Monday, June 13, 2005

Guild Wars Review - Part I

Guild Wars Review – Part I

My thoughts on how to review an MMO.

What do I want out of Guild Wars(GW)?

I want a fast and fun PvP gaming experience with an MMO mentality, but of course free of charge. I want a game based around skill and a wide variety of viable in game skill sets. There needs to be massive competition among all the guilds and the competition needs rewards. The PvE needs to be enjoyable, but overall nothing more than a side adventure compared to the PvP aspect. The game needs balance to a certain point, but overall balance needs to be decided by giving the players the ability to build a wide variety of effective strategies.

The Basics

Graphics – Very well done. The ambient glow the game world has adds a lot to immerse you into the game. The character models are well animated and the monsters are fun to look at. The backgrounds are breath taking in some areas. You will be stopping to look at a water fall, forest, or battlefield in the background.

However there is a major detracting problem with these backgrounds… because that is what they are… backgrounds. You can’t interact with most of the game world. Small hills and other such visual aids often are misleading resulting in an invisible wall. I am sorry, but my character needs to be able to step over a two foot high rock in my path. It is confusing on the eyes when your avatar runs pointlessly into an invisible wall… visual clues such as walls, bushes, etc are needed to indicate an area is unreachable.

For all the awe moments built into the game world there are enough “damn it I can’t go that way” moments to counteract them.

Sound – From clanging swords to sandy footsteps the sound is right on in GW. The sound effects are excellent. However, the voice acting during the in game cut scenes lacks emphasis. The voice actors are drab and uneventful. You will spend more time skipping the cut scenes than enjoying them. The good news is that the sounds you will be hearing the most of, swords and spells, are very well done.

Technical Performance – The game runs nearly flawlessly. Everyone is part of the same game world and major areas are either instanced or broken up into several cloned districts. This results in a net positive effect on performance. The one area of technical performance that is troubling is the collision detection. Like the graphical problem of being unable to traverse the smallest hills there is an equally troubling problem of collision detection warping your avatar around.
You will have several times where you will try to move around an obstacle only to be warped back against it as though you never ran around it. Also when it comes to other players you will sometimes wonder why your character is running a zigzag pattern to someone or something right in front of you.

GW allows you to play the game with little to no lag and only suffers from poor collision detection.

Customer Service – Being a free MMOG there is little need for customer service outside of your routine spammers, scammers, and griefers. Every incident I encountered in game regarding a bad name or a constant spammer was resolved and the person removed or silenced. I actually reported a name of a group mate and before we finished out our current instance his name had been changed. The A.Net CS department seems to be on the top of their game.

WoW Review - Part II

Find Part I here.

My thoughts on how to review an MMO.

Part II

WoW does a lot of things right. It has minimized the “grinding” time to reach max level while filling it with actual things to do. The questing system guides you from level 1 to level 60 leading you into new area after new area.

This is both good and bad. You learn the world, but you also lose a sense of belonging because the higher level areas lack significant towns. You go from the main cities and right into run down dumps. In your early levels you experience Blizzard’s grand vision for huge involving cities, but quickly lose it as you spend little to no time in them.

Towns in the higher level areas are no more than a couple buildings or tents with a few NPCs attached to them. The lone exception being the mid-level area of Booty Bay which is quite a site to see.

This does not detract from the overall experience, but is disappointing considering the polish put on the rest of the world.

The crafting system was well implemented by Blizzard after several changes in Beta. You can select two professions and raise all three of your secondary skills. The system is easy to pick up and is nearly completely player supported. You can rely on other players for nearly every major supply that is needed for every craft.

The gathering professions however are not balanced against the crafting professions. You can select two gathering professions and guarantee to sell whatever you gather to other players via the Auction House.

However the crafting professions where you actually make items are sparsely populated with items that are of any use to anyone in the game. Most in game dropped items are better than the equal level crafted items. There is very few end game crafted items worth spending the effort to create.

Due to rare materials being required for most end game items players only invest in the ones that give them the MAX benefit. No player is going to spend the time to get 20 Arcanite Bars to build a weapon that is worse than another weapon that also only requires 20 Arcanite Bars. Weapons are just an example of what plagues all high level crafting professions. There are too few good items to be made for profit for high level crafters.

Every player in WoW can participate in the crafting process, but in the end only the gathering professions profit on a regular basis.

Part III coming soon…

Friday, June 10, 2005

WoW Review - Part 1

My thoughts on How to Review an MMO.

What do I want out of World of Warcraft(WoW)?

I want a casual, fun, and fast gaming experience. It should be easy to learn, but hard to master. I want an Alliance vs Horde conflict. There needs to be reason behind the conflict and balance in the battle. My actions need to have an effect on the world. Overall the game just needs to be fun and fun is the overriding factor that will keep me in WoW. I do not want another Everquest.

The Basics

Graphics - Excellent. The world has a very hand crafted feel to it that is unique to the Warcraft universe. From start to finish there is definite polish on everything in the world. The animations blend perfectly with the models. The environment is fleshed out with swaying trees, grass, bushes, and everything you expect to see when traveling into a forest, desert, or swamp. The graphics add to the immersion resulting in a very eye pleasing gaming experience.

Sound - The sound in WoW goes hand in hand with the graphics. It completes the immersion with excellent sound effects wherever you travel. The music is fitting to the feel of Warcraft. The sound will always keep you aware of your surroundings and the music will make those slower times feel much more alive.

Technical Performance - The lag has been up and down as much as the servers have been up and down. WoW has performed increasingly well and the server maintenance team seems to have their game faces on. Most problems have been fixed relatively quickly and aside from some known issues (mail box, AH, and big city lag) there is no negative effect from the technical performance. You will be playing WoW more than you will be staring at a log in screen.

Customer Service – Let’s not be shy. WoW has attracted a HUGE player base. The customer service(CS) is going to suffer because of this. However Blizzard has gone a long way to ensuring that your voice is heard when you have a valid complaint. Whether it’s in-game mail or out of game e-mail from the CS department you will get a reply to your request/inquiry. Also they are very public when they go ahead and ban a large group of players for cheating, hacking, or abusing exploits. A definite plus in my book.