based. The Ranger is your Dexterity rep, conjuring images of something fast-hitting, nimble and evasive, possibly using bows or dual-wielding weapons. The Witch is the Intelligence based spellcaster.

Then you have the hybrid classes. A Strength-Intelligence hybrid, the Templar. A Strength-Dexerity hybrid, the duelist. And finally, the Dexterity-Intelligence Shadow.

Each class begins at a different position on the crazy skill tree, so they have easier access to certain traits over others for cheaper skill point cost.

The Scion, of course, sits at the very center, open to all possibilities, inviting massive theory-crafting for those who have finished the initial game and want something even more complex but flexible and high potential.

It’s a little insane to try and grok it all the moment you begin, so I decided not to make the attempt and just settle on focusing on learning about the tiny area my character started out at, and had more immediate access to.

poe_shadow

I picked The Shadow, which is something a little uncharacteristic of me. I tend to like the tanky melee Strength type classes, but thought it might be interesting to see how the other two attributes would fare, as a hybrid.

Turns out, bloody well.

Even in the immediate area, there are options. You could choose to go the intelligence path and bump up stats, or the intelligence route and increase spellcasting attack speed or elemental damage percentage (implying you’re a more caster type of Shadow), or you could go the dexterity route and increase projectile damage (implying shooty Shadow) or one-handed melee weapons (the more up-close-and-personal type) or straight dexterity increases.

From there again, casters could branch into lightning, cold or fire type of improvements to their spells. Melee folk could choose increased one-handed melee weapon physical damage (which also  applies if you’re dual-wielding two one-handed weapons) or dual wielding bonuses.

And nothing whatsoever stops you from going up or downward the tree to pick up some life and mana bonuses, and grab that caster or melee portion, even if you started on the other path to begin with.

On and on, making stuff very complex indeed.

Since I was just beginning and playing on the easiest normal difficulty, I opted to bother less with learning most optimal theorycrafting and just went the “pick what sounds fun” route. The first character can always be ruined in the name of learning the system, after all.

I generally just looked for the nearest big circles and decided what I wanted more of, and aimed to plot the best course towards those desirables.

In this case, I went a stabby style rogue dual-wielding weapons, attacking fast and trying to crit a lot.

I initially left it open in case I wanted to switch from daggers to swords or claws or whatnot, but as luck would have it, I got some rather decent dagger drops and I’m seriously considering specializing now and leaving the other weapons for another character on another playthrough.

poe_reave

Adding to the delightful case of options are the skills.

You pick them up via gems, they’re not automatically given to you when choosing a class or going down the skill tree.

Socketing them into your gear allows them to be used and assigned to various buttons, and again, there appears to be a limit for the number of skills you can have in play at one time – similar to nearly all newer MMOs of the TSW, GW2, Wildstar ilk so that you pick and choose those that best synergize and work for your desired playstyle.

There are additional support gems that can be connected to the skill gems, to give things like increased critical damage or more projectiles, and so on.

Each requires things like having the correct color socket, or connecting sockets, so a whole minigame of using orbs to alter sockets (and stats) as desired is formed to complement inventory tetris.

In this case, Reave became my bread-and-butter mind-blowing attack skill.

As a dual-wielding dagger rogue-alike, I can crit ordinary minion-type mobs for a heavy amount. This skill turns my single target attack into an AoE. That increases in size with  each hit.

A good chain with an onrush of hordes of small mobs becomes a delicious spectacle of mobs exploding in unison.

poe_reaveaoe

Some, pretty far away from where I was standing, even. (My reave has stacked up to 8 times, as indicated in the upper left corner.)

Naturally, I need mana to feed these, so it was natural to start exploring up the skill tree for stuff that gave back mana on kill.

And I started looking for gear that gave back life on hit or kill, because I’m lazy to quaff potions on a regular basis and would rather save them for PANIC situations.

Did I just ruin the game? Did I turn it into a mess of simple clicking to kill things?

Hell, no.

The next couple maps I went through started introducing mobs that leap onto you (necessitating evasive movement through clicking to avoid the leap)

…mobs that shot arrows and moved back when you tried to melee them (separating themselves from aoe attack damage)

…mobs that fired magical projectiles at you (kinda hard to melee kill things if you’ve just caught 10 frost bolts to the face trying to get close)

…mobs that raised a ton of minions (necessitating search and destroy, though the minions were easy enough to carve through with reave) and my favorite…

poe_explode

Exploding mobs.

I highlight this one because it neatly countered the strategies I had developed.

I’d taken to raising minions like zombies and skeletons, because I found it fun and they were handy temporary tanks to shift aggro to, while I ran about and amok in their midst stabbing and killing stuff. (I hear minions are much less viable in the late game, or at higher difficulties, but eh, I’m a ways from that yet.)

Well, exploding mobs blow up minions.

If I go and attack them by myself, they explode, and their explosion takes out other mobs that explode, or my AoE reave explodes them all at once, and guess what… surprise surprise, -I- explode.

This one totally forced a strategy change by learning to -not- attack on sight and let them run close, triggering their explosion animation, which one then quickly ran away from and let them explode by themselves, hopefully taking out all nearby exploders as well.

Boss fight strategies are also different, due to the amount of health they have.

I usually end up stacking a DoT poison-like venom strike, along with ordinary attacking, and running around evasively and quaffing potions like there’s no tomorrow.

I’ve also tried an animate weapon strategy, where I bring in my zombie minions, raise skeletons, and prepare in advance weapons which get thrown onto the ground and turned into animated minions to add damage and deflect aggro.

(Animate weapon is an interesting skill as it sort of makes all the white throwaway loot on the ground relevant again. If it’s a melee weapon, and under the level of your gem, you can sacrifice it and turn it into a minion instead – but you lose the loot drop.)

I have also been dying to try my new situational skill out on a proper boss.

poe_vaalskeleton

This is a Vaal version of Summon Skeletons.

Vaal gems are corrupted forms of a skill gem, that are quite a bit more powerful than the normal version. They’re obtained via little side maps that have additional conditions (eg. increased size of mob spawns, shocking or frost patches on the ground, etc.) to make encounters harder.

For example, the normal Summon Skeletons conjures two skeleton warriors at a time, and limits me to 4 of them in play at once.

The Vaal version conjures an ARMY.

A whole bunch of warriors, a few archers and mages and a general that gives them buffs.

