Tag Archives: mmo

Destiny 2 Vanilla Review (PS4)

I think I’m finally in a position to review Destiny 2. I’ve spent 100 hours in-game, got the platinum, completed the raid, finished the prestige nightfall, went flawless in Trials of the Nine, and got all three characters to max level (only one is 305 but they’ll get there). Just like Destiny 1, I think I’ve burned through all the content within a month of launch, and I’m still not entirely sure how much I enjoy it.

Clearly I’ve got my money’s worth, 100 hours is a ridiculous amount of time to spend on a game I only paid £40 for and I would easily recommend it to anyone with any kind of passing interest in FPS games; but still there’s a nagging feeling that it should have been so much better.

For those who have been avoiding the pages of Eurogamer and have no experience with Destiny as a franchise, it is a new breed of FPS from Halo-developers Bungie. Freed from their Microsoft overlords they embarked on a mission to create a multiplatform FPS that fuses some of the best elements of MMOs and FPS games together, and they largely succeeded with the first Destiny. It wasn’t perfect and took a few patches and expansion to realise the dream, but they created a new genre that was definitely appealing and addictive. You play through a standard FPS story mode with some open world aspects then group up with other players to work your way into the ‘end-game’ made up of typical MMO tropes of dungeons, raids, and PVP. In return for beating the various challenges you get gear that increases in power, and thus begins the familiar MMO treadmill of getting better gear to be able to take on harder content in order to get better gear and so on.

The first Destiny did a fantastic job of introducing raid mechanics with the Vault of Glass raid and proved that FPS games could work with raid mechanics and large group strategy. While the game didn’t really find a proper voice in terms of story and progression until the later expansions, that first raid really hooked a certain type of player and we were all looking forward to the sequel to see what they could do next. Then Bungie decided to take a step backwards.

While Destiny 2 is an incredibly accomplished game, it moves backwards in nearly every respect to be closer to what the original game was before the DLC. The horde modes, sparrow racing, reputation grinds and even sparrow horns are all gone. Raid and strike gear has lost the interesting perks that made them unique to that part of the game. PVP has a very limited pool of maps and only three playlists to choose from. The Patrol zones (open world areas where you can complete various objectives for rewards) all feel strangely lifeless with the exception of the excellent EDZ.

That’s not to say what’s there is bad in most respects, it’s a beautiful game, the music is hauntingly memorable and evocative, the gunplay is as satisfying as ever, the strikes and raid are nearly faultless (with the exception of one strike that happens to be this week’s nightfall) and the campaign is much more effective and interesting than its predecessor.

It just feels like so much is missing and no one needs to ask why, they’re keeping it for DLC. The season pass is already on offer and will clearly reintroduce much of what we’ve lost to people that pay for it, over the course of the year. I’m sure by this time next year we’ll have at least one more raid, more strikes, more exotics, more multiplayer modes and more patrol zones, but by the end of it I’m worried that we’ll just be clawing our way back to how good the first game was by the end. Bungie had an opportunity to take their awesome framework, make a huge amount of content to justify a new game, then go even further with their DLC. Instead we have a stripped back game, almost devoid of real end-game content, and an offer to pay a lot more money to get what we’ve lost back further down the line.

The issues with end-game only really manifest after you’ve put in a decent amount of time already into the game. If you’re the sort of person who’s only going to be playing for an hour or two a week, ignore this and just go get the game. You’ll have an awesome time with it and never run out of things to do. If you’re like me and want to put in 5+ hours a night, you’ll run into the same problems I have. Firstly, the maximum level is too attainable. Once you get to level 20 (around 8-10 hours in for your first character) you can only progress by getting item drops that increase your average power level. The maximum currently is 305 and this can be achieved by simply grinding any of the activities available to you at that point. You can complete public events over and over in any of the open-world areas, where you complete objectives and kill enemies, possibly with the help of other random players or your friends. These are pretty entertaining but get repetitive quick as there’s only five or six that repeat every few minutes. You could go for strikes (dungeons) but these are quite slow and inefficient, only giving you a little bit of gear at the end. You can do crucible, which is the PVP mode where currently games take too long to be a good method of grinding, but you can get amazing rewards (not for being good, just for participating).

