The Secret World First Impressions

I’ve recently begun to experience what seems like burn out from MMOs. I suppose I’m starting to grow tired of having to group with four misfits in order to trudge through a thirty minute dungeon just to kill a dragon. This is why The Secret World is a literal breath of fire air. Sure I’ve dabbled in non-fantasy settings with Champions Online and The Old Republic, but The Secret World aims to be the most “real” MMO out there. This game is set in our actual world. There may be magic and monsters, but there’s also London and New York. Welcome to Earth, enjoy your stay. Continue reading

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The Elder Scrolls Online Officially Announced

The Elder Scrolls Online has been revealed by Bethesda Softworks and will be developed by TES veterans Zenimax Online Studios.

Nothing too concrete is known just yet, but Game Informer will have a full reveal of the game in their June 2012 issue. A few little facts are known though, and here they are…

1. The game will currently take place all across Tamriel, with confirmed provinces being Cyrodiil, Elsweyr, and Skyrim.
2. There will be three factions in the game. They have not been hinted at our revealed.
3. There will be open world PvP.
4. The time frame of the game is 1000 years before Skyrim, placing it during the Second Era, predating all four of the main games.
5. The Daedric Prince Molag Bal is the central antagonist and plans to transfer Tamriel to his realm.
6. Will be available or PC and Mac.

No word on playable races yet, but you can probably sure sure that all of your favourite TES mainstays will be in.

Star Wars: The Old Republic – Impressions (Part 1)

I’m not a big Star Wars fan and I haven’t really enjoyed any Star Wars video game that I have played in the past. With that said, The Old Republic is without a doubt the most well designed MMORPG ever made and I’m enjoying my time with it so far.

Despite the fact that I have only spent about four hours with the game, the overall detail and quality of the finished product is blindingly apparent to me. This isn’t another Lord of the Rings Online, Age of Conan, Aion, or even Rift. The Old Republic is a very noticeable step above them all in terms of how well made the game is. The surprising thing, however, is that The Old Republic is clearly better than World of Warcraft in terms of quality as well. Even if it doesn’t beat WoW (though it could with Star Wars’ huge fanbase), it should still be regarded as the superior product.

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So what makes this the best MMORPG out there? Maybe the fact that it plays like a suprising infusion of Mass Effect and World of Warcraft. You could honestly sit back and play this MMORPG as a single player RPG strictly because the narrative and story telling are both so exceptional. There is actually a main quest in this game, one that is centered around the exploits of your character. To enforce this, there are phased areas throughout the world where only your character will be visible. The entrances of these phased areas are marked with green holographic barrier-like walls that you can walk through. Upon passing through one, you will be phased out of the persistent world containing hundreds of other players and will exist solely on your own (there is no loading to accomplish this). What purpose do these areas serve? Well, phased areas mosly contain important quest NPCs that you’ve been directed to kill among other things. This is a huge improvement over other MMORPGs such as World of Warcraft because, in The Old Republic, a phased area belongs to you and you alone, so any quest NPC you have to kill in a phased area wil be killed by you – not other players. I’m sure many people have terrifying memories of having to fight over quest mobs in World of Warcraft, such as the infamous Hogger in Elwynn Forest. This is no longer an issue.

Interactions with NPCs are fully voiced and play out as they would in Dragon Age or Mass Effect, meaning there are moral responses for you to choose from when replying to NPCs. It’s a nice option to have which adds some much needed personality to our MMORPG characters for once. Because of this, my Jedi Knight is shaping up to be a very sympathetic guy who always wants to do the right thing for people. A lot of the moral choices I’m choosing are increasing my alignment and pushing me to the light side. Light side, you ask? Yes, there’s the light side and the dark side. Depending on how you play your character and how they respond to NPCs, their personality will develop and will inch towards either the light or dark side. Assist villagers and side with them on ethical issues and you will be pushed in the direction of the light side, but if you run around and choose the intimidating and rude dialogue options (which are quite likely to end up in the death of others around you) then expect to have your character slowly turn towards the dark side.

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This all sounds a lot like a single player RPG, doesn’t it? That’s the best part, it’s not. At all. Instances (flashpoints) and raids (operations) are still around, but I’m not at a high enough level to experience either yet. There are also group quests which I’m also yet to experience despite being level 7. When you’re not in phased areas for questing reasons, you’ll see plenty of other players running around completing their own quests, killing enemy mobs, and interacting with NPCs. The Old Republic contains everything that other MMORPGs do but beefs the experience up with the character development and narrative we’ve come to expect from single player RPGs. This really is a new level for RPGs. Yes the core gameplay is roughly the same, but the extra layer of single player RPG-esque goodness that Bioware has thrown into the formula has drastically improved how The Old Republic plays as an MMORPG.

I haven’t explored many classes yet and have only played Republic-side. I have a level 2 trooper who I made for a YouTube video (find it down below) and my level 7 Jedi Knight who is most certainly going to be my main. I didn’t play enough of the trooper to come to any conclusions at all (again, level 2), but from what I’ve seen of the Jedi Knight so far has impressed it. They appear to be a very speedy melee DPS class with a lot of options for closing the distance between the player and mobs as well as potentially decent crowd control potential.

I haven’t talked about much besides how The Old Republic has been infused with single player RPG elements and that’s because I simply haven’t played the game enough to comment on other things. I can say, however, that this game has all of the MMORPG mainstays such as quest hubs, travel points, AI companions, skill trainers, and more. This is an MMORPG with a lot of extra added oomph. I’ll write some more tomorrow or Friday but, so far, colour me impressed. This is a superb MMORPG!

