The Secret World: Gameplay & Overview

A followup video to my first impressions video, this one shows actual gameplay footage.

While I’m not a fan of the game, or it’s dated graphics, boring combat, terrible dialog, general lack of maturity, poor quest design, and so on – there are some things the game does right.

The freedom of having no actual classes is a pretty fun. You can customize your character’s combat abilities far more than you can his/her actual looks.

The Deck system provides you with character class archetypes that can act as guidelines for building out your character, providing a little order to the chaos.

The ground effects used to telegraph enemy abilities are well done, showing not only the area of effect of abilities, but also showing a countdown timer at the same time.

Other than that, I didn’t find a lot to like. Maybe after it goes free-to-play (which is a certainty), and after they work out the kinks… MAYBE I’d be tempted to play it. As it stands, there is no way I’d pay $15 a month for this game.

It’s pretty bad.

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The Secret World: Intro & First Impressions

My initial impressions on The Secret World, the modern day, secret society MMO from Funcom that should have stayed a secret.

I really wanted to like this game, but I don’t. At least not from what little I’ve seen.

The premise made me hopeful for a game that would echo all those X-Files episodes I loved so much. I wanted intrigue and betrayal. I wanted a mature MMO with intelligent dialog.

This is not that game.

Review: Diablo 3

Diablo 3 has released, and the gates of Hell have once more opened upon an unsuspecting world!

Well… okay, more than a few of us were expecting it. It’s been over a decade since Diablo 2, and that Deckard Cain guy won’t shut up about it. We’ve all been waiting for it. Some of us were even fortunate enough to participate in the beta in the months prior to release. I think I’ve killed the Skeleton King Leoric about three dozen times or more across all of my beta characters. At the end, I was farming rare drops off him by rolling a new character over and over again just for that purpose. It’s the only way to farm bosses since Blizzard has nerfed the rare drop rate of bosses after your first kill with a specific character. I’ve tried my hand at the economy using both the gold and real money auction house. I dabbled in crafting. I used every skill on every class and experimented with every rune available. I experienced everything the beta had to offer.

You wouldn’t think the first part of the game would hold any surprises for me, but you’d be wrong. The real surprise was when I finally logged into the game and created my first character, and it still somehow managed to feel new.

Maybe it’s the fact that the difficulty has been scaled up slightly even on normal mode. I’ve noticed that I’m not cutting through enemies in quite the same way as I did pre-launch. My barbarian is still a big ball of carnage, but what used to die in two hits now takes three or four. Unlike in beta, I’ve actually had to use health potions a few times early on. Clusters of enemies still produce kill streaks that make me chuckle menacingly, but they hit a bit harder than before. When facing the Black King, I had to stick and move a bit rather than just going toe to toe. It wasn’t rough going by any stretch, but the slight increase in difficulty on normal mode was noticeable and appreciated. The real question for me was, what dangers would I find later in the game?

BEYOND THE BLACK KING

The answer, which is probably obvious to fans of the genre, is that I found the much the same experience I did at the start of the game all the way through to its end. An ever increasing number and complexity of creatures sought my death in new and more diabolical ways, and when I slaughtered them wholesale they dropped better and better loot. That’s what normal mode is all about.

Love the Barbarian so far, but will he be just as effective on higher difficulties?

The way most veteran players look at it, normal mode may as well be called story mode. The entire play through was fun, no doubt about it, but I never felt I was in any real danger of dying until the very end of the game. My Barbarian rolled through enemies as easily as Ash in Army of Darkness. There was no finesse to it, and I was fine with that. I just found the biggest group of enemies I could and went at them head on until they exploded into a shower of gold and items.

In between the carnage, Diablo 3 does have an interesting story that weaves everything together. While I’m not a huge lore guru, I certainly had no trouble understanding the history of the series and how things led up to where they are now. The game features several interesting characters who have stories of their own, and whose fate I actually cared about. Even the Lords of Hell were more than just generic villains, and they differed enough in their personalities that it was easy to see how they went about planning the downfall of mankind in unique ways. Overall, I found the narrative of the game to be far better than I had anticipated. Blizzard could have taken shortcuts here, but they didn’t. It’s a shame that more developers don’t put more emphasis on making their stories more than just a threadbare excuse to tie action sequences together, even if the story isn’t the game’s central focus. I’m looking at YOU every Call of Duty game ever made.

Another thing I am a fan of is how is the customization options available to my class. I hear that this situation is only temporary (more on that later), but for now it is extremely enjoyable to chat with my  friends who rolled a Barbarian and see how differently we’re playing them. Right now, I’m opting for what I call my Wolverine build. I’m primarily dual wielding, and I make heavy use of the Frenzy ability that increases my attack speed the longer I’m in combat. I put the rune system to good use, finding ways to heal myself while using devastating offensive abilities. I also focus on weapons that give me health every time I hit with them and which further boost my attack speed. To add to this, my preferred armor features passive health regeneration, a great deal of strength and a boost to the amount of healing that health globes provide. I may not hit as hard as some of the other bruisers out there, but it is amazing to see how much punishment I can take considering how quickly I can refill my health meter. It may not be optimal, and I’m not expert on the game, but I can’t argue with the amount of fun I’m having.