Then there’s the weekly tasks, each week you can take on public events on a certain planet, complete a more challenge form of a strike called a Nightfall, where you’re up against a time and various other modifiers, complete the Prestige Nightfall which is even more difficult, run through the raid, or complete Trials which is a special PVP mode where you see how many games you can win before you get a loss. Get seven in a row without losing and you get a huge amount of gear and a special emblem. Every week these tasks give you a new powerful reward that will boost your level considerably, and even with three characters it doesn’t take too long to get through all of them.

Now the problem is that after two weeks of completing all of these different events, I have maxed out a character, with the other two very close. Once you get to 305 there’s very little to strive for beyond finding certain weapons (complete luck for all but a few quest exotics). There’s no reputation levels to increase or progression for the PvP system at all.

So while I’m obviously a fringe case and not everyone will spend the amount of time I have on the game, Destiny fans are voracious and lots of people are already feeling a similar way, there’s just nothing to works towards. Think of WoW’s faction grinds, Call of Duty’s prestige modes or Battlefield’s ranks. There’s always progress, always a carrot to urge you on, and that’s what’s missing from Destiny 2 at the moment. It’s an incredible game, and I’ve loved all the time I’ve spent with it so far, but it’s hard to escape the feeling that there should have been so much more.

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Why We’re Excited About Conan Exiles

It’s no secret that we’ve been playing a huge amount of Ark lately. There’s something addictive about building up a base with your friends and always having goals that you can log on to work towards. Of course there’s the (very real) risk that someone will come and destroy everything you’ve done, but the risk makes what you have all the more valuable.

In a couple of weeks Funcom are bringing out Conan Exiles, which is a very similar kind of game, but set in the Conan world. Of course that piques our interest, but why not just carry on playing Ark? Well here’s some reasons.

  1. Funcom

Funcom are a developer that gets very little attention despite having a pretty consistent record for excellent  and innovative games. The Secret World is probably our second favourite MMO running, tackling a huge range of different environments, with different gameplay styles, huge amounts of content and an interesting levelling system that doesn’t tie you down to a single class. Age of Conan (the MMO that this game is definitely using some ideas from) was also trying plenty of new things and had much more exciting melee combat than the usual fare. Even Hide and Shriek, a tiny multiplayer horror game where you’re both invisible, is a ton of fun. So when Funcom are ready to try their hand at a new genre, I’m always interested in seeing what they’ve come up with.

2. Conan

While I might not be a big fan of the Conan books, films, or comics, there’s definitely an appeal to the universe. It’s a throwback to the pulp stories of the past where overly dramatic adventures could take place, without the emotional turmoil that seems to be a necessary tick box for modern game stories. You’re a giant muscley man or woman who’s going to go out into a horrible environment and kill things. Sometimes that’s all you need. There are gods, monsters, slaves (but they’re just NPCs so it’s probably ok) and giant sandstorms. This is the sort of universe where you can build an 80ft statue of yourself and no-one thinks it’s weird.

3. Slaves

Not to sound like I’m obsessed with the slavery thing, but as a mechanic it could be genius. Much like Ark has its dinosaur taming, Exiles lets you knock out NPCs, tie them up, drag them across the desert, then break their will on a giant ‘wheel of pain’ before you set them to work for you. Normal ‘thralls’ might be set to guard a gate or wall, or to gather a simple material, more skilled ones might be useful to put at a crafting station to make the most of their skills. This will lead to you searching out for particular people who you want working for you, then mounting a giant kidnapping mission to get them back. Sounds like fun.

4. It’s new

While Rust and Ark and DayZ are all still in Early Access, they’ve been mastered. You can go on wiki sites and find out everything about the game instantly. It’s all been worked out, it’s all been solved. With a new game, there’s a sense of mystery. We don’t know how everything will work, or what the best layout will be, or what secrets are hidden on the map. By getting into the Early Access straight away you can get ahead on a server and be one of the pioneers. Thanks to internet wikis, most MMOs and exploration-based games have lost a lot of their wonder for the sake of efficiency, and while that might be inevitable, it’s exciting to be able to avoid it, even if it’s just for a little while.

So we’ll be streaming the Early Access build of Conan Exiles as soon as the doors open, and if you want to join our tribe just let us know through our Discord (look to the left) or leave a comment below. The more the merrier!

