Category Archives: MMO Reviews

Game Reviews

RIFT Review – Discover the world of Telara

World of Warcraft was a big part of my life for nearly six years. I played before any of the expansions came out and continued on into the current expansion, World of Warcraft: Cataclysm. WoW was my first, and really only MMORPG I played significantly. I dabbled in Lord of the Rings Online, Aion and tried the Star Trek Online Beta but nothing ever really struck a cord with me. So in terms of online gaming, Warcraft was it; the end-all be-all.

I was highly anticipating Cataclysm. I even had to defend Blizzard’s choices to many people up until launch and even afterward. Sadly though, after a few months of play and several of my characters reaching level cap I had to come clean with myself: I was completely bored. After all the daily quests, daily dungeons, achievements, and even the raiding, it just felt too much like what came before with no originality. This felt like a speed bump rather than a true expansion, but to what end? Was Blizzard biding their time before they brought out a more fully formed expansion? To be honest though, this boredom wasn’t just from Cataclysm. It actually started before the expansion, when Icecrown Citadel came out – the main raid we had for a full year. Sure Ruby Sanctum came out also, but that always felt like an afterthought, a one boss raid always felt like a cop out. With all this being said I did something I hadn’t done since I first starting playing Warcraft: I unsubscribed with no intent on going back.

In the meantime I started to beta test a new game from Trion Worlds called Rift. I had been through this before, trying out a new game only to decide it wasn’t for me, and I kept anticipating that realization again. After the beta ended I figured that was it for me and Rift. It was fun to toy around with, but would it be something I’d really buy and pay a monthly fee for? Then the day of release came and I found myself buying the digital collector’s edition and jumping back into the world of Telara. The amount I had to learn was definitely daunting. One reason WoW was so nice is because I knew it like the back of my hand, so to step into something so new and be on the ground floor again was both frightening and exciting. I have now become fully invested into this game, purchasing the “Founder’s” subscription for the next six months at a reduced rate.

How did Rift steal me away from WoW when no other game could? How much of it was disappointment with Cataclysm and how much of it was Rift’s successes? The answer is it was both. It was Cataclysm’s failure that made me leave WoW and knock on Rift’s door, but it was Rift’s strengths that made me step inside and make myself at home. I am sure many are wondering, “What strengths are these?” especially those longing for a new an original game to play these days. Here are five reasons, in no particular order, why Rift is better than WoW.

1. The world of Telara.

The story of Rift centers around Regulos the Destroyer who wants to take over Telara, which is a world surrounded by many planes of reality which also make up its existence (Elements such as Earth, Water, Air, Fire, Life and Death). Regulos is using banished gods from these elemental planes to break through to Telara via “Rifts” which are essentially portals for invasions from these different planes to rain down destruction and eventually overtake Telara. It’s up to two factions to put an end to his evil but also to shape Telara in their image. The Guardians and Defiant offer very unique perspectives on the events occurring in Telara, but these are done is such a way by the developers that there is no “bad guy” race. Both have their beliefs and motivations. The Guardians are about faith and belief in their gods and the Defiant believe in only themselves and the science of their machines.

The game looks beautiful, a far cry from what I was used to from WoW which now completely feels antiquated. Every corner you turn presents a new view of this beauty: the sun beaming through trees, over a massive mountain or above the pillars of gorgeous cities that rival anything from the Lord of the Rings movies. While all that is well and good, a lot of games look nice but there is no true substance, no content or heart to keep me coming back for more.

2. The Rifts and “Dynamic Content”

As I stated above, Rifts are rips and tears into the plane of Telara from the other elemental planes. These can occur at any place and any time. This creates “Dynamic Content”, meaning the content is ever-changing and is not predictable. You can be questing in a zone and have a rift open up right above your head. Trust me, I know, as it has happened to me many times. It is then up to you and your fellow players to decide whether to engage it and its enemies in an attempt to seal the rift, or to ignore it. However, let it be known that, if the rifts are ignored, they increase to the point they send out invasion forces and you could easily see a large section of your zone covered in rifts and enemies. This makes for very fun and unique game play as it breaks up the monotony of questing, and you get decent experience points and unique currency which you can spend on various items, like gear for your level range. This world feels alive and with a real purpose to go out and fight for you faction, it doesn’t have a “static” or boring feel.

