Tag fallen earth

Obligatory End Of 2009 Post

Blow up Stormwind! Blow it up!

Stargrace and Pete both beat me to it (and so did probably, you know, every other blogger on the planet), but every self-respecting (and self-loathing) blog out there needs some form of summary post about what the past year has meant to the blogger personally. It just has to be done and I don’t want to be left out of the great nostalgia of 2009. So here goes.

I’m pretty impressed by Pete being able to look back and do a month-to-month analysis of what he’s been playing since, well, I can’t remember what I had for dinner yesterday. Did I have dinner yesterday? See. Clueless.

What I can say, looking back at the year, is that it’s been a fairly weak year for new MMOs. We had a bunch, some of them more fun than others, but except for the notable exception of Fallen Earth (which I did give the number 1 spot on my MMO of the Year list on GRTV), they were all kinda meh. Sure, we also had Free Realms, which was nice and all, but the rest failed to deliver.

Aion looked good and played good and followed the same formula as all other games before it and added a ridiculous grind and I’m getting bored from just writing about it. I hope NCsoft improves on it, though – every time I see a piece of art from the game I get this stab in the heart. I loved the world in Aion, I adored the design and the client and gameplay was solid. But it was far from enough and the complete lack of innovation got me in the end (when the servers finally let me in).

I’d rather not talk about Champions Online, but I will mention it since it was one of the big releases this year. I really can’t stand CO, at all. I’ve tried, over and over again, and I’m so glad that I didn’t have to review it because that would mean I would have had to play it more. I hated the graphics, the art design, the gameplay, the concept…no, CO was not for me. There is something with that game that just ticks me off and I can’t put my finger on why. I actually have to bite that finger every time someone mentions the game, since that’s how hard it is for me to not make a snide remark about it.

Which is not nice of me and I truly don’t want to be this way. It’s not professional. I think I need help to get over it. Like Star Trek Online, which I am currently playing. I’ll get back to it if I get around to writing a 2010-post, but here’s my quick review: I will be playing STO when it launches. Enough about that.

Fallen Earth did save 2009 from being a complete loss, with a wonderful new setting (at least for MMOs), cool crafting and a lot of good work being done on it post-launch by Icarus Studios. I’m looking forward to getting back into it sooner or later, but if you haven’t tried it yet, I recommend searching the Internet for a trial key (there might be a few left out there). Or just go buy it already.

No, 2009 was all about the old MMOs, at the end of the day. It was the year I finally quit World of Warcraft for more than a few months (I’ve been clean for almost a year now!). It was the year when I noticed that Star Wars Galaxies is a cool MMO and that the hate mongers should just STFU already. It was the year when I started to migrate over to American servers since my friends are all playing WoW.

It was also the year when I finally started this gorram blog and kept it running. That feels kinda neat.

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The End Times: The end of the end times (until the next apocalypse)

A few minutes ago I logged into Fallen Earth to grab my complimentary gas mask before I cancelled my account. Cancelling a subscription is always a bit sad, especially when it’s for a game I really like, but I don’t play Fallen Earth nearly enough to warrant paying for it. If my monthly income was a bit more stable and if I felt like Icarus could use my support, I might have kept it up – they seem to be doing fine, and freelancing is always a bit up and down, so the cancellation came pretty naturally.

As mentioned above, it’s not that I don’t like the game. Quite the opposite, Fallen Earth is a small wonder of a MMO. It deserves a lot of attention, even though Icarus seems a bit confused at times, and the constant stream of updates coming from the developers is impressive. Other small MMO studios, like Winch Gate and Aventurine, would do well to take inspiration from the flurry of patches that Fallen Earth has seen since launch.

Come to think of it, larger MMO studios would also have a lot to gain from taking a closer look at how things seem to work at Icarus. I guess it comes down to the bureaucracy of  larger studios, where bugs and priority lists have to be passed from office to office, from department to department, before they end up being patched into the game – if the issue gets addressed at all. Icarus has shown the world that it can be done, that we can expect a developer to take our subscription money and put it to good use almost every week.

