Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Anime Review: Isekai wa Smartphone to Tomo ni

Originally, I passed up on this anime. It seems that since Saga of Tanya the Evil received such great praise, "dying and being sent to another, magic-filled, world" type anime are getting made left and right. In other words, it's part of the 'copy-pasta' craze that has been hitting the anime (and manga, and light novel) scene for the past decade. There seems to be absolutely zero shame in completely ripping off whatever schtick a popular, original anime that made it successful. Further, these anime always appear in the off-season of whatever they're copying in the hopes that people hungry for more will jump on it. Anyways, enough of that blog-in-the-making rant...

The Story
The premise is interesting, despite the obvious copying. Who wouldn't like to get a second chance in life in a world much more interesting than your own. These type of stories fall into what I consider the, "God Modeing" sub-genre. It's been a rising theme in a lot of novels since Amazon made it incredibly easy to publish somewhat successfully via their kindle ebooks. I named it after the distasteful role play practice of dictating what happens with complete disregard of the other role players, essentially making yourself a god.

So how is Isekai (shortened because the name is just too long...) 'god-modeing?' Well, first, the protagonist is allowed to come back to life after dying. Not only that, but God is extremely apologetic for his death and allows him to come back in a magic-filled world along with any one request the protagonist has to help give him an advantage in this new world. This story is unlike the others (Tanya or Magic & Knight) in that the protagonist isn't reborn. He enters this new world exactly as he currently is.

The protagonist chooses to take his Smartphone with him. "He, that's dumb! He can't charge it or use the internet, so what's the use?" Well, the protagonist thinks of this and god tells him he can use the magic - which he assures the protagonist that he will be able to use in 'no time' - and he'll allow any non-direct communication with his original world. That means he can use the internet so long as he isn't using it to talk directly to other people. So he has the internet and access to way to charge the battery of his phone. He also gets God's phone number, of course.

Further, God gives the protagonist one last gift before sending him on his way. He 'boosts all his abilities' and essentially makes him super human. This is made apparent in the first episode when the protagonist is in a fight, with all his opponents movements being in slow-motion and being able to strike them down in a single hit. Of course, he does this to save two young and beautiful girls.

Now that the protagonist finds himself on this world, cell-phone or no he has no money and has no idea what to do. Sure, he has a map of the world on his Smartphone that he can follow just like a real-world GPS map, but there's still no money to use once he's there. Lucky for the protagonist, he is immediately approached by a wealthy merchant who deals in clothes who wants to purchase what he is wearing because it's so outlandish and unique. Everything from his school jacket to his boxers. So there's his money issues completely solved for the foreseeable future.

You might notice something. So far the protagonist has had zero struggle in this new world. It's obvious that once he does have a struggle, it's going to either be incredibly easy to over come or some world-changing event that has absolutely no build up and can't really be topped without doing the exact same thing again. In otherwords, there isn't much of an actual structured story and there's no real struggle. It's exactly what any random person would come up with in a random afternoon of day dreaming. Why would you give your day-dream self any real struggles? You would have more fun in a sandbox world where you're essentially a god, right? It's great for day dreaming, lame for story telling and it gets boring really quick.

Essentially, this type of story isn't good for anything other than a short story, a novella, or a one-shot. It's certainly not suitable for a series of 20-minute episodes where this theme has to be stretched so far. It'll be popular with the fan-fiction crowd and those who are into the lighter, main-stream anime. And the internet means that almost anything will have an audience. But it's not a great story, even if it fulfills a niche that a lot of us want to indulge in every once in a while. Including me.

So, as an overview: We have a weak story, with a weak world, with a weak protagonist. This protagonist has everything handed to him so there's no struggle to make the story interesting. And despite having everything handed to him, the protagonist is such a weak character that he doesn't even do anything interesting. He doesn't take the world by storm and make himself a king. He doesn't become an amazing merchant by using his smartphone to recreate the industry in the world. No, he becomes an adventurer. The only reason this was made into an anime is that anime apparently have become incredibly cheap to make.

The World
This is a pretty big part of this type of anime. It's even more important than the protagonist, honestly. The world in Isekai is your typical fantasy game world. There's generic inns, large towns in places that make no sense, guilds for adventurers, quest boards, etc... Basically if you've ever played a somewhat generic open-world RPG, you've got the world of Isekai.  Whoever came up with it had no real interest in building the world, and apparently preferred to focus on the protagonsit (and failed at developing him into someone really interesting...) and that results in a rather bland experience across the board.

Magic is prolific in this world, as you might expect. I'm hoping that a similar anime will appear at some point with a sci-fi setting rather than fantasy magic. But then again, the point of these types of stories is to put the modern-day protagonist in a situation where he can be super-human and essentially a god. A random High Schooler or Salary Man (unless it's the guy from Tanya, I guess) won't have much success in a sci-fi setting unless the author/creator is incredibly good. Anyways, the magic is your typical fair found in generic fantasy anime.

In typical shit-show fashion, the world is filled with beautiful, attractive young women who are into fighting. So this means this is a harem anime. Oh yeah, because the artist, animators, and writers all suck... it is also a comedy. And when I say comedy, I mean that it's unfunny trash. All the jokes fall flat, all the gags are dumb, and every piece of world lore is stolen, borrowed, and twisted from some other work.

The Artwork
Is incredibly bad. This is the same style of artwork you would expect from a low-budget 1980's hentai. If you've never seen one, or an anime of a similar caliber, it essentially means that the animators do whatever they can to avoid movement in the animation. On top of that, the backgrounds are... well, they look good but too good. They have no personality to them. For example, the protagonist finds himself in a sizeable fantasy medieval town. There's no horse poop on the roads, no dirt on the walls, no tons of horses or carriages (remember, avoiding movement is their MO). No, there's nothing but pristine artwork with very little faint hints of wear in the stonework.