The catch is that Vaal gems require souls to work.

So essentially, you run around killing stuff on the map, building up soul power for your Vaal gem, charging it up for one glorious unveiling – hopefully at a good time.

Sort of like a situational elite.

On a big and populous enough map, you can do it more than once, of course. Just depends on souls… Death death murder kill nom more souls.

And the beauty of it is, not all Shadows need to play how I play.

If I chose differently, I could have been a bowcaster. Lots of shooty, maybe some AoE cold spells to help slow things down for more pewpew. Maybe I would still throw in minions as mobile tank pets.

Or I could have jumped down a sword and shield route and visited the strength and armor side a little more (though perhaps ignoring the intelligence portion may be less effective than beginning a str/dex class indeed, but I -could- do it if I chose.)

Or maybe a dual claw evasive life regen Shadow channeling Wolverine for all he’s worth.

Needless to say, this doesn’t even scratch the surface of the other five classes that I still haven’t played nor seen much of their skill gems or tree yet.

Frankly, the only negative thing I can think to say about Path of Exile is its connectivity issues.

On starting the launcher, it occasionally pops up with a “Connection Failure: Unable to connect to patching server message.” One has to repeatedly launch the game and -hope- that one will eventually contact the patching server at some point.

Strangely enough, I don’t really face disconnection issues once on a map (though some do, according to forum reports, and I’ve had it happen once in a blue moon), but more often face problems during the transition from one map to another.

Sometimes, the server(s) just seem to lose hold of my client and go, “Nope, not talking to you anymore” and I get dropped back to the login screen while changing zones.

This happens on both American and Australian server gateways, so I dunno… Seems like the game just gets temperamental sometimes.

Other times, I play with nary a hitch at all.

Your mileage may vary.

The good news is that the instance states save.

For around 8-15 minutes, even if you leave via portal to go to a town, or unexpectedly fall off the map via disconnecting, what you’ve already cleared stays cleared, so you can run around, travel and make progress with exploration without having to wade through unending hordes.

If you WANT the unending hordes, then ctrl+clicking and zoning in will renew the instance on demand.

Best of both worlds, really.

Payment model-wise, the damn thing is free.

Really. Honest. And the devs hold to what they call “ethical microtransactions” in their store.

Which generally means costuming and visual and vanity perks… like shiny wings and shiny armor.

They do also sell character slots and bank/stash space, but imo, this has been an acceptable ‘convenience’ microtransaction in play for a long time now in assorted games.

You are apparently also allowed to make multiple free accounts to ‘mule’ if you’re unwilling to drop any cash on the game, but I suspect by the time you find the need for that many characters and stash space, you’re committed enough to the game to give them $5-$15 for the peace of mind and convenience of not needing to juggle multiple accounts.

(Still, if you’re a broke and starving student or artist or unemployed, the option is there!)

Conclusion?

I will be playing Path of Exile.

I will be playing it a lot.

Sneaking in time between all the other games on my plate.

It will have a place enshrined in my list of games to play along with Torchlight (and if I ever got around to it, Torchlight 2) where Diablo III did not even get me to buy a copy.

And I suspect a couple months down the road or sooner, alt-holic me will be paying Grinding Gear Games for more character slots because two is never enough, and everyone will be happy…

…living happily ever after in the grimdark land of Wraeclast.

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Neverwinter: First Impressions

First Impressions

If Dungeons and Dragons Online and Lord of the Rings Online had a baby, that baby would be Neverwinter…

And when I say “baby,” I mean exactly that.

As in, it seems to be the much more simplistic version of either game named above.

The default UI is remarkably reminiscent of LOTRO with its text font and tiny size with elaborate button graphics on the skills you can barely make out at the default size.

nw_miniui

I mean… really? Can’t see nuthing.

It joins LOTRO as being the second game where I felt the need to bring up the UI beyond 100% and magnify it to like 1.3x.

nw_largerui

I may have overcompensated a little, but at least I can see some of the icons now.

(Somewhere out there, the dev that spent their time coloring in the icon graphics and backgrounds is celebrating.)

Quest gameplay-wise, it feels like a version of DDO where you talk to NPCs, get quests, then run to ye olde dungeon or adventure instance where you then get your own personal dungeon crawl.

nw_sewercrawl

Or sewer crawl.

The good news is that these personal instances are great on FPS.

Even on my ailing computer, I can hit 40-60FPS in these places.

The bad news is that I managed to pick the day some new update dropped to try the game, so the central city of Protector’s Enclave – where the game first drops you right after completing the tutorial (kinda neat in that you don’t have to go through numerous starter zones to get there) – was an utter rubberbanding lagfest of epic proportions.

I'm sure it's a nice city... if the textures loaded in, and if I could actually move...
I’m sure it’s a nice city… if the textures loaded in, and if I could actually move…

Framerates alternated between 9-1o FPS if I was lucky, and this is probably the first MMO I’ve encountered whose FPS indicator bothered to show FPS below 1 in decimal points. (Yeah, 0.3FPS, such awesome!)

One pretty neat thing that Neverwinter has is the ability to adjust graphics card-dependent and CPU-dependent graphics separately.

Landmark’s FPS indicator taught me that my CPU tended to be the weaker of my pair, so I cranked it down to near minimal, giving up view and draw distance, and was able to get my GPU settings  up to a nice looking medium. This at least gives broader options for people to adjust what they can or can’t give up for smoother gameplay. (I generally don’t need shadows or a gazillion physics particles flying around just to make things look ‘better’ and more busy, for example.)

Tradespam was running rampant in the big city, being spammed faster than I could move, along with cryptic LFGs of strange abbreviations for content I assume was for super max leveled elder game players.

Welcome to gibberish edition.
Welcome to gibberish edition. Let’s see: goldseller spam, high-end microtransaction trades and holy trinity/need correct class and gear for group problems of some sort or other…

One generally ignores those and lets them scroll by as stuff I won’t understand as a newbie vacationer anyway, but everyone’s personal mileage for tolerating those is different.

Along with the ubiquitous lockboxes, whose drop rate is fairly insane.

It's all rainbow colors, it must be neat stuff, I guess!
It’s all rainbow colors and much blue and purple, it must be neat stuff, I guess!

Fortunately, I have no idea what any of those words mean, so it’s eminently ignorable for my vacationing purposes.

