I’m a relative newcomer to the whole massive online role-playing game. It was the release of Star Wars Galaxies late last year that presented a universe too alluring to resist. During the two months I was with the game, I played an overweight Mon Calamari called Racharde LeCrepe, and despite not even being able to kill butterflies without having to sit down I had delusions of becoming a kung-fu fighter/chef in the vein of Casey Ryback. I also moonlighted as a dancing wookie, called Ferrago no less, and put on a few ad-hoc firework displays as a Zabrak artisan. Part of what kept me entertained in Galaxies was the sheer variety of roles you could assume and the way they all interacted in the world. This struck me as the main reason for a game to be massively multiplayer. The skill system did lack a certain focus and direction, realistically any game that allows you specialise in entrees is perhaps spreading itself a bit thin.
Fast forward now to Lineage II – The Chaotic Chronicle, whose predecessor was a massive hit in the Korean market with over a million subscribers. I recently played it throughout the open beta as a dwarf, and in comparison to Galaxies it is singularly focused on combat. Everything is about combat. From the moment you enter the game you hit stuff, and you’ll keep on hitting stuff over and over again. There is no diversion from this path and predictably for this genre it is one that is endless. With this in mind it was somewhat bemusing to find a game that has a welcoming and pleasant beginning with a clear end game system in mind, yet for the intervening steps there exists a vacuum of entertainment.
Before getting your feet wet you have to choose one of the five races, human, night elf, dark elf, orc and dwarf. Dwarves can only be fighters but they also have the option to craft items. Other races have the choice between a fighter and a magician class. As far as customisation goes it is fairly limited in scope. Obviously you can decide to be male or female. There are a few different faces to choose between and some hairstyles. Your height and build aren’t adjustable though. The trade off with this is that the animations for each race are particularly well done with distinctive styles for each. And armour and is tailored to fit for each race so that you don’t end up with that awkward ‘one suit fits all’ mannequin quality. In theory this limited amount customisation also helps reduce network lag as you have less information about each player to transmit.
The game has a very slick and simplistic interface. An inventory window allows you to equip/un-equip armour, weapons and jewellery as well as use any healing potions or escape scrolls. The standard quick key bar, used with the function keys, lets you customise which actions you commonly use, like attack or rest. You can cycle through different sets of these for any situation, though in this case one list tends to be more than enough. Movement in the game operates in an interesting way, rather than moving with the cursor keys, though that is an option, you simply click on the ground and your character will run to that spot. The pathing system doesn’t negotiate corners very well, and getting in and out of buildings in towns can be problematic so is best accomplished with the cursor keys. The majority of the time it works really well and when wandering through the large impressive landscape you can click off into the distance and then casually swing the camera around to enjoy the sights.
Powered by the Unreal engine the game looks quite stunning, and it’s scalable for many different systems. The size of what has been created is genuinely impressive. There are three main islands in the game; one for humans; one for dwarves and orcs; and the main island that is where the elven races start. The main island also contains the various castles and towns. If you wanted to walk from one side to the other of the main island it would take you a good twenty minutes, it’s quite vast.
As you progress outward from your starting point the monsters get progressively harder. You can always tell how difficult a monster is relative to your own level by the colour of its name, with blue being easy, white equal and red very hard. Some monsters attack without provocation but most do not, particularly at the early stages. You get experience and skill points depending on the difficulty of the monster you kill, and naturally fighting the right level for the best progression becomes the order of the day. Experience points are for going up levels. Skill points let you gain and upgrade a few specific skills for your class. At certain levels you have to decide which path you want your character to take which specifies which skills you can get next. The number of skills is limited though and nothing that fundamentally alters the hack and slash game play.
Dwarves are the only race that can craft items. Instead of the usual game mechanic whereby you have to churn out lots and lots of items to gain experience in crafting, Lineage is all about acquiring recipes and materials. Everything you kill has a chance of dropping some type of resource, like animal skin or coal, and dwarves gain a special ability to sweep a dead corpse for extra stuff. In order to make an item you first have to find the recipe that is also dropped from monsters. So there is no failing to craft an item and wasting resources. It would be great except for one small problem; it’s nigh on impossible to actually make anything. Assuming you actually have the recipe, finding the right monster for a particular resource is a case of trial and error and to make an item of any real value requires a ton of resources. For example say a sword might require 100 units of coal and 100 units of iron. Given the drop rates of the resources that means you’ll have to kill at bare minimum 300 monsters and probably more in the region of 500. It just takes forever and a day to get these things.