To give you an idea how bad the artwork is, the facial animations are completely static. Occasionally, for an important character, you might get some minor eye animation. However, for literally every character they use just a repeated mouth animation whenever they are supposed to be talking. Nothing matches what is being said. There is very little variation, if any, in any particular scene. It's just the same "open-close" whenever they talk.

The completely aversion to movement is incredibly apparent. There's no special techniques to cover it, no plot device that might help make much movement unnecessary. No, this is supposed to be an action anime with lots of combat and the animators can't even be assed to use more than three or four frames when a character is pulling a piece of paper off a board. I feel like this anime maybe had two people working on it, that's how bad it is.

Speaking of action, though... The action scenes are just as static as any other. All the movement is done by flashy colored backgrounds and camera pans that imply movement. But really, there is none. "Why even make an anime?" is all I can think while watching this. I truly feel bad to all the people who worked on this because they're obviously not that great at what they do, otherwise they wouldn't be in a situation where they have to scramble for any work they can find. I am not surprised that I had a difficult time finding any actual names of people who worked on this project. I imagine that they all (rightfully) feel ashamed of themselves.

Fuck off. Seriously, anyone that had a hand in the creation of  this shit-show needs to take a step back from anime and re-think their lives. You're all failures and you contribution to humanity is less than a flies swarming around a pile of cow shit. Never watch this trash, I beg you. Wait patiently for Tanya to restart, or avoid the Isekai genre all together. If you ever die and god gives you the chance to come back, beg to experience your own 'isekai' adventure and revive in literally any world that this crap does not exist. It's horrible, not worth watching, and should be avoided at all costs.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Thoughts of Citadel - A One-Day Open Beta Review

So, like a lot of you, I participated in the one-day beta test of Citadel: Forged With Fire. There's a bit of drama between Citadel and Dark and Light, and there are enough similarities that players of one game more than likely have an interest in the other. After playing both of them, I'm not so sure on the similarities. Sure, they have the same genre of medieval fantasy, and both are sandboxes. But past that, the gameplay is so different than they fill two different niches and really aren't much in the way of direct competitors.

For example, Citadel is a sandbox but is not a survival game. Dark and Light(DnL) is both a survival game and a sandbox. The closest thing to NPCs in Citadel are the orcs who only inhabit small camps that exist solely for orcs to spawn at so players can get experience and loot, while DnL has three major NPC cities with NPC citizens and vendors. Citadel has an interesting property control system in the form of Thrones that claim buildings, while DnL relies on a claim system very similar to Ark's. Once you get into both games there honestly isn't all that similar. That's my take on it, anyways.

Anyways, more into Citadel. I'll do a complete Citadel vs DnL review at some point, but probably in a week or two when I've had a fair amount in both games. Also, a forewarning, I wasn't as prepared for the Citadel beta and didn't get to play as much as I did in DnL before writing my DnL EA review. I had seven hours in DnL when I wrote that review, I only played five and a half hours in Citadel before the beta ended due to work.

Character Creation
Citadel's character creation, at this point, is... disappointing. This is something that stood out a lot to me. I'm not sure about the Devs future plans for their character creation, but I really hope they add to it. As it stands, you get four pre-made faces, four hairstyles, and a few very standard color selections for hair color, eye colors, and (for some reason) nail color. This, combined with the very limited selection of clothing/armor, means that at least until this portion of the game is fleshed out, you're going to end up with a lot of people looking quite similar.

Not a slider in sight, unfortunately. 

I feel like Citadel is one of those games that would really benefit from extensive player customization. I'm sure it's not high on the developers radar yet, as the game is only in Early Access, but they're still trying to sell a game, EA or not, and Quality of Life 'fluff' is important in keeping players interested in a game.

The Game is Beautiful
Since we talked about the Character Creation, we should also talk about the graphics. Simply put, the game is beautiful. It's incredibly atmospheric, too. When they're not glitching out, the atmospheric sounds really help bring the world to life. Texture seem to be top-notch, the models are great, the spell effects are impressive, there's really nothing I can complain about when it comes to the graphics. Animations... eh, they can be improved. Especially the running animation. Really, play the game in third-person and prepare to face-palm.

I like the light effects!

The only area the game falls short in terms of graphics would be the UI. I'm hoping it's a placeholder, and will be further refined as time goes on. The menu UI is obviously a placeholder, though. Bare-minimum grey boxes galore. But the UI of an EA game really isn't something to complain about. It's obvious that they'll improve and change it as time goes on.

As place-holder as it gets.

Player Progression
First, I want to say that the progression in Citadel is incredibly smooth. It felt... right. Unfortunately, it also feels quite linear. Right now there are some very obvious 'Over Powered' choices in gear. This is an even more glaring issue considering there are only three armor types, with three or so sets within those types, and four weapon types to choose from. I can already imagine what a vast majority of players will look like in terms of equipment and spells once the servers have been up for a handful of days.

 I'm not a fan of straight lines in skill trees.

On top of that, progression in general is very Linear. There's a very limited set of spells you can get for each weapon, and they're all locked by level. For a game that has such an emphasis on magic and 'wizardry' it's disappointing that there's no sense of discovery or learning. You just kill mobs to gain levels to unlock the same exact spells in the same exact order as everyone else. It's a frustrating miss-use of potential. However, I'm not saying the game isn't fun, just that I wish there was more sense of discovery and wonder in the world.