(I did manage to sell off 8 of them on the auction house, so -someone- out there is buying them…)

Others may find it more difficult to ignore, similar to how I personally have trouble ignoring the existence of raids in traditional MMOs being heralded as the pinnacle of existence and all the good gear being available only there.

The difference to me is that I’m paying $15 a month in those games, same as everyone, and would rather not have my preferred playstyles treated like second class citizens.

Here, I’m paying a big fat $0, so little inconveniences are to be expected. (The trick is to have the inconveniences not be game-breaking and encouraging quitting out of frustration over maybe sometime converting into a paying customer.)

I guess it may boil down to essentially a difference of philosophy. Traditional sub-based raid games say, “We start at an egalitarian playing field of $15/month, and it’s what you choose to do with your time that determines how far up you go. Take the game rules for what they are and put up with any inconveniences and annoyances to get there, no two ways around this.”

Free to play games say, “You can come try out our game with no obligations whatsoever, though you may have to put up with some inconveniences and annoyances along the way.”

Bad ones continue, “If you want to get rid of all the nuisances and get far up in the elder game, you’re going to have to spend X sum of money, no two ways around this.” Where X is a substantially larger sum than $15/month.

Good ones say, “You can do it with money, or you can do it with time, up to you, the choice is yours.” And usually the average X is ballparked around $15/month.

(I’d talk about buy to play too, but that usually just means “Kindly pay us the sum of a normal single-player game up front for the work we’ve already put in, and you can enjoy the basic game more or less feature complete.”)

I tend to prefer “the choice is yours” games over the “no two ways around this” games.

Back to Neverwinter and the baby analogy.

Said baby appeared to have been stolen from its crib by Cryptic Studios, who really wanted a kid of their own and tried to do nice things for it, but seemed generally confused about bringing up a child, and who eventually threw up their hands and gave it to foster parents Perfect World International, who are at least giving food to the kid and keeping it alive, but only insofar as it can work for them in their sweatshop.

The hand of Cryptic Studios can be seen in three things: the character creator, the combat system and the foundry system.

Character Creation

nw_charactercreator

While not as expansive as City of Heroes, the character creator affords a very decent range of options while still keeping to an immersive thematic feeling that keeps half-orcs looking different in skin tone and bulk from elves, and so on.

Hair, faces, eyes, scarring and tattoos, numerous sliders for tweaking face and body shapes, Neverwinter’s got it.

There’s even a flavor option to choose your place of origin, a la LOTRO’s characters hailing from various regions, and to take your pick from a number of Forgotten Realms deities to follow. Plus an optional biography space to add your character’s bio that will be visible to other players, similar to City of Heroes.

It did really help to bring out the lore aspect, aided by my personal familiarity and love for the Forgotten Realms setting (if a generation or two before the stupid Spellplague – repeated apocalypses conveniently timed to coincide with new editions get old fast) and utilized that prior IP knowledge to garner a bit of quick buy-in with the game.

Quest writing-wise, it also reminds me of City of Heroes. Decent enough, very wordy, recreating some of that tabletop or singleplayer RPG feeling in talking to NPCs and getting a long story about why you need to go here and there, kill ten kobolds, pick up ten crates or play through one instance or another.

A considerable amount of the text appears to be voiced, for the main storyline anyway, which adds an interesting touch – though I must admit to rather rapidly running out of patience hearing a voice read the text to me and quickly clicking through to continue.

Combat

The combat system feels very simplistic.

Even more basic than City of Heroes started with, if that can be believed, as if they ran out of game designers that could manage spreadsheets… or were maybe setting themselves up for a console MMO.

Left click for basic quick attack, right click for harder hitting drawn out attack, maybe a handful of extra skills more to be earned slowly as you go up in levels. Six classes or so. with some of the most awkward sounding names I’ve ever heard – Control Wizard, Great Weapon Fighter, Hunter Ranger and three others I barely recall, a rogue, a tank and a cleric type, I think.

It’s like they had to specify, oh no no, you can’t actually play a full out wizard… you only get a wizard stuck in the role of cc.

Or guess what, not only can you pay an extortionate amount to become Drizzt Do’Urden, ride a giant spider and have a cool panther, you get to be a ranger and a hunter all rolled into one! Because WoW hunter is cool. LOTRO and Forgotten Realms Ranger is cooler. And naturally Neverwinter HUNTER RANGER must be the coolest!

(Struggling not to die from laughing here…)

Having just come from games like Guild Wars 2 and Wildstar, the active dodging they tried to implement in Neverwinter feels decidedly sluggish in comparison.

It’s not as responsive as either game, for one. You have to hold down shift+direction a lot longer to maybe dash somewhere, if your keypress registered at all.

There didn’t seem to be any way to quickly move out of range of regular melee attacks, nor was circle strafing a very good strategy to avoid getting it, because your attack animations rooted you in place for a couple seconds (an old City of Heroes thing that seemed to be have been carried over in the engine.)

Dashing or dodging out of the way seemed to be only mostly useful for the super slow and very obviously telegraphed attacks – either big red AoE circles or large bulky giant types moving a big club in freeze frame slow motion in an attempt to hit you.

While this seemed rather retardedly obvious to avoid, I learned why they couldn’t make the animations any faster… because the dashing doesn’t respond any quicker than that.

It might be latency at work again, but I had a 5o-75% chance of getting out of the way in time of any of these very blatantly obvious telegraphs – either because the dash key wasn’t responding the instant I pressed it, or because I was locked in a basic attack animation (well, I have to try and do -some- damage to it, right?)

Neverwinter uses an always on mouselook style, which I suppose is a change from having to hold down the right mouse button all the time, and targeting consists of moving your reticle over the mob you want to hit.

The process of doing damage mostly felt like one button click spam, with some extra odd attacks on cooldown later as you gain levels and skills.

Damage mitigation as a Great Weapon Fighter mostly appeared to consist of kill things fast, try not to soak too much damage and quaff healing potions when necessary. There are presumably some gear stats to help and a blocking mechanism for the tankier Guardian Fighter (was that the name?) and Cleric people probably can stand in as mobile free healing potions for your health bar (hey, some weirdoes like that kind of ‘support’ role.)

It did raise some questions in my mind of how necessary or costly it would be to buy healing potions later on in levels if I didn’t own a cleric in my back pocket, but for now, difficult fights do seem to drop them, so it ended up more or less evening out. Use one, kill things, get another.