Rift: Planes of Telara (Review)

Because I already talked extensively about Rift in another post, I’ll combine this review with things I said in the other post. So, if you read my Rift impressions, that will explain will there may be a bit of Deja Vu in my review. With that out of the way, let’s get things started.

“We’re not in Azeroth anymore.”

The above line is the incredibly ballsy slogan that Trion Worlds has adopted for their new MMORPG called Rift: Planes of Telara. Trion Worlds is incredibly brave to use a tagline such as that. Rift has just launched and they are already going in for the kill by directly aiming to defeat Blizzard’s competition devouring title World of Warcraft. For the uneducated, WoW has destroyed every other MMORPG’s chances of becoming the ‘next big thing’ ever since it came out at the end of 2004. Trion Worlds, however, might be onto something here. WoW is at it’s weakest point ever. Despite still going strong, there is a lot of discontent spreading through the ranks of WoW’s casual and non-raiding playerbases. The most recent expansion, despite giving the entire game world an attractive overhaul, was actually surprisingly skimpy on 80-85 content for anyone who does not raid and quite a few people have expressed discontent with WoW due to this. Trion Worlds is hoping to lure the unhappy WoW players to Rift, and they may very well do that!

Rift’s install only takes a few minutes, and the patching process is a breeze since all of it is managed in Rift’s client window. The client also contains a repair tool, so you won’t have to go digging through the game’s folders to find such a thing. This is all very convenient, and I found the client to be very efficient and far handier than the competition’s clients.

Click to enlarge.

When I started the game up, I was instantly mesmerized by the opening cinematic. It wasn’t trying to be epic and grand like the WoW opening movies by throwing each and every race and class combination in your face, and it didn’t really explain a lot at all as far as story goes. The opening to Rift just shows a Guardian (Rift’s supposed Alliance faction) duking it out against two Defiant (Rift’s Horde faction), followed by the opening of a Life Rift which unleashes a monster that easily overpowers the two Defiant. The stealthy Guardian gets the upper hand on the monster and manages to slay it, only to see several other rifts opening all throughout the sky. That is the opening in a nut shell, and it does a good job of establishing what the game is about, which is rifts (of course) and the conflict between Guardians and Defiant.

After the cinematic, you get to choose which shard (server) you want to play on. There’s PvE, PvP, RP PvE, and RP PvP. I don’t think I need to explain what each kind of server is, so I’ll just go on to say that there are quite a lot of servers to select from. I settled on Estrael, an RP PvE server. As soon as you choose your shard, it’s time to make a character.

The first decision you have to make when creating a character is which faction you want to play as. The Guardians are promoted as the good guys while the Defiant are pushed as bad guys. However, I learned from playing that the line between good and evil is a little blurred and neither faction is truly good or evil, just like the Alliance and Horde from World of Warcraft before the previous Wrath of the Lich King expansion (when everything was fine and dandy between the factions). Guardians are your typical religious folk who feel that they are in the right and always try to do what they think is best. Dwarves, High Elves, and Mathosians (Humans) comprise the Guardians faction. The Defiant are a bit darker looking and are pretty big on technological advances and such. Their races are the Bahmi, Eth, and Kelari. Those three names may seem intimidating due to being completely unfamiliar to everyone, but know that all three races are very human-like in appearance. The Eth are basically humans, while the Bahmi and Kelari just have bluish skin hues and a few facial features that differ from the more humanoid Eths.

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Which race you choose will determine what your initial racial powers are. For example, Mathosians can increase their speed slightly for several seconds and High Elves can fly – though the flight ability is extremely limited.

After choosing your race, you’re asked to pick a class. There’s cleric, mage, rogue, and warrior. Each should be pretty self-explanatory so I won’t really explain them, but I will say that you shouldn’t be discouraged by there only being four classes. In a way, there are actually dozens of classes, because each of the four classes has several sub-classes that you can mix and match. For example, some things that clerics can choose are druid, inquisitor, and warden. Warriors can classify themselves as beastmasters, paladins, warlords, and so forth. Each main class has eight of these sub-classes, so there’s plenty of variety and I’ll talk about that a little more shortly.

After choosing your race and class, you get to customize your appearance. After playing some MMOs such as APB and Champions Online, I felt a little let down with the customization but only because those two games had vast customization options. Rift still beats other MMORPGs such as WoW with ease. Here’s a list of things that you can customize in Rift.

  • Eyes (Colour, Rotation, Size)
  • Face Shape
  • Facial Features
  • Hair (Colour, Highlights, Style)
  • Height
  • Makeup/Tattoos
  • Mouth Size
  • Nose Size
  • Skin Colour

There are a few options that are specific to certain races and genders, as well. You can change the size of Elf ears, and male Dwarves have several different beard options. It’s not the best customization ever, but it’s still pretty decent and, as I said, beats games like WoW pretty easily.

Click to enlarge.

After making your character, you are then whisked away to a tutorial zone. Each faction starts in their own unique zones, with Guardians starting out in the ruins of Mathosia while Defiant characters get to play in a zone that depicts a destroyed Telara in the future. Until you take on your first soul (essentially a sub-class), you have no abilities and are essentially as useful to anyone as a level 1 NPC with poor stats. After the first quest NPC gives you a soul, you get a few skills to play with.

After getting your first soul, you’re prompted to go outside where you receive your first real quest that will feel very familiar to many WoW players. Kill X number of Y mobs. It’s pretty simple and I found that Rift was prompting me to kill less mobs for quests than WoW does. The following quests were all standard fare, such as disabling certain structures, collecting quest items from defeated mobs, and so forth. It wasn’t long before I was allowed to choose a second soul, so I went with the druid soul. This turned my water-flinging healer into’ Well, a water-flinging healer with a fairy companion that healed me, and I could defend myself with a wall of thorns that soaked up damage. The wall of thorns skill acts just like a priest spell that we all know from World of Warcraft, and that’s Power Word: Shield.

