Tag review

Global Agenda Review Up

While Global Agenda at first glance looks like a pretty easy game to review, it still puts me in a rather awkward position. It might appear as a simple third person deathmatch shooter, but it isn’t just that – it also includes MMO-like aspects, including a persistent world map where player organizations, called agencies, battle for supremacy and rare resources. It has levels, experience points, gear; all the stuff you’d expect to find in a massive multiplayer game.

My review of Global Agenda is up on our international site, all kinds of disclaimers in place. Review spoiler: I’m enjoying it immensely.

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I’m In Your MMO, Reviewing Your Beta

Last time there was any talk about how to (or how not to) review MMOs was around the whole Eurogamer vs Aventurine debacle (often called “Zitrongate” after the reviewer). This was obviously a deep and traumatic event for some people, especially Darkfall fans that still can’t stop taking cheap shots at Eurogamer (despite them doing a re-review of the game). To me, though, the question has crept back into the front of my mind, as I’m currently reviewing two MMOs at the same time.

Ensign Squid

Ensign 418 of 666, codename "Squid", at your service.

As I mentioned in my last entry, this is an incredibly stupid thing to do. Last time I had two MMOs on my hands, I decided to skip one of them because the other had more priority (Aion over the first Runes of Magic expansion), this time both felt important enough to warrant my attention. It’s Global Agenda and Star Trek Online, two completely different games that both feel interesting enough to cover. I kind of wish I had stopped myself, but it’s too late now. They shall be reviewed.

So how do I go about reviewing a MMO? Thing is, I’ve had access to both of these games’ betas, Star Trek Online all the way back since closed beta and Global Agenda since some point during open. If I just had gone down the same route as a lot of other games journalists, I would have played both extensively over a long period of time, then tried them out for a bit after launch and then getting my reviews done a few days after they were released. Job done, I can sleep at night, my editors are happy, our readers are happy, everyone is happy (except perhaps the developer/publisher, if I had decided to give the game low scores).

My problem is that I refuse to review a MMO based on beta. No matter what people say, a beta is not a finished product. It might be as close as you can get, and most of the time the end of open beta will look exactly like the launch candidate, but by calling it “beta” and not “head start” or “early access”, the developers themselves are saying that the game is not done. So I won’t review it based on my experiences during beta, just like I would not review a game based on a late preview build (which are almost always like the finished product, except for perhaps a couple of bugs). I am not going to play the beta for anything except for an early look at what the game might become, just so I can get a review in a few days after launch.

Also, more often than not, the developer adds some form of patch close to launch that changes some fundamental things to the game. It might not warrant the title of “miracle patch”, but it’s often enough to make the game at least a bit better (or, in the case of Champions Online’s launch day, worse according to a lot of people). It’s kinda sad that this doesn’t happen earlier during the beta process, but the reason is probably that the developer still thinks beta is beta, while the marketing department thinks it’s free marketing. I’ve seen way too many reviews, some even printed in a magazine and passed off as a “real” review, that have even taken beta rumors as facts.

Global Agenda

This is my Global Agenda recon character. She dies a lot.

Do I blame the journalists themselves for this? No, of course not. They have deadlines, we all do, and have to work towards them. Also, there’s often pressure from the readers, who are dying to try out the game but want to know what their magazine/website of choice thinks. The only way to review a MMO and get a review out quickly is to play beta. I am just lucky enough to have editors that allow me to take the time I believe is needed, up to a certain degree of course. And despite this, I never feel fully satisfied, always having to add a disclaimer that there is no way I have seen or experienced everything and that some players will always have had more time than me and is bound to disagree. That’s why we have comment fields, as long as the discussion can be kept civil.

What I would like to see is a civil discussion about how to review MMOs. Last time it happened, the discussion was filled with so much anger at Eurogamer, or disdain towards how Aventurine handled the situation, that it was almost impossible to catch the good stuff amongst the constant din. So I’m going to try here – do you want your MMO-reviews early, or are you comfortable with waiting for them? I do realize that I’m probably talking to the wrong crowd, since most of my readers here are probably just as fanatic about MMOs as I am, but I still want to hear your thoughts about one of the hardest genres a games journalist can tackle.