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The Elder Scrolls Online Review (PC)

Making them available online sure would stop a lot of fighting. And cause a lot of blindness.

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MMORPGs are in a strange place. Numerous contenders for WoW’s throne have tried and failed, either settling for small user bases or shutting down altogether. Budgets have ballooned to the point where even the $300 million The Old Republic failed to make a significant ripple. When Bethesda announced The Elder Scrolls Online, there was a lot of cynicism. Over the months that followed it was hard to make out what this game was going to do right over all of its failed predecessors. Now the game has been out a while and we’ve had a chance to play through – how does it fair?

At its heart TESO is a true Elder Scrolls game in many ways. The UI is instantly recognisable for using the same aesthetic as Skyrim, the textures and objects in the world are similarly familiar. This isn’t always a good thing as you grow tired of the identikit dungeons and houses (there’s hundreds of enterable dungeons, each with their own story, but the layout and map of each are only marginally different. In fact you quickly work out exactly where the ‘boss’ of each dungeon will be that lets you show it as completed on your map). In some ways it works spectacularly well though. Coming across locations or characters that are familiar due to the lore is always exciting and if you drop the game down into first=person you can almost convince yourself that you’re playing a sequel (or extreme prequel more like) to Skyrim. In third person for some reason the effect is lost, as with all Elder Scrolls games combat is not the strongest feature and seeing your character wildly flinging their axe or sword around without it connecting to anything while being able to walk diagonally backwards over a rough floor is a surefire way to break any immersion there might have been. In first-person all of those janky animations are hidden and you also get a much better sense of scale in the world. The Elder Root town in Grahtwood is impressive as you approach it from some distance, a giant tree illuminated in the forest. The dark anchors are similarly imposing, hurling down from the sky with a real sense of weight. As is the case with nearly everything in TESO, there’s some really great moments and aspects, but it’s all too often let down by something just as disappointing at the same time.

When you start the game you can picked a race and class, with your race deciding your faction (one of three, this decides your starting area and ‘team’ for PvP). The faction differences seem a little artificial as eventually you go through all of the other zones and quests anyway and there’s even a collector’s edition-only ‘Imperial’ race that can go into any faction. All this split does is separate the playerbase into three groups, which might be a good thing for server load in some of the lower areas, but it’s a terrible thing for grouping. Rolled an Argonian and want to play with your friend who wanted to be Khajit? Tough, no grouping for you. While the decision to divide the playerbase might be seen as a concession to the thick lore that surrounds the Elder Scrolls, even that barely makes sense. These races have been grouped together for no real rhyme or reason. Sometimes it’s because their homelands are geographically close together but then in every Elder Scrolls game we’ve been used to seeing the races mix in nearly every town and village. It’s an odd choice that’s going to cause problems for lots of players. We expect the feature to be altered in the future with any race being allowed to join any faction, especially since you’re always an outsider in most of the quests so it doesn’t matter too much who you are.

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The classes are also a strange choice and feel out of place in an Elder Scrolls game. TESO gets a lot right with skills, any class can serve as any of the holy trinity (healer, tank and DPS) but to be honest the trinity disappears fairly quickly in any dungeons as everyone end up doing bits of healing, the aggro mechanics mean a tank can rarely hold the attention of every mob in a trash pull and everyone needs to contribute to the DPS. You also get skills not just from your class but from your weapon, armour type, race, crafting skills and more. We played through as an Imperial Templar but ended up almost entirely using the one hand and shield skills rather than the class-specific ones. Lots of ‘typical’ Elder Scrolls skills are linked up to weapons rather than classes, so anyone can use a destruction or restoration staff (although the other schools of magic are oddly absent). The classes themselves consist of a sorcerer (who is quite happy to use a 2H sword and heavy armour), a templar (who is basically a paladin), a dragonknight (sort of a warrior but they can breathe fire and make spikes come out of places) and a nightblade ( a rogue/ranger). If you’re hoping to play a fantasy archetype you might find it difficult as none of the classes are quite what you’d expect, but at least there is a lot of opportunity to branch out and forget some of your class skills along the way. It does seem strange that they even bothered with the classes, other Elder Scrolls games have done fine without them and the skill system seems set up to allow you to mix and match from everything, there’s just an arbitrary restriction based on a choice you have to make before you even start playing.