3. The classes and Soul System

There are “only” four classes in Rift: Warrior, Mage, Rogue and Cleric. Seems pretty simple and this may even seem too trivial for most players, especially from WoW, where you have ten different classes. But the key here is that within each class in Rift you have have eight different specializations, or “Souls” (as they are referred to). WoW has the same thing, but each class only has three specializations to choose from. So lets do the math. WoW has thirty specs you can choose from, Rift has thirty-two (which doesn’t include that each class has a special Player versus Player (PvP) soul you can purchase, bringing the total to thirty-six specs).

For example, if you play a Rogue, it can be your typical assassin who uses stealth and destroys players with daggers, or you can take them the marksman route and use bows and guns along with your pet to make them more like a typical Hunter class. Couple this with being able to have up to four total specs at any time, where as WoW only has two specs available, and you can have countless roles at your fingertips at any time. For someone like myself who likes alts, it is very nice to know I can level only four different characters and have every role and spec available to me in the game. I also wanted the same thing in WoW and of course the only way was to level all ten classes, which obviously is very time consuming.

To me this is where the game really shines, as there are no “correct” ways to spec your character. There are good and better builds but it really depends on your play style. There are no “cookie cutter” builds in this game, unlike WoW where you pretty much have people specced the same way due to limitations of the talent trees. A prime example of all of this is my class of choice, the Cleric, which is very similar to the Druid in WoW in terms of being a hybrid class with the ability to fill all three major roles in the game of healer, damage, and tank. The great thing here is that, unlike in Wow, in theory I don’t have to carry tons of extra gear for me to go from healing to tanking (though you might want some different pieces for more health, etc). When you play the “Justicar” soul for tanking on a cleric, you get a passive talent called “Faith in action” which, “Increases the Cleric’s Attack Power by their Spell Power, their Physical Crit by their Spell Crit, and their Melee Hit by their Spell Focus.” So you see you can have all that spell power and spell crit gear on, and it transfers over to more tank like stats of attack power and physical crit. It’s little things like this that makes Rift feel like its on the cutting edge and WoW is woefully lacking.

4. UI Customization and lack of add-ons.

Anyone that played WoW for any amount of time knows add-ons are nearly essential for game play, even if you limited them to a couple you had to have them. At this point in time, and I hope it stays this way, there are no add-ons being allowed for Rift. Instead Trion Worlds is making their game and UI so customizable that you don’t need add-ons, since it comes all in the initial package.

Let’s look at the user interface (UI) for example: Everything is able to be moved and placed where it’s most comfortable for you. The mini map, the action bars, the casting bars, the character frames, all of it can be removed or re-sized to make the whole UI uniquely yours. Sure you can do the same thing in WoW to a degree, but you would need at least three add-ons I can think of off the top of my head to perform anything even close to this. The result is clean game play with little slow down due to the amount of memory those add-ons take up. Also, if you like your UI setup on one character on that server and want the same one an another, you don’t have to sit there and change it all manually again. Simply select “import” and the character’s UI you want and it instantly changes to match it. Also if you want to send any achievements you get in the game to Twitter you can easily do that with the UI’s interface. How about making a video of in game footage and sending it to YouTube? There is an interface for that also! Video is limited to 10 minutes recording in HD all the way up to 720p. Just more innovations Trion has made where Blizzard seems completely stagnant.

5. Community and improved player base

When you play on a server, or “Shard,” as they are called in Rift, that is your home and your community. Everything you do, everyone you meet and run with will be from there. This really builds a sense of community, much like WoW had before their random dungeon finder was introduced. No longer were people held accountable for their behavior in WoW, they could act out in groups with no repercussion because of cross-server game play. I can’t tell you how many times I ran a random in WoW and got a tank with a horrible attitude simply because they got instant queues, or the Mage I ran into that was wearing strength and agility gear, simply so he could have the item level to do heroics. As of now, there is no “looking for dungeon” mechanic, though it may change in the future. If it does change, I would request it stay server only or have the option to do so. The main thing I enjoy about MMO’s is the social aspect: meeting someone at random for a group quest or what have you and building a friendship that lasts for a long time to come. So far Rift has this in spades and I truly hope they cherish it and don’t water the social aspects down like I feel WoW did.