I gained a few levels during this time, and I found myself to be around level 3 or 4 when I became a hybrid druid-warden. When you level up, you are given a few points that you can distribute in skill trees. This is exactly like WoW’s talent points and talent trees.

It wasn’t long after getting my second soul that the game finally threw a little variety into the quests. I was asked to mount a horse and return it to an NPC while another quest giver at the same location wanted me to decimate undead forces using catapults littered throughout an expansive battlefield. It was nice to have a little more variety, but I still didn’t find the actual quests to be incredibly enjoyable or anything. I just felt like I was going through mandatory tasks that I had to endure if I wanted to level up.

At the end of the tutorial zone, you get to team up with other players to form a raid group to take down, quite literally, a king. I’m not sure of the lore behind the guy, but he was a minion of the game’s central bad guy, Regulos the Destructor. For the curious, Regulos is a nasty dragon who basically just wants to muck everything up.

Click to enlarge.

After taking down the evil king, I was suddenly in a new zone’ Twenty years into the future! The zone I was plunked into was Silverwood, home of the High Elves. It appeared to be under siege from goblins and a heck of a lot of fiery creatures. The quest variety didn’t really improve, but Silverwood was certainly a much more appealing location than the tutorial zone, and Rift’s beautiful graphics engine really showed itself when I ventured into the forests. Shadows from the trees above were really impressive to see as they danced across my character’s face and body realistically. I ended up exploring the areas I was sent to in Silverwood a bit, really liking the look of the world.

The zone contains, predictably, a lot of trees. There’s also some nice lakes and ponds, and the coastline is very pretty as well. I found the zone to feel much more organic than any location in World of Warcraft or, heck, any other MMORPG that I’ve ever played. Rift really succeeds in making it’s zones look pleasing to the eye, so I think just about everyone will at least enjoy the visuals.

While I was running around performing various mundane tasks for the quest givers, a few rifts opened up. Rifts were promoted as one of the game’s main selling points, which should be obvious considering the fact that the game is called Rift. Anyway, rifts are NOT scripted events and can happen anywhere and at any moment. When a rift opens, several mobs will spill out into the world and, if they are not dealt with swiftly, they’ll take over the surrounding terrain and even try to invade nearby settlements. I noticed that whenever a rift opens (you’ll know because they show up on the zone map), every single player nearby stops what they are doing and converges on the rift. It’s really cool to see everyone take part in closing the rifts. There’s a lot of teamwork from what I’ve observed and rift closers really do help each other out tremendously. Every single player I observed who was low on health would receive generous heals from other players who were also under attack. Anyway, there are several waves of mobs to defeat before a final big ‘boss’ appears out of the rift. When you defeat the boss mob, the rift closes and you receive a generous amount of money as well as planarite.

Planarite is sort of like Rift’s special currency. It can be used to purchase gear, items, and various upgrades from planar goods vendors. While a bit of farming is required to purchase some of the items that these vendors offer, it never feels at all tedious like grinds can in other MMORPGs. Due to the cooperative nature of rifts, it truly is hard not to enjoy them.

Trade skills are pretty much what you’d expect to see in an MMORPG that wishes to beat World of Warcraft. Butchering, foraging, and a few item crafting trades are a few of what you should expect to see. Crafting items is very simple and, though I hate to bring up World of Warcraft again, Rift’s trade skills work in the exact same way. Gather a few materials from resource nodes (such as ore or plants) and make whatever items are available to you based on the designs/recipes you have learned.

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Invasions are another random event similar to rifts, only they are not confined to single areas on the map. Invasions are mobile forces that are usually made up of mobs that spew from rifts or tough NPCs from the opposing faction. Defeating invasions will also grant you planarite and other goodies while large scale invasions, which are actually huge zone-wide events, will grant players with a huge wealth of rewards. If a zone-wide invasion occurs, which you will be made aware of by a notice on your screen, it is definitely best to take part in it no matter what your level is.

The world of Telara is very nice looking, and player characters have a decent amount of variety. Rift has had a very stable launch and the game is already very polished. In time, I can definitely see Rift being a fantastic MMORPG, but a few things need to be refined, such as the Guardians’ tutorial zone which was a little dull. The graphics really are fantastic for an MMORPG, and I can’t stress that enough. Zones such as Silverwood are a real treat to check out as the trees overhead cast realistic shadows on the ground. There are also many different looking areas in Rift’s zones. In Silverwood you will find meadows, deep forests, marshlands, beaches, and even hedge mazes. There’s a sort of variety here that other MMORPGs have never managed to include in their initial releases.

The game’s soundtrack can be a little hit or miss. I find the music in the tutorial zones to be absolutely dreadful, but after getting into the main game itself and exploring the world of Telara, I found the music to be surprisingly pleasant. It’s not as catchy or memorable as tunes in other MMORPGs, but it gets the job done and sounds more than adequate. I can’t say the same for the game’s voice acting however. A few races have good voice actors (the High Elves being the most notable example), but some scripted story sequences are voiced so badly that it is almost cringeworthy.

In conclusion, Rift is good. It probably isn’t a WoW killer just yet, but the future is definitely bright. With enough support from players, this game can definitely become an MMORPG that could, in theory, tangle with WoW. For the sake of having something fresh on the market, I hope that Rift succeeds. The ingame rifts that open, which are completely random and spontaneous, bring something very cool to the game and I love how everyone teams up to take down the rifts before they become big threats.