Once you spawn into the game you start in classic Elder Scrolls style incarcerated in a prison. Not just any prison, a prison for the dead where you find out your soul has been ripped from you. The main story begins quickly and thankfully there’s none of the standard MMO tropes of ‘kill 5 rats’ before you get into the meaty stuff. Before your first half an hour is up you will have seemingly condemned someone to an eternity of suffering and seriously annoyed a Daedric Prince, and that’s before you find new trousers. One of the best ways TESO breaks away from the genre is by never patronising you with quests. The vast majority seem important and dramatic, there’s hardly any simple fetch or kill quests, they’ve all been framed in much more complicated ways and you’ll rarely kill more than nine or ten mobs in the first couple of zones (per quest). Experience is linked to quest rewards and exploration much more closely than killing and although it is possible to grind, you can quite happily level through zones without ever killing anything that’s not strictly necessary for your objectives. Of course there are roaming monsters and bandits and even enemy camps and world bosses that you’ll want to take down, but you don’t have to and that’s one of the most significant leaps forward that TESO makes. This feels like an RPG game with MMO elements, rather than the other way round. Every quest is voice acted (often by celebrities) and although the delivery is usually quite wooden and never convincing, it at least helps you to pay attention to why you’re doing things in the game. It’s definitely not up there with SWTOR for dialogue and plot but it’s a far cry from the dry quest text of WoW.

Combat in the game is tied to a few simple principles. You have a hotbar where you can slot five skills and an ultimate, and once you reach level 15 you can create a second bar for a weapon swap. We currently have a ‘tanking’ set with a sword and shield and then a ‘DPS’ set with a bow and arrow for when getting close simply isn’t an option. Swapping between them is a simple button press and it essentially gives you two hotbars to work from although sadly you can’t use the same weapon for both. The controls are similar to Skyrim, you can block at the expense of stamina, bash with a shield to interrupt or hold down attack for a stronger swing. You can also double tap in a direction to dodge out of the way, something you really need to learn in dungeons as it seems most of the mechanics revolve around ‘there’s a rapidly expanding red circle, jump out of it or die’. Sadly many of the more interesting mechanics like active blocking and bashing tend not to work on bosses so it quickly degenerates into the same kind of boss fights we’re used to seeing in MMOS – kill the healer adds, avoid the bad things on the ground, keep healing and try to plan out your cooldown use. It’s not that this is bad per say, but it’s nothing new or interesting. The most innovate boss we’ve seen was one where you fight a giant monster just before the final boss in the dungeon, and then when you come to fight the guy you’ve been chasing, he’s literally just a person and goes down almost instantly after trying to attack you with a dagger. That was something we hadn’t seen before and made sense within the world. Sadly it’s the exception rather than the rule, you’ll go from that to the next dungeon where you’ll fight a single person who has the same health bar as twenty-foot tall Daedric monster.

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All the way through TESO it seems like there’s been two teams, one making a standard MMO and one making an Elder Scrolls RPG. The elements from the Elder Scrolls are often great and exciting, but then you need to wade through the MMO side to get to the fun parts. In the PvP you fight over a whole zone set in the same place as ‘Oblivion’ (Cyrodil, not the Daedric plane). The idea is that you’re fighting for the Imperial City and you need to capture castles, resources and Elder Scrolls in order to win the capital. In some ways it’s a great idea, you feel awesome riding across the plains with a bi group before ploughing into an all-out war with siege weapons, archers and brutal melee. But then to capture a resource you stand in a circle for a while. Even worse, to capture an Elder Scroll you can just walk up and take it from an usually accessible building. There’s a quest in Oblivion where you steal an Elder Scroll and it’s unbelievably convoluted and tricky because these things are the most powerful objects the various races have access to. For the sake of PvP they’re just left in easy-to-find buildings above ground on the battlefield. They’re a flag, to capture. Why couldn’t they have used an actual flag?