Although those are five major differences, you also have what I call the little things: Being able to use a mount at early levels, in-game mail being instant to anyone you send it to, and instant travel like teleportation (so no 10 minute flight times). If you quest with someone and a mob drops a quest item, you both can loot it, cutting down questing time immensely. Character customization is amazing, from hair color to types of eyebrows, everything is customizable. I never enjoyed PvP in MMOs before, but I really enjoy it in Rift. It doesn’t seem separate from the rest of the game, since all the abilities you use in Player versus Environment (PvE) are used the same way in PvP. To top it all off, I believe Trion Worlds listens to their player base and actually takes action to give them what they want in Rift. They are updating, patching and hotfixing all the time to make the game players experience better. Just a month into the release we already have a major new patch which introduces a world event and a whole new raid!

Trion has built an MMO I want to be a part of for a long time. It reminds me of what WoW used to be before it became so large and watered down. Nothing can last forever, but I truly hope Rift never forgets its roots and always tries to remain as it is now.



Action-paced RPG Dragon Age 2 Review

Bioware, modern masters of the western role-playing game, can seemingly do no wrong. They’re on a winning streak the likes of which the RPG world hasn’t seen since Final Fantasy games were numbered in single digits. From Knights of the Old Republic through Mass Effect and the original Dragon Age, Bioware has reinvigorated and redefined next-generation role-playing with an astonishing blend of story-telling, intricate character development and rapid, action-oriented gameplay.

With two more entries in their role-playing canon due out this year, Dragon Age 2 and Mass Effect 3, Bioware have high expectations from the video gaming community. Can Dragon Age 2 live up to the heights of the first fantastic fantasy fable?

Dragon Age 2 is a sequel in name only. More intricately connected to the game world created in Dragon Age Origins than a Final Fantasy game but not a follow-up to the same character and plotline as is the case in Mass Effect 2. Instead Dragon Age 2 focuses on another aspect of the grand, broken land of Thedas after the event of Dragon Age have concluded.

Players who have completed the original game are able to bring in their game save to influence some of the political allegiances of Thedas as well as some of the returning secondary characters. This provides some additional motivation for fans of the original but isn’t as dramatic as Mass Effect 2 was.

Dragon Age 2 is told as a flashback, a narrative device not to dissimilar to something like Big Trouble in Little China, complete with the embellishments of an unreliable narrator. Varric, one of your Dwarf companions, recounts the tale of Hawke, “The Champion of Kirkwall,” and his/her rise to power. You play the part of Hawke and, within the span of a decade, you will change the world of Thedas forever.
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Far from the mute hero of the first game, Dragon Age 2 features a much more fleshed out main character for you to inhabit and enlists a motley but powerful group of companions to support the player, all of whom are voiced with meticulously wonderful detail.

With thousands of lines of dialogue and hundreds of cut-scenes Dragon Age 2 could become bogged down by expositions if the characters weren’t interesting enough to back it up. Fortunately almost every character is not only voiced exceptionally but also provide excellent counterpoints and companions for Hawke as he rises to power. Simply having some of these characters in your party can mean the difference between life and death, time and time again.

The difference in scale between Dragon Age Origins and the sequel becomes apparent as the player moves through the narrative. Almost the entire game revolves around Hawke’s rise to become the Champion in Kirkwall and the various political and theological problems that he encounters. Far from the continent spanning storyline of the first Dragon Age or the universe spanning plot of Mass Effect, Dragon Age 2 can feel a little restrictive in its approach to telling a fantasy epic.

But this change in scale also lends Dragon Age 2 one of its strongest components, the detail. Kirkwall and the surrounding land has more than enough to keep players enthralled for the 30 plus hours they will spend defending and exploring it. Indeed, by restricting the size of the adventure, Bioware has made the story the focus of the game, rather than the journey.