 I will say that the really smooth experience pop-up is quite satisfying to see.

Speaking of killing things for experience... That will be your primary (and essentially only) source of experience after your first few levels. Experience requirements get so hefty later on and non-combat experience is very small. So you're going to end up using your broom to fly from Enemy Camp to Enemy Camp and Cave to Cave, killing enemies to quickly level up so you can hopefully avoid getting stomped by other players because of level-dependent spells and gear.

The gear in the game is restricted to levels. In a sandbox PVP game this is... annoying. Someone who has reached level 40 and has a minimum of preparation will be able to obliterate entire groups of level 20's because his gear and spell selection will simply outclass theirs. When you combine that, with the relatively small world (due to the inclusion of flying), it means that griefing is going to be a major issue and I'm not sure how newbies on servers will be able to cope unless they get incredibly lucky and know exactly what they're doing so they can get on par before they and everything they've built is destroyed.

Combat Woes
Combat in Citadel is both awe-inspiring good and infuriatingly broken. The basic designs of the combat are good. The animations and effects are impressive. It's just broken at the moment. There are some obvious balance issues between the various weapon choices. PVP is going to end up quite repetitive because everyone who actually wants to be good at it will end up using the same stuff. It'll be like Darkfall PVP, but with a lot less going on.

 The spell effects are intense and wonderful!

The biggest issue, I think, are cooldowns. You can spam any number of potions and survival almost anything. Spells also have two options. Fast and charged. But why would you wait the relatively long time to charge a spell when you can throw five or more of the non-charged version in the same amount of time and therefore do a lot more damage? Way, way later down the line it might be that players will get geared to the point where fighting is a bit more interesting, but right now unless you're the same exact level as your opponent, PVP is frustrating and PVE in general is just a bland mess of potion and spell spamming.

There's also inherent flaws in the combat system. You can equip two weapons and switch between them fairly easily. Each weapon can have two spells put on it activated with the left or right mouse buttons. So fights between players are going to be the same four spells over and over. PVE fights are just the same single spammable spell over and over while chugging potions. There's no encouragement to do more than that, and even if actual cooldowns are introduced the PVE combat will still be the same single spell spammed over and over, except maybe players will run around a bit more.

Utility Magic
This is the type of magic that can be used outside of combat and still be useful. Things like the broom, flying potions, the Blink spell, etc... Citadel doesn't have too much of this, unfortunately. That list was fairly complete, honestly. So I'm hoping that developers expand on their repertoire of Utility Magic in the coming months. I'm also hopeful they'll change a few things, too. Right now, riding a broom is really only useful if you are spamming potions constantly. The mana drain is too great, in my opinion. It just isn't fun riding the broom when you have to go through ten or so potions for even a short flight. It breaks the immersion and makes something that should be fun, even at an early level, incredibly tedious.

It may be tedious to chug potions, but damn if it's not fun to fly!

Sandbox Stuff
Speaking of destroying stuff, Citadel is a sandbox. That means you can create (or destroy) homes, castles, bases, fortresses, etc... to your hearts content. Unlike most sandbox games, you don't deal with a handful of tools for specific jobs and resources gathering. No, instead you have the Extract Spell and gathering by hand. With the Extract Spell, you can extract the resources from a node (Trees, Giant Mushrooms, Crystals, Rocks, etc...). This is neat because it's a lot less tedious and the effect when you fully consume a node is fun. However, it's also more tedious in some ways. Such as the gathering speed. The rate at which I got resources in the beta was horrendous and made building a base - when combined with relatively low carry weight - a pain. You will definitely want to group with people if you want to build anything bigger than a small lakeside shack.

It looks impressive, but is quit slow!

There's also an a crafting system. Unfortunately, like spells, all the crafting recipes are locked behind levels. If you're a newbie on an established server, you're going to have to be friends with an established player to be able to have any hope of competing. When I see all this linear progression locked behind levels, I can't help but imagine a bad experience when playing on an established server. The rush of competing against others to level up and unlock things before they do so you can more effectively raid them on a relatively level playing field will be incredible, though.

Basic crafting is done from the inventory, while more advanced crafting requires crafting stations.

Politics... don't really exist, so far as I can tell. I mean sure, you can make agreements with other players or Houses, but the game, so far as I was able to tell, didn't support this in any meaningful way. I said I would wait til my Citadel vs DnL review to compare the games, but I can't help but do it here. While Citadel has a House(guild) system, it's not very advanced and seems to lack a lot of basic options that would make it really flourish. In comparison, the House system in DnL is quite advanced and the developers have made their plans for the system quite clear. It's just a light and day difference and I can't help but be disappointed with Citadel's bare-bones current system.

The only politics I see happening in Citadel will be purely role play, I feel. There's not much in the game to encourage players to have conflict, other than a want for PVP and to raid for the sake of raiding. DnL has systems in place, and plans for future systems, to encourage more meaningful PVP. Working with other players in general seems to be a back-of-the-mind thing for the Citadel developers, and I'm not sure when or how they'll expand on features to encourage in-game politics on servers.

That all being said, I've already seen some advertisements for role play-heavy groups in Citadel, and I feel like that's where the game will truly flourish. Sure, it appeals to PVPers (like me) for obvious reasons, but the most long-term players will be those who build up communities on role play-centric servers who develop interesting lore for themselves within this magical canvas the developers are creating. It's got me excited to see what the players will do, and interested in seeing how the developers will support it.