Once you make your way to level 50 you can start progressing through ‘Veteran ranks’ and the top tiers of crafting and content become available to you. In true MMO fashion, not much changes. There’s some interesting mechanics (that are playing out oddly at the moment) like becoming a vampire or werewolf, there are 25 player ‘raids’ and there’s always this three-way tug-of-war in the PVP; but sadly nothing really changes. The locations are cool but you quickly start to see the patterns and every new zone feels repetitive, the dungeons can be visually impressive but the mechanics are dry and uninteresting, the PVP is possibly the real lasting draw but on such a large scale it’s hard to feel like you have much of an impact as an individual, there’s no arenas for you, just large-scale warfare and if your faction is doing badly there’s not a whole lot you can do to change that.

If you have a large group to play with, TESO will easily at least be value for money, there’s tonnes of content and in a group you can access all of it fairly quickly. As a solo player you’re going to have a much harder time but I’d say just being able to explore all of Tamriel is probably worth the asking price as long as you can put up with the usual MMO annoyances. So far there’s doesn’t seem much reason to carry on a subscription though, in a month you will have likely seen all that the game has to offer gameplay-wise and there’s very little variation on that. Bethesda have already announced the first content patch with new higher-level areas so perhaps they’ll come through, but for now I’d be wary, this is just another of ‘those’ MMOs.

Verdict 7

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Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn early levels review (PC)

Maybe every MMO should try this ‘come out once and be awful then re-release with a completely overhauled game’ thing, it seems pretty good

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Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn is the re-release of Final Fantasy XIV. Originally when XIV was brought out gamers complained about the aimlessness of its levelling, problems with travel and linear zone. Square actually listened to its fans and took the almost unprecedented step of shutting the game down and spending a bit more time on it. Now they’re back with A Realm Reborn and they’ve almost completely overhauled the entire game. There are some zones and storylines that are the same as well as many art assets and some game mechanics, but the amount that was changed goes far beyond simple ‘tweaking’. They’ve completely taken on board everyone’s complaints about the original game and improved on it in nearly every way.

For this early review we’ve levelled one character to 21, with three crafting/gathering skills between 10-20 and we levelled another character on a different server up to 12. We are not pretending for this to be a full review, but for those on the fence now the server issues are starting to resolve we though we’d let you know how the game plays in the first 10-20 hours. We’re covering character creation, solo questing, crafting, instances and fates. We’ll bring a second review once we’ve got experience of the end-game and jobs. It’s currently around £17 to buy the game and first month’s subscription so there’s a low entry barrier should you be interested.

Like most MMOs, XIV begins with character creation. You get a choice of five different races (a purely aesthetic choice), as well as your gender and ethnic origins. There’s a detailed visual character editor allowing you to choose your facial structure, eye and hair colour as well as your body types. One of the first things you’ll notice about XIV is how good the character models are. MMOs are renowned for cutting back on polygons wherever they can to keep things running smoothly when there’s load on screen but somehow Square have managed to keep the models looking amazing and detailed while also allowing you to customise virtually every aspect. Clothing and gear is much less detailed, particularly in the l as you’ll change that so often it’s less of an issue.

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Once your character has been created you need to pick your first class. ‘First’ is important because unlike many other MMOs, your class is dependent entirely on what you have in your hand at the time. At level 10 or so you get the chance to start joining other guilds, giving you access to those classes. When you change class you go right back to level 1, but obviously keep your inventory and quest progress. As you level up different classes on a single character you unlock cross-class skills that make your main class more powerful. For example if you are levelling a melee class it might also be worth starting a healer to get the ‘cure’ spell to give yourself a little more longetivity on the battlefield. If you’re a Black Mage you might also want to be able to summon an elemental creature to fight at your side and tank for you. It leads to a very versatile system where although there is no choice in terms of talents you have a ridiculously open choice of how to progress. Many are pushing their main up to the level cap (50) as fast as possible to get to raid content earlier. Some are levelling multiple classes equally, others are levelling up a pair of classes until they can unlock a ‘job’ like the Black Mage or Warrior that will allow them access to an even more unique set of spells and a story quest.The system is elegant in that you change instantly, with the game having an excellent way of tracking your gear sets and other information, so you can play as DPS but then switch to a tank when you want to group up. My character is a Marauder, a tank that uses a giant axe. At some point I’ll be levelling a healer too for when I’m more in the mood to sit back and heal. DPS characters are having a hard time with instance-finder queues currently so that’s worth bearing in mind.