A couple of times, Fallen Earth has been patched several days in a row. That’s fast. I can’t help thinking that it comes down to how the studio is structured and the development philosophy it has adapted. A strong belief in the game, a strong belief that the customers should be kept happy, that a game can evolve.

For now, for me, Fallen Earth will be put on the back burner. I didn’t get as far into the game as I might have liked, but there will always be the option to resub in the future. At some point I know I will have return to my own personal MMO apocalypse. I can’t wait to see how far the game has come at that point.

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The End Times: Post-apocalyptic sandbox or just another quest grind?

Syp, of Bio Break, wrote a great post about why you shouldn’t play Fallen Earth a couple of days ago. Syp is a big FE-fan, but he still manages to see the faults, for which I applaud him. And while I love Fallen Earth as well, more and more cracks are starting to show in the otherwise so lovely (in a barren, post-apocalyptic sense) facade.

I call it...mister Pointy.

I call it...mister Pointy.

I’m still sticking with what I said about immersion – Fallen Earth does such a great job when it comes to that. I am also having a lot of fun questing, fighting, harvesting and crafting. After all, who doesn’t love wearing a top hat while stabbing things to death with a pointy stick? I did have a head towel that had better stats on it, but seriously, there was no way I could stay away from the top hat. I look awesome, especially wearing my sunglasses. Killing coyotes or bandits never looked this good before.

But I can’t help thinking that I’m forgiving Fallen Earth for sins that I’ve blamed other MMOs of doing. While I am having fun playing it, I wonder if certain design choices that Icarus Studios have made that are just as damning here as they are in other games. So, I thought I’d take a look at things that are already in place, but which I personally hope will get fixed/changed before they make me burn out prematurely.

Read more

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Pick a MMO for 2009, or should I just sit down, shut up & get out?

No hugs in Fallen Earth!

We don't hug in Fallen Earth!

I can be so weak when it comes to MMOs. I bounce back and forth and I still have a hard time finding a place to call home – the only place that even resembles one right now is Atys. I’m slowly settling in the post-apocalyptic wasteland that is Fallen Earth‘s Grand Canyon, having teamed up with the Casualties. As I’m writing this, I’m AFK-mining in EVE using an Iteron V, hoping to at least make a few ISK without raising so much as a finger – even though my pride has taken a bit of a hit after I decided to go from PvP pilot to miner/industrial. I love all three games, but something in me feels restless already.

With the fall of 2009 here, the major MMO push is over for this year. As far as I can tell, unless I’ve been struck by a complete black out, there’s no other interesting MMO being released this year. I’ve already given up on Aion (as Wiqd said, “why play a WoW clone when you can play the real thing?“) and Champions Online never managed to grab my attention. Actually, it bored me to death, so I never saw a reason to keep playing it.

That kind of leaves me with the games mentioned above, with a few others circling around me, poking at my interest. I do miss Middle-Earth sometimes, I never did get to Moria after all, and I can’t help thinking that I don’t want to miss out on World of Warcraft’s patch 3.3. Star Wars: Galaxies still feels interesting, especially after the server mergers. And Vanguard will always be Vanguard, especially after Stargrace has started to blog about it again.

So, I’m trying to figure out what games to stick with for the rest of the year. At the same time I can’t help drawing parallels between my bouncing between MMOs and the way my head is wired in general. Right now I’m writing this, AFK-mining in EVE, poking around an EVE mining guide, trying to make the last few fixes to a review in OpenOffice, playing Brütal Legend, chatting on Skype and MSN, eating a banana (yum!), reading the Fallen Earth forums and considering doing a dive into various Star Wars: Galaxies-resources.

Brain...hurts...

That’s not very good at all. I am sure my friend Breki would chastise me for it. I need to learn how to focus on one thing at a time, instead of doing everything at once. I know my brain can handle it, but I’m not sure my mind can, especially since I’ve long since started to identify stress symptoms. Not being able to settle for one MMO is probably another sign that I have problems focusing on one thing, desperately seeking stimulation from multiple sources at one time.

So, perhaps I should just stick with one. Or three. Or maybe a fourth one…hmmmm. Ok, I might need help.