Because of that, it was easy at first to overlook Diablo 3’s shortcomings, but there are a handful worth mentioning.

ONLINE ONLY

First and foremost, it’s no secret to anyone that the game’s launch last week didn’t go smoothly. Blizzard’s decision to make the game require an active online connection, even for single player, has turned off a lot of people to the franchise. While it didn’t stop me from buying and playing the game, the fact that I can’t just boot it up on my laptop on the go without first having to make sure I have Wi-Fi available is a black mark. As it stands, I don’t even know if I’ll bother installing it on anything other than my home desktop.

The other problem with this model is that you can’t expect players to be happy about the requirement for an active online connection if you, as the game developer, cannot provide them with an active online connection. Server issues led to downtime during the first few days of the game’s launch, and it frustrated a hell of a lot of people who bought the game just for the single player experience. While things have smoothed out a bit in the days following, Blizzard hasn’t won themselves any fans. Perhaps it will pay dividends in the long term, but that remains to be seen.

Speaking of the single player experience…

DIABLO 3 SEGREGATES YOUR FRIENDS LIST

The experiences my friends and I have had thus far with Diablo 3 has very much been an isolated, single player experience that is briefly interrupted by temporary multiplayer. The reason for this is that each of you plays the game in different ways at different times and with different levels of dedication. Unless you intentionally make a blood pact to only play specific characters together, you’ll find it difficult to share the game with your friends. Of my entire friends list, only a handful seem to have characters within a 10 level spread of my own. This may slow down a bit in a week or so when we’re all knee deep in Hell mode and not progressing as quickly individually, but then again it may not.

While it is a vastly different game, I keep comparing this experience to Guild Wars 2 and how the sidekicking system present in that game will scale down the stats of a higher level player when he enters a lower level zone. I really wish something like that was implemented here, even if it was just an optional check box in a menu somewhere. I’d love to take my mid-30s Barbarian and help out my girlfriend on her level 12 Demon Hunter without it turning into s scenario where I murder minions by the hundreds and she just sits back and collects loot. At that point the game is just a glorified escort quest instead of a shared, mutually challenging experience. The other problem with this is that because I’m so much higher level than she is, I’ll actually reduce her experience gain. In that way I’m actually hurting her experience (literally) instead of helping it.

REAL MONEY AUCTION HOUSE. REAL MONEY CONCERNS.

While the real money auction house isn’t even in the game yet, it is coming soon and is already a cause for serious concern. Not only does Blizzard have to deal with the dreaded “Pay To Win” label that many are sticking Diablo 3 with, but any security breaches that compromise player accounts could potentially result in the loss of real world currency. Even though the game has only been out for a week, and despite Blizzard stating that its decision to enforce a persistent online connection was for our own security, many Diablo 3 accounts have already been hacked. Unless this gets resolved extremely quickly, it could end up turning a lot of people off from the game. This is especially problematic for Blizzard considering this is an issue unique to Diablo 3 that will not be a concern in competing titles like Torchlight 2 and Path of Exile. Any while we’re on the subject…

WHAT GOOD IS THE AUCTION HOUSE ANYWAY?

Players are limited to 10 auctions at a time, but the game throws loot at you like a rigged slot machine. Most of it doesn’t vendor for much, and the rest you can disenchant into crafting components. Anything left over you can place on the auction house, but you have to be extremely selective in your listings. As it stands, prices for goods are all over the map as players blindly post without any real sense of item value. This should resolve itself over time as the player economy matures, but at the moment it’s a crap shoot. The only real usefulness I’ve gained from the auction house thus far is for hunting down very specific gear qualities for Nightmare mode and beyond that fit my play style. Maybe that is the whole point of it. I probably wouldn’t be as sour about the feature if it maxed out at 100 auctions instead of only 10, and I really hope the auction limit is increased in the future. In the short term however, I’ll barely utilize it.

HIGHER DIFFICULTY. LESS OPTIONS OR MORE?

Congratulations! You’ve defeated the game on normal mode! Grab your loot and get ready for Nightmare, Hell and Inferno modes.

Each of these modes requires you to beat the game on the previous difficulty level in order to unlock it. Each is progressively more deadly with enemies who are tougher and smarter, and who drop greater rewards. In an ideal game setting, you could defeat these modes still playing your character in the same manner as you did in normal mode, only with greater skill. But is this really the case with Diablo 3?

To its credit, Diablo 3 offers an almost hidden feature called Elective Mode. Turning this option on means your ability choices are no longer constrained by their category. In the case of my Barbarian, this means I can run without a Defensive skill at all, and instead use that slot for another offensive ability. At the start of Nightmare mode, that is exactly what I am doing. I’ve opted to swap my Defensive skill for the chance to use an additional Secondary skill. In this case, it is the Rend ability. I’ve also chosen to double up on my Tactics, using both Battle Rage and War Cry for the buffs they give and because I have an ability that makes each of these shouts heal me over time. I won’t sit here and claim it is an optimal build, but it’s certainly fun to play, and I appreciate having options like this available.