The crafting classes are also completely separate. So for example the fishing class, which is a gathering type starts at level 1 when you first pick up a fishing rod. Through levelling you get access to more fishing quests, can catch bigger fish and even learn abilities such as stealth that allow you to reach the best spots without worrying about aggroing mobs and attempting to fend them off with a wooden pole. The system also means you can’t level up your main through crafting, you have to level up a class by doing things as that class, so you know when you see a level 50 tank, they’ve learnt to play that class the hard way, they haven’t simply switched to it at the last moment. To avoid the tedium of going through the first few quests over and over you do get a boost to xp based on the difference between your highest and lowest classes. So a level 50 player will be able to level up a brand new character faster than a level 30 character can.

Once you actually get into the game, you’re treated (or subjected to depending on your viewpoint) a lengthy cutscene introducing you to the starting area and the world. Different classes start in different areas from the lush forest of Gridania to the open port of Limsa Lominsa and the prosperous desert city of Ul’dah. Each look spectacular in their own way, with Limsa’s spectacular vistas and lighthouses or Gridania’s lush forest. The landscapes are truly a wonder in the game and you explore for the sake of seeing new sights rather than just wanting to grind out more levels. Every area has a huge amount of detail lavished on it and most are completely open, rather than the linear corridors of the first release. The starter zones all share similar quests with conversations and simple fetch quests teaching you the basics of getting around then leading you on to combat quests and ‘kill 5 of these types’. XIV is a very traditional MMO in many senses and the quests are exactly what you’d expect. There’s very little or no puzzle solving to be done, it’s about going to a place and often fighting some things, and that’s about it. The script is interesting and often hilarious and the locations are beautiful, but the actual questing is extremely standard. Unfortunately very few cut-scenes are voice acted so you’ll be reading a lot of the text, which does tend to lead to people skipping through it without taking much in. The story starts off slow but picks up pace around levels 15-20 when you start learning more about the history of the world and what the people are dealing with, as well as the interesting adversaries. Without spoiling anything they’re almost certainly not what you’d expect from a game like this.

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The combat is again very similar to traditional MMOs with some of the movement-based attack signalling from Guild Wars 2 but nothing on the level of TERA. You get a lot of abilities quite early on and you assign them to a hotbar. Since this is a joint PS3 and PC release (with cross-platform play) controllers are fully supported and work very well, using the triggers as modifiers to make sure you have access to every ability on the fly. The UI changes to reflect the fact you’re using a controller and there’s already many PC players using them to successfully Tank and Heal which was unexpected.

Progress in the game is fast with no grinding in the first twenty levels thanks to the abundance of quests available. The only real issue with this side of the game at the moment is the travelling that stretches out sequences within quests for no real reason. You’ll often be asked to speak to someone in a different town, then come back. By level twenty your shooting off from region to region just to speak to people and then return. It gets tedious extremely quickly and while you can teleport to most towns if you’ve been there before, it costs a lot of in game currency and can leave you broke if you’re not smart about when and where you decide to teleport. Chocobo rides are much cheaper and more fun but sadly they only go for short distances within regions. The travel starts to feel like padding on a game that will already devour hours of your life, it isn’t helped by loading screens between indoor areas and levels within cities when you’re travelling between them regularly. It’s a small annoyance but at certain stages of the game you come across it many times.

The instances in the game are already outstanding, having played the first four available. While there is a lot of trash groups that you need to wade through, the environments are still stunning and the dungeons don’t drag out too long with regular mini bosses along the way. The final boss of each dungeon is a real treat and have been carefully designed to train you in elements of fighting bosses before you get to the level where you’ll be expected to raid to progress. Simple things like recognising tells, using the environment and even kiting are all used in fairly simple but interesting fights. The loot from dungeons is generally quite disappointing but this is just the first half of the game, we expect that to ramp up as you get towards the level cap.

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Currently within the game there is so much to do it’s almost overwhelming. From crafting (which employs a minigame that is similar to the combat and allows you to affect the quality of the item you’re producing) to questing and grouping up there’s a lot to do and thankfully no rush to do it. All the servers are constantly full so there’s always people around to help out with a generally positive community being found throughout. If you buy into this game now you’re definitely going to get your money’s worth and if you don’t ever resubscribe it will only cost you £17. For fans of traditional MMOs, this may be the peak so far and a real contender to the likes of the Elder Scrolls Online which won’t be launched until next year. Coming from the ashes of what was seen as a catastrophic failure, XIV has truly been reborn into an excellent game. We’ll bring you a further review once we’re raiding but for now we just want to get back online!