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The End Times: Immersing in the Apocalypse

Immersion. Ah, that magical word. It’s the Holy Grail of MMO design, or at least it should be. In theory, it is what every company that decides to give the genre a try should aim for.

I say “in theory”, because sometimes I feel that the word doesn’t carry as much weight as it should, at least according to my – clearly biased – standards. Building immersion in a virtual world, at its core, should be to create a world or a setting that somehow makes sense. An immersing game should have as few “breaks”, moments when you remember that you’re only playing a game, as possible – it should be self-contained and follow its own natural laws and rules. It needs to be as consistent as possible.

Time... running out... cant fly...

Timer... running out...

Aion is a good example of a game that sacrifices immersion for the sake of gameplay – giving you the ability to fly, yet restricting it by artificial means like a timer or taking away the ability completely in certain areas. I’ve talked about it before and it is one of the major axes I have to grind with that particular game. Instead of working gameplay around the ability to fly from the start, NCsoft have instead worked the ability to fly around gameplay, not intending to fully deliver until much later in the game. Why else are you not be able to fly in Pandaemonium or Sanctum, even though they both host hundreds of Daevas, or find yourself stuck on the ground as soon as you venture into Moslan Forest?

Blizzard did a similar thing with Wrath of the Lich King, where they took away your mount’s ability to fly in Northrend until you hit level 77 – it made sense from a gameplay perspective, but instead of building the gameplay around Northrend, Northrend had to change to accommodate Blizzards’ desire to tell a story. As immersing as that story could be, a certain rendezvous with a Lich springs to mind, the world itself had been sacrificed and with it, immersion took a blow.

I know I can be extremely picky when it comes to my personal “breaks”, which include too much zoning (EverQuest II, Age of Conan) or instancing of open zones (Champions Online, Age of Conan, Aion). I guess Fallen Earth is, in many ways, the perfect MMO for me. Just like EVE Online, where the “zoning” makes perfect sense (jumping from star system to star system) and the gameplay is actually supported by the lore, Fallen Earth delivers a world that makes sense. It feels, up to a point, real.

Its a goldmine!

It's a goldmine!

What Fallen Earth manages to convey is a sense of desperation in a post-apocalyptic world. The small makeshift towns are surrounded by bandits and wild animals, the people that are trying to rebuild society are all trying to do it in their own image, dividing the human race into factions in the process. You don’t only mine copper or gather herbs, as you do in most MMOs, you also scavenge through refuse and garbage bags to find materials you can use to build your weapons and armor. One of the most priced resource nodes is a burned out car, as they can yield a whole bunch of scrap fasteners if you’re lucky.

The sense of desperation also affects the interaction with other players. Even though Fallen Earth isn’t a free-for-all PvP game, there are PvP areas where anyone is fair game (as far as I’ve understood it, since I haven’t been to one yet). That means the player that is helping me today, or is accepting help from me, can be the same guy that puts a bullet in the back of my head while I’m scavenging from a valuable node in a PvP zone. I also know that I might be the one that’s bashing his skull in with a lead pipe. After all, resources are scarce and it’s a dog-eat-dog world out there. Fact of life in post-apocalyptic Grand Canyon.

It’s been a long time since I saw a new MMO take immersion this seriously – as the genre goes forward, that trait becomes increasingly rare. Fallen Earth has many flaws, which I will return to at a later point, but it’s hard for me to shrug off the thought that this might be what I’ve been asking for so many times in the past. Will we have to look to the indie games for fascinating game worlds while the major MMOs lock themselves into the typical questing and level treadmill without offering any form of immersion in return?

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Welcome to the apocalypse

When I left World of Warcraft, my main character was decked out in raiding epics. In Aion, despite not being very high level, I’m wearing a whole bunch of neat magical artifacts and weapons. In Ryzom, at least when I’m out hunting, I wear a full set of heavy armor and carry a two handed axe (that looks like someone turned a butterfly into a lollipop and sharpened the edges). In EVE Online, I love to fly my Myrmidon or the shiny Brutix, which allows me to deal hails of deadly blaster fire on my enemies.