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GRTV: Mass Effect 2 Review

I know I haven’t blogged in a while, but to be honest I don’t really have the time right now. Take it from me, never ever review two MMOs at the same time. Ever. I am busy trying to juggle Global Agenda (yes, I called it a MMO, sue me) with Star Trek Online, while at the same time working on our international site and GRTV. MX vs ATV: Reflex came today, so there’s that, and I still haven’t finished Mass Effect 2. I did just finish Dante’s Inferno (which I reviewed in writing), Dark Void (which I reviewed on video) and S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat (also reviewed in writing, with video review coming up).

Above is GRTV’s review of Mass Effect 2, as spoiler free as we could possibly make it. I thought I’d take this moment and mention, if I haven’t done so before, that the reason why all GRTV shows are in English is that we’re a pan-Scandinavian magazine that also has websites in German and English. So we’re not trying to be extra Internet-savvy by speaking English, we’re just trying to reach out to as many people as possible with the resources and manpower we have. Hope that explains it!

Too long, didn’t watch the video? Mass Effect 2 is awesome. Now if you excuse me, I’m going to crash on my couch (not “cough”, as I wrote on Twitter last night).

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My Stress, My Headache, My Love For Games

A lot of people think that all game journalists do is play games and write reviews. Reviewing is a big part of it for most of us, of course, but what people forget is that playing games can take a lot of time. For example, here’s what my current gaming schedule looks like:

Dark Void – Playing this for GRTV, not really enjoying it. I still have to spend most of tomorrow playing and taking notes. Because don’t forget, when you’re reviewing games, you have to play them no matter how much dislike them. Dark Void is OK, but imagine putting hours on hours into a game you hate. No, it’s not fun.

Napoleon: Total War – Review copy dropped in today. Embargoed, so I still have time left to really dig into it.

Star Trek Online – Head start begins this weekend. Reviewing MMOs can be the worst, have to spend a lot of time with STO in the near future. Luckily, I have a very understanding editor-in-chief who understand how these things work. Still, I am working under a deadline, just like I did with Aion. I really hope the servers are ready for the amount of players that might try to rush in next week.

Global Agenda – Head start this weekend as well. Easier to review than a “real” MMO, will still need to spend a lot of time with it. Luckily, what I’ve seen from the beta, it is a lot of fun. Team Fortress 2 with XP. Still, my beating heart. A bit worried how it all will fit together after launch, though. How does the future look for GA? Will Conquer mode work out the way Hi-Rez hope?

Global Agenda

Me and Sera from Massively tear it up in Global Agenda. We almost won the round, too. Almost.

Mass Effect 2 – The game I just want to play and play and play and play. Review is filmed at GRTV this week, I’m not the main reviewer so I don’t have to finish the game before that. For which I am thankful, since I don’t want to finish it in a long time. I want to savour every delicious moment.

Game under embargo – Review of this is already in for the magazine (we had deadline this week), but we’re filming a review this week and I need to put together a longer version of the review for the site. Embargo runs out early February. Need to take a lot more screenshots as well. Thankfully, I am enjoying the game. I count my blessings.

Then we have the games I want to play on my “spare time”, like Lord of the Rings Online (more blogging about that coming up), EVE Online (thought I’d actually join the EVE Blog Banter this time, CK is dangling prices in front of our faces), Mass Effect (yes, the first one) and Darksiders (which I need to finish). Then there’s new DLC for Dragon Age: Origins and DLC upcoming for Assassin’s Creed 2… And quarter one has just started, there is a huge amount of games coming – a whole bunch of them will end up on my desk.

I’m not complaining, I love what I do. But remember to hug your friendly neighborhood game journalist next time you see him (or her, of course! Thanks, Stargrace!).

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One month of Star Wars Galaxies – the summary

Big, hungry, not very cuddly.

Big, hungry, not very cuddly. Soon to cut into pieces with my lightsaber.

