Spartacus Legends

legends_logo_215x120Spartacus Legends is a free-to-play fighting game from Ubisoft that hit XBLA and PSN recently. It’s based on the Starz gladiator series. Already all kinds of alarm bells should be going off in your head, right? A F2P game based on a TV show!? Yegads.

I’m not sure why I downloaded it but I did and tonight I fired it up and surprise! It’s actually not too bad. The core here is a gladiator fighting game, with all the gore you’d expect, plus plenty of salty language just in case we were confused about whether or not a game where you can slice your enemy’s face off their head is meant for children.

The fighting engine… well listen, I’m not a fighting game guy. I can’t remember combos and when I can remember them I don’t have the dexterity to pull them off. But I can play Spartacus Legends, which probably means if you’re serious about fighting games than this is going to be way too basic for you. But for this kind of game/audience, going a bit more casual was probably the right move. Your face buttons are light attack, heavy attack, a block breaker and a grab. Left shoulder button is block, right shoulder button, along with analog stick, let’s you roll. There are combos here if you can figure them out. I felt like after a while my fingers had figured out a few without my brain really parsing what they were.

What I like about Spartacus Legends is the strategy/rpg wrapper around the fighting game. You’re trying to build up your stable of gladiators to make your house/school/ludus famous once again. You start with one poor bastard armed with a piece of junk sword, a busted up shield and a loin cloth. As you win fights you’ll gain both coin and fame. You use coin to buy better armor and weapons, additional gladiators and cells for them to sleep in (more cells = more potential gladiators).

As you gain fame, you (you as in the faceless guy/gal running the ludus) can access more and more lucrative (and dangerous) venues to have your gladiators fight in. I just dipped my toe in the second area after an evening’s play. Early battles are non-lethal (through the magic of Hollywood I guess) but as you advance the “Lethality Meter” increases. It’s probably going to suck when one of my favorite gladiators gets killed. 🙁

Your gladiators also earn Perks for winning battles. One of the earliest for instance is “Hard Headed” which gives that Gladiator +10 defense.

Of course things get expensive pretty fast, and that’s where the F2P stuff comes in. Instead of earning coin you can just buy it with real money. Gold coins, in particular, are pretty hard to earn and some of the better gear can only be purchased with gold coins. Also each Gladiator has a finite number of Perk Slots (1 to start) and replacing a Perk with a new one costs Gold coins.

There’s an Online Battle component that I stayed far away from. With a game where real $$ can get you the best gear I don’t want to have anything to do with PvP. But if you stick to the PvE side of the game, you can have a pretty good time without spending any money. I may buy some Gold Coins just to support Ubisoft if I play for much longer.

Spartacus Legends isn’t going to win any game of the year awards or anything, but it’s worth downloading some evening when you just feel like something a little different. And gory. And foul-mouthed.


First Look: Tribes:Ascend

A long long time ago, Dynamix, at that point a division of Sierra Online (someone will correct me if I have my history wrong) released a team-based shooter called Tribes. Tribes was awesome because of its unusual weapons and its jetpacks!

In my long history of gaming, I’ve sucked at 99.99% of them, but I was OK at Tribes. It was a bit slower paced than most shooters and some of the weapons required a bit of tactical thinking. I was serious enough about it that I joined a team, went to practices…the whole 9 yards. Good times.

Then at some point someone found a way to exploit the physics of the game so you could “ski” down hills. Suddenly dudes in heavy armor were just as fast as lightly armored scouts. Dynamix seemed to think that was actually pretty cool and opted not to fix it, so I moved on to other games.

There was a Tribes 2 that I paid very little attention to but I think it included skiing as a mechanic.

And now we have Tribes:Ascend, a free-to-play iteration of the franchise. It’s still a team-based shooter with jetpacks. Skiiing is an integral part of the game, but since it was balanced for skiiing from the get-go that’s not as much of an issue. The way skiing works now is that you hold down the spacebar when going down hill and you’ll stop running and start sliding. It’s a sci-fi game and they have some lore about it but whatever. The point is you gain a bunch of speed going down a hill then use your jetpack to assist going up hill. Do it right and you can get up a good head of steam.

