Happy New Year everyone! And to kick off the new year, a very special podcast with Bernd Lehahn of Egosoft, the company behind the X games. Our main topics are the recently released X3: Albion Prelude and the upcoming X: Rebirth. I'm a big fan of open-ended sandbox games and X scratches an itch that plagued me since the days of Elite and First Encounter. A bit of a learning curve, but, as we discuss, the upcoming X: Rebirth aims to reintroduce the series for new users. But why wait?
Stream this week's episode:
You can also download the whole episode in MP3 format.
If you haven't tried any X game yet, check out the Official Site to find out more about their games. You can also buy X3: Albion Prelude on Steam or get the X Superbox to get every X game in one sweet package!
There were two big design elements that attracted me to Rift originally: the make-your-own-class system and the Rifts-and-Invasions dynamic content. I'm a big fan of dynamic content. I would like nothing more for MMORPGs to do away with "quest grinding leveling" and "end game raiding" and just have one continuous dynamic playfield. Rifts and invasions didn't quite live up to that... but Instant Adventure takes MMORPG design one step closer to fulfilling that dream.
The premise is simple: a new UI element lets you click "join now" to join an Instant Adventure team. There can be several going on at once, but currently they're limited to two high-level zones, Shimmersand and Stillmoor, and only available to players level 45+. But no matter where you are you can join, get teleported right to where you need to be, and start participating.
The Instant Adventure quests themselves lead you around the zone, killing monsters, interacting with the environment, and completing a number of quests that are actually quite interesting. For example, you might find yourself defending a fortress in Stillmoor against a flood of hundreds of undead skeletons, armed with temporary bombs to blast them away as you deal with a few larger abominations. With wardstone defense and boss fights tossed into the mix, Instant Adventure has a pretty good variety of elements to throw at players.
Square-Enix just announced that they will start billing for Final Fantasy XIV starting January 6th, 2012. This is one full year before they expect to launch the 2.0 client and basically re-do most of the game, in 2013. So, despite all the troubles with the game so far, now they want you to pay for it before they fix it. As if buying the box wasn't bad enough.
The prices are pretty rotten too. $10 a month for 1 character, $3 a month more per alt. I dunno, as much as alts aren't needed in FFXIV, charging per character isn't something I like to see. At least not in a subscription game; sure, charge me extra character slot after the first two in a F2P title, but charge me a $7 subscription and give me no characters at all? Are you mad?
FFXIV's original problems seemed to stem from a disconnect with gamers, with the community, and with reality in general. With the change in leadership a year ago, things looked like they were going to change: two big surveys, official forums, the whole reaching out business. But that sure dried up fast. Where was the survey asking players if they wanted to pay for a year before the main fixes were implemented? Asking players if they want to have to pay per character? The disconnect is just as jarring now as it was back then.
Well it's new patches all across the board. Rift's 1.6 added Ember Isle, STO's Season 5 heralds the first big changes before F2P, and EVE Online just dropped a 1.2 gig whopper in the form of Crucible.
Admittedly, I haven't been following EVE as closely as I had wanted since Incarna; the "ambulation" interiors didn't quite stun me that much and the PVE grinding aspect had lost a lot of its charm. That, and I totally got nailed in nullsec and lost a lot of wealth. Lickin' wounds never tasted so bitter. Ahem. And then there was the big uproar over the virtual goods store, which I never really understood since the whole thing seemed obviously aesthetics-only. Are monocles really worth the uproar?
Anyways, it seems Crucible is focusing on things I find a lot more interesting: gameplay! And new ships! I haven't really had a chance to go through all the patch notes yet, but the listed buffs to hybrid weapons caught my eye. I thought there were supposed to be some buffs or changes for Assault ships, but I didn't see any of those... maybe I misread. Anyhow, full update and first impressions to follow.
Just like Scott Hartsman hinted at in Episode 1 of the Soulrift Podcast, the 1.6 update for Rift added a bunch of great content in the form of Ember Isle. The premise is simple: produce a zone full of content tuned for level 50 characters who have cleared out most of the "old continent" content and probably done a bunch of expert dungeons and collected a set of epic gear. The result? It's awesome.
