Last week Trion Worlds announced that they would be the North American publisher for ArcheAge. Twitter was abuzz, the Massively article got a pretty significant number of comments, and there was even a thread on the RIFT forums full happy Trion fans. My response to all this was to ask some hard hitting questions like, “What the hell is ArcheAge?” and “Why is everyone so excited?”.
I conducted some intense and scientific research, by which I mean watching gameplay videos on YouTube, and I now feel I can answer both those questions satisfactorily. First: ArcheAge is a South Korean MMO with very good graphics and a kind of hybrid themepark/sandbox approach. It was created by Jake Song, known previously as the guy behind Lineage.
Wait, Lineage!? Well everyone knows that Western audiences love grindy grind grind Asian MMOs, right? Right? Okay no. But what ArcheAge does have is those aforementioned sandbox elements, and sandboxes are definitely the Hot MMO Trend of 2013. I’ve even seen the game be described in some places as “Lineage meets Ultima Online”, which you have to admit is a pretty fascinating blend. Let’s get into some details:
- There is a whole “open world” continent where players can shape the land with building and landscaping.
- Players can build houses and villages, plant trees and grow gardens, create statues and other town decorations, all non-instanced.
- Players can build boats, from a little dinghy to a big ship with canons, and sail around the world. The oceans have random giant creatures that require many boats working together to kill, and of course players can pirate from each other.
- There is free open world PvP, and even looting rights for the victor. But don’t panic! If you were killed unfairly or if someone stole from your pumpkin patch, they will have to go to court and be judged by a jury of their peers. (Yes, you can get jury duty in ArcheAge.)
- Regions of the “open world” continent can be claimed and ruled by guilds, including setting taxation rules (!) and the like.
- Siege weapons are available for large scale battles against towns and castles.
- There are 120 classes. Go ahead, read that again.
Whew! That is a lot of neat sandbox stuff. I love the idea of building a little town with my guild, helping to defend while we put up houses and gates and gathering resources to improve our spot in the world. I don’t even mind the concept of open PvP with looting rights, assuming there is adequate social influence to keep it from getting out of control.
Despite all this neat stuff, there are still some things to worry about with ArcheAge.
- Some folks who have played the South Korean version say that the sandbox elements are not as prominent as it might seem, making it more Lineage and less Ultima Online.
- It remains to be seen how flexible the world will be. Can you ferry people around for a “living” on your boat? Run a vendor out of your house during the day? Become a master craftsman with rare goods? Be a mercenary that people hire to help defend their towns?
- Currently, the race choice for characters leaves a lot to be desired. You can be a human, elf, catperson, or uncomfortably childlike human. The females of each race are pretty much what you would expect.
- Questing and combat seem extremely similar to the same old WoW-flavored thing. Quest givers have exclamation points and question marks above their head, and most quests I saw involved the usual killing of rats. Combat was hotbar-based and didn’t look particularly more action-oriented than usual.
So will ArcheAge be good? I don’t know! Maybe? It definitely has some promising features that we haven’t seen in a new MMO in a while, but it’s mushed up with a grindy WoW-like game with poor character creation.
I will say this — reading up on ArcheAge has reminded me of ready I am for a sandbox where my character can live in a virtual world and work together with friends to make an impact upon it. Perhaps ArcheAge will end up satisfying some of that itch, but if not I hope some other game will soon.
I’ve kind of fallen out of video games so far this month. It happens sometimes — I played so many games over the holidays that I think I just felt like consuming other media for a while. I’m sure I’ll be playing again in another week or two, but in the meantime I’m going to write about something I’m not playing instead of something I am, and that something is EA games.
I decided in early January that in 2013 I am not going to buy any games that are published by EA. This is not going to be an easy decision for me stick with, honestly. EA has many fingers in many pies, including Bioware games, Popcap games, and the impending new Sim City. There is a significant chance that Saint’s Row 4 will be an EA property after the THQ sell-off. I love these games!
So why am I doing it? This blog post by Corvus Elrod on his own reluctance to buy EA games covers many of my own reasons as well. EA is infamous for being a crappy place to work, and they were pretty skeevy about the links to real life weapons manufacturers on their website.
I have a few reasons of my own, though, that have finally lead me to this no-EA stance.
1. They have treated SWTOR exceedingly poorly. Whether you like the game or not, it’s hard to argue that it hasn’t been horribly mismanaged. Features that were promised before launch are still not in the game. The initial implementation of free to play was spotty with the laughable hotbar limitations, the Cartel Coin spam for old subscribers, and the fact that people who bought the game initially but are not subscribers have to pay roughly $40 to restore things they already had like titles or crew skills. And don’t even get me started on the “gay planet”.