Anyway, the game came out of beta today and since it’s free I figured I’d give it a go. I wasn’t expecting much.. you can’t go home again, right?

But much to me surprise, I had a lot of fun with it. I even captured the flag once… unheard of for me, and I got a lot of assists and saves since most of the time I was playing defense. I’m sure a week from now the Tribes community will have gotten so good that I’ll once again be hopeless at it: I don’t have the dedication or the reflexes to keep up with serious players. But that’s just me. I have faith that you can do better.

Before I play much more I may need to read up a bit. I just jumped in with a generic class. There are turrets and generators and stuff and I’m not sure if anyone can build/repair them or if there’s a class for that. I’m also not sure what generators do, to be honest.

There’re a ton of classes and weapons, a lot of which cost $$ to unlock. I’m not yet convinced Tribes:Ascend isn’t Pay-to-Win but for now I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt.

I played 3 matches. My team won 2 and lost the third. All three were Capture the Flag and the only hang up was that there were a lot of stalemates when each side had the other’s flag. With the skiing system it can be really hard to catch up with a guy who has built up some speed so it’s pretty easy to just run and run with the flag way out on the fringes of the battlefield.

Anyway, I give it a tentative thumbs-up. Definitely worth the asking price at least! If you’re at all into team-based shooters, there’s no reason not to try it.

My turn to look at Allods Online

Free to play MMOs are a dime a dozen these days, so I’m not sure why Allods Online seems to have caught the attention of the group of bloggers and twitter people I fraternize with. Maybe it was the disgustingly cute “Gibberling” race that first drew their eye? Gibberlings are these short furry critters that travel in groups of three. My understanding is that you play all 3 as a single entity… in other words if you roll a gibberling your ‘character’ consists of 3 of the little buggers.

I wouldn’t know for sure. Y’see, I went Empire. Anybody who is anybody rolls Empire. To hell with little cute furballs and winged elves.

Meet Locust. He’s a Risen Savant. The Risen seem to be half undead, half robot. I know his pet is a robotic scorpion. So what’s a Savant? I dunno. I didn’t research this stuff. It sounded interesting so I picked it. Locust tosses spells around and swings a staff (pretty ineffectively). Poison seems to be his strength. He’s got a DoT and a Direct Damage spell. He’s got Vampirism which transfers health from the baddie to him. And he’s got his pet robot scorpion. Mind you, he’s only level 5 or so…I’m still fumbling along.

Allods Online won’t shock you with its originality, at least at first. Lots of gamers call it a WoW clone. I dunno how true that is. At the most basic and obvious levels I suppose. But the same can be said for many games. I don’t remember having a venom spewing half-undead half-robot mecha-scorpion-controlling vampire in WoW, but maybe that was in an expansion?

Kidding aside, you’ll feel very comfortable in Allods. See this paperdoll? Looks familiar enough, right? One nice thing, check the stats at the bottom. As far as I can figure, the ones with the green background and stars are the stats most important for your class. The ones with the blue font color are stats that are being enhanced by your gear. And yeah, there’re a lot of stats. Every level (at least up to 5) you get 1 measly point to put into one of those 14 stats. Tough calls.

Every so often you get a talent point too. Yeah, and you have a talent tree. Some talents give you new abilities (Locust’s scorpion buddy came from a talent), other times you just get new abilities automagically when you level up.

Oddly enough, Locust is called a Summoner in the paper doll. I just now noticed that. I’m thinking that’s his archetype. I *think* both the Empire and the Cuties (or whatever the other side is called… Cotton Candy Bandits? Oh wait, I think it’s The League) have the same archetypes (Scout, Healer, Warrior etc) but class names differ between the sides.