How long will I be able to get away with it? How long can I really play my character the way I want to? From the accounts I’m hearing from other Barbarians who are way ahead of me, then answer is not for very long. In Hell mode (and Inferno mode after) greater and greater emphasis is placed on Defensive skills since the Barbarian is forced into melee range with creatures that can kill him in the blink of an eye. Gone are the days of being a cyclonic juggernaut of rage fueled destruction. Now you’re hiding behind a shield and running away until your Defensive abilities come off cooldown. I understand the practicality of it. You shouldn’t be able to always stand toe to toe and trade blows with dozens of demons, but it would be nice to have options other than turtle, nuke and kite. If the game really boils down to just that over and over again for my Barbarian, then I won’t be playing him long term. I’ll be forced to reroll a ranged class that allows me to adapt my play style at higher levels and not totally reverse it. There is a big difference between those two, and only one of them is fun.

THE JUDGEMENT

Diablo 3 was well worth the wait, but it isn’t perfect and it isn’t for everyone. Learning skills as you go and implementation of the rune system aren’t popular features with some Diablo purists, but I love them. I still find there is an acceptable level of customization to be found in the game without getting bogged down with old mechanics. The same can be said for the lack of town portal scrolls. Diablo 3 gives you the ability to port to a safe place at will. Some will call that catering to casuals. I think of it as removing an artificial and useless “feature” that got in the way of how I played other Diablo titles.

I’ve found the cinematics, art style, voice work and sound effects all to be superior. It may not be as dark and consistently foreboding a color palette as some where hoping for, but it is certainly nice to look at.

Blizzard knows how to troll their detractors. I’ll give them that much. To anyone who complained the colors were too bright in D3, this secret level is just for you!

While I wish it was easier to make Diablo 3 into a multiplayer experience, I’m hopeful that in the weeks and months to come this will be less of an issue. For now, I’m mostly content taking on the game in single player while chatting with my friends individually.

I already feel like I’ve got my money’s worth out of the game, but then again, I only payed for a downloaded standard edition. If I had fallen for Blizzard’s Annual Pass “deal” for WoW and the price of this game was a full, contractually obligated year of propping up their stale MMO’s subscription numbers, then I’d probably be ticked off. Thankfully that isn’t the case.

If you’re a fan of the dungeon crawler genre, and you aren’t turned off by the online requirement, real money auction house or the emphasis on the single player experience, then I’d absolutely suggest picking it up.

First Impressions: Tera Online

DISCLAIMER AND INTRODUCTION

Since reviews are just opinions and opinions are subjective, I think it is important to set the stage as to what my gaming preferences are and why I’m playing Tera in the first place. I am not typically a fan of Korean MMOs or JRPGs. The last Final Fantasy I played was FFVII, and while I enjoyed games like Secret of Mana and Xenogears in my youth, it was mainly because they were the only RPGs on the market. Western RPGs at that time were few and far between, and generally weren’t very good. I respect the influence that Asian titles have on videogames, but a lot of the staples of these games just don’t appeal to me. It’s a matter of personal taste. I freely admit it. I like my blue skies to look like blue skies, without random golden runes all over the place. I dislike games which force grinding. I prefer my heroes not all be teenagers with spiked hair. I don’t care for anthropomorphic animals, and I don’t see the need to ever play a character like this one…

Elin. If I understand the lore, they’re ancient beings who assume a child-like, innocent form and not at all the walking fetishes that they appear to be. Maybe in Korea this isn’t creepy.

If Tera was any more Korean, it would come with a side of kimchi. Because of this, when I found myself looking ahead to the 2012 MMO releases, Tera Online wasn’t on my radar. It looked like Aion, and I consider that game to be a dodged bullet. The only reason I decided to give Tera a second look was due to the fact that  it comes up frequently in a lot of posts and discussions about Guild Wars 2. Both share a more action-oriented combat style than traditional WoW-based MMOs, and both have fans who claim that their chosen game is the true next gen title. Often these discussions devolve into pointless flame wars arguing the merits of each game while bashing the other. I’ve already purchased Guild Wars 2 and played in a beta weekend, and I already know it will be my MMO of choice once it releases. I love the fluid combat, dynamic events, lack of tanks and healers, the WvW, structured PvP, the quest design and the more familiar western style fantasy setting.

That doesn’t mean Tera doesn’t have anything to offer however, and the passion of the game’s fans piqued my curiosity and made me want to find out what I was missing. Graphically it looked impressive (even if it isn’t my style), and the combat absolutely appeared to be more fluid and skill based than WoW or SW:TOR. I finally convinced myself to try it so I could see first hand what it was all about. I trusted that I could keep an open mind.

I cancelled my auto-renewal subscription within an hour of buying it.