EA has been too desperate to make money from their one-time cash cow. They started downsizing the Bioware Austin team four months after the game launched, which is not enough time to determine the success or failure of an MMO. The game was pushed out at a bad time, and was missing a lot of polish that came months later in patch 1.2.
2. I don’t like feeling as though a company is trying to fleece me.
I realize EA is far from the only publisher to dabble in Day 1, “on-disc” DLC, but they are pretty egregious about it. Fans of Mass Effect 3, again a Bioware-designed game, had sunk tens of hours into determining who the Protheans were and what effect they had on the universe by the time ME3 launched. They could find the answer to these deep philosophical questions by talking to a Prothean himself — but only by spending $20 on the Day 1 DLC. Yes, you could certainly play all of ME3 without “From Ashes”, but you’d be missing out on some serious lore, something any ME universe fan would be loathe to do. (Like me. Until now.)
EA is also big on using online passes to discourage used game sales. Players who are not the original owner of a game, whether you bought it used or leant it to a friend, are unable to access all of the content and other huge limitations. Hey, here’s an idea: stop charging $80 for a new game.
3. Their marketing is shady. American McGee recently took to Reddit to complain about EA’s marketing campaign for the Alice: the Madness Returns, accusing them of creating misleading trailers that overly emphasized hardcore horror and possibly alienated the original game’s female fans. The game sold quite poorly, possibly as a result.
4. EA is interested in the bottom line, not in making rad games. Under their banner, Bioware lost some of its glory and both of its highly influential leaders. EA bought popular casual game company PopCap and then rapidly let 25% of their employees go, including the creator of the incredibly profitable Plants vs. Zombies. (The game was George Fan’s baby, from start to finish, and he was let go days after EA announced that Plants vs. Zombies 2 would be coming soon.)
They have been repeatedly accused of making minimal changes to their sport game franchises and selling them at new game prices every year. How minimal are these changes? Check out a screen-by-screen comparison of FIFA 12 to FIFA 13. Would you be happy paying $50 for that?
So that’s it, Electronic Arts! We’re through. I will miss playing Sim City 2013, I will whine and grit my teeth when Dragon Age 3 arrives, but there comes a point after which I just can’t justify giving EA my money.
Warface just entered closed beta, and since Trion Worlds is responsible for publishing it in North America I decided to amble over to check out the website. The title of Warface’s homepage is, “Crytek’s AAA4Free social FPS SERVICE“.
So, okay. Warface was already on my list because.. Warface. I thought we couldn’t get much sillier than “Warfighter”, but now I just don’t know.
But “AAA4Free” is too long and confusing. There are already so many different combinations of payment options now, each with half a dozen shorthands. We don’t need any more. Stop trying to make “fetch” happen, Crytek.
“Social FPS service” is.. also confusing. What First Person Shooter game isn’t social, except perhaps DayZ? And “service” just sounds really corporate and like it will want to spam my Facebook account.
I’m pretty sure it’s all just a fancy way of saying “online multiplayer shooter with cash shop”.
Today’s post is by Vajra, new Secret World player and occasional guest of the Cat Context Podcast.
Maybe this isn’t true of all MMO players, but of the ones I know (and I include myself in this group), we tend to have a favorite game that is our “home” in the virtual world. You know the one. The game where you know how everything works, where everything is, and by and large you feel pretty comfortable and settled in. Home.
Well to follow that analogy, if your favorite MMO is home, picking up Funcom’s The Secret World is like spending the weekend at your weird but cool uncle’s house. Nothing is quite where you expect it to be, the view is different, and you have to follow someone else’s set of rules while you stay. Oh, and don’t touch Uncle Funcom’s King Crimson records. Those are vintage.
That’s the first standout impression one gets of The Secret World – the different set of rules bit, not the King Crimson bit. Funcom has a totally unique world to share, and makes no bones about it. The central premise is that every cryptic, every myth, every conspiracy is real, true and waiting in your closet to eat you. The Illuminati does pull the strings from the shadows. The world really IS hollow. Cthulhu really IS sleeping off the Atlantic coast. From the moment you make a character, you are hurled into a bizarre world almost devoid of explanation or hand-holding as you learn the ropes of being a sort of latter day superhero. In a way, the lack of protracted explanation of systems in the game reflects the narrative arc the character is living out – a totally mundane city dweller given incredible powers by mysterious forces to prevent an equally mysterious apocalypse.