If you’re looking for a new MMORPG to play or are feeling bored with the one you’re playing now, Rift may very well be worth checking out.

Pros
+ Beautiful graphics for an MMORPG.
+ Extremely open-ended character development.
+ Open quests and PvP are great alternatives to standard questing.

Cons
– Invasions can take over quest hubs and leave low level questers unable to progress for lengthy periods of time.
– Lore has lots of potential but is not fully realized or fleshed out well.
– Burned out players of LotRO or WoW may be quickly bored of Rift due to similar play mechanics.

Final Score

9.3/10

Rift Impressions (Levels 1-10)

“We’re not in Azeroth anymore.”

The above line is the incredibly ballsy slogan that Trion Worlds has adopted for their new MMORPG called Rift: Planes of Telara. Trion Worlds is incredibly brave to use a tagline such as that. Rift has just launched and they are already going in for the kill by directly aiming to defeat Blizzard’s competition devouring title World of Warcraft. For the uneducated, WoW has destroyed every other MMORPG’s chances of becoming the “next big thing” ever since it came out at the end of 2004. Trion Worlds, however, might be onto something here. WoW is at it’s weakest point ever. Despite still going strong, there is a lot of discontent spreading through the ranks of WoW’s casual and non-raiding playerbases. The most recent expansion, despite giving the entire game world an attractive overhaul, was actually surprisingly skimpy on 80-85 content for anyone who does not raid.

It has become evident that Blizzard is solely out for money now as they are charging players the same old amount for less new content than before, and then there’s how Blizzard overcharges it’s players for every service there is. While the subscription fee is the industry norm, the cost of character renames and recustomizations (changing their appearances) can cost from $15 to about $25. Transferring characters between realms (servers) runs at about $30. Compared to the competition, this is pretty insane. A complete rename in another MMORPG, Champions Online, will run you at about $6. And recustomizations? Completely free. You’re allowed to change how you look whenever you want ingame, and yet WoW players happily charge an arm and a leg for the same service? Bizarre!

I’m getting off track, though. As I was saying, World of Warcraft is becoming less and less spectacular, and the “same ol’ prices” for new content and services is starting to look a little unjustified considering how much money Blizzard makes off of WoW these days. The company’s profit off of WoW is so immense that it is, literally, incredibly laughable. Trion Worlds knows that unhappy WoW players can easily be persuaded to jump ship by offering something that is essentially the same as what they know and love, only better looking and with more dynamic world events. Yes, Rift is a complete and total WoW rip off. The core design of the game isn’t quite as good, but the end product surpasses WoW by far in my opinion. The only advantage WoW has? Better controls and better music, and that is all. Really!

So, if you’re a WoW player who isn’t feeling very entranced by the “Walmart of MMORPGs” anymore then read on. I’m a former WoW player myself. I played for six years, but I severed my ties to the game at the start of January this year. I had good times in the game and am not a hater, so know that the impressions I’m about to go over are very honest and sincere.

Now, let’s talk about Rift, the game that wants to defeat World of Warcraft.

Initial Impressions

When I started the game up, I was instantly mesmerized by the opening cinematic. It wasn’t trying to be epic and grand like the WoW opening movies and it didn’t really explain a lot at all. The opening to Rift just showed a Guardian (Rift’s Alliance faction) duking it out against two Defiant (Rift’s Horde faction), followed by the opening of a rift which unleashes a monster that easily overpowers the two Defiant. The stealthy Guardian gets the upper hand on the monster and manages to slay it, only to see dozens of rifts opening all throughout the sky. That is the opening in a nut shell, and it does a good job of establishing what the game is about. Rifts.

After the cinematic, you get to choose which shard (server) you want to play on. There’s PvE, PvP, RP PvE, and RP PvP. I don’t think I need to explain what each kind of server is, so I’ll just go on to say that there are quite a lot of servers to select from. I settled on Estrael, an RP PvE server. As soon as you choose your shard, it’s time to make a character.

The first decision you have to make when creating a character is which faction you want to play as. The Guardians are promoted as the good guys while the Defiant are pushed as bad guys. However, I learned from playing that the line between good and evil is a little blurred and neither faction is truly good or evil, just like the Alliance and Horde from World of Warcraft before the previous Wrath of the Lich King expansion (when everything was fine and dandy between the factions). Guardians are your typical religious folk who feel that they are in the right and always try to do what they think is best. Dwarves, High Elves, and Mathosians (Humans) comprise the Guardians faction. The Defiant are a bit darker looking and are pretty big on technological advances and such. Their races are the Bahmi, Eth, and Kelari. Those three names may seem intimidating due to being completely unfamiliar to everyone, but know that all three races are very human-like in appearance.

I decided to go with the Guardians because I typically enjoy good guy settings more often, as they always feel more exciting and majestic. I almost went with making a Dwarf, but decided to go with a High Elf instead. After choosing your race, you’re asked to pick a class. There’s cleric, mage, rogue, and warrior. Each should be pretty self-explanatory so I won’t really explain them, but I will say that you shouldn’t be discouraged by there only being four classes. In a way, there are actually DOZENS of classes, because each of the four classes has several sub-classes that you can mix and match. For example, some things that clerics can choose are druid, inquisitor, and warden. Warriors can classify themselves as beastmasters, paladins, warlords, and so forth. Each main class has eight of these sub-classes, so there’s plenty of variety and I’ll talk about that a little more shortly.

