So after a whirlwind tour of the games available out there, I might as well give a little mini-review for each of them for anyone interested.
Command and Conquer Red Alert 3
I’ve always loved C&C. In secondary school I remember going to a friend’s house to watch him play the first ever C&C and being wowed by the graphics and rushing off to buy a box for myself. Played through all the campaigns and they were a blast, with a huge variety of units with individual strengths and weaknesses that made it such that you couldn’t really just build a huge army of a single type and expect to steamroll everything. Unfortunately, I really really SUCK at RTS games so I don’t play multiplayer and thus after finishing the campaign I was pretty much done. There’s an optional challenge mode that I tried which was pretty fun, but did I mention I really really SUCK? Yeah. So I gave up after repeatedly getting bum rushed by the AI before I even have 3 units out.
I actually tried Dragonica back before I stopped posting, but might as well include it here. Played it with my wife for a while during the beta and slightly after launch, but it got old eventually. It’s basically a F2P side-scrolling beat-em-up + MMO, with quests and levelling and talent points etc (almost exactly like WoW) and instances. But like most Asian F2Ps it gets really grindy past about level 20, and it has a weird fighting system that just ends up disincentivising players.
Much of the fighting mechanics revolves around comboing, specifically air combos. Most classes have a launching move and can combo large groups of opponents in the air. There is also a running combo counter if you manage to chain hits together decently well (there’s a couple of seconds buffer in between combos where you can run to the next mob and hit it). There are repeatable missions (think instances) that are meant for groups which give loot after beating the final boss, depending on your score during the mission. For the longest time we thought the score was some time-based thing, but this proved to be way off the mark. The score is actually based on a combination of combo points (earned for doing large combos) – times you get hit by the enemies. E.g. doing a 150 hit combo gives you x combo points, and you got hit y times throughout the mission. If x-y is large enough, you get S rank and maximum rewards. So…. it is REALLY in your interest to get large combos. And the best way to do that is… use a lousy weapon. Using good weapons means killing the monsters so fast you only get a couple of hits in. There’s also no incentive to upgrade skills and use new skills other than the basic launcher + air combo, since those break up the combo count and kill monsters too fast.
Once we realised this, the game became a bit pointless for the amount of grind involved. There’s no point in levelling up if it makes your character perform worse than before…
Another F2P MMO, Florensia combines a traditional WoW-like system with an interesting sea-based combat system. Plus it involves pirates, YAAAAR. We actually played this for a while and it’s pretty decent for a F2P. But again, Asian F2P MMO = super grindy at high levels. The sea combat portion, while great fun initially, grows stale fairly quickly since you basically use the exact same strategy all the time. Get torpedo ship, fire torpedoes, 1 shot enemy ships. If enemy ships start surviving, upgrade your ship’s torpedo, repeat. There also aren’t enough quests for many of the levels, so we ended up having to grind quite a bit. It gets a bit repetitive to run circles AoE grinding the same packs of mobs for hours, so we dropped that eventually.
Runes of Magic
I tried this one by myself since my wife was getting a bit sick of these fantasy F2P type MMOs. Essentially, the stories of it being a WoW-clone are 100% correct. It plays exactly like WoW, with less polish. Although it has a nice feature in being able to click on the area map and your character will auto-run there, despite occasionally taking really weird paths and aggroing tons of crap. Every character is able to dual-class and use some secondary abilities from the secondary class together with all the abilities of the primary class. There’s also player housing, where you can decorate your house and even grow plants which give ores and herbs. Actually a pretty decent game, but eventually I just got tired of levelling/kill ten foozles/collect 20 parts. My taking part in the planting mini-game also probably contributed to my burnout as I had to keep watering/feeding them at odd hours or they’d die. Also it wasn’t the same playing without my wife
Fantastic game. This actually kept me occupied for a long time. Great story, great combat system, and of course there’s lots of loot to collect for a pack-rat like me. I eventually had probably more than a thousand guns stashed in my little locker in the toilet in Megaton city. No clue how it all fits there. I finished the main storyline and a few of the DLCs, though I stopped short of finishing the Brotherhood of Steel arc. I was already level 20 and incredibly well equipped, so there didn’t seem to be a point in continuing and I eventually got distracted. But still a great game, which requires some thinking and strategising while fighting tough opponents, especially at the beginning.
Sins of a Solar Empire
I’ve always been a fan of space-based turn-based games such as the Master of Orion series, so I had high hopes for Sins of a Solar Empire. And it turned out to be fairly good. It’s not turn-based, instead more like a space RTS. You build ships, colonise planets, research improvements, annihilate enemy fleets and nuke their planets. Most fleet battles revolve heavily around capital ships, which are kind of like heroes in that they level up (max level 6) and get special abilities which are extremely powerful. 6 capital ships can pretty much easily mow through more than a hundred regular ships. So in the end-game, military strategy involves trying to catch and kill their capitals while preserving your own by warping out if getting focused etc. However, there’s no single player campaign so once I got the hang of each of the sides available every mission was pretty similar despite having unique maps. Plus, since it was intended to be primarily a multiplayer game, map balance was essential. Thus you can be certain that the solar system is exactly mirrored on each side. Once you know what your half of the map looks like, you know what’s in the other half as well.
Dungeons and Dragons Online
Since it went F2P, DDO has been doing much better. I must say that the DDO cash shop is one of the best, with Turbine points being used mostly to buy permanent enhancements such as new areas and new races. I’ve never been a fan of using real money to buy temporary buffs such as potions etc, seems wasteful to me. I played a paladin to level 4 and it was decently fun. Great graphics and a nice spooky GM voice provides good atmosphere while dungeon crawling. The combat mostly involves madly clicking though, since each click swings your weapon. There’s no targeting, the swing just hits whatever is in front, so fighting is just running in circles around mobs swinging frantically. Overall gameplay reminds me a lot of Neverwinter Nights. However, I’m pretty much a D&D noobasaur so I’m pretty sure I screwed up my character’s stats/skills/feats. It can be a little overwhelming and unless you really do a lot of research on character builds, and I always felt worried that I was doing something wrong. But that’s probably just me.
Overall a good game that I wouldn’t mind going back to at some point, after all its F2P. Probably better with a group of friends though.
Dragon Age: Origins
A fantastic single player RPG by Bioware again. I haven’t finished it yet, but the story is great and gameplay mechanics work nicely. Very similar in spirit to Baldur’s Gate, though obviously with better graphics and features. I’m playing a mage, since I like casters and ranged DPS. In DA:O mages are hugely overpowered though. I mean, you could probably blow past anything with a party consisting of 4 mages if it weren’t for the fact that a rogue is handing for disarming traps and picking locks. Basically any fight consists of my mages starting off with Blizzard (which does cold damage and freezes things), or Mass Paralyze (which freezes things), or Sleep (which freezes things), followed by Cone of Cold (which does massive cold damage and freezes things). Alternating Cone of Colds basically stops anything from moving, even bosses. As you can see, CC is pretty much omnipotent here. Which is a nice change from WoW
I think I’m about halfway through the game storywise, though in terms of power I’m already level 16 and have most of the powerful spells and abilities. In my typical packrat fashion I’m toting around a ton of crap because “I might use this armor sometime”. I even bought backpacks to extend the inventory limit by 10, only to find myself carrying 11 additional things “since I now have space”.
However, I got distracted by what I think may be my main game for some time to come, although I will probably come back to Dragon Age to finish it off. As to what that game is… did I mention that I like space-based games?