Gaming Round-Up: Halloween in Landmark and TSW, Nova Raving, and Skyforge

Halloween as an adult is always a little depressing, isn’t it? It used to be a day you spent all year looking forward to, and now… it’s Monday.

The Rider, the star of The Secret World's Samhain 2016 eventHalloween celebrations in online games can at least soften the blow a bit.

The Secret World’s Halloween celebrations are, of course, the stuff of legends, but I must admit I’m not quite feeling the usual joy this year.

The new event is… strange. There’s not much story. A lot of it boils down to new world boss fights, but there’s a sort of puzzle-like requirement to summon them. Mostly it involves a lot of people running around like headless chickens, desperately hoping to find their targets before the boss despawns. I can’t say I’m fond of the time limit.

Of course, the official forums are on fire. For my part, while I agree with most of the criticisms, I’m inclined to judge the event less harshly than some.

I at least give Funcom credit for trying something different. The elements of mystery and community cooperation that this event hinges on are cool in theory. In practice it hasn’t turned out well, but I don’t think we should penalize developers too harshly for trying new things. The industry is risk-adverse enough already.

Ultimately, you have to accept that not all experiments are going to work, so if you want games to try new things, you need to learn to live with the occasional hiccup.

The new freestyle dance in The Secret WorldIt is worth noting that as of this writing we haven’t uncovered the entirety of the event yet. There’s quite a mystery over how to summon the empowered versions of the bosses. My opinion of the event may change, for better or for worse, once we’ve seen all of it.

All the previous events are back again, too, but those aren’t quite igniting my fancy this time, either. That’s just simple burnout, though. The Broadcast is still awesome, but I’ve done it a rough estimate of eleventy bajillion times now, so it doesn’t have quite the same lustre it used to.

One thing that has been interesting, though, is that I recently discovered an old friend from the TrekUnited days has gotten into TSW, and this is her first Halloween in the game. I’ve been helping her out here or there, which is gratifying. She even lucked into a couple of rare drops from my goody bags.

On that note, the new dance from this year’s party bag is awesome. I think it’s the most elaborate emote I’ve ever seen in an MMO.

Tip: For best results, equip Hell skin fist weapons before dancing.

Meanwhile, Landmark is also having a Halloween event. As one would expect from a game like Landmark, it’s mainly player driven. The developers just plunked down an island for seasonal builds and let people go nuts.

A Halloween build in LandmarkI haven’t had too much time to spend in Landmark lately, but from what I’ve seen the Halloween island is another testament to the talent of the Landmark community. It’s not particularly scary, but it’s fun in a cheesy haunted house kind of way.

The trouble with Landmark from a blogger’s perspective is that there’s never too much to say about it. Wandering around gawking at pretty sights is plenty enjoyable, but it doesn’t require in-depth analysis.

In other news…

Moving on from Halloween, I’ve got a few more articles published at MMO Bro I hope may be of interest.

Firstly, I take a look at the surprisingly swift release of Nova as a playable commander in StarCraft II’s co-op.

Nova is astonishingly fun, I have to say. She solves almost every complaint I’ve ever had about SC2’s game mechanics. As much as it feels like a betrayal of my Protoss brethren, she may well be my new favourite commander.

The fact she’s spectacularly overpowered doesn’t hurt, either. I’m trying to get plenty of games in with her now, because I’m convinced she’ll be nerfed soon. The reactions from some of the people I’ve been matched with have been hilarious, though a lot of them can’t be repeated in polite company.

Calling down the thunder as Nova in StarCraft II's co-opNext, I also took a second look at Skyforge following its huge Ascension patch, only to discover it really isn’t that different.

Skyforge feels like a tragic waste of potential to me. It does some things very well, but when you get down to it, it’s still an incredibly shallow game.

Not for the first time, I wish it was possible to combine different aspects of various MMOs, Frankenstein-style. Imagine SW:TOR’s story with Skyforge’s combat and graphics. That would be a truly amazing game.

Cheating on WoW: Skyforge Beta

As regular readers may recall, Skyforge is a game I’ve been curious about for some time, though I also have serious reservations. Thanks to our friends at Massively Overpowered, I managed to snag a key for the latest closed beta test, though due to the hectic circumstances of my life as of late, I only managed to play for the last two days of the test.

A boss fight in Skyforge's tutorialEven after playing the game, I remain somewhat on the fence about Skyforge.

A class act:

There are two main things that I very much enjoy about Skyforge. Well, more like three, but I’m going to lump classes and combat together.

As one would expect from an action combat game, Skyforge’s battles are quite visceral and enjoyable. It does lack the hilarious rag doll physics of Neverwinter and doesn’t have quite the visceral punch of TERA and Dragon’s Prophet, but it’s still pretty good.

Like TERA, Skyforge gives each class a surprisingly large number of skills for an action combat game, in stark contrast to the very limited action bars of games like Neverwinter or The Secret World.

And here’s where it gets really interesting, because I found Skyforge’s classes to be surprisingly complex. There’s a strong emphasis on combos — especially for melee classes — and unusual or inventive ability interactions.

A dungeon boss battle in Skyforge's betaI spent much of the weekend playing the alchemist class,* and I could get different results by combining chemicals on enemies in different orders. One combination creates an AoE explosion, another does massive single target damage.

*(A thoroughly enjoyable class that nails the mad scientist feel excellently. I spent much of the weekend giggling maniacally and randomly shouting “BLINDED WITH SCIENCE!”)

