MMOholics Anonymous Level 2

Welcome back. As you can see, I have gained a level! This time around, there will be much more meat in the column, and some interesting commentary. Expect the average column to look something like this.

News
World of Warcraft – Wrath of the Lich King Release Date Narrowed Down
Mike Morhaime, Blizzard CEO, has announced that WotLK will be released in fourth quarter of 2008, so somewhere between October and December. EBGames shows a release date of 11/3/08, but that means little. Still, we can expect it to be out before the Thanksgiving weekend. That would be the perfect time for people who get off from work to be able to start grinding their way to 80. And with as much polish as Blizz has on the game so far, I’m sure it’s going to be a good launch. I hope so anyway, because I was going to take a few days off myself!
(source: WoW Insider)

Warhammer Online Release Date
In other release date news, Warhammer Online will be released NEXT MONTH?! The dates on the sites that mention it range from September 16th to September 23rd). This is a big surprise to many people, since the Beta for the game is still closed. That means only a little bit left until the game is shipped, and it’s still a closed beta? I’ll talk about that more in a minute.
(source: Joystiq)

I’m In the Warhammer Beta!
I actually just received an email stating that I’ve been accepted into the Warhammer Beta. It’s under an NDA though, so I am unable to disclose anything about the game until the NDA is lifted, so don’t expect much in the way of a preview. I still have it preordered, so I’ll definitely review it.
(source: My Email)


Are We Done Yet?
(or Releasing a Title Before the Game is Complete)

I’m writing this before actually playing Warhammer Online, so anything I say is based on what I’ve read and/or conjecture on my part.

One of the things that plagues so many MMOs is releasing the game before it is finished. It’s understandable to a point, because most MMO worlds are so vast that you can’t possibly fix every single little flaw in them without having an army of people on your QA team. The problem comes when the game is clearly not finished and is nowhere near finished and the game is just released as is, with the promise that fixes will be forthcoming.

I’m not quite sure where Warhammer falls in this.

This isn’t to say that every game is released as an unfinished mess. I’ve played several games at launch that were actually pretty damn solid: World of Warcraft and Lord of the Rings Online. I beta tested both games, and then played them at launch, and one thing I have to say is there wasn’t much difference, because both games were very polished even at Beta. That’s the whole point. You basically MAKE the game, and then Alpha test it to work all the major kinks out, and then Beta test it to a wider audience to work out any minor kinks. When the game is released, it should be relatively bug free. As stated before, it’s impossible to work out everything, but it sucks when some people simply don’t try.

While I never played it, from what I’ve heard, Vanguard was that kind of mess. Sony, who was publishing, wasn’t making a dime and the company had wasted so much money that they finally said “ok, just launch it, we’ll fix everything later”. And they did. The game launched to a big yawn, and those that did pick the game up were happy to be paying to beta test a game. A few short months later, Sony fired most of the staff of Sigil, the company that developed Vanguard, yet they are still working on it. This is an example of a game that will never recoup its losses.

While it is possible for a title to pick up subscribers later into its life, you still have to start out strong. Sadly, even games that start off strong lose that advantage if they have too many bugs. Such is apparently the case with Conan. I’ve read several reports of people leaving in droves because every patch introduces new bugs without fixing old ones. As word of mouth spreads, the ship starts to sink, and the rats start to flee even quicker.

So this comes back around to the point of this discussion, which is: when is a good time to release the game? Clearly, you have to first consider how finished the game is. But you also have to consider the timing. If the time is right, you will want to release the game. In the case of Warhammer, they were looking at going up against the WoW expansion. Now, Warhammer well be the greatest game of all time, but 10,000,000+ people know that WoW is good. So if they are already WoW subscribers and have the option of spending $40 for an expansion of a game they already have an account for, or pay $60 for a brand new game that they have no idea about. If the two games were released at the same time, I’m sorry, but Warhammer would get slaughtered.

Instead they are releasing it in mid-September, which is a good time, because they will have AT LEAST a month head start over Wrath of the Lich King. But I am still concerned. The game is still in CLOSED Beta, which means that there is still a non-disclosure agreement with Beta testers, and people who preorder the game were promised a spot in the open Beta, which has not started. I’m afraid that either it’s not ready or EA/Mythic do not have confidence in the product. The next few months will be very telling, because I want nothing more than for Warhammer to succeed. There needs to be competition in the MMO arena. I don’t know if anyone can reach WoW heights, but I’d like to see someone try, and this is really the best chance. If it fails, I suspect that the only other opportunity will come from a completely different type of game, like maybe a Sci-Fi MMO. Star Trek Online has promise, as does Warhammer 40k. But right now, the only people going up against Blizzard is themselves.


MMO Impressions: Mabinogi
I was reading Penny Arcade one day when I saw an ad for a free MMO called Mabinogi and decided to check it out. I’m not sure what caught my eye originally, but after reading a little on the site, I was drawn in by the anime style, the “keyword” system and the interesting sounding crafting.

At first I was skeptical, thinking that the game would be just another Asian MMO, with bad translation and boring gameplay, but I was pleasantly surprised in both aspects. The translation is excellent. It’s much better than any other free MMO I’ve played before. And the gameplay was also surprising. It’s pretty standard in some ways, but in others is unique.

My first gripe is that it’s a standard click to move MMO, which I am not fond of. This makes it a pain to move and a pain to choose who you want to attack, because from what I could tell, you can’t actually TARGET something like you can in other titles. This makes it difficult to discern if the enemy you are facing is more difficult than you can manage. However, you do get skills like many MMOs, and can use those in combat. Getting those skills is fairly unique though. You don’t just get skills by leveling up. You usually have to talk to someone or go to a school to learn a skill, and you improve it with use. Every level you get skills points that are used when leveling skills. This way you can focus on the skills you wish to use, such as magic or ranged. But everyone starts out as your standard melee fighter.

Most free MMOs seem to have few quests, and require a lot of grinding. Fortunately, that’s not the case with Mabinogi. You can get quests from NPCs quite often, and some that are considered part-time jobs, and can only be done during certain parts of the day, and have a deadline. Quests are plentiful, so plentiful in fact that occasionally an owl will fly above you and drop a scroll on your character, giving you another quest. Rewards are standard fare, ranging from money to items to XP.

Another problem I have is that money seems to come very slowly at times, and then just pour in, and everything you WANT to buy (like armor, gathering tools and instruments) seem very expensive. I was level 14 or so and still toting around the same sword and dress I had at the start. Yes, I created a female character. Yes, I always create female characters. No, I’m not gay. I’d much prefer spending hours on end staring at a female form than one of a male.

Anyway, everything is pretty good, and the crafting is great. There are a lot of steps to the creation process, which some may find tedious, but I like. For example, you collect cobwebs. You turn 5 cobwebs into thin thread. You turn 5 thin thread into silk. You turn 5 silk into something else. I enjoy stuff like this because it gives me a sense of accomplishment. What I DON’T like is that success is not guaranteed. You can put your 5 cobwebs into the loom, and either have success or failure (a 44% success rate to start), and if you fail, you lose some or all of your materials. I hate that because it feels like you’re wasting your time, especially when you get a string of failures in a row. And to skill up to increase your success rate takes A LOT of silk making. And of course you don’t increase your skill at all for failures. So that could be a little better. To make something good requires a lot of materials and a lot of money to get the pattern, and I honestly never got that far. I just lost interest. But this forms the basis for an interesting crafting system.

Overall, this is by far the best of the “free Asian MMO” titles I’ve played. It has a lot of pluses, and few minuses, and I’d recommend it to anyone who is looking for something free to play.

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