Is it ready for EA? 
Honestly... No, not in my opinion. Neither Citadel or Dark and Light should have been put into EA in this early of their development. Dark and Light has major performance and stability issues, and Citadel feels like a very bare-bones game that will get boring after the first time you get a character to level 40 or so. Neither should have been released this early on, but they have been. Would I suggest getting the Citadel Early Access? Hell yeah. It may only provide you with twenty hours of fun, but that's twenty hours of fun well worth $25. And there's always the hope that the developers will expand and develop the game enough that you'll have your interest rekindled.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Dark and Light Early Access Review - Shit's Broke, yo

Dark and Light Early Access Review – Off to a Rough, but Promising, Start
By Jordan Hall(ApocaRUFF)

You may have heard of Studio Wildcard, creators of Ark: Survival Evolved, having been acquired by Snail USA some time back. So it comes at no surprise that Snail would be interested in making use of the wildly successful (if not universally acclaimed) Ark platform. Dark and Light is the result of that, with obvious artifacts left in the game that were taken directly from Ark. That's not to say it's a bad thing, Ark with a Medieval Fantasy theme and mythical creatures is an interesting setting. Without further ado, lets hop into the review and see if the "Mixed" rating on Steam is deserved or not.

What Is It?
A few thing you absolutely need to understand before you go into this game. First, this is an Early Access game. It's going to be broken and horrible for the first few weeks, don't buy it if you can't accept that. Second, you won't be able to enjoy the game unless you put more than a few hours into it. Maybe they'll update it so the learning process is easier, but it's not going to be a fun game while you're trying to learn everything and level up your first character. And third, Steam does not accept refunds if you have played the game longer than two hours. If you're on the fence AT ALL wait a couple of weeks for a handful of hotfixes to be released before you buy the game!  

Dark and Light was originally an MMORPG released in 2006 and closed down in 2008 due to legal issues. I'm not sure how good (or bad) the original game was, but I saw some trailers. Graphics were standard for its time, and it had some stuff that other games did not have and wouldn't really become standard for sometime. Such as gliders, parachutes, and flying mounts. Actually, looking back at the old trailers, you begin to realize that the two games are fairly similar in themes. Anyways, at some point in time, I guess Snail USA acquired the rights to Dark and Light and decided to redevelop the game.

There decision was to take the concept of Dark and Light – a gritty world that is under threat of dark forces that most often rear their head during the dark of night – and cut it down from an MMORPG and turn it into an Online Multiplayer Survival game. Part of this decision, I assume, was in part of Snail USA's acquisition of Studio Wildcard, which gave them access to Ark: Survival Evolved, which is most definitely the basis of which Dark and Light was developed. There's a lot of artifacts in the game to prove this, such as sounds (like rifle noises when you zoom in with a staff) to mobs being referred to as "Dinos" in the config files. But to be clear, I'm not saying this is a bad thing. I'm just saying it's a thing.

There are some things that set Dark and Light apart from Ark and your typical survival game. The biggest difference is the addition of friendly NPCs that players can interact with, that live within NPC cities that players can rent buildings in. Sure, you can go out in the wilderness and create a Fortress of Solitude in the mountains, but you can also rent a nice home right outside town and stay near where all the action is. And when you consider the fact that there are Factions that players are supposed to work together to develop and lead, it makes sense why you might want to stay in town rather than venture out.

Which brings me to the Faction vs Faction vs Faction aspect of the game. There are three factions in the game, separates by race and land. Humans, as usual, are the middle ground and are found in the middle of the map. You can join the dwarves to the North or the elves to the South. Each faction has the means to elect a player Lord to help lead their faction. Right now, though, it feels like this feature isn't completely fleshed out. Lords can apparently take control of the massive castles found within the NPC cities and set laws within their lands, but this early on it's not exactly clear if the system even works as intended. I've yet to hear of a player getting the Lord slot for their faction.

Other than the factions, NPCs, and NPC cities... well it's mostly the same as other survival games but with mythical creatures and undead rather than dinosaurs or zombies. You'll have to get food to keep from starving, seek out sources of water to stay hydrated, there's a new stat known as Focus which you'll need to replenish after casting a lot of spells, generally you just try to survive by gaining more of these stats than you expend. There is, of course, crafting. Your typical crafting for melee weapons, tools, food, etc... but also crafting for spells. I'll get into that later in the review, though.

It's Essentially a Mod for Ark: Survival Evolved
It really is. One reviewer did something funny and crossed out the D in Dark and turned the logo into "Ark and Light." Now, I want to assure you this isn't a bad thing... so long as you enjoyed Ark. For me, this is great. I liked Ark, and taming Dinosaurs was fun, but I wasn't a fan of the rest of the setting. I didn't like the jungle-heavy world and I'm not a fan of guns in survival games. I much prefer the medieval fantasy setting in Dark and Light with the mythical creatures and magic. So, while some will scoff that you can find "Dark and Light" under the games 'mod' folder, or chuckle when they see mobs being referenced as "Dinos" in the configs, or shake their head when rifle sounds play when zooming with a staff, I'm OK with it. Those things will be ironed out over time and I have no problem paying $25 for a mod – especially when it's standalone quality – that will get professional development and support. I guess you would call that an expansion, Snail calls it's a separate game. Either way, it's fun and has soon good design. It just needs a lot of fixes and tweaks.

The graphics in the game are, in my opinion, good. I like this art style – which is very similar to Ark – and I feel it fits the setting perfectly. It's 'realistic' but not too much so. There's a slight cartoony-ness to the world. When that world is filled with mythical creatures and eldritch horrors, it works out quite well.

There's a lot of great views like this in the game.