In Fallen Earth, I carry a wooden board as weapon, wear a pair of ugly nu metal shorts I scavenged from some survivalist outside of South Burb and a pair of moccasins. They are not magic at all, just a normal pair of brown moccasins. I also wear a head wrap and a terribly ugly jacket that I never seem to be able to replace. I tend to eat cooked tainted eggs and drink stale beer.

Welcome to the apocalypse, indeed.

I’m not going to go on record and say that Fallen Earth is the most awesome MMO ever made, but it should be noted that it is a breath of fresh air in a sometimes rather stale genre. Where gear can often be the bells and whistles of a MMO, in Fallen Earth I feel that I actually need new and better gear to survive in the harsh environment that is post-apocalyptic Grand Canyon. I better learn to craft myself new improvised weapons from pieces of scrap metal, since the mutants and wild animals that inhabit the wilderness all seem very dedicated to have me and my fellow human beings for dinner. I need to know how to turn the tainted meat I scavenge from dead coyotes into a (non-poisonous) meal, since there’s no supermarket or burger joint left in the world.

Fallen Earth confuses me a bit, I’m not sure what to make of it just yet – is it a sandbox or is it quest based? There are missions everywhere and doing them nets me quite a bit of cash and crafting manuals, but at the same time I do feel inclined to just leave the beaten path and go exploring and finding my own place in the Grand Canyon. I hear tales of hidden places filled with nice resource nodes, far away from the tattered remains of civilization.

It’s that exploring that really grabs me with Fallen Earth. I love the confusion, I love how vast the world feels. I want to experience it, I want to see what is over the next hill – even though it’s probably more desolate wasteland. I don’t mind though, not every MMO needs to offer the same magical environments. The biggest problem Fallen Earth faces is its client, which is cumbersome, demanding and prone to bugs. Icarus Studios seem to be working hard at it, patching almost daily, but they have lot of work cut out for them. Here’s hoping they make quick improvements, since another niche MMO that can stand on its own two feet for a long time is always a welcome addition to the genre!

I guess I will write up a review for it, probably in Swedish, sooner or later. Since I bought Fallen Earth myself and didn’t get a review copy, I am letting this one simmer and I will try to stay away from any nasty deadlines. I have only the finishing touches left on my Aion review, by the way – it should be up on our site either later tonight or on Monday. It’s disclaimer bonanza! I guess I can run it through Google Translate and post a link here, if people are interested. Either way, I am not done blogging about it, same goes for Fallen Earth.

In other news, my sister gave me another t-shirt from Whipping Floyd‘s Push the Button collection today, as a late birthday present. I love their stuff, if I had to choose one brand to sponsor me, it would be them. You hear that, Floyd-people? Want a game journalist to wear your stuff at various press events and conventions around the world? I’m your man. It doesn’t count as bribes when you don’t cover the same industry as the bribes come from, right? Right?

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You’re testing my patience, Aion dearest

At first, I didn’t mind the queues to Aion that much. They were annoying and I saw no reason for me to sit through them, then when I finally did decide to give them a chance my client started to crash at some point when I was playing Batman: Arkham Asulym while waiting for them to finish. I am very testy today, since I did not end up on a flight to Iceland today (long story, including chattering ladies, being made an example of in security and having a crisis land in my lap), so I guess giving Aion a go tonight wasn’t such a great idea, but right now I’m furious with having to queue to play a MMO that was released (I count head-start as release, especially with that many pre-orders) more than a week ago.

I still haven’t paid NCsoft a penny for Aion, but I have a job to do here. The screens I’ve grabbed so far were too dark for print, which means I need to take new ones. Since I found out that they didn’t work today, my original plan was to capture them on coming back next Monday, barely making it before deadline and when the finished magazine has to be sent off to the printers. But with this sudden increase in available time, I figured I might as well grab them now – giving myself a larger margin of error and making my editor-in-chief breathe easier. But no.