One month. Wow, that was fast. Time is speeding up, man. Nothing beats keeping track of time like checking your MMO subs and finding out that the next billing cycle starts today. Calendars are so outdated and clearly not Web 2.0. In other words, my month of Star Wars Galaxies ends today – it’s actually been that long since I started.

But this post is not about me getting older by the minute. I haven’t had time to blog as much as I would have liked over the course of the month, but that’s how it goes sometimes. But I think that a summary of what the time in SWG has been like is in order. After all, I feel that I can now, at least partially, answer the question I asked a month agois Star Wars Galaxies really such a bad game as its reputation would have us believe?

I’ll break it up in two parts, the pros and the cons of the game, starting with the cons. I’ll also add a TL;DR at the end, in case you’re lazy or feel like flaming me no matter what I write. I aim to please.

Disclaimer: Do keep in mind that I only have a Jedi at level 39 and a trader at level cap (after a grueling grind). I have not experienced the game fully, including things like heroics and PvP.

Hit the jump to find out the good stuff! Read more

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GRTV: Torchlight review

Me and Thomas practically forced our camera guys to shoot this review of Torchlight, during which we praise it to no end. Can’t stand listening to how good a particular game is for 6 minutes? Then skip this review and go straight to Steam and buy the game.

I’ve skipped talking about the game here, it’s been doing the rounds in the blogosphere since release, but I’m glad I get to express my love for Runic Games’ Diablo-clone through video instead. Dragon Age: Origins is getting the video treatment as well and that review should be up on GRTV early next week.

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My Aion review, as translated by Google

To be the game that puts so much emphasis on the fly and to showcase stylish screenshots of characters with wings, we spend an awful lot of time in Aion to run around on the ground. Even when I visit Pandaemonium, one of the two capitals, forced me to get around on foot. Once I can take to the skies, I bounded by a malignant sunset. So much for being a Daeva, half-divinely chosen to fight for my people and against the evil Balaur.

I love Google Translate. Anyway, my review of Aion is published on our site (in Swedish) and here it is translated by Google (into some strange moon language).

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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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Aion is go! Perhaps. At least I think it is. Is it?

First impression: Can’t create an Asmodian on my server of choice. Fair enough, the limit will be lifted anyway, so I’ll wait.

Second impression: Can’t connect to server since it’s full, sorry. Try again in a while.

Third impression: You are number 3200 in the queue, just hang around for almost 5 hours and you’ll get to play.

I have been stuck on that third impression since yesterday. There is no way I’m waiting 5 hours in a queue to play a MMO, I don’t think anyone should have to. Dear NCsoft, you had hard numbers on the amount of people that would try to log in during the head start days and couldn’t fix this well in advance? You guys just managed to hit a brand new MMO-low in a time when we’ve slowly come to expect launch day catastrophes to be a thing of the past.

My plan yesterday was to write a proper first impression blog entry about Aion, complete with a screenshot of my new fancy character. That is obviously not going to happen – I wasn’t able to log in during the off-peak hours earlier today and I am certainly not able to log in now. I have no idea what the server guys are doing, but I’d recommend NCsoft to shove a lot of extra cash their way so they can get everything up to speed well in advance of the official launch in a few days. The game launches in the US tomorrow and if you guys are having the same issues as we Europeans do, you are truly screwed.

Now, I haven’t paid a penny for my copy of Aion, so perhaps I shouldn’t be complaining that much. If I had actually paid good money for the collectors edition and getting into the head start program that way, I would be furious by now. But since I’m supposed to be reviewing the game, I am under a certain deadline stress. My editor in chief knows how MMOs work, that they take time to review, but at the same time you can’t wait forever for these things. If things aren’t sorted soon, how am I supposed to have the time to do a proper and informed review?

Funnily enough, NCsoft seems to understand the problems with reviewers being stressed and pumping out MMO reviews way too quickly (perhaps they don’t want to see one of their games be the center of another Zitrongate), so they added a note to the e-mail which included the review code. They asked us gaming journos to “…keep in mind that the full experience of Aion grows with the game and an accurate view of the Abyss PvPvE zone won’t become apparent without a reasonable amount of active high level characters and player organization on you [sic] server”.