The second notable standout is the lack of traditional classes. Instead of picking a class that determines what gear and abilities you can use, everyone can use every weapon, every ability. Given enough time, a player can master every weapon and spell in the game. At any given time, however, you can only equip two weapons, and these two weapons determine everything about how your character plays. Want to be a wizard-like glass cannon? Use an assault rifle mixed with Elemental or Blood magic. Want to be a front-line slugger that can take and dish out big hits? Try Hammers and Chaos magic. At Uncle Funcom’s house, you get to play with ALL the toys.
Questing, another standby of the MMO genre has also been given an overhaul. Gone are the overflowing quest journals of WoW and its many would-be successors, peppering our mini-maps with a constellation of skulls to collect, panthers to slay and missing wives to find. Instead, The Secret World gives players a smaller number of cinematic multi-stage (or “tier” in game terminology) quests that play out with distinct narrative arcs. Oh, and aside from side missions, small localized quests picked up often literally off the ground, all quests begin with an animated explanation from the quest giver, with fully-voiced narration, many of which are genuinely funny, poignant or downright creepy.
Speaking of quests, one particularly interesting feature of TSW is the Investigation quest type. When I first started playing the game, I noted a fair amount of complaining from the forums and message boards that Investigation quests are, by all accounts, to be dreaded and avoided. When I got one, I found out they’re my favorite part of the game. Investigation quests don’t ask you to kill 20 fishmen (though some missions do) or collect a lost spring-and-sprocket assembly from a randomly generated monster – Investigation missions ask you to be the goddamn Batman.
Each investigation requires the player to locate some well-hidden information or location in the game, using clues from the quest-giver’s narrative introduction, the game environment, and oftentimes websites set up by Funcom for the express purpose of players using Google to research a mystery. They even provide an in-game web browser for the players to whip out at a moment’s notice. Okay, maybe not World’s Greatest Detective material, but when you work out a certain quest (no spoilers here!) has just given you a clue in MORSE CODE, you will feel like one hell of a sleuth nonetheless.
Last of all, and perhaps most importantly, is the ambiance. Funcom has dug deep and wide to come up with enough urban legends, conspiracy theories, ancient mysteries and other phenomena that can be grouped under “shit what be creepy” to make a world that is dark, menacing, and fascinating. The writing throughout the game is a stand-out feature. The dialogue is witty and snappy, the lore is robust and hints at far more horror than even the players see, and one is never given any doubt that we players are at the front line of the unraveling of the world.
This is where the game shines – while you only physically visit a relatively small number of locales across the globe, the game’s writing does a fantastic job of hinting at there always being more around the corner, that what we see is only the tip of a truly hideous, mind-shredding iceberg. For a game about a secret war going on all around us, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I keep a mental list of movies that I call “Great Films That I’ll Never Watch Again”*. These are usually achingly human works that I’m glad I saw but I found gut-wrenching to witness. I had never had the same experience before with a game… until I sat down yesterday to play Cart Life.
Cart Life is by Richard Hofmeier, and yesterday it was nominated for the Grand Prize at the Independent Games Festival Awards. It was the only nominee title that I didn’t recognize (the others are Hotline Miami, FTL, Kentucky Route Zero, and Little Inferno), and on top of that it’s offered as freeware from Hofmeier’s website, so I figured I should check it out.
Don’t be put off by the (in my opinion) overuse of the 8-bit hipster fonts on the website. Cart Life itself has a beautiful albeit “retro” graphics style that suits the material perfectly. The writing is equally beautiful, and I was impressed with Hofmeier’s ability to write a realistic female protagonist. The game is billed as a “retail simulation” but it’s closer to “The Sims: Painful Banality of Life Edition”. (Runner-up title: “Ingmar Bergman’s Lemonade Stand”)
There are two stories available in the freeware version of the game. We start out playing Melanie, who just separated from her husband, sold off most of her possessions, and moved in with her sister. Melanie must find a way to make some money from setting up a coffee cart while negotiating raising her daughter, finalizing her divorce, and meeting the basic necessities of life like eating and sleeping.
The clock never stops while playing Cart Life. Time ticks by while Melanie eats or talks to her sister, and things like bus rides take a suitable amount of time. I felt behind from the moment the game started, and each new game-day just increased my sense of dread and hopelessness. What crucial life task would I be unable to accomplish today?