Like the original, Dragon Age 2 is also influenced by your decisions as you move through the game. A Bioware staple, the decision tree branches with almost every conversation you have with anyone in the Thedas world. Decisions are made easier this time around with the addition of symbols giving an indication of whether you responses will be positive, negative or playful, amongst others. Keeping your nose clean or being a right, royal dickhead is as simple as pie and lets you graft your character in the way you feel right.

You will encounter any number of enemies on your travels throughout Kirkwall and the surrounding dungeons. Whether they be human monsters or monstrous monsters, Dragon Age 2 keeps the enemies varied enough to keep the action fresh and engaging while as allowing players to develop different battle tactics to survive the hoards that threaten within and without.

Combat in Dragon Age 2 has been somewhat simplified to be more accessible and action oriented. That isn’t to say that it’s been dumbed down though; players with advanced skills will be able to tweak and modify the command schemes to astonishing levels and become battlefield gods with enough practice. Aside from controlling Hawke in battle (although players can switch between characters with the press of a button), you can also set up strategies for your remaining companions that will dictate exactly how they perform in battle, something along the lines of Final Fantasy XIII but with more fluidity.

As Hawke and his companions become stronger and more powerful they open up greater abilities that assist in battle. Choosing where each characters strengths lie is crucial to balancing your party throughout the game, too many strength weak mages and your party will suffer, but conversely too many melee heavy warriors and ranged enemies will become impossible. With dozens of options available for each class, multiple replays will be mandatory for any completists looking for the full Dragon Age 2 experience

Dragon Age 2 does suffer some slight graphical issues at times and can be a pain to load, but considering some of the epic battles that players encounter as magic flies about the dozens of participants in some fights, Bioware have done an astonishing job at maintaining exceptional quality for the majority of the time.

As good as Dragon Age 2 is, there is still a lingering thought that Bioware are just teasing role-playing fans with what is yet to come with the almost inevitable sequel. But with fantastic moral elements coupled to an engaging story and breath-taking characters, Dragon Age 2 is still an amazing entry to the Bioware winning streak. One can only imagine what they have in store for us with Mass Effect 3.

Neverland Online Review

Neverland Online is the second online game to be published by the Chinese owned portal ‘hithere.’ Their previous title, Empire Craft, was a strategy game where gameplay mostly consisted of waiting for buildings to construct and soldiers to train. Neverland Online is a totally different browser game and is much closer to a traditional fantasy MMORPG. Players create a character, travel around a persistent world, complete quests, level up, gather resources, craft equipment, and even participate in PvP – all without downloading anything.

Four Classes, Eight Choices

There is currently a single server in Neverland Online but with the game only recently released to open beta in November 2009, this is to be expected. Each account is given plenty of character slots considering there are only four classes to choose from. Players can select male or female versions of each class with each gender offering slight variations. The male Assassin, for example, uses chain weapons while the female version prefers whips. There are no appearance customization options available beyond gender selection making the overall character creation process rather dull. All players star their journey in Moon Town where they will get a first glimpse of what Neverland Online has to offer. The game’s graphics are not very impressive. This isn’t only because the graphics are two dimensional; the quality of the visuals is just not very good. A lot of the text is also of low quality, mainly due to poor English translations. There is no formal tutorial in the game but there are a ton of simple quests available with incredibly high experience rewards.

Run Around, Get Rewarded

During the first 10 levels of Neverland Online, players will only be asked once to leave town and only for a few minutes. The first few levels will fly by as players complete a series of talk quests which send them from one NPC to the next. The game has a great built in navigation system which allows players to automatically move to a particular NPC when their name is clicked in the quest log. Despite a decent minimap (opened by hitting tab), auto navigation is by far the best way to travel. Players can freely move to NPCs located in their current zone but to auto-travel to NPCs in other areas of the world, a small silver fee is required. This pay-to-use theme constantly popups throughout the game, for example players start with a paltry 27 inventory slots but can purchase up to 153 more. The cost of new slots increases dramatically from a few silver pieces to tens of thousands of silver per slot. A number of early level quests involve short quizzes that test the players’ knowledge of the game. Fortunately, players need not read the garbled dialogue to find the answers to these questions. The questions only have two possible answers and one is almost always worded as a joke answer which is obviously wrong. After spending ten or so minutes in town during these simple quests, players will find themselves at or around level 10.

