Heroes, shards and middle earth
Lately I have been playing four different games: Chronicles of Spellborn, Lord of the Rings Online, City of Heroes and Guild Wars. Alternating between the games have worked out rather well so far and some direct comparisions are inevitable.
In Chronicles of Spellborn I currently play Wolf, a trickster (level 15) which is a rogue type class. Tricksters speciality is to use gadgets to trigger certain effects, e.g. cause enemies to loose concentration, additional damage etc. There are a number of different skills to distract enemies, become more evasive and also get increased damage if the enemy is backstabbed. One skill to aid there also is a teleport spell, which instantly transports you behind the currently faced enemy. It is a bit tricky to get right to get the full effect of a follow-up backstab. But all in all there is a number of neat skills to play around with.
Spellborn is played in a post-apocalypic world where the remains of civilisation lives on/in big chunks of rock with its own atmosphere, called shards. The shards float around in the Deadspell Storm. Starting characters start on the Parliament shard and from there continue to other shards, as well as travel back. Each shard has a number of zones. It is a fantastic setting and there is a lot of lore and learning about the world as one progresses with different quests.
The game itself is a bit different than many current MMOs; in particular the combat system takes a quite different approach. I think it is brilliant; it is fairly easy to understand, but will require practice to become good with it. While I thimk I probably suck a bit here in combat I find it fun to use and get quite happy the times when it actually flows quite well in combat.
While there is a number of traditional type of “kill X boars” and delivery type quests, some quest chains actually have some neat story elements in them and a mix of activities in them which are not always obvious. I have found these quite enjoyable and a number of them also tells a bit more about the world of Spellborn and its inhabitants. In the beginning quests do not give that much fame (experience points in Spellborn), but increases significantly after the first 8-9 levels.
Equipment itself does not really matter for you characters, it is mainly for looks. Some equipment have slots for sigils (similar to enhancements in City of Heroes) which effectively act as permanent boosters similar to what is added to equipment in other MMOs. The added boosts are not that big though as far as I have seen so far, so it will not make a big impact – at least not in the lower levels. Sigils are of two types – item sigils and skill sigils. The latter can be added to specific skills to boost just that skill, while item sigils will boost everything that is related to that boost.
There is a somewhat simplistic crafting system in place – if you loot a broken item you can visit a forge and ask for a recipe to repair the item. You will then get a list of necessary resources to collect/obtain to repair it. If you have all resources you can get the item repaired at the forge for a fee.
The game is a bit old school:ish and does lack some features that other recent games has, but in a way they also restore a bit of that you actually has to but a bit of effort in what you do and makes the game more involved and engaging than other click-push-button-kill-next-quest type MMOs. There is a fine line here between more involved/engaging and perhaps frustrating game play though.
The game currently has some shortcomings in its feature and there are some bugs in the quests and other places that causes some trouble. While most of the quests do not indicate that teams are needed, not everything is easily soloable. But much of the content that is challenging for a solo player is doable for a duo and likely easy for 3 persons. The max team size of 4 is only required for very few quests – at least as far as I have seen so far. This is pretty much only quests where one has to make an assult on a big camp of enemies and/or take out a boss in a camp or something similar.
There is also not so many people around in the game; or at least not noticeable. I do think though that it has increased somewhat lately.
Despite any shortcomings it is a game I want to log back in to and play; at least when I can set aside at least 1 1/2 – 2 hours for it.
The next fantasy game I play is in some ways similar to Chroncles of Spellborn – that is Lord of the Rings Online (LOTRO). Also fantasty setting with with a beautiful environment and less exciting character models, lots of travel time and a solid backstory and lore. But LOTRO is more familiar territory and the main story is a side story to the books. There is plenty of quests and besides fighting there is a neat crafting system, housing and fishing as a hobby. There is also a large amount of deeds, which can provide additional boosts to your character as rewards. Deeds are of various types, e.g. kill X orcs, visit all ruins in land Y, use skill Z 500 times etc.
Fighting is pretty much standard MMO type fighting – lots of skills that is activated by pushing a key and some hidden die-rolls to see if you miss or hit. And an auto-attack that can run in between actual usage of available skills. The mechanics themselves are nothing to brag about and there are other games that implement it better IMHO. But there are some interesting skill combinations that different classes provide. The one that I am currently playing is a Rune-keeper named Feorin, currently at level 20. It is pretty much a spellcaster class with is a mixed nuker/healer. He can only be good at either nuking or healing at the same time, although can use both type of skills in a limited fashion at the same time.
I like that combination and I have played both roles in teams; although when teaming up it has mainly been as a healer. Solo it is mainly nuker, with some added minor heals.