To be fair, the game is not all dreary misery, and I suspect by the end there could be hope for Melanie and her daughter. I won’t get that far myself, though, because I found I had an almost visceral reaction to Cart Life. Perhaps it’s because I’m someone who deals with clinical depression, but it was extremely difficult for me to play the game. And I don’t mean that as an insult! In fact, it’s a complement to Hofmeier’s skill at creating a experience that is so like real life that it can be dizzying.
(And really, what does that say about me? Instead of accepting Melanie’s mistakes and vowing to try again “tomorrow”, I chose to turn off the game and watch some pug dogs being adorable on YouTube. Do I do the same thing with my own life’s problems? Argh, stupid poetic game.)
Looking over the slate of indie games of the last year or two one can see that there is clearly a retro revivial happening, and I feel like Cart Life might be the pinnacle of that style. While FTL showed us that we don’t need highfalutin graphics to have grand space adventures, and Hotline Miami made us think about why we enjoy pixelated murder quite so much, Cart Life goes one step further and makes our whole life — sweet, terrible, mundane real life — into a twisted 8-bit cartridge game that we played as kids.
Does Cart Life deserve the Grand Prize? I’ll leave that to the judges to decide, but it’s made me think a lot about how much of the definition of a game has to include “fun”. It certainly deserves to be on that finalist list, though, and despite my own issues with Cart Life I would highly recommend checking it out.
* My movie list includes Requiem for a Dream, Blindness, and Martha Marcy May Marlene.
I had eleven glorious days off over the holidays, and aside from family committments there were precisely three goals for my time off:
1. Build a homebrewed Steam Box.
2. Learn how to bake a pie.
3. Catch up on some of my gaming backlog.
You already know that I accomplished the first, and I am pleased to confirm that homemade pies are freaking delicious. So what of the final goal? That too was a success and many games were played! Here are some of the highlights.
RIFT – As the old faithful game in a world of shiny new toys, RIFT kind of got short shrift from me over the holidays. I did log in long enough to make the final push to 60, mostly by doing the holiday warfront. Man, I love me some MMO PvP. I don’t know why. It’s probably a sickness.
The Secret World – A companion picked this up before Christmas and insisted I try it out. I wasn’t the hugest fan of TSW in beta, but it does seem much improved since then. I don’t really see this as an MMO, honestly, but I have a new appreciation of some of the game’s more unique mechanics and can see how it’s a very solid action RPG.
Hotline Miami – “Whoops, I died.” “Whoops, I died.” “Whoops, I died.” “Whoops, I died.” With art design kind of like David Lynch on an acid trip in the 80s, Hotline Miami is brutal and unforgiving and colorful and really neat. Not for players without patience.
FTL – FTL fills a great niche of nicely paced puzzler and it’s very well done. However, I think perhaps I’m just not meant for the roguelike life. Knowing that almost certainly everyone on my ship will die each time I start is kind of nihilist and depressing, and makes it hard to me to really connect with the game.
Jet Set Radio – You control members of a rollerblade gang in neo-Tokyo who get in spray paint tag wars with rival gangs (like the Noise Tanks, who appear to be made up of breakdancing robots). What I’m saying is, this game is awesome. Don’t even bother trying to play without a controller, though.
Spec Ops: The Line – Professional reviews of this game often mention that the gameplay itself is pretty uninspiring while the story and experience is amazing. I certainly can’t argue with the latter, but as someone who hasn’t played a military shooter since… umm.. forever.. I found the gameplay to be pretty intense too.
Time Gentlemen Please and Ben There, Dan That – These are two point-and-click adventure titles by the same dudes, unsurprisingly named Dan and Ben. Both have well-made puzzles and make some amusing jabs at game design and the game industry, but they’re also riddled with “bro humor” that was way more lame than amusing.
Superbrothers Sword & Sorcery EP – This started out as a phone game, but I got it in Humble Bundle V. It has the limitations of a phone game on the desktop (tap. tap. tap. tap.), but the art style and writing are outstanding. I will play more of this! (I also made a short video about it as part of my “Liore’s Backlog” YouTube series.)
Saints Row the Third – So look, I played some great games over my holiday break. Just look at that list! But pound for pound, minute for minute, no game has brought me as much sheer FUN as SR3 in co-op mode.
The missions and mini-games were already designed for maximum awesomeness — you parachute from a helicopter to a rooftop party while Kanye West blares through the speakers, for example, or play a game where the object is simply to drive a tank around the city and destroy as much as you can in a limited amount of time. So when you take all that, and add in a friend to both contribute to and witness your own badassery (one drives, the other shoots!) … now that’s a damn good time.