It's still rough and clunky in places but the more I play the more I can appreciate the potential of the game. It's far tougher than most modern MMOs, both in terms of combat, character set-up and questing, which I like. It's a thinking-person's game, and I can see many MMO players really not getting to grips with it.
I like the fact it is a niche game, though I fear the level of creativity and thought required to play it may harm subscription numbers. At least the entry barriers (slightly clunky, limited character customisation, and amount of effort, time and thought required to proceed) may weed out some of the more childish members of the MMO gaming community.
I've been exploring some of the game systems in a little more detail, and the potential freedom and complexity is really astounding. I love that you can eventually have enough abilities to have decks (builds) specialised for single-target dps, aoe dps, ranged dps, tanking, etc, and that you can switch between them on the fly as necessary. I have read that as the game progresses you really have to adapt by switching decks to defeat some content (for example, some later mobs may only be effected by certain types states, and you may need to switch your deck to deliver them). Alts may even be a thing of the past, as each character can potentially fulfil every role in a group by switching decks.
I also didn't realise the huge impact of "combat states" and their importance in creating synergies between different skills. This game will be a tinkerer's dream. After reading Yokai's incredible guide on creating character builds on the official forums I am only now beginning to understand how deep the ability system is compared to a traditional MMO levelling system.
My extra time testing the game has also confirmed how great the storytelling and writing is. Every major NPC comes across as a real character with interesting things to say. I've also learned that it's important to listen to the cutscene conversations properly as they contain clues to quests that won't appear elsewhere (so no cutscene skipping for me!). In fact there are clues everywhere, from the conversations NPCs have with each other even down to the map design.
I've also stopped playing the PvE game in the traditional MMO manner (in fact the game kind of drives you this way anyway). The questing system, along with the limits on the number and type of quest you can run at any one time mean that I am no longer playing through quest hubs, hoovering up the quests there only to return and hand them in when I've done them all. Instead I find myself concentrating on one quest, running round the map, trying to solve it's puzzles, and possibly picking up quests I find along the way to do later.
|Fight for the Fusang!|
It's a good job you can make notes on the map as I've been recording new quests and anything odd on my map in case I need to refer back to it later. In fact, I now have a huge pad of paper next to my keyboard with notes scribbled on (addresses, ages, phone numbers, places, dates, found via conversations, phone books, computers etc) in case I need them in later quests. The questing in this game is so good that I decided to quit and wait for release rather than spoil anything. Yokai has written another great guide on missions and how they work here.
I also discovered through general chat this weekend that there are many more quests that will be in the game at launch that have not even been made available to the closed beta test (they have been tested by an ultra-secret cabal of hand-picked testers). These compose of new Investigation quests and an entire quest line for each of the three factions. Apparently Funcom did not want them being spoiled prior to launch.
The questing system does mean that I'm going to have to find a guild however. The dungeons are meant to be tough, even in normal mode, so it will be good to have a regular group of players to adventure with. I don't think Convergence are going to playing this game en-masse, so I have some decisions to make.
Due to the questing system I think I'm also going to roll on an RP server (either the official one if available, or the unofficial unified RP server). There are a couple of reasons for this. First I do like to roleplay and have been in many great RP guilds in other games. Second, because of the nature of the quests I feel that my playstyle (i.e. exploring and not racing to the top, not skipping conversation cutscenes) is more likely to be accepted on an RP server, and finally because I think there will probably fewer quest spoilers spouted in the general chat channel (I'm considering turning general chat off anyway as I really don't want the quests spoiling).
I had a quick look at the crafting system this weekend. Like the rest of the game it's a little clunky, but deep and allows for a huge range of freedom and customisation. Like the PvE game there are no crafting classes - if you have the right components you can craft anything (as I understand it at least).
In very basic terms you find components whilst adventuring, or break down items to make them. These can then be recombined into more powerful items (generally weapons and talismans), and the components you use to make them determine the effect of the item (boosts healing, dps, taunt, afflications etc). It allows you to customise the equipment you want for each of your builds, and when you switch decks your assigned gear switches at the same time. Apparently you can even reskin equipment to give the look you want. There is an excellent crafting guide by Raithwood here.
|Things are about to get ugly|
Funcom opened up the PvP for this final beta weekend so I took the opportunity to dive in and try it out. First of all I headed to the Fusang Provinces, the game's persistant PvP zone. The zone is an Eastern-themed city block in which the players fight over control of anima wells (allowing them to respawn around the zone) and facilities. I think there were about 15 different things to control, and controlling them gives a buff to all members of your faction (even those playing the PvE game). There are repeatable mission terminals (I completed a couple of the missions, kill 10 enemies for example, and was rewarded with ability points) at different points around the zone.
When you join the zone you get a choice of equipment setup which determines your appearance and PvP buffs (tanking, healing or dps). You have to wear your factions uniform in the PvP zone, which helps to identify friends from enemies.
The combat is quick and action-packed, but there are no (or at l;east I didn't see any) one-shot kills. Kills generally took up to 30 seconds or so when fighting one-on-one (though when running round a corner into 10 enemies death came much, much more quickly!). Whilst tactics were at a minimum I can see that once you know the maps and are running with a good team they could play a great part in the PvP gameplay, as the maps have a great mix of open areas, multi-levelled areas, and choke points.
Despite being a total n00b, only having quality level 1 equipment, and not even having a full deck of skills I felt like I could hold my own in the PvP game, and whilst I died (a lot!) I also got my fair share of kills. It was nice to be able to compete against players who had obviously been playing for far longer than I.
After playing in the Fusang Provinces I checked out Stonehenge, one of two battlegrounds in which three teams of 10 players compete. The Stonehenge map was basically a king-of-the-hill style PvP game in which you fight for control of the center over a 15 minute match. Our team came second, but it was a lot of fun. Unfortunately I didn't get to try the other battleground, Eldorado, which is a capture-the-flag style game in which the teams fight over ancient artefacts.
|Stonehenge, where the demons dwell|
Where the banshees live and they do live well... etc, etc.
As well as the persistant PvP zone and the battlegrounds each faction also has a hidden Fight Club in their capital city in which you can fight anyone and anything goes. I didn't get a chance to try this out however.
Oh, before I sign off, one more final thought I had about the game whilst playing this weekend. The score is really incredible, and really adds to the atmosphere of the world.
This game has really snuck up on me. I was following it only slightly, got a weekend beta key last week and decided to give it a go, and now I've pre-purchased and am getting excited for launch in just one week (July 3rd, though having said that early access starts this Friday!). I don't know how long it will hold my attention, but the potential of the game is just huge.