Classic RPG Style

Combat in Neverland Online is turn based and takes place in special random encounter screens. While traveling ‘wilderness’ zones players will periodically encounter enemies to battle. It is during the first of these battles in a zone called Eastwood that players meet their starter pet. Like many 2D MMORPGs with turn based combat, including Myth War 2 Online, Elf Online, and Wonderland Online, players in this game are accompanied in battle by a pet. The starting pet is a rabbit which actually starts at level 10 and hits much harder than the player at first. Pets do not receive quest related experience rewards which stunts their level growth relative to the main character. During combat, players can give their character and pet various orders such as Attack, Guard, item, skill, and so forth. Each unit can be instructed separately or players can simply hit the ‘auto’ button and watch as the fight resolves itself. This auto feature makes Neverland Online very simple to play on one tab while doing something else on another. I found myself watching YouTube videos as I played and was pleased to find the game so flexible. Neverland Online does have a musical score but it is turned off by default. In order to activate it, players must open the options menu by hitting a button located on the top left of the screen. The music has an Asian feel to it and is generally pleasing. Some of the sound bits, such as the shriek defeated creatures make, are annoying so I recommend players put on their own music as they play.

Gotta Catch ‘em All

Aside from the starting rabbit pet, players are free to catch new creatures and use them in combat. Almost any creature can be caught by using the special ‘catch’ action though weakening the target increases the success rate. Both pets and players earn 3 stat points each level which can be distributed among five stats: Strength, Stamina, Agility, Intelligence, and Faith. There are several auto-allocate options for those who want to be safe with their builds but more adventurous players can distribute the points manually. Besides stat points, players earn skill points to distribute among eight ‘powers’ which each associate with a different set of skills. There are four physical (Valor, Fortitude, Confidence, Insight) and four mental (Fervor, Delusion, Grace, Aura) powers but its best for players to specialize in one or two. Rangers and Assassins are the physical classes in Neverland Online whine Taoists and Elementalists comprise the mental jobs. There’s a surprisingly deep crafting system in the game which involves resource gathering and production. Players have a whole host of options when crafting equipment including selecting its rarity, quality, and level range. Besides simply crafting gear, players can upgrade materials, increase the attribute bonus of equipment, drill gem slots into gear, make potions, salvage materials from equipment, and so on.

Give away the Razor, Sell the Blades

New player will be astonished at the experience rate in Neverland Online for the first 20 or so levels. Seemingly endless streams of quests are thrown at the players which provide a great sense of direction and steady rewards. But all this is serves as the games hook and quickly dries up. It is only at level 20 that players really move past the newbie phase and gain access to the global chat channel. New quests are still available in modest number but players should expect a much longer grind. As leveling becomes harder, it takes longer and longer for players to earn the next item package which are rewarded every 5th level and contain a slew of helpful items such as gear, double experience scrolls, potions, and scrolls that sell for nice sums of silver. Silver is only one of the game’s major currencies with the other being Gold. Gold is a much more premium currency and is used and the item mall to purchase high tier items. Premium purchases include powerful pets, high potency consumables with a ton of charges, and unlocking additional pet slots (players start with two and the max is ten.) As the levels go on, players have several mid to late game options to contend with. There are many dungeons in Neverland Online, some of which stretch on for 40 or more levels. Additionally, there is a voluntary PvP system where players can flag themselves open to attack. The grinding aspects of the game can be largely automated, there is a built in feature which allows players to set when and how often they are to heal, use skills, and so forth. Players who don’t mind this sort of repetitive gameplay or can at least overlook it while attending to other activities on the web should give Neverland Online a try.

Final Verdict: Good

Neverland Online is a full featured MMORPG that fits on a web browser. The graphics and dialogue may not be the best quality but this is still an impressive package for the fledgling browser MMORPG market. Automation features and an excessive emphasis on grinding do add a level of tedium but a detailed crafting system coupled with the ability to catch a large variety of pets makes Neverland Online worth a look.