The overall feel is still very slow, and rather turn-based, in comparison to GW2 or Wildstar. If either of those MMOs feel too fast, confusing and chaotic, Neverwinter may be the more sedately paced combat you’re looking for.

May. Because it’s still really awfully simplistic.

And seemingly based a lot on vertically progressing gear stats. My basic broadsword damage jumped from 32 to 86, for example, moving from one piece of quest reward to another.

Which personally, doesn’t bode very well for its PvP being on any semblance of an even playing field.

I’ve heard rumors that Neverwinter’s PvP is pretty pay-to-win, so I’ve not even bothered trying that part of the game yet. That might be a breaking point for anyone who enjoys PvP and is thinking about the long term prospects of Neverwinter, but I’ve never been that kind of competitive sort and it doesn’t bother me from enjoying the rest of the game if it’s segregated off in some private arenas.

Questing – Dev and Player Created

The foundry system looks promising, and seems to be Neverwinter’s saving grace.

For a free game, the design respects immersion a lot, even if overall player behavior doesn’t.

Starting players are led in an extended tutorial via a whole sequence of quests given story flavoring. Here, after a sequence of your main story quests chasing some miscreants, you’ve found some intriguing treasure with writing on it that looks culturally interesting to a kobold. Go talk to the kobold in the main city who also happens to be an auctioneer and see if he’ll take it off your hands. (Voila, we find the Auction House – even if we haven’t already figured it out via the UI buttons on top.)

The auctioneer doesn’t want it, but recommends you take the curio to a lady who deals in wondrous goods and you’re shown yet another Bazaar / shop / trading thing. Maybe it was the gem store. I sorta blanked it out because trying to survive in the main city at 3 FPS and lower means you’re sitting in the graphics options menu tweaking that far more than paying attention to any other bit of UI popping up and you just press whatever keys necessary to get the quest done, your reward collected and your next quest picked up that preferably ain’t in that lag ridden city.

I haven’t tried a Foundry quest yet, but they introduce it in a very similar fashion. Some NPCs that are part of the world will actually point out Foundry quests that occur near the area you are in. Talking to them brings up that portion of the UI, so you get just that subset of foundry quests to choose from.

Innovations

Quest-wise, I’m also rather impressed by how smartly and smoothly the quest tracker shifts quests up and down based on the NPCs and regions you’re closest to, with optional glowy sparks that lead you directly to where you’re supposed to go. This is something that I’ve seen from a WoW add-on, but never by default in any MMO before Neverwinter.

I do like the whole guided beginner experience they’ve set up for Neverwinter.

Similar to Runes of Magic, you get a gift box that you open at certain levels for free stuff.

With every level, your UI will tell you just what else is new and has changed, so that you can go and upgrade the thing or check out this new feature.

Even the auction house NPC will recommend some gear for you (though I’m sure veterans will laugh at it for being inaccurate or whatever, but newbies are content with basic handholding, thanks) and this is pretty much the first time I’ve seen an auction house actually tell you that you can get the gear via doing a quest instead.

Nope, I didn't know!
Nope, I didn’t know! I’ll get around to it after this sequence of quests, I guess!

Everything that threatens to be overwhelming when you take it all in at once, is staggered and parceled out slowly so that you can take in each feature on its own. The quests introduced me to Skirmishes – some kind of quick cooperative group experience fighting off waves of enemies, PvP – which I chickened out of trying, and presumably will get around to Dungeons at some point.

Crafting, or Neverwinter Professions, amuse me to no end.

They’re different from most bog-standard MMOs, for one, and a bit more like SWTOR in style, if I’m not mistaken. Instead of gathering all the materials, clicking a button and  stand around waiting for a progress bar, they take a page from the mobile or facebook game genre in terms of more long-term time management.

You set up some task in queue, walk away while the timer ticks down, and come back after 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 2 hours, 4 hours, a day, or whatever, to collect your goodies and start the next task. At least you can be playing the game or offline while it does its thing.

Playerbase

Well, the good news is that the game looks exceedingly busy. And lively.

That’s the beauty of a free to play game. The barrier for entry is notoriously low, so folks jump in and begin any time, and there’s that constant influx milling around with the veterans.

However, the barrier for entry IS notoriously low, so you have bots, AFK accounts of various sorts taking up room in queues, players who may as well be bots for all the interaction they do, people speaking assorted languages in a Tower of Babel style chat that gives me new sympathy for what the GW2 EU servers had to deal with under megaserver rule, tradespam worthy of GW1 Spamadan and so on, mixing in with people looking for others who might actually chat intelligibly in English and join groups, amidst the rampant stubborn soloist types (guiilty!)

If you’re looking to play Neverwinter as an MMO in a social setting, you’re in for sifting through a bit of crud to find some treasure. Though the treasure does seem to be out there – there were some comprehensible guild messages, and a few veterans answering newbie questions and seemingly willing to help out – probably because it’s so rare to find like-minded similar-playstyle players.

Conclusions

Will I keep playing it?

Well, I might.

For the moment, it’s free. There’s a lot of new systems I’m curious about, which always draws me like a magnet, and I really like the newbie guidance system so far.

The big minus to Neverwinter is its ridiculously boring combat. Click click click swing sword click swing again, oh the big attack reservoir has filled up, hit big attack button to do lots of damage, click click keep swinging.

Alternate with dodging forward and backward through mobs as needed for telegraphs, and seeing how many swings you can get in before the AI figures out it needs to turn around.

The story wrapper is a decent plus.

If you’re just looking for an hour or two to wind down after work, with no necessity to turn brain on too much, getting a few quests done in Neverwinter ain’t bad in terms of mild entertainment experience.

Long term-wise, I dunno. It looks like it’s setting itself up to be a vertically progressing, massively grindy token buy game for good gear, with the option of spending real money to speed one’s way through the grind. I might be wrong, but that’s my lowbie perspective looking upwards at the moment.

Worth playing up until the point it gets tedious or demands cash, I suppose, which is a far sight more than you can say for other games that demand regular payments of money up front for you to eventually learn the same way down the road that the long term elder game isn’t for you.

Picture of the Day

nosteamthatwasthelengthoftheinsall

No, Steam, that was the length of the install time.

I haven’t actually played it yet.

P.S. As you may be able to tell, I’m going on an MMO / side game hopping vacation week!