Rift felt, by and large, a little undertuned; it was too easy. Getting to 50 meant coasting through content, killing mobs you can basically trip over and loot. Ember Isle is a refreshing change of pace: those monsters will kill you if you get overconfident. It strongly encourages grouping up instead of soloing. But it's just the right balance, in my opinion, just the right level of challenge without being obnoxiously treacherous.
Ember Isle also expands on two core mechanics: questing and dynamic content. As far as questing is concerned, the isle sports the typical set of quest hubs, but there's also quests scattered all over the place. Tons of extra quests that you only find while you're exploring around the world. It breaks up the tedium of questing by allowing players to pick up new tasks all over the place instead of always trekking from hub to hub. Even better? All these scattered quests either turn in instantly upon completion or turn in at single central quest hub. So even though you go all over getting quests, you don't have to re-trek all over turning them again again. Brilliant!
The dynamic content has also improved considerably. Throughout Ember Isle are sourcewells at the center of little adventuring hubs. These wells and surrounding turrets can be upgraded and defended by players. Instead of having to wait for a zone-wide invasion, each sourcewell comes under intermittent attack, so players can engage in the "defense against invasions" game all the time. The invasions themselves are also much more dramatic, with more stages, more interaction throughout the world, and even bigger and more exciting foes. Brilliant!
Well, I just got the word from... um... do I say Cryptic or Perfect World? Well either way, they picked a date for Star Trek Online's F2P transition: January 17, 2012. That's later than I would have expected, to be honest; I would have imagined they'd be ready before Christmas so they could get people logged in and asking for point cards as stocking stuffers.
UPDATE: Derick from Perfect World informed me that "if people buy points this holiday season they'll still be redeemable when STO goes F2P. If you're looking at gifting points though I would get them straight from here http://startrekonline.com/crypticpointscards"
In any case, here's the nifty trailer they put together:
Champions Online has just revealed a new promotion: for a limited time, the current premium archetypes are going on free rotation. This means players can play the premium archetypes for a week each, with a free respec offered at the end of each week so you can keep on playing with the same character in a new archetype. Pretty nifty, as it harnesses the respec potential of the game to give players a continuous tour of game content through a series of different premium perspectives.
Champions Online is somewhat of an odd-ball in the Freemium MMO scheme because they actually have three levels of character creation: free archetypes, premium archetypes (one-time unlock microtransaction), and free-form characters (which require gold subscription). What bugs me the most about CO is that if you cancel your subscription, your free-form champions are locked away until you subscribe again; you cannot purchase a one-time unlock for those characters. That means that anyone who played CO during its subscription days cannot come back and pick up the game and play for free, certainly not in the same way that returners could dabble in DDO or LOTRO or AoC or any other Freemium title.
That basically killed CO for me. I installed the F2P client, tried one of the locked archetypes, but the whole point of the game for me was the character customization. Playing CO without a custom character was like playing D&D with a pre-built character; the point of playing was largely defeated. So I don't know how much better a "premium" archetype is over a free one, since neither lets me use the two characters I already have on my account and wish I could log back in on and play.
All right! Looks like the podcast might become a monthly thing. And it's all thanks to my second guest: Craig Morrison of Funcom, who stopped by to talk about Age of Conan Unchained. We discuss his work at Funcom, including Anarchy Online and Age of Conan, his experience leading the game through to its current Free to Play incarnation, talk about Extra Life, and peek into the future of Age of Conan and Funcom's upcoming The Secret World! Still no luck on beta access, but I'll keep you posted if we get any keys to hand out :)
Stream this week's episode:
You can also download the whole episode in MP3 format.
If you haven't tried Age of Conan yet, check out the Official Site to sign up and play. It's free, after all! They seem to have a refer-a-friend program, but it looks like I have to input someone's email directly rather than post a link on my website, so I somehow doubt I'll be making any referrals this time :(