After choosing your race and class, you get to customize your appearance. After playing some MMOs such as APB and Champions Online, I felt a little let down with the customization but only because those two games had INSANE customization options. Rift still beats other MMORPGs such as WoW with ease. Here’s a list of things that you can customize in Rift.

  • Eyes (Colour, Rotation, Size)
  • Face Shape
  • Facial Features
  • Hair (Colour, Highlights, Style)
  • Height
  • Makeup/Tattoos
  • Mouth Size
  • Nose Size
  • Skin Colour

There are a few options that are specific to certain races and genders, as well. You can change the size of Elf ears, and male Dwarves have several different beard options.

It’s not the best customization ever, but it’s still pretty decent and, as I said, beats WoW pretty easily. The character I ultimately created in the end is a female High Elf cleric named Celianne. Let’s take a look at her, shall we?

So after making your character, you are plopped in a sort of Cathedral-like stronghold where you are assigned your first soul. Souls are the sub-classes I talked about. Until you take on your first soul, you have no abilities and are essentially as useful to anyone as a level 1 NPC with poor stats. After the first quest NPC gives you a soul, you get a few skills to play with. For Celianne, I went with the “warden” soul, which serves as a sort of water-based super healer. Becoming a warden allowed Celianne to shoot blasts of water as well as use a few healing spells.

After getting your first soul, you’re prompted to go outside where you receive your first real quest that will feel very familiar to many WoW players. Kill X number of Y mobs. It’s pretty simple and I found that Rift was prompting me to kill less mobs for quests than WoW does. The mobs I had to kill were sort of zombie-like ghosts of what I think were deceased warriors. This fit with the tutorial zone, which was essentially the Mathosian kingdom after being overrun by invading undead baddies. The following quests were all standard fare, such as disabling certain structures, collecting quest items from defeated mobs, and so forth. It wasn’t long before I was allowed to choose a second soul, so I went with the druid soul. This turned my water-flinging healer into… Well, a water-flinging healer with a fairy companion that healed me, and I could defend myself with a wall of thorns that soaked up damage. The wall of thorns skill acts just like a priest spell that we all know from World of Warcraft, and that’s Power Word: Shield.

I gained a few levels during this time, and I found myself to be around level 3 or 4 when I became a hybrid druid-warden. When you level up, you are given a few points that you can distribute in skill trees. This is exactly like WoW’s talent points and talent trees.

It wasn’t long after getting my second soul that the game finally threw a little variety into the quests. I was asked to mount a horse and return it to an NPC while another quest giver at the same location wanted me to decimate undead forces using catapults littered throughout an expansive battlefield. It was nice to have a little more variety, but I still didn’t find the actual quests to be incredibly enjoyable or anything. I just felt like I was going through mandatory tasks that I had to endure if I wanted to level up.

At the end of the tutorial zone, you get to team up with other players to form a raid group to take down, quite literally, a king. I’m not sure of the lore behind the guy, but he was a minion of the game’s central bad guy, Regulos the Destructor. For the curious, Regulos is a nasty dragon who basically just wants to muck everything up.

After taking down the evil king, I was suddenly in a new zone… Twenty years into the future! The zone I was plunked into was Silverwood, home of the High Elves. It appeared to be under siege from goblins and a heck of a lot of fiery creatures. The quest variety didn’t really improve, but Silverwood was certainly a much more appealing location than the tutorial zone, and Rift’s beautiful graphics engine really showed itself when I ventured into the forests. Shadows from the trees above were really impressive to see as they danced across Celianne’s face and body realistically. I ended up exploring the areas I was sent to in Silverwood a bit, really liking the look of the world.

Here’s a picture of Celianne cruising around Silverwood on her awesome two-headed turtle that I received from buying the digital collector’s edition off Steam.

The zone contains, predictably, a lot of trees. There’s also some nice lakes and ponds, and the coastline is very pretty as well. I found the zone to feel much more organic than any location in World of Warcraft or, heck, any other MMORPG that I’ve ever played. Rift really succeeds in making it’s zones look pleasing to the eye, so I think just about everyone will at least enjoy the visuals.

While I was running around performing various mundane tasks for the quest givers, a few rifts opened up. Rifts were promoted as one of the game’s main selling points, which should be obvious considering the fact that the game is called Rift. Anyway, rifts are NOT scripted events and can happen anywhere and at any moment. When a rift opens, several mobs will spill out into the world and, if they are not dealt with swiftly, they’ll take over the surrounding terrain and even try to invade nearby settlements. I noticed that whenever a rift opens (you’ll know because they show up on the zone map), every single player nearby stops what they are doing and converges on the rift. It’s really cool to see everyone take part in closing the rifts. There’s a lot of teamwork from what I’ve observed and rift closers really do help each other out tremendously. Every single player I observed who was low on health would receive generous heals from other players who were also under attack. Anyway, there are several waves of mobs to defeat before a final big “boss” appears out of the rift. When you defeat the boss mob, the rift closes and you receive a generous amount of money as well as planarite, which can be used as it’s own sort of currency to obtain special gear and items from specific vendors.

After closing a few more rifts, I decided to give the game a rest at level 10 since I had other things that I had to do. As a whole, what I experienced smelled strongly of familiarity. Rift does a lot of things like WoW. In fact, it shamelessly copies WoW in so many ways that anyone who has played Blizzard’s behemoth will feel right at home here and won’t need any tutorials. Combat pets, vanity companions, and mounts all function the same as they did in WoW. Your backpack and additional bags, ingame currency, and action bars function the same as well. The menus are distinctly their own however, which is good. Even the character sheet screen does enough of a job to distance itself from WoW that players won’t feel like they’re just playing a prettier version of the Blizzard MMORPG.