Gotta get it all done before the Festival of the Four Winds in GW2, where the Bazaar and Crown Pavilion make their return! Like nearly everyone else, I’m wondering just how many things will be repeated from the last go around, and how many things will be improved or new.

I’ve got my eye on sampling Neverwinter and Path of Exile (as recommended in Missy’s “Over MMOs?” comments section.)

Path of Exile nearly didn’t make the cut due to some weird form of region-locking going on with Steam – I can’t see it on the Store page because I’m based in Singapore, and apparently Garena has gone “nom nom” over Malaysian and Singapore PoE players.

On the bright side, Gear Grind Games took pains to assure on the very front page on their website that this was NOT A RESTRICTION if you actually wanted to like, play with people beyond your tiny region of the world, and that you could download the standalone client from their website to do so.

So I’ll be trying that after a few days of Neverwinter.

And it does sound nice in theory to have the option of switching to a Singapore server for the latency I ALMOST NEVER GET TO ENJOY when I want to, too.

But enforced region-locking sucks. It’s like not being confident enough in your value-added services and wanting to force a group of players to play here only.

Options are the way to go.

If I’m soloing, why not use a Singapore server?

If I want to play with friends that aren’t based in this region, I’d like to be able to too, and will willingly brave the 200-300ms lag monster to do it.

Back in a few days to report if and just how well that works in practice.

10/10 Project: Runes of Magic

Let’s recap:

The 10/10 project was a dream, given form. Its goal: to broaden one’s horizons, by dedicating the short space of one evening to sample a new MMO.

The idea was to at least give MMOs you may not have cared about before a second look. Perhaps you’ll find some interesting concepts, or even a new dream MMO. Worse case scenario: the better part of a night (or two, in the case of crappy installation problems) is lost.

I got about three games in before GW2 turned me into a one MMO player, leaving the next 10/10 project MMO waiting in the wings for nearly six months.

Finding out Runes of Magic was hogging 9GB of my disk space was a good kick in the pants to give up GW2 for one night.

Installation

The good news is that it was pretty flawless.

Googled up “Runes of Magic,” registered on the first website that popped up, got the client download. That installed GameForge Live or some such, a launcher which then took care of all the Runes of Magic installation nitty gritty without me having to google for patches and esoteric ways to apply them ad nauseam.

The bad news is that it is slow. Takes a hell of a long time to download each presumably humongous patch, and then apply it, and then download yet another, and apply that, and on and on.

It’s all automated though, so you can just leave the computer running and walk away, or browse in another window. Traditional MMO players are no doubt very used to the process.

The problem with fire and forget is, one can forget it. And I did, for half a year.

Which necessitated another long evening of adding on more patches to get up to the current version.

Log-In

Here, I encountered the first and only major stumbling block. My account simply wasn’t recognized.

Type in username and password, no go, no such account exists on our servers or some such error message popped up.

Ehhh… Revisiting the website and account logging in there worked just fine. I DO so have an account. WTF?

Some googling later, it turns out that if you visit the http://www.runesofmagic.com website and not the us.runesofmagic.com one, you have automatically signed yourself up for EU servers instead of NA ones.

Doh! How would a completely new player be expected to know that?

I briefly considered making a new account for the US website, on the presumption that my country’s link to North America usually gives better ping (in the 200-300 range) than to the European Union (350+), then couldn’t be bothered.

Switching servers was a simple, fairly effortless, matter of backing out to the launcher, and selecting a tiny flag option at the bottom from the American flag to the UK one. Thank you for no offensive as hell region locking.

Character Creation

Fairly basic. So basic I didn’t bother taking any screenshots of it.

Three races to pick from, elf, dwarf, human. (And dwarves look ugly as hell, which made the limited choice option even easier.)

A decent but not staggering selection of faces and hairstyles to choose from via slider. i didn’t count, but I got the impression there were around 10-15 of ’em or so.

There were also some body sliders that I’d classify in the “very odd and rather pointless” category. You can literally change the height of your character by what seemed to be a colossal amount. I stared at my giant elf for two seconds, then brought him back down to a more normal-looking range.

The head slider enlarges and shrinks just the head alone to ludicrous amounts. Want chibi anime head proportions? I think you can just about attain them. Literal pinhead? No problem.

There was also a breast slider. Yep, you read that right. Breast, not chest, slider.

Except I was on a male elf, so moving it about did nothing. Absolutely nothing at all. I didn’t feel like switching genders and possibly erasing my previous selections, but I think one’s imagination can probably fill in the blanks for the female characters.

Hip slider made one’s character anorexically slim or ridiculously plump. While I’d normally congratulate a game for moving beyond idealized body standards, the overall impression I got was more of plain no-finesse laziness, leaving the player in charge of making a character of non-absurd proportions.

Seriously, if my memory serves, you can change the size of upper arms, lower arms, hands, legs and feet individually to ridiculous degrees. Casually moving around sliders yields a high chance of a severely malformed and out of proportion avatar.

So one ends up with very little choice after all, imagining something of realistic proportions and then gingerly moving the sliders and eyeballing it until it vaguely looks right.

On Classes

Class selection was a lot more interesting.

There were four general classes – warrior, scout, rogue and mage – and two race-specific ones for each race. The wiki gives a nice breakdown of all of them, and they seem to offer a good range of roles, following the (of course) ubiquitous holy trinity system.

The unique spin and main schtick of Runes of Magic is that you later get to pick a secondary class to go along with this primary class. This pairing, along with the later unique combination specific elite skills, presumably creates different playstyles and group roles from the class synergy.

This may have been a good selling point once, but these days, there are plenty of other MMOs around with some form of dual-classes or multi-classing: RIFT, GW1, DDO, the Final Fantasies, etc.

It’s an interesting system nonetheless, and I am given to understand that they recently made it possible to select a third class, so you can have three classes to pick from and swap around when creating your primary/secondary hybrid class blend. Which leads to slightly greater flexibility of options to play different roles down the line.

Tutorial

I went with an elf scout.

This was mostly to have a change from my usual melee dps/tank preference, and because I’m leery of trying to level tank or healer roles in a ye olde traditional style MMO. Not interested in prolonging fights when I’m just here for one night. Gimme dps, baby, and preferably do it before I even have to walk up to a mob.

tutorial

I really like that they have a tutorial.

You are given the option to skip it, but with a big warning that you might miss out on some very cool stuff – which is, I think, a good blend to hit between always offering the option to skip (forced tutorials that are uber long are generally not cool) and enticing new players to sit through it.