There’s a lot of “I thinks” in this post. Y’know why? Because Allods is free to download, free to play. I love that. I do my research by playing. (And I need to play more!) I don’t have to fret about whether or not it’s worth the price: there is no initial price!

The biggest downside of Allods Online, by the way, is that it is free. If you decide to play, the VERY FIRST THING to do is to click on the Chat Interface (bottom left corner of the chat window) and turn off all public channels. The community in Allods Online (most of whom, I assume, are 12 year old boys trying to figure out why they no longer think girls are gross) will have you down on your knees praying for the Zombie Apocalypse to come and wipe the stain of humanity off the face of the earth. So turn those idiots off, pronto!

Quests? There are quests! Here’s a Quest Window. Looks familiar, right? Yah.

Here’s the thing about quests in Allods. I know it isn’t fashionable to make your brain take all those little squiggles and recognize them as letters, and then bunch the letters into words, and smoosh the words into sentences, and then… y’know, READ the quest text. That’s a LOT of work and so 1995 after all. But just this once, you should take the time to read them. The quest text in F2P MMOs is usually amusing due to awful translation, but here the quests are well written and often subtly funny (no, this screen shot isn’t an example of a subtly funny quest; it’s just a random shot I had).

Here’s an example that you won’t find funny now that I’ve told you the quests are funny: Early on some NPC tells you this epic tale that ends with you having to kill some crows since they symbolize a big bad from back in the day. (Hey, I said they were funny; I didn’t say I was memorizing them word for word.) So you head off and dutifully kill the crows (talk to the dude with the captive Gibberlings first…he wants crow meat and you can double up) and head back to the NPC and she starts up again with an epic speech but then basically admits that she’s in charge of keeping the statue behind her clean and the crows were shitting all over it, and that’s why she wanted you to kill them.

I told you that you wouldn’t think it was funny. But if you’d read it in-game without me building it up so much, you would’ve chuckled. Or not. I chuckled. But then I have a refined sense of humor. You probably just want Chuck Norris jokes. Maybe you should leave the Community chat on after all. Maybe you are Part of the Problem!

Anyway, here’s a full-blown screen shot with interface and all that. You can click on it if you really want to see the 1680×1050 version. Point is, it all looks familiar, right? Comfortable even. I’m finding that’s actually a strength of Allods. I can just slip into it and play without any preparation to speak of. And yet the two classes I’ve tried (Savant and Psionist) play differently enough from classes in other games that I’m finding them pretty interesting.

I think its a pretty game too, and that helps. It runs nicely. It’s free. There’s some concern over item shop prices but let’s wait until the game is officially launched before we get too worked up over that (it’s in beta now, but characters will carry over to launch, we’re told). Apparently the shop was open and was showing the cost of a bump in inventory space from 18 to 24 slots for $20 US. Crazy! When I last played, the shop was closed. If they really run with that price, we can all just stop playing until they see some sense and reduce the cost, then we can go back. Because its free! Which is why you should give it a try.

But don’t just take my word for it. Petter at Don’t Fear the Mutant and Dickie at Rainbow MMO each have a nice “First Look” kind of post up (ergo the “My Turn” in the title of this post).

Maybe hyping a game like this really does it a disservice. There’s always that contingent of gamers who want to piss on anything that a group of folks is enjoying. I went into Allods Online with very, very modest expectations and maybe that was why I was so delighted with what I found. I wouldn’t suggest firing it up expecting it to be your main MMO for the next 2 years. Fire it up expecting it to be a distraction for the evening, and enjoy it for what it is, and for what you paid for it. Maybe it’ll last, maybe it won’t. I guess I’ll almost definitely be playing it until Monday. Maybe longer, but I don’t want to get too crazy about planning for the future. I’ll just live for today.