So, after ten levels, what is Rift like? It’s certainly enjoyable and I am having a positive experience with the game. The visual presentation and controls remind me of a cross between Dragon Age and Guild Wars while the actual core gameplay is pretty much a carbon copy of WoW but with a few worthy additions (you can dye your gear and such).

The world of Telara is very nice looking, and player characters have a decent amount of variety. Rift has had a very stable launch and the game is already very polished. In time, I can definitely see Rift being a fantastic MMORPG, but a few things need to be refined, such as the Guardians’ tutorial zone which was a little dull. The graphics really are fantastic for an MMORPG, and I can’t stress that enough. The ingame soundtrack isn’t too great, though. After playing for about three hours in total, I shut the game music off because it ranged from being unspectacular to borderline cringe-worthy. The menus have good music, though. I’ll turn the music back on when I hit new locations, but I can definitely say that the tunes you’ll hear in the tutorial zone and Silverwood won’t wow you at all.

In conclusion, Rift is good. It probably isn’t a WoW killer just yet, but the future is definitely bright. With enough support from players, this game can definitely become an MMORPG that could, in theory, tangle with WoW. For the sake of having something fresh on the market, I hope that Rift succeeds. The ingame rifts that open, which are completely random and spontaneous, bring something very cool to the game and I love how everyone teams up to take down the rifts before they become big threats.

Just to make things a little clearer to some people, I’ll make three comparisons just to paint a picture.

Rift flows like: Guild Wars
Rift looks like: Dragon Age Origins
Rift is structured like: World of Warcraft

I’ll post more thoughts on the game as I play it more but, for now, there’s how I feel. To end this article, here’s a picture of my level 1 Dwarf warrior looking far cooler than he probably should.

APB (Review)

“A good attempt at team based PvP, but is not without a few shortcomings.”

Despite being in development for several years, I hadn’t heard of APB (All Points Bulletin) until just a few months ago when I had seen a gameplay feed on justin.tv and had mistaken it for Grand Theft Auto. It isn’t surprising that I had thought APB was a Grand Theft Auto game, since the creator of the GTA (David Jones) was involved in the creation process of APB. Since then, I’ve become quite the follower of APB and quickly purchased the game when it was released on June 29.

When I initially wrote this review, I had given the game 8.7 out of 10, praising it immensely. I have since amended the review, and it is what you’re reading now. When I had posted the original version of my review, I had only played the game for 10 or 12 hours, which isn’t a terribly long time with an MMO. I didn’t rush to put a review up, but I did write about APB sooner than I should have. I wanted to put a review up before the big name sites so that I would get hits, which did end up working. While my traffic increased by approximately 1000% (if that makes any sense), the dozens upon dozens of random visitors came only to read a review that painted a false picture of a game that isn’t terribly amazing. I’ve spent my full 50 free hours with APB now, and I’ve altered my review to show how I truly feel about the game.

APB is nothing revolutionary nor does it really excel at what it does. Despite this, it’s the only game that I can think of that involves a “cops and robbers” sort of gameplay on a fairly large scale. This immediately makes APB fairly unique, and it sets itself far apart from other MMO games.

When most people think of MMOs, they quickly think of Guild Wars, World of Warcraft, or the upcoming Star Wars: The Old Republic. Shooters play a large part in the MMO genre as well, but they are vastly overshadowed by MMORPGs. APB looks to change that by taking a theme that we all loved when we were children, cops versus robbers. Every young boy played some kind of variation of cops and robbers with his friends growing up, and it makes me wonder if developer Realtime Worlds had this in mind when they created this game.

A positive aspect of APB that sets it apart from other massively multiplayer games is the payment system. Players get 50 free hours of game time when they purchase APB. After the 50 hours run out, they have the option of paying a small sum that will grant them several more hours that they can play whenever they like which is a fantastic system for those who want to pay as they play rather than have to deal with monthly subscriptions. A second option allows players to pay a fixed rate for a month of unlimited play. This is not a recurring fee, so you’ll never have to worry about being charged by Electronic Arts or Realtime Worlds when you don’t want to be, and you don’t need to cancel your account to avoid those nasty subscriptions which plague other online games.

In APB, players are plunked into the crime-ridden city of San Paro. The mayor was previously murdered as crime began to escalate out of control, and the city’s police force looked incompetent. The former mayor’s daughter rises to power and quickly decides to ruthlessly attack the crime problem by passing a law that allows citizens to stand up and fight for their city as Enforcers, not quite police officers but certainly more than mere vigilantes.

The player has the option to play one of two factions, Criminals or Enforcers. The Criminals faction should require little explaining. Their goal is more or less to just infest the city and cause trouble for the civilians and law enforcement officials. Criminals do many things such as mugging pedestrians, bombing locations, delivering drugs at checkpoints, and stealing merchandise. On the other side of things, we have the Enforcers. They are the “good guys” and must keep an eye out for Criminals giving pedestrians trouble (muggings can warrant arrests) as well as responding to calls from dispatchers who they pledge allegiance to. Both factions have minor methods of making quick cash as well. Criminals can earn money by mugging pedestrians, and Enforcers can make a few quick bucks by turning in stolen vehicles.

Aside from a few minor differences, both factions mostly play the same. The only things that I think really stand out between them is that Criminals typically look more “ghetto” than Enforcers, and unlike the crime-fighting good guy faction, Criminals can mow down pedestrians and not be penalized for it. Enforcers obviously cannot run over pedestrians without paying the price for it, which often comes in the form of losing levels (called “prestige” for Enforcers, and “notoriety” for Criminals).