That may sound harsh, but I decided to give Tera 30 days to impress me without any strings attached. Coming off of paying for SW:TOR for five months, I didn’t really feel like making the same mistake of subsidizing a game I didn’t thoroughly enjoy. My goal with Tera is to experience as much of the content as I can in this 30 day window and decide then, and only then, if it is worth a monthly fee.

Please note that I will make frequent comparisons to other MMOs as a means of getting my point across. Game design doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and it is helps to compare and contrast other titles on the market in order to show what makes Tera unique as well as providing points of reference.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

Despite my initial reservations, I have found a fair bit about Tera that I really admire. There are plenty of flaws as well, but I’m having fun with the game overall. From a graphical standpoint, Tera is a very pretty game to look at. Character models and the environment are simply fantastic.

My Castanic is a bit too smug for her own good.

My Popori Berserker is named Surly, and he is more fun to play than he should be. The pipe and his disgruntled demeanor just give me joy. The waterfalls of the starting zone make for some breathtaking vistas.

Not everything with the game is perfect in the graphics department however. While I haven’t experienced too many problems early on, issues with model load times can detract from the overall experience.

Greyed out character models aren’t the norm, but they happen frequently enough to be distracting.

Aside from that minor complaint, I haven’t ran into any frame rate or latency issues, despite running the game on high settings on a three year old system. I haven’t visited any major player hubs yet, but everything has been extremely smooth thus far.

The combat is as compelling and action based as I had hoped. Even at early levels it never feels as static and stale as World of Warcraft. Dodging and side-stepping are key to avoiding damage entirely, and it is great to have a game determine your success based on your skill and awareness instead of the stats on your gear. It isn’t perfect, and some classes make more use of mobility than others, but it is certainly a step in the right direction. The only downside is that you have to root yourself in place in order to use abilities. Even default attacks like basic sword swings make you stand in place during the animation. It feels less dynamic and fluid than Guild Wars 2 does, although I suppose a potential upside of this is that victory won’t always mean circle strafing your enemy from range which is a habit I fell into during the Guild Wars 2 beta weekend. Another tradeoff is that enemies in Tera seem to do a much better job (at least at early levels) of indicating when their attacks are coming. If you get hit by a mob in Tera, you’re doing something wrong, but even then you can easily live through a few hits with even lightly armored characters. At least that is how it seems early on. In Guild Wars 2 you can play a heavily armored class and get creamed after only taking a couple of hits, and enemies are much less forgiving in telegraphing their movements. Tera combat is enough to keep me engaged. Guild Wars 2 combat keeps me paranoid – at least in melee.

One feature I’ve found helpful is the ability to adjust your character’s orientation relative to your targetting crosshairs. This allows you to customize the experience to your play style. The following screenshots show examples of the default positioning compared to max right, max left and slightly elevated positioning. I found that using a slight offset of one or two clicks to the left put enemies in the center of my screen, allowing me an unobstructed view of their attack animations. It is a small tweak, but one that I wish more games would take advantage of.

Default position – Centered on Crosshairs

Far Right of Crosshairs

Far Left of Crosshairs

Centered and  Slightly Elevated

Another feature of Tera’s combat that I really enjoy is the block ability of the Lancer and Berserker. Blocking attacks replaces your ability to dodge them like other classes can, but it mitigates the damage you would otherwise take from a direct hit. The Lancer excels at this absorption tanking, shrugging off all but a fraction of incoming damage with his block. The Berserker’s block by comparison is more of a parry, and doesn’t deflect as much damage as the Lancer. It makes for interesting combat, and they’re two of my favorite classes to play as a result.

Breaking down the rest of my early impressions is probably best handled with a simple pro and con listing.

PROS

Collision Detection – While I’m uncertain if player collision detection will have a downside at any point, like people crowding around a trainer or quest NPC, I really enjoy enemy collision detection thus far. The fact that you can dodge through enemies makes getting out of tight spots easier, but it still places a lot of emphasis on positioning and control.

Quest Log – Quests in Tera are boring, but at least the log has some nice features. I really like being able to click on the names of NPCs and creatures and have my map highlight their locations. You may not even have to read the quests because of how great the log is.

HUD map and UI – Right out of the gate you can move around all of the UI elements. Being able to resize, hide and customize your UI is something every MMO should launch with. I’m sure even BioWare would agree. The HUD map is extremely nice and functional as well. It almost makes the minimap redundant.

Controller support – This is actually very cool. Chain abilities allow you a brief window to execute follow up attacks in a logical manner. When using a keyboard you simply hit the spacebar to execute the next ability in the chain. With a game controller, I believe your buttons will change on the fly to activate the next ability. I haven’t tried it, but I’m fairly certain this is how it works. It allows you to essentially pair down the controls into a handheld experience, and that is a pretty elegant way to do so. Please feel free to correct me if I’m wrong.

Gathering Buffs – Regardless of if you choose to pursue crafting or not, gathering raw materials gives you a stackable buff to traits like your movement speed, stamina and mana regeneration. It is a small incentive, but it is a nice touch.