I usually do tutorials. They help to orientate me to each new MMO’s little quirks and I like to see what the new player experience is like for say, someone who may never have played an MMO in their life before.

To be honest, my first reaction on seeing the tutorial was, OH GOD MY EYES.

This is a GW2 carry over though. Traditional MMO UIs are just so… cluttered now.

I didn’t have a major issue with the graphics level or aesthetics, I found it pleasant if basic, and the look all vaguely reminded me of Guild Wars 1 in a general sense.

Same style of scenery, just less artistically arranged.
Same style of scenery, if less artistically arranged.

It even had click-to-move, along with the usual WASD movement.

I found the controls and camera slightly sluggish, but not unplayable. I’m not sure how much of that slowed responsiveness was the game engine itself or just my ping to EU servers, so won’t comment further. I got by. It wasn’t game-breaking.

Targeting was a lot more annoying. I’m used to having a target nearest key to lock on to the nearest mob, and a target next that acts like tab targeting. These two functions were blended into the same key, so your first press ostensibly grabs the nearest (assuming your camera is positioned correctly) and then subsequent presses scroll to the next, following some slightly bizarre logic that it’s never quite the one you actually want to hit.

Mouse clicking to select usually ended up a lot faster. Again, I got by. Presumably you get used to each MMO’s little quirks if you play ’em long enough.

The Game Proper – Starter Area Elven Island

The whole thing gave me a very oldschool vibe.

The chat window had a lot of informative text scrolling in, reminiscent of MUDs and older MMOs that impart a lot of information via that channel.

I got a newbie pet, a glowing fairy, who sent me text whispers in the tutorial and each level up to give me tips – an extremely MUD-like carry over.

Yes, there were traditional quests. A lot of them.

You know the sort. See NPC with exclamation mark over head. Click NPC.

Skim read through gigantic pile of text that rambles on, as the quest writer valiantly tries to be entertaining but take up as much space as possible while coming up with excuse #1423812 for why you need to go over yonder and kill 10 rats or fed-ex [quest item] to NPC B because NPC A is too lazy to walk or has some other crippling reason why they cannot move.

When done with your little errand, run all the way back to the first NPC and click, so you get another text popup and experience, money and item rewards, some of which you can pick.

For extra player infuriation points, make the player do the same thing again. Because you’re trying to kill time and make the player stay longer in the zone, or are just morbidly curious to see how long they put up with it.

For bonus points, write a cheesy love story saga where the player has to take messages from boy to girl and girl to boy because they’re too shy to ever look each other in the face and talk. How they’re ever going to consummate that love, I don’t know. (*has LOTRO flashbacks*)

Or when you’re bored of that, try the rejection letter schtick around the same theme:

dimeadozenlovestories

Yeah.

Most of the quest text writing is like that.

On the plus side, there was a lot of lavish attention paid to trying to give you a mini story/reason around killing yet another 6-10 mobs of something or other. Or clicking on them. Or picking things up.

On the other hand, it feels like the lavish attention was spent by someone a little grammatically off with English (I think RoM’s developer roots are Taiwanese and German?), trying to tell me a long saga about nothing terribly important.

Even the lore quests were long and convoluted ramblings about some elven champions and kings of one sort of another, having wars, having babies, begatting so-and-so, who had yet more wars, mixed in with some strange rabid obsession about proper elven Etiquette and Honor and being all Champion-y. Capitals included.

If there was one thing that impressed me (for good AND for ill) about the very traditional quests in the Elven Island, it was the ludicrous density of them, and how much they criss-crossed each other. Especially in the newbie area.

Talk to one NPC and he sends you on a chain that leads you across other NPCs with exclamation marks, who will send you to other locations and back again that you end up criss-crossing to the point where you essentially memorize the layout.

Swimming causing you to lose your starter mount and having an elven starter area surrounded by a circular river, a lake and waterfalls did not help.

Re-mounting took ages of wait time. Nothing as smooth as World of Warcraft’s, and worse than LOTRO’s, imo. The slightest twitch of movement before the whole thing was done would cancel the horse and make you sit through the mount animation again. One was almost convinced it might be faster to walk. You could talk to quest NPCs while mounted, which was good, but combat canceled the mount and there would be that horrible mounting time again.

There were also dailies that confused the picture even further. If the map tracked my footsteps, I think it would have looked like a spider’s web.

I did them all eventually, mostly out of sheer masochism and wondering if the deluge and insistence on backtracking would ever stop. It eventually did, though by that time I was done with the whole island except for repeat dailies and had hit level 13 when I think a good level to leave is supposed to be 10.

Once I moved beyond the gates of the immediate newbie area, it got back to a more traditional quest hub format where you can talk to a bunch of NPCs then go somewhere and crank out a whole bunch of quests, killing mobs and picking up items and so on until done, then return for turn ins. Not as polished or efficient as something like WoW though. a lot of distance sometimes separated NPCs and there was a great deal of backtracking.

Combat and Skills

Actual combat didn’t take very long and felt decent for traditional MMO hotbar combat. minus the targeting issues and actually getting in range and camera positioned correctly with the sluggish responsiveness.

Shoot vampiric arrows that did DoT damage to initiate, hit the autocast range attack for autoattack, mash arrow skill buttons that depleted focus. Finish up mob that has closed to melee by this time with a sword autoattack or two if needed. Over in 2-3 seconds.

If anything, the fight may have ended too quickly. But when you gotta kill 6-10 of something or other each quest, you’re not complaining.

There was a fair amount of developer-enabled twinking of newbies, I get the feeling, with the stuff I got out of the newbie bag. There was one magic stone that enabled me to buff up a weapon to +8 enchantment level. Which I gather is fairly ludicrously overpowered.

Other stones I got later demonstrated an Aion-like RNG system of enchantment. Click stone, click weapon to enchant, cue RNG roll. If you’re lucky, it increments by +1. If you’re unlucky, the thing fails and lowers the enchantment level. So the whole thing devolves into an RNG lottery of using up plenty of stones while striving for best stats and raging when the enchantment fails and resets your progress.

I did manage to “cleverly” +8 my melee sword rather than my bow, mostly because it was the most current weapon I had at the time. I got lucky as the enchantment was a massive increase to physical attack which I think affected both bow and sword as a scout.