Mission gameplay is fairly similar between both factions. More often than not, players just need to deliver items, prevent the opposing faction from controlling a location, or either cleaning/vandalizing parts of the city. If you are not grouped, missions will always start as PvE, sort of. Players will receive a mission prompt and, after accepting it, must venture around San Paro by foot or vehicle fulfilling whatever the mission asks. Players from the opposing faction will randomly jump into the same mission, which quickly turns everything into PvP. It is at this point that you can try to outsmart your opponent, or call for assistance. Doing the latter will put out a distress message to players who aren’t in a group and, if they acknowledge it, they will join the group and (hopefully) come to your aid.

The best part of APB is undoubtedly when you have multiple people taking part in the same mission. Coordination becomes key, and teamwork is paramount. Is everyone in the group except one person driving to the mission destination? Well, if they are nowhere near a vehicle vendor or available car, you can swing by and pick them up. Passengers in your car can hang out the door windows with their guns, ready to blast anyone who causes trouble for the group. Sticking together at the mission destinations is absolutely vital, and those who do not look out for their teammates will find themselves dying frequently. APB does not encourage Rambo tactics, and rushing in like a madman will only result in death.

Despite the fact that team play is essentially what makes APB good, there are numerous problems with the core PvP gameplay itself that seriously hurt the game. For starters, once you have taken part in about three or four missions, you have essentially seen them all until Realtime Worlds adds more to the game. There are numerous missions throughout the ingame districts, but they all suffer from a severe case of deja vu, and you will find yourself doing the same thing again over and over and over and over and… You get the picture.

There are three districts to San Paro at the moment. The districts are Social, Financial, and Waterfront. The Social District is where players of both factions can just take some time to chill, but there are also dozens of kiosks spread throughout the district that allow players to buy new clothes, weapons, vehicles, and so forth while also customizing their characters. The Social District is a great place to sit when you just want to talk to your clan (guild), or when you want to check out new unlocked items that you acquired through completing missions.

The other two districts, Financial and Waterfront, are where the action takes place. In these two districts, players can openly accept missions and engage in PvP. A fourth district is supposedly in the works that will be very hectic and have open PvP that is not mission based, meaning that it will essentially be a large scale deathmatch game set in a city. Both of the PvP districts are fairly large, measuring about one square kilometre each. It does not sound like much, but considering that there are many overpasses, buildings that can be entered, and side streets, the districts feel much larger than they really are. You can cross a district fairly quickly in a fast car, but this is only when you drive point to point without any missions to district you. To finish off the districts, they sounds like they may be small and they certainly are, but there are so many accessible areas in each that it makes them feel larger than they really are.

Customization in the game is fairly extensive. Some have said that other games, such as Champions Online, have better customization options. I have played Champions Online and, to be honest, I feel that APB blows it out of the water. There are dozens of sliders just for head features alone. The customization for characters is really amazing, and it even surpasses almost every singleplayer game out there as well. Every aspect of your character’s appearance can be controlled by you, it’s really pretty amazing and, dare I say, creating an exact copy of yourself may not be very difficult!

There are extensive editors for clothing and vehicles as well, allowing you to give your character as much personality as you want. The vehicle editor is pretty impressive, as you can customize your vehicle’s wheels and such while also changing the paint job and applying whatever decals you want. There are so many decals available that creating designs based off of real things isn’t terribly difficult. Instead of doing that, I opted to paint my boring looking white car to look like a police cruiser, complete with the word “POLICE” plasted on the side. This compliments my Enforcer character wonderfully since he looks like a no-nonsense state trooper.

The customization is fantastic, though. The sky is pretty much the limit. Do you want to make Ronald McDonald driving a corporate McDonald’s car? No problem, it’s entirely possible. I’ve seen some pretty cool characters and vehicles ingame such as a very convincing Richard Nixon. Again, the customization is fantastic. I cannot stress this enough.

Another bit of “customization” that I like is the ability to decide what music you will hear when driving vehicles. You can create playlists with the songs that ship with the game, or you can use music that you have on your computer. The really cool thing about using music on your computer is that when other people are with you in your vehicle, they will hear the music you’ve chosen off of your computer if they have the same song(s) on their computer. The game utilizes last.fm to achieve this, and it really adds a great deal of immersion to the driving in this game.

While I’m talking about driving, I may as well mention the controls. Maneuvering your character is really no issue at all, and I found the character controls to be very fluid and responsive. Even aiming in the middle of gun fights is pulled off flawlessly, and appears to be completely unaffected by lag. Vehicle controls are a little different though, and they take some getting used to. Every vehicle has extremely stiff handling in APB, which makes drifting around corners essentially impossible – unless there’s a trick that I am not aware of. Vehicles are so stiff and slow to respond to your inputs that it can be frustrating at times. Directing your vehicle to turn in a certain direction can be very slow going, and I’ve found myself accidentally running over a few pedestrians and streetside objects due to my car not turning as fast as I expect it sometimes. Pedestrians can move back and forth in front of your car faster than you can weave, which is unusual to say the least. There is also the problem of vehicles flipping easily when they really shouldn’t be doing so at all. It’s not uncommon to see over a dozen flipped vehicles within one hour, and these flips are mostly all caused by driving accidents.