That being said, I can't begrudge the players who complained about the quality of the graphics. Perhaps the graphics options aren't currently fleshed out, as there doesn't seem to be massive differences between Epic or High. The quality of the textures isn't incredible, either. There's also a lot of issues like flickering shadows or missing/broken textures that I've come across. So, yeah, the graphics can certainly be improved.

But, like I said, I actually like them. If you've ever read any of my reviews, you know I'm a suck for beautiful in-game vistas. I once read a novel with an MMORPG theme (Epic by Conor Kostick, I suggest you read it if you like MMOs) and one of the characters in the novel had taken screenshots from within the game and had them printed and framed in real life, keeping them on the wall. Since then, from Star Wars Galaxies, to Age of Wushu, to ArcheAge, to Black Desert Online, and now Dark and Light, I've taken screenshots of important moments or beautiful vistas in Online games and printed them out. Dark and Light has contributed a few screenshots to that endeavor.

Nidhog's are assholes.

What's Cool
One of the selling points of Dark and Light(DnL), to me, is a very lore-rich world that is actually interesting to read about. The mythical creatures that fill the land are all contribute to a story of the world. Speaking of the creatures, The Bestiary in DnL is something I had hoped to find in Dragon's Prophet way back in the day. Sure, Dragon's Prophet sort of added it later on, but the Bestiary in DnL is exactly as I envisioned it should have been. You get some basic information on the creatures before you interact with them, and once you kill or tame them you fully unlock the artwork and get more information. It's a fun little achievement system that is also useful.

It's a bit broken right now, unfortunately. But when it works, it's great.

Guilds in Dark and Light are referred to as Houses. I think it's the same in Citadel: Forged with Fire? Either way, the functionality of Houses is actually more advanced than I figured. You can set up multiple groups within a House, assigning them different permissions. You also get to set up rules for 'House Governance' that controls things such as the ability of House members to unclaim creatures, and whether or not when someone claims a creature that creatures goes strictly to them or is available to the whole House (if the group the house member in has the permissions for it, that is).

Lots of great functionality.

There's also a nice alliance feature, where you can name and create an alliance. From there you can invite or remove members from the alliance. Of course, there are War Declarations, which are important. Houses can craft an item that makes them immune to damage (and stealing?) from non-House members and the only way to circumvent this is to declare war on the House.

Magic is an interesting concept. It's fairly important to the game and its combat, so you're introduced to it early on. It won't take you long to unlock a handful of spells you can craft. Yeah, you heard that right, you craft spells. So, if you die, you'll either need to craft them again or hope you can find your body. Your friends, if you have any, can also give you copies. Spells range from extracting resources from gatherable nodes (rocks and trees), to shooting fireballs, to lifting massive boulders out of the ground and throwing them long distances.

I'm throwing a fireball here, but you can also see a set of Runes on my hotbar.

Magic doesn't stop there. There's Thaumaturgy and Alchemy, too. Also creature taming. Using the enchanting magic skills you can create contracts to make beneficial deals with some intelligent magical creatures (centaurs were the example given in a dev blog post, I believe) or press a Goblin into your service. You can also build alters to summon enthralled magical slaves if you were lucky enough to get the appropriate essences. It's a very nice and robust system that actually feels a tiny bit like the Minecraft Witchcraft mod, Witchery, if you've ever had the pleasure of playing it.

Speaking of magical creatures, there's a lot. There's the normal creatures, of course, but it's not unheard of for a meteor to fall right outside your house, opening a brief gateway to the nether region and spewing out a Reaper or a couple of skeletons. The meteors fill the same roll that Ark's massive pillars of light that drop lootboxes did. They are restricted by level, meaning unless you are, for example, level 25 you won't be able to open them. Personally, I feel they need to remove the level cap for them as there's no reason to have it in the game (so far as I can tell, anyways). Either way, they drop some alright loot and are worth pursuing if you're of an appropriate level to open them.

I just want to re-iterate that Nidhog's are massive assholes.

The base building is essentially a clone of Ark's. You'll start off with basic straw huts and work your way up to wood, metal, and eventually you'll unlock the 'manors' which are castles. Each faction has its own 'manor' skill which unlocks the manor architecture for your character to craft. With the current way the game is optimized, it's within your best interest for performance to get far away from the starting area and begin building your own base. Once it is optimized further, though, there will be a lot of encouragement to rent the buildings within or nearby the towns rather than setting up your own base. Or, at the very least, getting together with your House to set up a compound somewhere in the world and then renting out one of the buildings for your House to use as a base of operations within the town.

I forgot to take screenshots of building my hut, so here's a storage box instead.
Base building, when combined with the House (guild) system, offers a very nice and powerful set of permissions. Using a House Seal makes anything within its range immune to raiding *unless* an opposing House decides to (literally) throw a war banner at your House. Within your House, you can set up multiple permission groups (aka Ranks) and fine-tune what they can and cannot do within your protected House areas. You can also set up alliances - which can be named! a nice fluff feature - with other Houses.

The rentable houses, at least in the human area, wasn't too numerous. There a handful of houses right outside the main town bridge which can be rented and are of a decent size. They look nice, too There's a lot of empty/unused houses within the town itself that don't seem to be set up for renting yet, but I get the impression they will eventually. There's some particularly large ones that I imagine will cost a lot more than the base 30g for two days that all the others currently cost, so perhaps it's more meant for the Houses or people who have unlocked higher titles within their faction via contributions to the faction. There's two more things I want to mention. First, there should be rentable beds within the Inns, I think, but they don't appear to be implemented yet. And second, I've yet to get the renting feature to work as, even if I find a house that is not currently being rented and have more than enough gold for it, I get told "Rent Failed!" whenever I try.