Some skills were incremented via use. Weapon skills and some kind of defensive skill seemed to do this. And capped at your level.

Class skills were incremented via a skill panel (hit K) and upgrading with TP, talent points, I think – some form of experience currency that you also get rewarded from quests and mob kills.

Presumably one may later have enough only for essential skills that make up a build and need to TP grind to make more skills accessible and fully upgraded. At the newbie level, the skills were limited enough in number that I could upgrade everything without running out of TP.

Neat Concepts

newbiebagofrewards

The bottomless bag of newbie rewards was cool.

After each level, you get to open up this bag, which drops some helpful items and yet another bag with a level requirement that is incremented by one.

Some helpful tips are included in the pop-up text, though they started getting way off in their assumptions as to where I was, talking about the next city Varanas while I was still criss-crossing madly on the starter island.

housing

They have a housing system. You apply for your own personal house instance. Get a number which you can give to other players for them to visit your house. (I wouldn’t bother to visit mine, it has an empty storage chest and a plant pot, period.)

You can place furniture into special slots within your house, and then drag and place them anywhere and rotate at any angle. No z axis that I saw, though. Stuff went on the floor.

plantingsystem

They have a planting system. I dunno what you would call this. Crafting? A minigame? Non-combat activity?

You stick some manner of pot furniture into your house. You stick a seed in the pot.

You can choose to put different kinds of irrigation water and fertilizer into other slots, and then click the respective buttons to add those ingredients to adjust the slider to the optimum levels for that seed.

Those optimum levels will slowly drop over time. And there is an overall plant growth time before you get to harvest the plant with a button.

Here, the newbie plant tutorial takes 30 minutes. I leave it to your imagination to extrapolate how long high-level plants might take and how often you might want to revisit your house to water them. Or just go read the wiki – I don’t care – it looks elaborate at first glance with a whole bunch of different materials for different level ranges.

I’m not a fan of waiting games, personally, but hey, some people might like this sort of thing.

gathering

If anything, I’ll give Runes of Magic points for having crafting systems that seem fairly elaborate and oldschool (a ton of different crafts you can pick up, but you can only level to near max a few and max out one.) It sort of reminded me of Wurm Online slightly.

They streamlined out gathering a bit, which I thought was nice. Clicking on a node lets you harvest, and it automatically repeats the harvest action until the node runs dry.

Each harvest increments your bar by a certain percentage, depending on what you’re harvesting and what level your skill is. This is described in an oldschool text message sending you percentage numbers 40.00%, 36.78%, and so on.

As you gather, you gather stacks of a 10 minute buff that pile up and renew. This buff is supposed to increase your chances for rare successes and what not. I did manage to pull some level 46 blue herb out at one point. Ooh boy.

The major pain was the progress bar. It took 5 seconds per action. Sounds minor, but I dare you to count one mississippi, two mississippi up to five, and keep repeating that. Each node kept going for 5+ harvests or more. There was a high density of nodes in the newbie zone.

That’s A LOT OF STANDING AROUND DOING NOTHING. In my suddenly free time while locked in the gathering animation, I entertained thoughts of how people would likely endeavor to bot this because no enterprising human is going to put up with this for long.

crafting

The crafting UI looks fairly elaborate too.

Standard stuff. Refine gathered materials into usable crafting ingredients, usually taking two of those into one item. Stand by proper tool to have the option available.

The one basic weapon I managed to make from the basic ingredients revealed it made white items, with a chance of creating a green or blue rare success with better stats. I did manage to get one blue success, out of 5 created. Sadly, I’d way outleveled the weapon by that time.

Same problem. Each bar took five long seconds to progress. I was a blithering idiot by the time I processed 10 pieces of ash wood into 5 ash timber. LOTRO crafting felt quicker by comparison, and you know I am already dreadfully spoiled by GW2’s automatic super-speed up of large stacks.

Follow/Move To

followmoveto

You know what kept me doing the quests, rather than throwing my hands up, not being bothered to locate weirdly named NPC #8 and quitting from being totally lost at the start?

This unique follow / move to right-click context menu.

Move to, when it worked, triggered an automated running route to the named NPC. This was context sensitive via the quest text, so you could right click on the blue name, select move-to and have a free trip there to the NPC whose location you didn’t have an initial clue of.

The pathfinding wasn’t great. It slammed one into walls now and then and one had to manually move around those obstacles, but even buggy, it took some of the tedium away.

I was very sad when move to stopped working once I got out of the initial newbie area.

Fortunately, the follow function did. This was like a basic built-in in-game version of a WoW add-on like Questhelper or something similar. Right-clicking an NPC to follow marked it in red on your map, and provided a helpful little red arrow to follow until you got to him.

Conclusion:

A decent traditional MMO. Fantastic intro music (I hear the soundtrack is awesome and often overlooked.) Oldschool in nature. Some neat and interesting ideas with their class system and their non-combat activities – crafting/gathering/housing/planting, etc.

WHICH TAKES TOO FUCKING LONG.

Personally, I have neither the time nor patience to go through a whole bunch of traditional quests of merely passable quality.

I did not do any instances or see any raids (though I did see announcements scrolling across my screen announcing stuff that looked like public zone quests or siege castle warfare of some kind), the 10/10 project being only a one night stand sort of deal.

With a holy trinity system, I can only imagine that dungeons and raids would follow the same kind of style and structure – some guys tank, some guys heal, the rest pile on DPS. I doubt there’s anything really surprising or revolutionary waiting in the wings, maybe some neat ideas, is it.

Thanks for letting me visit, Runes of Magic. I’ll take my 9GB free space back now. No hard feelings. We’re just not compatible.

10/10 Project: Anarchy Online

I’m about two inches away from the point where any game I can download and start without installation problems will receive full marks from me.

Having gotten tired of installation experiences which leave one dubious about the technical competency of the people on staff, I jumped back to Funcom, which I at least know from prior Age of Conan and The Secret World experiences that I probably -will- be able to start the game up, even if the load times are long.

By sheer contrast, I’m having a good installation experience already. The downloader was a mere 930k.