While the controls are just fine in combat, I found that sometimes it was difficult to judge where an opponent was when I was being shot at immediately. The game world can be so open in some areas that members of the other faction, who are involved in the same mission as you, may be shooting at you from down the street and on top of a building or in other vague locations. When this happens, I quickly scurry to anything that offers cover as I look down at my radar to see where the fire is coming from. Sometimes I will misjudge where I am being shot at from, and instead of hiding from the incoming rounds, I’ll unknowingly position myself in an even better location to be shot at. APB’s shooting mechanics would work wonderfully in a smaller game such as Counter-Strike or Team Fortress, but in a wide open city it can be difficult at times to find out just where you are being shot from, and unless you see the shooter quickly, you’ll probably end up dead – especially if they are using an SMG. There are several guns that do not seem very balanced, and you’ll soon learn what they are for yourself if you decide to play APB. It’s baffling how such a huge weapon imbalance exists when the game had gone through extensive beta testing.

Matchmaking can also cause a few problems with the game. Who you are paired against is seemingly random, as I’ve witnessed players with ratings of 20 being paired against three players with ratings over 200. The difference between 20 and 200 is gigantic, with the 200+ players having several upgrades to their characters and their weapons, which puts the low rating players at severe disadvantages. This problem occurs very often and quite honestly needs to be addressed, as it isn’t terribly fun to be pitted against players with the best upgrades available when you don’t even have one. Realtime Worlds promised that this game would reward players based on skill rather than time spent playing, but it has become evident that this is not the case with APB.

I found that the matchmaking problem can be relieved slightly by playing with real life friends, but even this lost it’s fun factor for me when my friends, who have far more time to play than I do, cruised past my rating. This made the game even more likely to give them higher rating opponents. It wasn’t bad when we were all low ratings and struggled together, but being the only one who is still moderately low (92, I believe), it makes things unfun when you are the only one who struggles against better geared players. It makes me feel a lot like a third wheel, which isn’t very fun at all.

I have a few issues with the graphics in this game. The city of San Paro looks just fine for an MMO and I don’t have a beef with it. However, I am quite upset with the player models. You see, when you are creating your character, you will see every little detail on their skin including individual moles and wrinkles. After jumping into the game and playing however, texture quality is reduced drastically and character models look, at best, only a third of how good they looked on the customization screens. I have all of my video settings on maximum and my computer is a powerhouse that is only a little more than a year old, so there’s no reason for my character to look so much worse when I am playing him. Others have complained about this issue as well, and it’s quite peculiar. I will assume that Realtime Worlds will address this in a future patch. My computer can certainly handle better looking character models ingame, and I feel slightly robbed by the fact that my character doesn’t even look half as good as he did on the customization screens. While this is due to me being on 32 bit Windows, I’ve seen a few screenshots from 64 bit users and, while their character detail wasn’t as reduced as mine, it was still present and they weren’t happy about it.

Loading is also a little slow when you are entering districts from the lobby. Load times can be up to a minute long, sometimes longer if you are playing in windowed mode and passing time in your browser or another window while you wait for a district to load. The length of the load times doesn’t diminish the gameplay too much, but when your group decides to switch instances or districts often, you’ll find yourself staring at the loading screen far more than often than playing the game.

In terms of stability, APB is a bag of mixed nuts. While most MMO titles have very shaky launches for all users, game performance has been divided amongst APB players. Some players have experienced no problems on 64 bit Windows, while others have. There are poor shmucks like me who are still on 32 bit Windows and are experiencing far too many problems. APB seems to enjoy crashing at random, or when I am in a car and someone blows it up. I also encounter bizarre black screens and game freezes when I am in the social district and trying to load up the editors. The game halts itself about three times per day, which is pretty annoying and quite bad when you think about it. There is also the case of lag and loading. Unless you have the best connection available, you’re going to experience lag while playing and many of your shots will not seem to register. I once emptied three full SMG clips into someone and they did not die, but they then saw me and killed me in about one second with only a few SMG rounds. I am on a LAN cable connection which affects my gaming slightly, but it should not cause this much lag. I would even dare say that a dial-up user shouldn’t encounter so many latency issues with a game. Very peculiar lag.

There is also a very troublesome memory leak that many players have reported. I initially did not notice it, but after playing many times in and out of full screen mode, it has become my worst enemy. Once you are playing APB, forget about anything else you have running on your computer. Do not touch MSN. Leave your browser alone. The time it will take to accomplish any task outside of the game while you AFK is absolutely insane. The memory leak causes me to wait up to a full minute for my browser to even function half the time, which is nothing short of ridiculous. I’ve had people say “it’s just because you run in windowed mode” but this is a gross inaccuracy. No MMO should affect your system in such a way. Perhaps I should resubscribe to World of Warcraft? That game never affected my computer at all, and runs silky smooth.

Overall, APB is a fairly competent and enjoyable MMO. There are a few problems that hold the game back from greatness, all of which I have mentioned above. None of the problems are game breaking however, and there’s no reason why anyone who enjoys PvP should flat out dislike this game. Trust me, if you’ve at least thought about trying the game, then the gameplay is probably something that appeals to you and you should enjoy the game somewhat, at least for a short time.

APB has had a very clean and stress-free launch, and future content sounds promising. With so much potential for future content and expansion packs, this will definitely be an MMO to watch in the future. If the game can hold your attention until then, you may be rewarded nicely. However, make sure your system can handle the game before playing, as there are A LOT of really unexplainable gremlins and glitches in this game that can, in some cases, absolutely destroy your gameplay experience.

As for me? My 50 hours are up and I’m unlikely to pay to continue playing unless some flaws are addressed, such as crippling display options for 32 bit Windows users, a lack of mission variety, very peculiar lag, poor matchmaking, the memory leak, and wonky vehicle controls. If you can overlook these issues which currently hold the game back from being a great MMO, then by all means give APB a try.

Final Score

6.9/10