I've tried multiple times, even with the correct amount of money, and still get "Rent Failed!" However, it appears to work on some servers and even for some people on my server.

Then there's the NPCs. They mostly act as places to buy very basic goods and sell stuff for Gold Coins... on the surface. When you dig into it, they're a bit more advanced than that. Hopefully they'll continue to flesh them out. Most people don't realize you can Donate to the NPCs to unlock more advanced items, reduce prices, and have the vendor hold more of items. You're supposed to work with the rest of your faction to 'level up' the vendors via donations, but I haven't seen much of that yet. If you decide to play, join Knight 2 in the human faction as I've unlocked a fair amount by donating a lot of money to the Tavern Wench. With a small amount of gold you should never fear running out of focus or spiced meat because of my hard work. Do your part!

I've been working on improving the inventory of this NPC in the human starting city on the US Knight 2 server.
And speaking of working together with your faction, the Lord system is interesting. I've yet to see it in use but I've gleamed some information by looking at the billboard found outside taverns. If you reach level 20 and are the leader of a House, you are eligible to sign-up for the Lord vote. Once you sign up, other players can vote for you via the billboard. I guess if you get the most votes (not sure what the time frame is...) you are given the Lord title. As Lord you get access to the castle, which appears to have some form of housing surrounding it? Not sure if or how it works, though. You can set up the rules/laws of the land, but how far those rules reach I don't know. Could be they only have any sort of effect within the city walls.

It's an interesting system, on the surface. Unfortunately, I haven't seen it put to use yet.

One thing I noticed during a tooltip in a loading screen is that you should be able to achieve higher ranks within your faction by contributing. I'm guessing the only real way to contribute right now is via donating, but so far I haven't unlocked anything to my knowledge. This brings up one of my biggest gripes about the game: Lack fo documentation. I have no idea what anything does or how to do anything, except what I've learned through little bits and pieces I've gathered from other players, or what I learn via trial and error. There needs to be a better, more in-depth tutorial or some sort of in-depth out-of-game documentation to help us figure things out.

Laundry List of Issues
The game is in Early Access and honestly probably should have had at least a few more months of work put into it before coming to Steam. I can't begrudge the developer, though, because there's some obvious outside pressure to get their game out and played. And, to be honest, so long as you come into the Dark and Light Early Access with the correct mindset, you're probably going to have a lot of fun. Especially once we get another two or three updates (we've received two so far as of 7/21). That all being said, lets get into the nitty-gritty of where the game is currently broken.

While the gathering didn't seem too bad, with nearly 70 people on the server this sheep did not register ANY of my melee hits. My fireballs killed it in two shots, however.
Server lag is a massive issue. I'm not sure if that's due to poor optimization of the game code, poor performance on the actual servers part or the server code, or if the game is just getting bombarded on all sides with new players due to it just entering Early Access. Either way, while it's not as bad as the lag you would have found during the early days of the Ark Early Access, the lag can be really horrible at times. Especially while gathering. I can beat on a tree for twenty or thirty seconds before I actually get anything from it. It also seems that the server won't actually recognize any of your hits during these laggy times, too. If this wasn't EA, it would be game breaking and I would have refunded just for this. Hopefully hotfixes and privately ran servers will save us.

My biggest gripe is how unresponsive the game is right now. I can walk up the a bush and the game will prompt me to left-click to harvest, and I'll do it. Then nothing happens. I'm not sure if that's the same lag as I suspect is behind the tree chopping issue, but it's there. Same with fighting mobs. I've tried to kill three rabbits so far, ranging from level 5 to level 60. First, what do the levels even mean? Why is there a level 60+ rabbit? Second, none of them died, even after five or more minutes of slicing at them with a sword. I see blood splatter and it sounds like I'm hitting them, but as far as I can tell I'm doing no damage. However, mobs don't seem to have any issue killing other mobs. I've seen a Reaper (which looks incredible, by the way!) take out a few sheep, a skeleton, and someone horse without any issue and I have no issues doing damage immediately with magic, so it appears to be an issue mainly related to using melee swings.

The tutorial isn't as good as it should be. And I don't meant to gripe about this too much; a tutorial is much more than a majority of survival games gives their players. But with the current bugs and other issues, it can take you a long, long time to get anywhere with it and there are several points within the tutorial/quest system that are broken. It took me an hour to get through the first portion of the tutorial, mostly because it was so hard for me to actually gather resources due to the bugs mentioned above. When it came time to get ten gold and ten apples from barrels in town... well, I tried for about thirty minutes before I decided just to look around for unconscious players (they should really warn us that logging out doesn't make us disappear...) and getting gold from them, which took about five minutes. Then I went out and beat on tree for another half-hour and got a nice stack of wood and all the apples I needed. It would have been better if the tutorial suggested I go cut on trees until I got one-hundred wood, which would have netted me about ten apples anyways, and then sell them to a vendor for a cool 75 gold profit. It's annoying because the tutorial tells me to do that (essentially) later on anyways.

This tutorial would be incredibly if it were streamlined and fleshed out. And fixed.
So, the tutorial works to a degree, but it's too slow because of other broken features that I assume will get fixed soon(tm). But that's not the only issue. Like I said, it doesn't go over all the important things, or at least not soon enough. So far as I can tell, there's no tutorial that teaches players how to rent rooms or houses in the city, despite mentioning it in a quest text and loading screen tips. And speaking of, there appears to be no way to craft a bed until level 10, and I need to sleep. But it currently takes forever to get level 10. I assume renting a room or home (whichever it is) may give you access to a bed, but I have no idea how to do that. Do you see the issue?