Despite three new European servers (one English, one French and one German), there is still a queue of over one hour to get into the game. There’s no point in me sitting it out since I know the client will give up and become unresponsive anyway. I can do it tomorrow instead, or I could just log in to the new server and hope that there’s still room for a character on it and no queue. At the same time, do I really want to send a screenshot of the first area to the magazine? Not really, even though I will if I have to.

There’s no way that I’ve been able to play enough, either. I’ve had so many nights earmarked for Aion, but most of the time I haven’t even been able to connect and when I finally got in, I was rubber-banding back and forth like crazy. Tip of the day – Dash Attack and rubber-band lag = a great gaming experience. Any player that rolled a warrior in the early days of World of Warcraft will know what I am talking about…

Again, this will not lower my final score. But I have a print deadline to catch and readers on our site screaming for a review of Aion, which means that I will have to add all manners of disclaimers about not having been able to play enough. Which means that the review will not be able to offer everything that I think NCsoft would like it too, or cover all the stuff that I’d like to cover. But what can I do when I can’t play? Please, tell me, because I’m drawing a blank here. Do I actually have to break my own principle of not reviewing anything labeled as “beta” in the future?

The sad part is that I still really enjoy Aion, despite it being completely unoriginal. A lot, actually. I’ll grab the screens tomorrow, hopefully the server won’t be full during the day. It’s not like I have that much work to do, since I shouldn’t even be home right now…gah, now I’m getting angry again.

I’m downloading Fallen Earth, hopefully that can kill some time while I wait for the kids that are currently up playing Aion to go to bed. Not that it’s helped against the lag before, but at least I can log in. It’s either that or playing more Dirt 2, but racing games tend to give me headache – worse headaches than the one I already have, that is.

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Back in the sandbox

I’ve been praising sandbox MMOs before and it slowly dawned on me that I should put my money where my mouth is and resub to Ryzom. I always knew I would, so why not now? I activated my account, patched the client to 1.5 and logged in. And there my character stood, in the same place as I left her. Wearing her focus gear, pick in hand, with the two mektoub packers who spawned with her filled to the brim with gear and materials. No one in my guild was online, so I ran around Dyron for a bit, gathering some stray materials while trying to remember how I had configured my skills and stanzas. Then I logged out, since I mostly felt confused and didn’t have a proper reason to play.

Instead I turned back to Final Fantasy XI, since I’ve been meaning to play it for what seems like ages. I wasn’t sure when the free play time that came with the box ran out, but it turned out I still had a few days to go before billing kicks in, so I patched it up and got comfy in the sofa, 360 controller in hand. And just like my character in Ryzom, my tarutaru was still where I left him – near the fishers’ guild in Windurst, where I had logged out after doing a bit of fishing. I took a stroll down to the Auction House, cleared out old sales that ran out several weeks ago, then I sat down near the gate to the East Sarutabaruta plains. I was confused, alone and had no idea what I had been doing when I stopped playing. So I logged out.

I am not a huge fan of quest based MMOs, I prefer a sandbox to play around in. But quests are not always a bad thing, they only become bad when it is the only real activity the game actually offers. It’s not all clear cut, it’s not black and white. A perfect mix between a wide open world, such as Ryzom’s dangerous wilderness, and some form of quest driven play, is probably what I would have needed today. If I knew that I could do what I felt like, including hitting up a quest hub for a quick infusion of cash or a sense of direction for a few hours, I would have spent the whole evening in Atys or in Vana’diel. Now I spent it in Blood Bowl instead, pitting my Skaven team against a friend’s Orcs. The ball needs to go in the end zone to score a point. The team with the most points at the end of the match wins. Easy and clear.

I am glad that my Ryzom account is active again, absolutely. Seeing Windurst gave me a sense of happy nostalgia, just like returning to Dyron Oasis felt like coming home. I look forward to digging around in those two sandboxes. But if I don’t figure out exactly what to do, where to go, or what project to immerse myself in, I have a feeling that the MMO burnout will come much faster than I’d want it to.

September brings both Fallen Earth and Aion. Two completely different games, but both have peaked my interest. Let’s see if the sandboxes of old can stand up against the roller coasters of the near future.

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