Verdict 9

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The Elder Scrolls Online Hands On Preview (PC)

The Elder Scrolls, now in PDF

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The Elder Scrolls Online has had a lot to contend with since it was announced. It’s a fantasy MMO coming a long time after many big hitters have already passed their peaks including World of Warcraft, Guild Wars 2, Lord of the Rings Online and Everquest 2; it’s going to use a subscription model as well as a real money story; it’s the first multiplayer entry in a long established single player series with a new development team leading the way; it’s got a lot of obstacles in the perception of gamers at large. Thankfully it’s also a fantastic Elder Scrolls game and that will almost definitely be its saving grace.

Starting up our gameplay demo the first thing we got to do was create a character. This will be instantly familiar to anyone who’s played an Edler Scrolls game, allowing for a heft amount of cosmetic customisations as well as a class archetype/ There’s much less restriction on class compared to other MMOs, anyone can use whatever weapon they like and any armour, but it will help to define what skills you can get as you level up throughout the game. We didn’t want to waste our demo time on the character creator so we quickly whipped up a green-scaled Argonian Sorcerer and took him out into the wilds. Or rather out into the snowy village as the demo takes place in what looks a lot like an area of Skyrim. Rather than confining the game to a single region of the Elder Scrolls world, Bethesda have decided to open up the MMO to include all of the regions so it is possible to travel all the way from Skyrim to Morrowind, and possibly even the planes of Oblivion. When we spawned we were in a small village that looked extremely similar to towns like Whiterun, and were promptly asked to go to a bar to see someone about a quest. Along the way I stopped to try /dance and much to my amusement the dancing animation appears to be better than any other animation at the moment, clearly Bethesda understand MMOs.

Graphical fidelity has taken a hit in the switch to MMO but it’s still impressive for the genre. Vistas go on for miles and character models and animations are well defined and more natural than we’ve come to expect from previous entries in the series. There’s much less you can interact with in the world, but there’s still more than in any other MMO I’ve played, with items on shelves often being able to be stolen or examined. The UI is just lifted out of Skyrim with the same icons, fonts and graphics. This helps with consistency and goes a long way to making the game feel like a real Elder Scrolls game. When you speak to NPCs you get dialogue choices, you can go into first person if you’d like and it’s a true first person with your hands and weapons in front of you with casting and fighting animations. The only hint that you’re in an MMO are the other characters jumping around occasionally, acting in ways that AI never does. It’s an exciting feeling to be able to enter Skyrim and see other players, and one that didn’t leave us all the way through the demo.

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After being given a number of quests we set out into the wilds and immediately started throwing fireballs at everything we could to see what happens. There’s a lot of wildlife and that definitely dies if it’s hit with a fireball. If you click attack you send out a single fireball, if you hold it down you can cast up to three at a time. We were given a single skill point to start off with which I spent on a snare that had purple spikes shooting out of the ground to hold enemies at a distance, allowing me to pick them off with fiery orbs.

Heading off the beaten track I wanted to see what TESO could offer in terms of exploration. I almost instantly spotted a huge temple built into the side of a mountain and as I approached I had to contend with skeletons that were much tougher than the deer I’d previously be massacring. Combat feels more like an action-RPG than an MMO but not a particularly good one. You can dodge and targeting is important, but your hits lack any real sense of weight as only certain enemies seem to even react to hits at all, such as bears that flinched if I hit them with a strong enough attack. There’s no variation on the hitboxes so if you hit someone in the head it’s going to be just the same as if you’d hit them in the knee.

Exploring the temple was fun and while the quest was reasonably simple (find three runes, set them up, go inside) the fact other players were running around fighting the same enemies and in many cases actually helping out made it more exciting. It felt more like a Skyrim quest than one from World of Warcraft and there was no sign of ‘kill 5 boar’ type quests in the short time we played. Later I happened upon an ice cave that had a much more interesting mission. There was a man trapped in the ice, and some kind of malevolent spirit who wanted to play tricks on me unless I could find out his real identity. I needed to go round and find clues scattered about the cave (with no exact waypoint showing the way) and complete a brief jumping puzzle until I was led to fight him in a larger area as he created many copies of himself. The voice acting was fantastic and the writing was funny as well as interesting, hopefully this is a sign of things to come for the game as a whole.