Ladders – This may sound like an odd thing to care about, but the addition of surfaces you can climb vertically gives the game an almost platformer feel at times. It also allows for drastic changes in elevation without the need for every bit of terrain to include a wheelchair accessible ramp like other games do. I’m not sure if Tera rewards exploration at all, and I haven’t seen any indication yet that it does, but it would be a shame if not. Combining terrain you can climb with jumping puzzles like those found in Guild Wars 2 could lead to some really devious ways to hide bonus content and rewards.

Ladders, even those made from vines, break up the terrain at points and give you a chance for some nice views.

And since what goes up must come down, it is also important to note that fall damage in Tera won’t kill you. Instead you’ll be taken down to a sliver of health and have to regen or heal yourself somehow. Maybe it changes later on, and I sort of sadistically hope that it does, but it appears you won’t die to cliff bosses in Tera.

CONS

Holy Trinity – Dedicated tanks and healers are still present in Tera. I know some people love that kind of game design, but I’m pretty tired of it. I think it promotes stale PvE content that degrades into formulaic encounters. I could list all of my reasons for not liking the Trinity, but I’ve already written a full article on it. No need to dredge it all up again here.

It is even worse in Tera than in games like WoW or SW:TOR because in Tera your class options for tanks and healers are pretty limited.

Warriors are evasion tanks in Tera, and are highly mobile and fun to play. They require a high skill level. It even says so in the character creation screen. Unfortunately for them, it seems no one wants them to tank. If a bad Warrior gets hit, since he doesn’t have the damage mitigation of a Lancer, he dies. Loose boss. Wipe. Even if he is really good at his job and dodges around, the aggro mechanics mean the boss will promptly turn to face his new position. If this position is facing towards the party or raid, the fight can quickly go badly since all Trinity games rely on bosses NOT doing that. The final barrier to Warrior tanking is that the dungeon finder in Tera currently won’t even allow Warriors to queue up as tanks. I’m not sure how you overlook something like this in a game that launched over a year ago, but they have. So, if you currently want to tank in Tera, you had better roll a Lancer.

Healers are in a better situation, but not by much. There are two healing classes – Priest and Mystic, but thus far it seems far more emphasis is placed upon Priests since their healing style is a bit easier. There is a pretty decent Priest vs Mystic guide on the Tera Forums that helps explain this.

So out of eight possible classes, three are considered highly valuable while the other five are fairly expendable. On the server I’m on chat is filled with people calling for Lancers and Priests to be rolled because you need those two class (along with Mystics to an extent) to run dungeons. This sounds way too familiar to me, and it isn’t something I’m a fan of. I can fortunately get by because I enjoy tanking and my girlfriend is an excellent healer, but it still feels like last generation MMO design to me.

Story and Quests – The story of Tera is window dressing and is in no way important to the game. Something about how reality is two titans dreaming and some kind of darkness and blah blah blah a mysterious island needs explored. I watched the opening cinematics once and it did nothing to ground me in why what I was doing mattered. Even the opening prologue doesn’t make much sense since you start out already at level 20 for the length of it, and then start over at level 1 after it concludes. It’s really sort of pointless.

As far as the quests are concerned, they are all very static and dull and very reminiscent of World of Warcraft. Look for the exclamation point, talk to the guy, spacebar till you can close the dialog box, and then look at your quest HUD to see how many creepy mushroom things need to be killed or who you need to talk  to next.

The quests could have remained in Korean for all that it would matter. There is no reason to read any of them.

In a sense, Tera offers the opposite game experience than you’ll find in Star Wars: The Old Republic. IN SW:TOR story matters, and it is easy to get sucked into your character and get a sense of self relative to the world around you. Listening to quest dialog, at least the first time through, really enhances the experience. Where the wheels come off is in the actual combat, which is pretty standard.

In Tera, the story is almost an afterthought. I’ve already logged numerous hours without reading or caring about a single quest. I have no real sense of my character being MINE other than my name showing up near my health bar. I feel no need to do anything except click through it all as quickly as possible so I can get back to the fun and interesting combat the game provides.

Lack of Gear Customization – I know I’ve only scratched the surface of Tera thus far, but gear upgrades don’t really feel like uprgades at this point. Even if they were only cosmetic in nature that would be something, but most of my gear upgrades only offer a change in color. Weapons vary a little in design, but each class is locked to an extremely specific weapon set. Lancers always lance. Warriors always have twin swords. Sorcerers always have Tron discs. I understand there are crystals and glyphs and whatnot down the road that offer means of customization for your character, but I prefer being able to changes things up a bit. If I want my Warrior to use a giant, two-handed mace, then he should be able to do so. Maybe a lot of people won’t mind, but it bugs me.

The difference between a level 1 and a level 20 weapon is almost purely statistical in nature. As a Sorcerer, you’re still Tron in robes.

Gathering Failures?! – Apparently you can fail at mining or picking an herb in Tera, and it is a stupid and pointless mechanic. If I have the ability and skill level to gather a node, then don’t implement some crappy failure chance. This is just a old school grind mechanic and it has no place in modern gaming.