Double-clicking that opens its propietary download client, which begins a 1.72 gb download. It has three selection tabs which treat me as a user respectfully:

Okay, so the download speed isn't phenomenal, but at least all the information is laid out clearly.
Okay, so the download speed isn’t phenomenal, but at least all the information is laid out clearly.
Look! OPTIONS! *swoons*
Look! OPTIONS! *swoons*

Look how awesome this is. You can select HTTP or P2P download or a blend of the two at will. Some people are blocked from P2P or are morally opposed to it or get cruddy speeds because their ISP throttles them or have to pay their ISP extra for too much uploading or what not. Some others really benefit from it. Some people may be blocked from a HTTP download and need to use P2P instead.

The client doesn’t try to be smart for you and sneakily choose an option behind your back. It just uses both as a default, and lets you tweak it at will.

Thank you for laying this out clearly.
Thank you for laying this out clearly.

The last page is my favorite. It lays it out in plain language what the downloader is doing. If you have P2P selected, it explains the P2P component, that you are only a participant in the network while this download manager is open. It tells you what the download manager is, a single disposable file, and even shows you its location so that you can go delete it when you’re done and don’t have to search a gazillion folders wondering where it snuck in and got to.

Now they could be lying and talking out of their ass, but I’m not that paranoid without further justification. Taken at face value at least, it is pleasant to be informed about what the downloader is doing.

The download speed ain’t great, hovering at an average of 300kb/sec, but I’ll cut it some slack simply because the download manager impresses me.

Installation and launch without any problems, which makes me deliriously happy after my last two experiences.

The very first impression I get of Anarchy Online is having landed directly back in the last decade and a half – some 15 years perhaps – because WOW, THIS IS OLDSCHOOL.

Stretched, pixelated, primitive character models. Lots of small text in windows to read. Character appearance options that only have 2-7 choices between ugly and horrible.

This is not to say that oldschool is a bad word in my parlance, because I tend to get excited by anything that reminds me of my old memories of MUDing, and Anarchy Online gave off a very distinctive vibe of having been there at the very beginning as stuff was crossing over the line from graphical MUDs into full fledged MMOs.

Why? Rough, alien edges. Bits of the UI were strange and unrecognizable. Controls didn’t quite work as one would expect. I liken it to the feeling I got as I hopped between different styles of MUDs, from Diku and SMAUG to LPMUD or some other codebase. You get the feeling that they grew up from fairly different foundations, rather than everything stemming from an EQ or WoW clone.

Now some people would hate this feeling of unfamiliarity, but I have a tendency to be drawn like a magnet to it – new stuff to learn, seeing how someone did things differently.

I did have trouble with the controls and camera though, a niggling little nitpick that never really went away. I like to switch A and D from the default turn on the spot to strafe left and right, and to my immense amusement, I ended up setting one key to both functions at first – creating very strange movement as I turned left and strafed at the same time.

Removing the key from turn eventually got me solely strafing, but I immediately ran into problems with the camera and mouselook as right-clicking and moving the mouse ocassionally worked as one would expect, but also didn’t react or got jerky from time to time, especially in third-person mode. I ended up mouse-wheel scrolling into first-person mode as the camera seemed to work best in that mode without jerkiness – something I’m quite sensitive to as I can get motion-sick fast with a bad camera acting up.

I was also not pleased at finding out that certain keys seem to be fixed and ‘baked’ into the game. One selected targets with TAB, period.

From the beginning I have always used E as select nearest target and Q as tab target, Tab takes my fingers too far off the WASD position. Not happy about it, but I dealt. Mostly by mouse selection of targets instead. Q instead started an autoattack.

Oh, the combat. I got instant MUD flashbacks because it mainly seemed to be autoattacking. X hits a small rat for Y amounts of damage! x 5 lines in the chat window.

I kept hunting for any hotkeys to press. I’d rolled up an Atrox soldier, and after letting it automatically distribute skill points for me (wasn’t going to read up tons when just trying it out for a few nights), I did eventually find TWO skills, fling shot and burst, which just seemed to let me do more and extra damage on pressing the buttons.

I also eventually figured out that I missed the little “Settings” button in the launcher that allowed me to change resolutions from the default 1024×768, which gave it a look reminiscent of old classic pixelated adventure games, and bring it up to somewhere approaching presentable.

ao01

In a sense though, starting with the default resolution helped me to feel my way around the interface better, because the UI was more in your face. Windows were brought up with rather esoteric key combinations – CTRL+4 for Missions, I believe, and CTRL+6 for a map? I ended up clicking buttons a lot instead.

Quests were distinctly oldschool as well. Questgivers weren’t really marked, you pretty much ran up to anybody you saw and clicked to talk to the NPC and it would bring up another window where a long text conversation could be had – complete with timed pauses for the NPCs to speak, and dialogue options for yourself to select.

Eventually, you might hit upon a conversation option that would lead to the NPC giving you a mission – most of which consisted of killing X amounts of random wildlife or killing random amounts of random wildlife for a special item pop.

You had to physically select the items you wanted to give or trade to the NPC as well, rather than the NPC magically removing them from your inventory on quest turn in. In a sense, this felt rather immersive, but on the other hand, it was also tiresome and lengthy.

Which I think summarizes my take on Anarchy Online. It feels intriguing, and looks to have some pretty deep systems to explore. But at the same time I feel the sensation of a clock ticking in my head, that time is passing and much of it is being wasted on slowpoke, oldschool mechanics.

It took me 2-3 nights to get past the newbie island, and I didn’t even do every quest available there. I ended up in Borealis, a neutral city, which seemed fairly big. While just running around aimlessly, I got kind of lost and unable to find the next mission location as the map didn’t seem very helpful. Nor did I really feel like doing the very oldschool style quest of following NPC directions “oh, follow the road up north this way until you hit the X landmark, then take a right to the Y, and then turn left and…” just then.

Perhaps when I have scads of time one day, I might.

There did seem to be quite a few people standing around on a main thoroughfare in Borealis – to the point where I was feeling framerates drop or some lag or some such – so I don’t believe the game is completely deserted. It seems like the kind of game that would probably be rewarding if you put in sufficient time and effort into learning and progressing with it.

It’s just that I’ve already committed to two other games, one of which is just as oldschool and time consuming (and I’m already slacking and doing really badly at it while getting caught up with the renewed shininess of the new shiny,) so I have no more room in my life for Anarchy Online.

Maybe others might have. I’d love to think that some do, because I’d hate to think that the fate of all old MMOs is to fade into obsolescence. AO’s got an interesting looking sci-fi setting, oldschool mechanics, and actually installs and runs, so it’s not like it has nothing going for it.

Just not for me at this time.