Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Review: Ragnarok Online 2

Korean MMORPGs can be best described as a mixed bag, some are good and some are terrible. In the early and mid (20)00s, Ragnarok Online (RO) was one of the most successful and popular MMO ever created. A legendary game, built upon and championed by diehard fans and their private servers. Fast forward to 2013 and, after a revision of the first sequel, Ragnarok Online 2: Legend of the Second (RO2) is finally released internationally.

Based loosely upon Norse mythology, RO2 tells the story of the Kingdom of Midgard and its struggle with evil forces. RO2, when comparing it to the original Ragnarok, has tried to bring the story into a central aspect of the game. Unfortunately, telling such a forced storyline leads the gameplay into a linear experience. Norse mythology is a wonderful base to start from, and the original Ragnarok had such great in-game lore. But I found with RO2 we are given a boring path to follow, lined with slightly stronger enemies the further you travel.

Solid gameplay mechanics are fundamental to any MMO, or any other game's success. Sadly, RO2 has made the mistake of playing it easy. The original Ragnarok was fast-paced and required a fair amount of statistical building or practical experience. RO2 removes all of the original Ragnarok's vim and difficulty. It's truly a dull and watered down experience, featuring boring button mashing, useless character development and a lukewarm skill system. There is just no fire or depth to the gameplay.

New gameplay elements include: a revised card system, involving slotting the character instead of weapons; a job system overhaul; an achievement and title feature called the khara system; and gear heavy, instead of character statistic heavy progression. Most of the original's gameplay elements have either been a watered-down replacement or removed entirely.

RO2 is based on the free to play model. No upfront cost to play, but some central features have been cut to allow the publisher to profit, the card album being an example. Free to play is definitely a two-edged sword, and players should be reminded that nothing is ever truly free.

Graphics wise, RO2 is standard anime inspired fare. Mediocre graphics opens the game up to more players, but it does date the game, making it look 5 years older than it should. The cities are pretty and well sized, but lack interaction. Character design is pretty boring and many characters look the same.

Comparing RO2's music to the original's isn't going to be fair. Ragnarok's music was one of its best features, and could arguably be one of the best in MMO history. I'm sure fans of the game, even today, could hear the original's music and be instantly transported back in time. RO2's music, on the other hand, is serviceable, but not memorable.

I think RO2 was always going to be a hard-win for any dveloper and publishing company. RO2 had very deep shoes to fill, and I think they have failed to properly honor Ragnarok's legacy. Many fans will play RO2 for nostalgia reasons only, but all of them will realize that it isn't a true Ragnarok Online sequel.


-A mediocre and bland experience

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Review: Don't Starve

Survival games come in all shapes and sizes, and indie developer, Klei Interactive, has released their  small scale, day to day survival game Don't Starve. Featuring a sinister Victorian motif and quirky humor, Don't Starve seeks to challenge the player against the elements and force a struggle for survival and sanity.

The player starts the game by adjusting the world creation and selecting a character. The sandbox world can be tailored to make the days longer or for areas to have more, or less resources. In the beginning, players may only choose the gentleman-scientist Wilson. As you play further, characters are unlocked featuring special abilities such as fire immunity or greater strength.

Unceremoniously dropped into the new world, the game's antagonist, Maxwell, seeks to torture your mind and body for trespassing into his secret portal. Don't Starve is light on the story, but instead heavily focused on the world and your interactions within it. Think, build and fight your way to survival; utilising both land resources and tools, hopefully surviving to see the new day dawn.

There is only one passive save game; there is no going back. If you die, your save is wiped and you'll have to start over. This design decision allows players who survive a great sense of achievement. Surviving your first winter is a very big achievement, as resources dwindle and the player may even freeze to death. Fire is often your greatest ally, but it can also, figuratively, burn down the house.

As the player delves further into the game, strategies, survival tactics and personal safety rules are developed. Storing food for the winter, stockpiling, scouting new resources, dealing with threats, farming, cooking and resurrection will need to be managed on a day to day basis. Wasting time is possibly the worst mistake players can make; successfully managing your time allows characters to survive and further explore the new world.

After playing for an extended period of time, Don't Starve's difficulty does eventually plateau. The end game consists of either entering Maxwell's adventure mode portal, pitting players against a reduced resource and environmental challenge, spanning five custom worlds; or trigger a portal leading into a new sandbox world. After you die or complete a world experience, XP, is awarded unlocking new characters.

Don't Starve has a few niggling problems, but nothing that detracts from the overall experience. It's roguelike gameplay design decisions are quite evident. If you need a game that will distract you for a couple of hours, Don't Starve fits the bill perfectly.

Don't Starve is currently on sale for $14.99 on Steam, Amazon and Google, and  $11.99 on GoG.


-Winter is coming!