Mob Tagging – Another throwback to previous generations of MMOs, mob tagging and kill stealing is in full effect in Tera. Maybe I am spoiled by my recent experience with Guild Wars 2, but I hate this mechanic. If someone tags a mob, and I am not grouped with them, then I have no real incentive to help them. Additionally, if you have a number of people in a given area working on the same quest individually, you’re actually competing with them over spawns instead of cooperating with them. You always have the option of forming a party, but that’s not a very organic experience unless it is a guild mate or friend. Generally this whole system just means that the players around you are just in your way, and you are in theirs.

I’ve had a handful of times when an Archer tags a mob I am already swinging at with my Lancer. He then turns and fights another mob safe with the knowledge that if I kill it, he still gets the loot and experience. I can run off and drop aggro on the mob, but that usually wastes more time than it saves. It sucks. Any non-PvP mechanic that makes me see people around me as potential opposition is tedious and irritating.

The Keymap – Maybe this is minor, but it bugs me. You can’t click in Tera. Not a real problem for most players, and not one for me, but it means you have to rely on either a game controller or keybinds. What bothers me about this is that the keymap and help messages that pop up during play all reference the default binds. If you’ve taken the time to remap your binds, neither the keymap image nor the pop ups reflect the changes. It is a small complaint, but it is a little aggravating to always see “Hit the F key to interact with this chick in the tight dress” when my F key doesn’t do squat. Don’t even get me started on F1-F12. I use a Naga and Nostromo. I don’t even touch my keyboard except to type. F11 can kiss my ass!

No matter how you change your binds, this keymap stays the same.

No Organized PvP – There aren’t any battlegrounds or warzones in Tera Online. I’ve heard organized PvP is coming at some point, but it seems like half the MMO is missing. Maybe it isn’t fair that a lack of PvP in Tera bothers me while a lack of raiding in Guild Wars 2 doesn’t, but I guess I prefer dynamic content over rinse and repeat boss fights. Someone else may feel the exact opposite.

CONCLUSION

I’ve only just begun my adventures in Tera, and while there are several issues with the game that will likely make this a short term experience for me, I can at least understand why a lot of people would enjoy it. Many of the same aspects of the game that I dislike might be selling points for another player.

What I can’t argue with is that Tera offers a gorgeous and different experience than traditional MMOs like WoW or SW:TOR. It is absolutely worth playing if you’re on the fence about giving it a shot. The combat is challenging and fun almost in the same way that an action game is rather than a MMO, and it makes up for a lot of the shortcomings found in the questing system.

Looking ahead, I’ve talked my girlfriend into playing it with me, so rolling Lancer and Priest should provide us with a chance to duo Big Ass Monsters (BAMs) found in the game and to participate in dungeon content. I’ll post additional impressions of that content, and of higher levels of play, at another time. I’m not sure how much time we’ll spend in Tera now that Diablo 3 is less than a week away, but I’m planning to enjoy my 30 days and see what happens. It’s a big, colorful world out there, and it is fun to see where it leads.

I’ll also attempt to solo as much as I can with my Berserker, only because I can’t pass up the chance to run around on this ridiculous little Winston Churchill, pipe smoking, axe wielding, badger-dog.

Review: Kinect support for Skyrim

I bought a Kinect for my girlfriend for Christmas last year. She’s into MMOs as much as I am, but she suffers from a weakness for zumba games and dancing sims that is fairly common to her gender. I mainly consider the Kinect’s motion control to be mostly useless and completely creepy. The fact that a machine is tracking my every movement and observing me at all times really bothers me. I’ve essentially paid to be electronically monitored by a device that is connected to the Internet. Even now, as I type this, it’s watching me… waiting…

Cold chills aside, I do have the utmost respect for the other thing that Kinect brings to the gaming table – namely voice recognition and control.

I declared an uneasy truce with the device once I learned I could yell at it and make it browse Netflix. Unfortunately, yelling is exactly what we’re forced to do in our house. I don’t know about the average person, but our TV sits about 10 feet from our couch. At that range, and given the fact that our sound system generates respectable output, we end up screaming at Kinect like it’s an aging father who went to too many Rolling Stones concerts in his prime and is trying to leave the house without pants.

It makes for a very frustrating experience.

Because of that, I was more than a little skeptical when I saw this video Bethesda produced regarding voice control for Kinect. It looks promising, and seems to work flawlessly. Of course it helps that it was probably recorded in a sound-proof booth by a Bethesda employee who sat 3 feet away from the device. I think it is safe to say that conditions were probably ideal.

The problem is, I live in the real world and not a sound booth. My conditions are anything but ideal. The mic icon will blip on the screen even when I’m not trying to say anything, misfired by the sound from the speakers and the game dialog. At other times I’ll find myself in the middle of combat yelling “GREATSWORD! GREAT! SWORD! GRRRREEEAAAAT SWWORRD! GREATSWORD YOU STUPID MACHINE!” while Kinect refuses to acknowledge me.