Which brings me to the next point: Skyforge has some really excellent class design. The game is launching with a whopping twelve classes, and thanks to a training room that you lets you try them all on for size (something every RPG should have), I found that each has a pretty distinct feel and their own interesting mechanics.

The classes are a good mix of traditional archetypes — archer, cryomancer, paladin, etc. — and some far more unusual concepts, such as the aforementioned alchemist and the kinetic, which manipulates gravity and magnetism to hurl boulders and generally impose its will on enemies.

And of course, you can swap between any classes you’ve unlocked easily at any time, granting a tremendous amount of versatility and doing a lot to help stave off boredom. Starting to feel the grind? Swap classes for a few fights and have a totally different experience.

My alchemist in Skyforge's betaThanks to a speedy and efficient group-finder, I also found that Skyforge is a bit like Neverwinter in that it does have the trinity of group roles — sort of; supports don’t have direct healing, and tanks don’t seem to have any taunts or special threat-building abilities — but isn’t too serious about it. Only once did I have a group with all three roles represented, but less balanced compositions didn’t cause any problems.

This also feels like a good time to mention that many dungeons can be done either solo or in a group. Aside from being a great way to cater to different playstyles, this allows players to learn the mechanics before joining a group, which should cut down on drama.

Speaking of lacking drama, Skyforge doesn’t have any loot competition, either. Drops seem to be unique to each player — as in Diablo III — and the open world areas feature open-tapping, creating a wonderfully chaotic slaughterfest such as you’d see in Guild Wars 2.

But I’m getting sidetracked. There is one glaring flaw with the class system: You can’t pick any class out of the gate. In fact, at launch, people will only be able to start out as a lightbinder, paladin, or cryomancer — three classes I found to be among the least interesting.

I never understand what goes through the minds of developers when they intentionally hobble a core selling feature of their game. Is this a ploy to sell more XP boosters? A misguided attempt to avoid overwhelming newbies? I don’t know, but it does the game no favours.

The capitol city of Aelinar in Skyforge's betaI didn’t play long enough to get a clear idea of how long it would take to unlock another class, but the impression I got was that it’s not an enormous grind, but not trivial either. Long enough to be unpleasant if you don’t like your starting classes, I think.

The world of Aelion:

The other thing that grabbed me about Skyforge was its setting, a very unique blending of sci-fi and fantasy elements. It’s a bit reminiscent of Star Wars, but also has a lot of its own personality.

The environments are stunningly beautiful and often wonderfully alien. Too often, MMOs worlds are an endless procession of generic high fantasy realms, but Aelion is a place that instantly strikes you with its own distinct personality. That counts for a lot with someone like me.

On a related note, I was pleased to discover that Skyforge is like The Secret World in that your stats gear and the clothes your character wears are totally unconnected, though the options aren’t as robust as in TSW. And while the game does have a significant case of “female armour,” there are several options for more practical gear on female avatars, as well.

A stellar soundtrack also helps fill the world with feeling. When it comes to aesthetics, Skyforge is a complete home run.

A rare open world zone in SkyforgeOn the downside, the world is heavily instanced and lobby-based, so you don’t get to explore much of this world. Open world zones are few and far between, and those that do exist are still fairly small.

The story is a bit of a mixed bag.

The tutorial/intro sequence was of a surprisingly high quality — aside from the distracting fact that your character is assumed to be male until you get to character creation, which only occurs after you achieve immortality. It features some excellently choreographed cutscenes that do a great job of providing your character with a strong origin story.

The tutorial shows an attention to detail most MMOs lack. For instance, after rescuing a group of civilians, I noticed one of them ran up to embrace one of my NPC comrades, showing some sort of relationship between them. Makes the world feel alive.

But after exiting the tutorial and creating your character, the story becomes much more of a mixed bag.

On the one hand, they do deserve credit for creating an over-arching storyline as opposed to the scattershot randomness you see in a lot of MMOs. The voice acting isn’t terrible — though the dialogue is a bit stilted, likely due to being originally written in Russian — and I’ve certainly seen far worse attempts at story in MMOs.

My alchemist in Skyforge's betaBut it’s not terribly compelling, either. It is a bit rambly, there’s not a lot of emotional investment, and there’s almost no attempt to explain any history or backstory.

Aelion is such a strange and unique setting. I want to learn everything there is to know about it, but the game doesn’t afford that opportunity. I don’t even know how or why my character became immortal.

Something else worrisome is that it seems the story tends to send you back to the same dungeons and regions repeatedly, which is generally viewed as a cardinal sin of MMO quest design.

I like revisiting old regions if it involves new encounters or otherwise refreshed content, but in this case it’s just doing the same exact thing over again. Not a good sign.

Is it worth it?

If you enjoy lobby-based grinders like Vindictus or Neverwinter, I’d definitely check out Skyforge. If you’d like a world with more depth or a game that isn’t quite so transparent in its grinding, I’d move on.

A shot from Skyforge's beta. PrettyBefore I go, I should also mention that it doesn’t look like Skyforge is going to be a particularly good example of free to play. The monetization systems aren’t fully implemented yet, but I did notice that you get reduced rewards for everything if you’re not a premium member — a la SW:TOR — and the game constantly reminds you of the fact. Again, this is not encouraging.

Myself, I’m still not sure. There’s a lot I like about Skyforge, but I fear it may struggle to hold my interest long term, as Neverwinter did. I mostly enjoyed my time in the beta, but at no point was I blown away.