And yet, some part of me really wants to believe I’ll someday be fighting this guy:

Runes of Magic

So today I deemed it Long Enough for the aggravation of downloading and installing the Runes of Magic beta client to wear off, allowing me to give the game a fair chance. Problem is, there seems to be an NDA in place, which makes no kind of sense to me… what’s the point of an NDA with an Open Beta? For what its worth, I didn’t notice anything for them to be worried about in letting people talk about the game.

I’m going to ride a fine line here and talk about stuff that you could find out from ‘authorized sources’ with a bit of Googling. You’ve probably heard RoM referred to as a WoW clone, and that definitely is the first impression you get, from the art style (though with a lot more ‘cute’ thrown in here) to the interface. If you’ve played WoW, the game will feel very familiar to you. But then, that could be said for most fantasy-themed MMOs, and you could swap “WoW” for “EQ” or “DAoC” and it’d still pretty much apply. Combat and Harvesting are both very WoW-like indeed, but beyond that the game does diverge somewhat.

The most obvious difference is that there’s no subscription fee, and the idea is that you buy “Diamonds” with real cash to spend in-game on items. To that end, a lot of things in the game are time-limited, and you get a taste of this early on in the life of a character when you get a gift bag with a 24-hour mount in it. This is a horse that’ll be with your character for 24 hours from the time you get it (and I’m assuming they mean 24 real hours regardless of if you’re logged in or not, but I’ll check on that [EDIT: Confirmed, I popped in for a second this morning and my horse had 10 hours left.]). The “Item Shop” is full of stuff like this… buff potions and limited time mounts and so forth. We call these micro-transactions but they aren’t all micro – a permanent mount without a time limit will cost you about $20 USD in Diamonds. Hopefully there are other ways to gain a means of transportation.

housekeeperAnother big difference from WoW is that there is housing, and every player gets a small instanced house early on in their career (I had mine by level 6). There is no charge for the basic house, and you get a nice chest to store items in. But the biggest deal of all is that every house comes with a housekeeper! That’s her to the right there. She looks very professional, doesn’t she? You can expand your house in various ways by spending House Energy, which you get in exchange for Diamonds, which you got in exchange for real cash. Housing looks closer to EQ2 than to LOTRO. Rather than the very-limited “hooks” of LOTRO, it seems like you can place items at will in your house. That was true of the storage chest you’re given, at least. I haven’t managed to get any furniture yet.

Another difference: every character gets a secondary class. My character hasn’t gotten there yet, and there was a lot of debate in chat over whether you can change your secondary class or if, once picked, it’s a permanent part of your character. More exploration needed there.

And then there are the titular Runes. From very early on you’ll be finding Runes of various kinds. Runes can be attached to certain weapons and armor (assuming said item has Rune Slots in it) to give them bonuses, and they are also used in Crafting. They work as you’d probably expect: once a Rune is attached to an item it can’t be removed (possible exception: there’s a potion in the “Item Shop” that sounds like it would remove a Rune). It requires no special skill to apply a Rune to an item. Just right-click the Rune and click on the item you want to attach it to.

New characters get a nice quest chain that takes you through combat and getting harvesting skills and stuff, as well as good basic equipment. I was playing a Scout (think Hunter) and quickly got a nice range of skills to use (ha! pun not intended). Every time you level up you get a bunch of skill points to apply to these skills; so far I’ve been able to keep everything maxed, but I’m sure that won’t be true over the long run.

All in all, it seemed OK. I had fun for the short time I played and will probably give it some more time eventually, as long as I’m not forced to do much buying from the Item Store. I get that they need to fund the game somehow, but $20 for a horse seems pretty steep to me. But there’s no real “US” store to buy Diamonds from, so maybe they’ll adjust the costs for release? I will say that of all the free2play MMOs I’ve tried, this feels the closest to a “traditional” sub-based, fantasy-themed MMO. Whether this is good or bad, I leave to the reader. If you can’t afford WoW or EQ2 its nice to have an option, but its also nice to find unique offerings in the free2play-space like Wizard101 or Atlantica Online