Granted it is possible to buy the resources from other players but the trade system doesn’t really accommodate lots of small scale selling. If you want to sell to another player, as opposed to selling it quickly to the computer storekeepers, you have to set up a private store. You set the price, compose a small message that displays above your head and then sit down to wait for a buyer. That’s the problem, if you’re selling an item you can’t play your character, you just have to sit and wait for buyers. A secondary problem with this is that most players congregate in the same areas, the centre of towns and villages outside the shops. This is marginally beneficial as it provides a one-stop shop as to what’s available at the time. The downside is that a large number of players all huddled together plays havoc with the game in terms of lag and frame rate.
If you are playing with friends this can eliminate some of the resource problems. Ignoring that, grouping for combat was quite curious. In a massive multiplayer game you would expect some tangible benefit from playing within large groups, but that wasn’t really the case in Lineage 2. If a monster gave you 400xp and 20sp for killing it, if you were in a pair you would get around 200xp and maybe 10sp. The more people in the group the more it gets split up. The system is also weighted to take into account your level. You can practically progress as quickly on your own as you could with a group.
If you want to fight other players you can. There is no restriction on player versus player except that you can’t attack players in safe zones that are limited to the towns. There is a heavy disincentive to killing other players though. For one thing you won’t know what level another player is though you might be able to get a general indication based on their equipment and location. If you do attack someone your name turns purple, and if they don’t fight back and you kill them your name turns red and you get a negative karma rating. If you want to get rid of the rating you have to kill a sizeable number of monsters to set it back to zero. You can’t go back into town as the guards will attack you. But this is the best bit, if you are red other players are free to attack and kill you without any karma penalty. Hunt you they will. It’s a heart-warming sight to see players go out in lynch mobs, and they aren’t interested in hearing about extenuating circumstances, they’re out for blood. Also when you are red, there is an increased chance of you dropping an item. Believe me items get very expensive and money in the game is very hard to come by. When you are getting a hundred adena (the in game currency) per kill and your weapon is worth two hundred thousand adena you do not want to lose it.
It sounds mildly depressing but as your level enters double digits it takes an inordinate amount of killing to progress, and by the time I reached level 20 it just became too much. The game is a massive time sink and there is little to keep you interested in the form of quests. There are a few along the way but none that very interesting, taking the form of kill x number of this type of creature. What happens is you start setting arbitrary goals like I’ll get to level 15 to do that quest, or I’ll just save up a bit more to buy that set of bronze armour. They are pyrrhic victories.
If you do stick it out, which I obviously won’t be doing, you can look forward to what looks like an intriguing end game system. Players can join clans, form alliances and then declare war on other clans for control of castles. The castle sieges are two-hour battles scheduled between the two clans and the object is to break through the two main castle doors and have your leader scribe his name at the heart of the castle. From the videos at the official website it looks quite dramatic and presents a myriad of possibilities. That forms the late game portion though. It’s getting there that’s the problem.
There is just nothing of substance to keep you interested in once the initial novelty factor has worn off. The landscape is large but devoid of content. For instance after some exploring I found a little hut in the middle of nowhere, there was no quest to be found, no character to talk to or secret to uncover. As pretty as everything is it’s nothing but soulless polygons. Sure there are many different types of monsters but they may as well be different coloured cubes for all the difference it makes to the game play. At the start of the game you are selecting targets and hitting the attack button. After a few weeks you’ll have progressed to selecting a target and hitting the attack button.
Lineage 2 has the same the systemic problem that seems to plague all massively multiplayer online games. Everything I’ve played since and including Star Wars Galaxies suffers from is. That is the need to keep people playing and paying for months on end. It inevitably creates large portions of the game that are repetitive and time consuming. While Galaxies and others have many different roles and small diversions to inject some variety, Lineage has a single mindedness that is both its strongest aspect and its Achilles heel. As it stands Lineage 2 is likely to only appeal the more obsessive gamers. In truth they will probably love it. In regard to the difficulty curve it’s perhaps preferable as it makes the domain of high-level characters an exclusive club. It makes them something to be revered and coveted. Similarly for those people who are prepared to stick it out they have the castle sieges to look forward to and political manoeuvrings of the clans to participate in. I didn’t experience that first hand and it’s unlikely that most players will within their first month of the game. Realistically it only amounts to two hours worth of game play amongst countless hours of repetition. Maybe it is worth it though, if you’ve made it that far write in and send us a battle report. Lineage 2, and the genre as a whole, clearly has a great deal of potential, but the lack of low to mid-level content is holding it back. As a single player experience it gets tiresome quite quickly. As a massively multiplayer game? Well I guess it’s true that misery loves company.
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