More often than not, even when it does work, I have to give commands two or three times in a row. It’s like it hears me, but it’s pretending not to until I get angry. It reminds me a lot of my sister’s kids in that regard. The difference is, I’m not trying to get Kinect to eat its spinach. I’m just trying to play the friggin game.

Still, it isn’t all bad. When it does work, I find the inventory sorting and map features to be incredibly useful. Sort by weight and by value are almost worth the aggravation. Almost.

Great idea Bethesda, and thanks for trying. I don’t blame you at all. The hardware is close to being amazing, but it needs to be reliable first. Maybe it works perfectly for a lot of people out there. I’m just not one of them.

Review: Witcher 2 Enhanced Edition (PC)

The Witcher 2 was the best game of 2011 that I completely ignored upon release. I never experienced the original game, so I couldn’t grasp from the screenshots why I should care about a guy who carried two swords yet couldn’t bother to take a single shower. It turns out this was a huge mistake. With the release of the Witcher 2: Enhanced Edition on the Xbox 360, I immediately corrected this oversight by promptly ignoring the $60 Xbox version and picking up the PC Enhanced Edition on Steam for $42 instead. I figure a rough, world weary protagonist like Geralt would approve.

I haven’t finished the game yet, but I can already tell you beyond a doubt that it is worth every penny. If you are even remotely interested in a fantasy RPG, then go buy it. The game’s voice acting is good, the story and setting are gritty, mature and deep, and the combat will punish you if you get complacent. Graphically, the world of Witcher 2 is stunning. I was extremely impressed by the aesthetics of the game everywhere I turned. I didn’t notice any major graphical flaws, and the animations were spot on. The sound effects and music are immersive and extremely well done. It’s no wonder the game scored so highly when it released.

The only real downside I’ve encountered thus far is the lack of user friendly design in some cases. Something as simple as changing your keybinds cannot be done from inside the game. This may not bother most people, but as someone who primarily controls his virtual movements via Nostromo game pad and Naga mouse, concepts like WASD binds don’t really apply. It is a minor complaint, but it turned my first few play sessions into a series of rapid restarts just to get everything sorted out. There doesn’t really seem to be any sort of tooltip description for your abilities either. You can bring up a radial menu of spells with interesting sounding names, but you won’t be told what any of them do. I ended up playing with a cheat sheet next to me just to minimize deaths from using the wrong ability at the wrong time. My final UI complaint revolves around the quest log which is hit or miss about telling you where to go next. It works for the most part, but it isn’t perfect. Even early on I had to alt-tab out a few times and Google the quest name to figure out the next step. Fortunately, the game shines in nearly every other respect, and these problems in no way diminish what a great experience it is.

I’m not a huge fan of spoiling the story elements of a game during a review, but I can give you some of the basics. Witchers are something like Rangers from Dungeons & Dragons had they been raised by a coven of witches instead of being armed members of the ASPCA like they are in most other fantasy settings. They’re monster hunters, alchemists, accomplished swordsman and generally distrusted for the dark arts they employ and their nasty reputations. I get the feeling from talking to the common folk in the game that calling upon a Witcher is a last resort in the eyes of most.

In Witcher 2, like the original, you take on the role of a particular Witcher named Geralt of Rivia, and apparently you’re fairly notorious at the start of the game. I’ve heard that if you have a save file from the original game that it does a wonderful job of weaving your prior exploits into the sequel, but I can’t speak to it. What I do know is that the Geralt in my story has lost his memory somewhere along the way, but that doesn’t stop him from being in the good graces of a King and waking up in bed with a hot sorceress within five minutes of the game’s opening sequence. Unfortunately, just as in real life, our hero’s day can only go downhill after that kind of morning.

Along your journey, you will use your steel sword for slaying human foes and your silver sword for everything else. You’ll have numerous traps, spells and poisons at your disposal, and you will need every advantage you can to defeat the enemies that the game throws at you. This game not only refuses to hold you by the hand, it threatens to chop it clean off with disturbing regularity. It isn’t quite to the level of absurdity that Dark Souls is, but the enemy AI clearly isn’t pulling any punches. Enemies will use pack tactics to corner you and mince you to pulpy bits. Considering that a single sword hit can take off roughly a third of your health bar, facing five or six foes can be quite a challenge. Save early. Save often.

I originally picked up Witcher 2 just to see what I was missing, and planned on weaving my play time in with other titles that I’m currently enjoying. I quickly had to rethink that plan. As the game progresses you’ll absolutely need to have the combat mechanics be second nature in order to survive. A single false step or firing off the wrong spell at the wrong moment will mean a reload of your last save is quickly to follow. I found this level of challenge frustrating in a good way. It reminded me of old school gaming, and I love that it rewards skillful play. Those first few failures make your victories much more gratifying because you had to earn them. I wish more games embraced this idea.