When the e-mail arrived a few days ago I found it cute and quite daring – they could have hoped for a Tortage effect instead – but now I just find it laughable. How will my experience of Aion be able to grow with the game and how do you expect me to be able to reach level 25 and take part in the Abyss fighting if I can’t even get into the game?

When it comes to my future review of Aion, I will of course not give the game a lower score because of these problems – I will take the time to play and experience what the game has to offer before I pass judgement on it. But the problems we are seeing now will be mentioned. I have a bad feeling that quite a few reviewers, especially the ones that don’t care very much about the genre, will be a lot quicker in judging the game.

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Eurogamer vs Aventurine – FIGHT!

darkfall-dwarfEurogamer gets Ed Zitron to review Darkfall. Ed scores the game with a 2/10. Aventurine gets angry, claims that Ed only played for 2 hours – most of which he spent in the character creation screen. They got the logs to prove it, states that as “just the facts“. Blogosphere goes a bit crazy over it, jumps on Eurogamer and claims that their reputation has been damaged. Stropp even compares it to Gerstmanngate. Darkfall-fans are upset. Ed claims that he played for at least 9 hours and that it seems like Aventurine is missing some logs (update: Tasos replies to that claim).

Now, first of all – 9 hours, even if that’s true, isn’t enough time to review a MMO. But it’s still 5 times the amount of time Aventurine claims he played. In the end, that doesn’t really matter. What does matter is that everyone automatically believes Aventurine. They have been wronged, game journalism is in a bad state, Eurogamer is evil and won’t pull the review. Aventurine is automatically telling the truth.

If you’ve ever been working as a game journalist, you know that most of the low scores you give a game will come under attack. If not from fanboys, then from the game company itself or its PR-people. It’s part of their job. Giving a 2/10 to a game won’t stand undisputed. Why would it? It hurts the company who made the game being reviewed. Of course they’ll fire back in one way or another. In certain cases it’s nothing more than a PR-rep calling up the editor, yelling a bit and then hanging up – end of story, business as usual. In other cases it can lead to incidents like Gerstmanngate.

But do remember that it’s business. Reading Ed’s review I can agree, even if I’ve never played Darkfall, that it seems like he didn’t play nearly enough to get into it. But Aventurine knows it’s a niche title and should be fully prepared to get some low scores. You make a niche title which has a hard learning curve, get ready to take some flack. You make a game with UI-problems and a non-intuitive control scheme (which as far as I’ve understood it, Darkfall does have), get ready for some bad reviews. Sadly, that’s the name of the game. Get a PR-rep to handle the contact with Eurogamer’s editors.

In general, this incident has lessons for all of us – both for journalists and developers. Journalists should be aware that they are being monitored if they are playing on an account supplied by the game company. They should be aware of the problems this might bring if a) they don’t do their job and if b) they give a game a low score, no matter how much time they actually spent in game. Developers might even learn a lesson in how to manipulate the press, if Tortage wasn’t enough already.

In the future, when more and more MMOs flood the market, we’ll need to find a new way and a new format for reviewing MMOs. The old ways won’t work in the long run, something more obvious than ever. But please, don’t judge Eurogamer purely on what Aventurine is telling you. I’m not saying that they are lying, but that it’s part of their job to refute low scoring reviews. Until a neutral third party reveals exactly what happened, don’t jump the gun too quickly.

And Aventurine, where’s the Gamereactor press account for Darkfall? I promise, I’ll give the game more than 9 hours.

Update: Keen writes some good stuff about the whole incident over at his and Graev’s gaming blog, also offering some ideas about how Aventurine could’ve dealt with the review in a better way. I agree, the “you are wrong and we got proof”-tactic doesn’t really help, except making people that already love Darkfall hate Eurogamer a bit more.

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Virtual worlds, massive multiplayer games and assorted ramblings

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