On paper there is a lot of things to do and a lot of quests to play around with. But in practice I have not found all those options particularly enjoyable. There is a main story line which is pretty good and some side stories which are ok. But there are also a lot of ”kill X boars” and some delivery quests. The main story, the Epic quests, are split up in Books and chapters in those books. Sp far I have completed the first book, in which the last part was for level 18. The next book start at level 26. In between there is a multitude of kill stuff quests, gather stuff from killing quests etc.
Crafting relies on collecting resources, either harvesting from the world itself or as loot drops from mobs, depending on the path chosen. Unfortunately to become proficient enough to actually make useful stuff for your level (at least as a tailor) a lots of resources have to be collected and by the time one has reached that proficiency the equipment is not so useful anymore – loot drops and rewards have provided better items in most cases.
Quests, crafting/harvesting and many of the deeds that you obtain flashes “grind” to me. Killing boars or collecting hides in itself is not the fun for me, it is to accomplish the goal. But if the path there includes grind type activities I do not really want to spend time with that. Rescuing someone from a camp of orcs, sneaking around to gather some intelligence or similar things are great. But tell me to gather X amount of hides and the most difficult part is to find enough critters to kill, then that is no fun in my book. And I have no desire to kill 80 critters of some kind just to get some boost of a few attributes. If I happen to kill those by accomplishing some real goals then that is fine, but I really do not want to go out of my way to kill stuff just to increase some artificial counter. Most MMO combat is not that fun in itself.
Playing LOTRO and Spellborn side-by-side inevitably triggers some comparisions. I spend a lot of time running around to different places in both of them. I spend a lot of time killing stuff with ease in LOTRO. There has been relatively less time running around to kill stuff for “kill X boars” type of quests in Spellborn; even though I have skipped some of these quests in both games. Killing stuff is less easy in Spellborn and can be challenging for the tasks at hand.
Both settings are artistically great, LOTRO has more detailed and pretty environment. Combat in general is more fun in Spellborn; it is less of a push-button routine there. LOTRO has some brilliant parts and the effect of triggering a sense of evil presence is great. But overall I find the world of Spellborn one that I find more engaging and that I want to explore more. It is also a world where I move around more carefully; hostiles can appear all over the place, also when you do not expect it (waves to Tiny Tyke).
LOTRO has some neat stuff in it, but if I would have to pick one of them I would probably pick Spellborn, even despite some current bugs and not a huge amount of players. I currently only log in to LOTRO when I have enough rest xp to make the xp gain for a session go quicker; but since I alternate between a few different games that is no big sacrifice though.
Playing either of these fantasy-based games above with lots of running around fighting boars, bears and wolves and various bandits it is a welcome change of setting and pace to log in and play in City of Heroes/Villains. Currently I mainly focus on the hero side with my controller Frieda and my tanker Bjarne. City of Heroes has a fast-paced traditional MMO combat which works quite well and is by far the game I find it easiest to team up in and to log in for a short session of intense comic book violence and fun. I was not to keen on the hero side when I initially started to play the game, but I think with a number of the improvements they have made to the game I think it is much more enjoyable now.
The game still suffers from the “sameness” of a lot of the encounters; but if you play in teams in particular and not too long sessions and not too much that becoems less of a concern. For me it works great as a secondary MMO to complement others, even though I have played it for more than 2.5 years in this “sameness” environment. The environment is pretty good, in particular on villain side – but far underused for actual gameplay content. Most people only see it briefly going from one mission to the other.
There are some good story elements in the game. They do tend to not be that easy to follow if you are in a team however, which is unfortunate. The game probably has more different enemy groups than most other MMOs, although some are much more common than others. All in all it does provide for some good fun especially in teams and in reasonably sized chunks. It really works well to complement the other games.
And last but not least is Guild Wars. Excellent environment which can be quite breath-taking and a great art style. Fast-paced combat which is based on traditional MMO combat style, but with an added depth to its skill handing and combination of classes which makes that part of the game more interesting than most other MMOs out there.
Combine that with a story element that is much better than you find in most MMOs and a gameplay which almost entirely avoids grind (if you want to avoid it).
While the heavily instanced nature makes some people say “it is not a proper MMO” I still think it is better than some of the “real” MMOs in terms of bringing people together to play. I have a number of characters in the game, but the ones that have been played most are Selene (primary class necromancer) and Tarixus (primary class Ritualist). Both are great fun to play and I regularly find new combinations and variations of skills to use with them – different combinations can result in quite different play styles.
This is the game I find overall best right now. Some of the other games have their pieces that are great in a particular area, but for overall greatness I think Guild Wars picks the top spot. However, I would not easily ditch the other games. Right now I think LOTRO is the one which most likely would be ditched if I find that I should cut down on the number of games. But as long as this works out to combine all those I will continue.
(All screenshots here taken from the character selection screens of each game)