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We went into The Elder Scrolls Online with trepidation and expecting to be disappointed, we came out knowing we’ll pick it up as soon as it launches. It’s an MMO, but with the Elder scrolls universe and aesthetic as well as what appears to be elements of the same great writing that have earned Bethesda their status over the years. Hopefully the combat will be tightened up before release and the subscription fee won’t put too many people off (it’ll be interesting to see what’s included in that subscription) since an MMO is no MMO at all if there isn’t the community to play it.

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Which MMO should you play?

My god, it’s full of stars…

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If you decided right now to get into MMOs you’d be stepping into one of the most exciting genres gaming has to offer. There’s many accomplished games with spectacular storylines and worlds, and you get to play alongside hundreds if not thousands of other people. The problem is, there are loads of MMOs on the market. After World of Warcraft became a perpetual money generator many companies decided to step in and try their hand. Whilst this is in no way a comprehensive list, here are our opinions of the MMOs we’ve been playing over the last few years. Click the titles to be taken to the website for that game, but be aware many of them are available on Steam if you’re into that kind of thing.

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Defiance Review (PC)

What noise does a falling tree make if there is no-one to hear it?

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Defiance is the brand-new MMO from Trion Worlds and the Syfy Channel. It ties into a TV series of the same name which will begin on April 16th and will feature the same world-narrative as the game and feature many crossover characters and events. This is an early review, based on twenty hours of gameplay trying out each and every feature of the game. That being said, there are still a few bugs and problems which I’m confident will be addressed in future patches, so this, like all our articles, may be a working piece. What we mean by this is that if the facts change, so will this article. The purpose of this review is to give people who are sitting on the fence an idea of how the game is right now and whether we think it’s worth your hard-earned cash, the game is currently £34.99 on Steam with no subscription.

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Defiance impressions (PC)

I defy you, ants!

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Defiance has officially launched today and we’ve been playing all morning. I’ll let that sink in for you a bit, an MMO launched, on time (although Steam took a while to catch up and the launcher still says it isn’t actually open, but you can press ‘play’ and get in anyway) and it hasn’t crashed or caused massive lag problems. EA, Bioware and Blizzard should take note. Defiance is from Trio who brought us the excellent Rift, and will tie into a Syfy Channel show due to start fairly soon.

After the break we’ve posted what we’ve liked and disliked about the game so far, and we’ll be playing it throughout the day.

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World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria Review (PC)

It’s a Panda Monk Pandemic

Blizzard has a tough time with World of Warcraft these days. I mean aside from the millions of dollars they make every month in fees, it’s hard to get excited about the game. As a business, they are living on easy street, but creatively I imagine they’re in a difficult position. If they do something completely new, a World of Warcraft 2, they can only cannablise their own customers (not literally) and so business-wise it doesn’t make sense. For whatever people say about the state of MMOs, WoW is still the undisputed king. So instead of a reinvention of the game we get these expansions, and as far as I know this won’t be the last one. So is it any good?

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Guild Wars 2 Review (PC)

A cat, a polar bear, a plant and Yoda walked into a bar…

Guild Wars 2 is a lot like many other MMOs you have played in the last decade or two. Despite all the hype suggesting it was going to be some kind of revolution, it’s more of a refinement of basic MMO ideas. This doesn’t have to be quite the negative it seems though. This is an MMO that does better than most of its contemporaries in a few key areas, and doesn’t charge a subscription. If you buy Guild Wars 2, that’s it, it’s yours. There is the potential for microtransactions, but I haven’t put a penny into those yet and have found a number of the items from the store for free. So, what’s changed then?

Character creation is very detailed for a game of the genre, and not only do you get the usual choices in class, gender, race, but you also get a set of sliders like in Skyrim to configure your avatar just the way you want. You can also choose the armour colours via a set of dyes (these can be reapplied for free at any time, and you can get new dyes from drops or from the store). There’s even flavour choices like which school you went to and what’s happened in your recent past. These all change dialog in quests, and even entire missions.

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