One other major gripe with the tutorial is that it doesn't explain NPCs until much later than it should. I had no idea how they worked. It took me a while to figure out that I had to gather a certain number of something before I could sell them to an NPC. And then I had to figure out the hard way that when it says "Sold Out" that means you can no longer sell it to the NPC (I guess they got enough from other players?). That doesn't make much sense. You would think that they would want to buy something they're out of.

Hunger is fairly broken, though the recent hotfix helped it a decent amount. It's alright most of the time, but as soon as it's night and if you're not near a source of warmth, you're going to lose it incredibly fast. I was losing .3 or more of hunger per second during the night when not near a campfire. As a newbie this is devastating and will lead to death in minutes. That's if you're lucky enough to get food that'll keep your hunger up. Apples are OK, but not great. Blueberries are even worse. They need to do something, either reduce it or make the newbie clothes offer at least some warmth. The 'public' campfires aren't enough and it's too annoying being forced to sit the entire night cycle next to them. And sure, once you unlock Rune of Warmth it's not a big issue. But with all the other stuff I mentioned, it'll probably take you a while to get to the point where you can get the Warmth spell AND realize you need to use it without someone telling you.

Text. A lot of it is... well, it's bad. It's obvious that whoever wrote a lot of the UI text does not speak English as a first language. This is something you would expect to be fixed before release to EA and it's one of the biggest things I've seen that gives credence to the claim that Dark and Light entered Early Access in response to Citadel announcing they're going into Early Access on the 26th of July. I'm hoping we won't run into similar issues as we found in Age of Wushu, where a majority of the game text remained broken for a long time (and perhaps even to this day?).

What Needs Changed
There's also some tweaks that needs to be made. The bed roll needs to be unlocked much sooner. Waiting until level 10 for it, with the current skill/leveling rates on the Official servers, is brutal. Most people fail to realize they need to interact with NPCs to unlock more buying options that include foods that will make it so they no longer need to worry about sleep. Of course, sleep is free... if you can get a bed. Speaking of, on the server I played there seemed to be a bug where buildings in the NPC town were not rentable - one of the features I was looking forward to the most. I was also hoping for rentable beds in the Inns - which seems to be planned, but not yet implemented. Hopefully the server reset and hotfix will change that.

Obviously, there needs to be a massive amount of optimization. The game is currently essentially unplayable on a server with over fifty-five or so people on it. Things start to get really bad from twenty-five players and up. Trying to kill animals on a server with any sort of population is mostly a loss cause unless you are able to spam fireball non-stop, and it'll take you a while to get to that point with all the current optimization and lag issues. And may the gods help you when you try to butcher the animal.

Other than those... well, the game seems to be on the right track. Once the content is fleshed out more, the game (and servers) are optimized, and the playerbase sheds most of its initial surge of Steam trolls... I feel like we'll have a fun game on our hands. Right now, it's fun but trying. I've had to scramble around various servers rather than focusing on a single one because the game becomes incredibly annoying to play once that threshold of players is reached. Hopefully they can fix that soon, or maybe reduce server population caps, so that I can focus on my primary character on the US Knight 2 Official Server.

And on the topic of servers... They really need to add more support for private dedicated servers. It's doable right now, but it's a bit convoluted so most people simply don't bother. I'm a firm believer that the game won't reach its full potential for fun until server admins can some actual support. Official servers have their purpose... but, and especially right now, they're too clogged up to be a great experience.

A lot of people worried that Snail wouldn't offer much in the way of support for the game. I can't blame them on their apprehension based on Snail's past escapades. However, since the launch yesterday there have been two updates. The first helped increases performance, which helped a decent amount but there's still a long way to go for a smooth and stable experience. The second introduced PVE-focused official servers and a handful of fixes and tweaks.

I have hopes that we'll be playing a much, much, much more smooth and fun game next week at this rate. The tweaks helped a lot, and players should feel more comfortable expanding out and exploring now that they aren't essentially guaranteed to die unless they're a level 7+ character decked out in at least leather gear, all the spells they could unlock, a full set of runes, and a ton of spiced meat. Because of this second update, I can cross "Hunger" off my Laundry List of Issues. But also keep in mind that Snail may do as they did in Age of Wushu and slowly pull support from the game after the initial hype as died down. Fingers crossed that it doesn't happen!

Initially Dark and Light had a "Mostly Negative" review score on steam, with around 200 or so Negative Reviews being posted within the first hour or three of the launch. Most reviewers had less than a hour, some even as low as 0.3 hours, before leaving their sparse negative reviews, so I took a majority with them with a grain of salt. So, you may assume the damage is done and the people have spoken... Well, not so much. An overwhelming number of people who have spent 3 or more hours in the game have given in a positive review and it seems that those players who reserved their judgment until they have gotten a handful of hours into the game have turned the "Mostly Negative" into "Mixed." Who knows if we'll see "Positive." I hope we do because I personally don't feel that Dark and Light is a bad game or concept. It's got bugs and needs tweaks, sure, but once those get fixed it will be incredibly fun to play. Now, whether or not it's a better game than its main competitor, Citadel: Forged with Fire, is a completely different question we can't answer until at least after the 26th...

So, do I suggest the game? Yes. So long as you meet three criteria: You liked the gameplay of Ark: Survival Evolved, Medieval Fantasy interests you, and you can comprehend what you might run into while playing an Early Access game. Otherwise, I would highly suggest you stay away from the game and see how things develop in the coming weeks. Sure, Steam offers you the ability to refund the game so long as you don't go over two hours, but two hours is not enough to have fun with the current version of the game with all its issues. It's better for everyone involved if you just hold onto your money and wait for things to get fixed up before you buy!