The other reason that Witcher 2 makes a poor “part time” title is that the story is dense and packed with complex characters. It can be easy to forget the interrelationships of characters you meet, their motivations and their machinations, and believe me, everyone has their own agenda. In an odd way, it reminds me a great deal of Game of Thrones. There doesn’t seem to be much Black and White here, only various shades of Grey. Call me a pessimist, but I think it adds an additional level of realism when everyone is flawed, self-centered and out to protect and advance their own interests. The game world is a harsh one where even kings can be murdered, and where terrible creatures prowl the night not far from the relative safety of city walls. A stalwart hero who valiantly fought with honor would probably end up with a dagger in his back his first night at the local inn. Corruption is rampant, and I often find myself accepting quests from the people who I’m least likely to want to impale or set on fire.

If you have the time to dedicate to it, Witcher 2 is an incredible RPG that will reward your patience and skill with a dark, mature story and visceral combat. The game is reported to control extremely well on the 360, although the PC version does look a little better. Ultimately you can’t go wrong either way.

At the time of this review, The Witcher 2: Assassins Of Kings Enhanced Edition for Xbox 360 is available at Amazon for only $44!

The Witcher 2: Assassins Of Kings Enhanced Edition for PC is only $35! That’s cheaper than I got it on Steam, but the instant gratification of downloading it was worth it.

Review: Tribes Ascend

Most of the time, I consider shooters to be B Tier entertainment. I respect the skill that goes into mastering them, especially since I lack most of it, but they’re not my first stop for my gaming fix. On a whim, I decided to give Tribes: Ascend a shot since it was totally free-to-play without any up front cost at all, and because I had read more than a few complimentary remarks concerning the game’s beta test. The game officially launched last week, and I’ve already sunk a fair bit of time into playing it. It is a fantastic game!

For anyone unfamiliar with Tribes and what sets it apart from other shooter titles, I have two words for you: jetpacks and skiing.

Tribes is about movement and speed. It takes time to adjust and much longer to excel at it, but it is an incredible amount of fun. And when that time comes when you finally pull off that amazing shot against a mid-air player while screaming along at 100mph, it will be worth all of the deaths you’ve suffered up to that point.

What really impresses me about this title is the incorporation of “skiiing” as a full feature. From my understanding, this high speed frictionless skimming of the ground was a bug/exploit in previous Tribes titles. Players figured out a way to get around faster, and it became another skill to master. In Tribes: Ascend, the developer decided to incorporate it intentionally, and it still has quite a learning curve.

Classes are split up into Light, Medium and Heavy weight classes, each of which has a different level of mobility and health. These classes divide up further into specializations. You start the game with access to three unlocked classes, one for each weight class: the Pathfinder, Soldier, and Juggernaut. You can unlock more classes and upgrades for every class through either experience gained through playing or through microtransactions via cash for gold. You can also purchase xp boosters with gold as well, and if you make even a single gold purchase, you are upgraded to a VIP account which nets you a permanent 50% xp increase.

I like this setup because it allows impatient players, or players who don’t have a ton of free time on their hands (like me) to experiment with the different classes to find one they enjoy right from the start. The unlockable classes aren’t more powerful than the free ones you start with either; rather they just fill a different niche. I played a Soldier for an afternoon to get the feel for the game. I realized that this was a wonderful game, that I was having fun, and that the developer should be rewarded with my hard earned money for creating it. I happily paid a small amount of money in order to unlock the Technician class much faster than I would have just through xp alone, and it just kicked up the whole experience another notch.

Say hello to my little friend!

While I’m certain each and every class is fun to play, the Technician allows me to focus on defense. I don’t have to cap flags. I don’t really have to chase other players around very much, because the action always comes to me. This means my basic skiing skills won’t be too much of a weakness. I usually find a nice, enclosed area where those Light classes can’t hop around too much. I grab my Thumper (imagine a cross between a shotgun and a grenade launcher), drop some light turrets to protect our team’s generator, and get to work repairing our defenses and guarding our flag. I scatter in some motion sensors that warn me of opposition and that drain some of their energy as they pass by, which reduces their mobility. For my skill level and play style, its perfect!

Thus far, I have only tried out the Capture The Flag game mode, but there are others:

  • Team Deathmatch – With a unique twist.
  • Rabbit – Score points when you have the flag. Everyone else tries to kill you for it.
  • Capture And Hold – Reminds me of Keep assaults from MMOs like Warhammer Online.

If you enjoy shooters at all, you’ll enjoy Tribes: Ascend. It’s lacking in any sort of single player or co-op mode, but that’s almost a relief seeing how most shooters don’t possess much of what I’d call a story anyway *cough* Call of Duty *cough*. The real meat of almost any shooter experience is always the multiplayer, and in Tribes you get to have a free experience that easily rivals and surpasses most games you’d pay for up front.

My advice is try it for free, and see what you think! You have nothing to lose.

Oh, and if you want an easy kill, look me up! I play under the name Evidicus. You’ll find me guarding a base somewhere.

Don’t mind the turrets. They’re really quite friendly once you get to know them.