Friday, July 7, 2017

A Return to Black Desert Online

If you read my blog, which I doubt, you may have seen my post regarding things I don't like in the MMOs I played. In that post, I spoke about the grindyness of Black Desert and some other things, stating that they were the reasons I quit the game. At the time, it was true. All you did in Black Desert was grind. All you had was the launch-state map, no territory control, no PVP options other than open-world and arena. It got stale logging each day to do boss scrolls, do lifeskills that were severely broken because of the way the energy system worked, and filling all my spare time with hours of grinding mobs. I got my gear to +13 and my weapon to +15 and then simply lost all interest in the game.

It didn't help that, at the time, I had taken on another job working in a restaurant and was pulling 60 hour weeks, while also trying to write for OnRPG/MMOhuts. After a couple of months of doing that, I realized I simply couldn't afford, emotionally, to dedicate myself to a game like Black Desert in the hopes that "things would get better" in future updates. Doing all that work, then using my free time to play a game that was essentially work without any of the reward, was just depressing.

I decided I would be much better off taking a hiatus away from all MMOs that weren't related to work and focus on single player game and online games that were easy to hop in and play and drop whenever. I got really good at Red Orchestra 2 at this time. I got into fishing, spending more money on it than I should have, and I also bought a Honda Grom (A fun little 125cc motorcycle) to mess around on. I've crashed in three times so far, two of those times doing wheelies.

So, if I decided that I couldn't afford to spend time in a game that had nothing fun to do, why am I returning? Well, it's improved. A lot. Most of my early issues are gone or at least alleviated to some degree. Grinding end-game gear is still a mind-meltingly boring experience that I highly suggest you avoid, but the game as a whole has fixed all the major issues I had with it.

Grinding is no longer the only way to make money. Node features have been improved so that you can actually make decent money through a combination of a Node Network and lifeskills. There's more to the game than improving your gear just for the sake of improving your gear, too. You can participate in Battlefields, Node wars and sieges for meaningful territory control PVP, more end-game PVE features are being added to the game... New content is being added at a rapid (compared to most games) rate. We saw several classes added last year, and two have been added in the past few months alone. Overall it's just improving in every area.

I used to get frustrated because all I could do, and still have any hope of being relevant, was grind lifeskills in the hopes they could make me money way, way down the line, grind mobs until my fingers bled, and pull out my hair from RNG failures. Now that money is a lot easier to make, with more ways to make it, improving my gear isn't such a big deal. I can go out and gather and reliably make at least 10,000,000 or more silver an hour. Or can go grind mobs and make somewhere between 10,000,000 and 30,000,000 an hour depending on drops, the spot I'm at, and other factors. I can reliably get a few million a day from my Node Network BEFORE I process anything. I can make a lot more once I get more CP (I have just under 130 now) and get my trading skill up.

There are a TON of options that make the game awesome now. It's not a race to get the best gear and the most money now. I mean, sure, that's still part of the game but I can easily just get "OK" gear in a few weeks (or a couple of months if you're a completely new player) and join a Tier-1 Node War guild and enjoy a lot of fun, meaningful PVP. And because I don't have to pour all my resources into getting the absolute best gear and spend all my time getting those resources, I can stop and "smell the roses." I can enjoy other features of the game. So what if I make less money by gathering than I do grinding? The skills and materials I get from that gathering will go into increasing my over all ability to make money and I'm having more fun doing it. I don't even need to do AFK fishing all the time, spending real life money for maximum inventory slots to make it really worthwhile. Sure, I do need to stay logged in still (which I hope gets changed), but I can just sit in my house if I wanted to and the loss of potential income from not fishing won't make me feel like shit.

And that's not counting all the awesome events they do now. There seems to be at least two or more events going on at any time that can make you decent amounts of money. Like this Black Stone event that is increasing their drop rate a lot. I have a friend who is reliably making 20,000,000+ silver an hour grinding at Rhutums, mobs designed for level 50 that people only go to for guild quests. They've included this "House Fame Fund" feature, too. Based on the combined levels, life skills, knowledge, etc... of ALL your characters, you can get several hundreds of thousands of silver a day, even if you don't log in. I get over 300,000 a day by just having two characters over level 50. If I took the time to level all my characters to 56 (which I plan to) I would get even more.

Since we're talking about money... I mentioned Node Wars and that they were meaningful. The reason they're meaningful is that when your guild controls a node it will generate money. This money can then be distributed to your guild. A guild that owns a region can afford to pay its players weekly payouts that are in the hundreds of millions. There was recently a big hubbub when a high-tier region-owning guild allowed the streamer Summ1t to join their guild briefly and gave him one of their weekly payouts that was over 800,000,000. To be clear, that is what just one player received. Other members of the guild also received 800,000,000+. So you can see why there is now meaningful PVP in the game.

It all comes down to fun. Before, when the game had no real end game, I wasn't having fun. Real life, combined with the stress of leading a guild, combined with the (at the time) hopelessness of the game made me quit. Now all of that has changed (including me being a guild leader). I can take my time and enjoy the game. I've joined a guild with aims for Tier-1 nodes, and I'm having a blast. Black Desert is currently the most polished and innovative MMO on the market. Sure, there are games that are polished, but not innovative. Likewise, some games are innovative but not polished.

I'm glad to be back. If you want to join me, just let me know. I can help you out if you're new. I can help you find a guild that will fit your needs, too. Whether that be aspirations for Node Wars or just a place to chill while your role play about your alienware in RP Chat.