Last week, the recently F2P MMO Crimecraft: Bleedout had a special offer on that was typical of special offers on the F2P sections of Steam: join, try it now and you’ll get in-game advances and items for which you normally pay. These offers work because it gives an incentive to try a F2P game out of the bunch that you wouldn’t normally pick up.
I play a few F2P games, I generally aim to be cost-effective when it comes to gaming, a hangover from bygone unemployed days and F2P games give a lot of room to try before cash changes hands. This is good and I generally find the games that I pay into are not ones I feel I need to pay into to get ahead, they are games like League of Legends that end up making pay cash almost as a ‘thank you’ to the developers. That’s the attitude I’ve stuck by, games that feel like they are wrangling cash from me fall by the wayside.
Now, this sort of offer on Steam is great because I can’t download and try every F2P, nor would I want to. My games catalogue is massive on PC alone, not adding in the catalogues of my retro home computer and console gaming or the tabletop gaming I do. I will never run out of what I already have to play unless I moved into my dad’s attic and quit my job and all social contact. Further, I would need to wade through as much rubbish as my current catalogues to find the League of Legendses or Lord of the Rings Onlines. These offers are a great way to tapping the flow, as it were, and offering up the F2P buffet in manageable plate-loads.
The problem is when a game company seems to want more players than it is willing to reasonably support. So this offer on Crimecraft was up until the 29th and I made several attempts to get in there, create a character and play. I download the game via Steam, create my account, login. There are two servers. The first (Exeter) is full and the other has a population of high (Euricho). So I try Euricho first and I’m put in a queue of nearly 700 people. I estimated by the drop rate that it would take me about half an hour to forty-five minutes to get in, so I try later.
Later does not work. The same problem in both servers. They are stretched beyond what they can reasonably support. I don’t mind the game supporting such a limited userbase, it’s ultimately up to the game publishers, but why have a special offer trying to draw more players in when the special offer will only be accessible to a remote portion of those players?
Sure, it will potentially increase the player base and, therefore, income for the game. I tried logging in today and neither server was a problem this time, so it was short-term, but it doesn’t say much for the game’s attitude to its players. Imagine logging on to the game as a loyal player who’d been playing that game before the offer. Suddenly, you cannot play or are forced to wait up to an hour because they want to cram their servers full with potential cash-giving players.
Vogster (the developers) have a more than healthy sized community playing their game for the resources they allot it, unless their servers report false stats about player numbers. If they want to increase their base beyond what they currently have, they need an extra server.
The bigger problem is that this is indicative of some of the bad thinking behind F2P models. Players aren’t there to sell a set product to or build relationships with, they are cash pumps and you fit as many of them as you can in your game. Crimecraft isn’t necessarily advocating this outlook, but it would seem it given they made a drive to get more players than they can support comfortably. People need to be very sceptical of F2P games and I think they really need to know the sorts of business models being used before they feel comfortable investing.
Developed by: Lockpick Entertainment
Published by: Paradox Interactive
Reviewed on: 22nd March, 2011.
Presentation: The graphics look a bit dated compared to what else is out there, but it is nothing too awful. The interface has been updated since Paradox picked up the game and is quite intuitive upon first appearance, I didn’t have too much difficulty finding my way around. The sounds likewise are basic, although the music is good background for the theme and setting.
Atmosphere: The game combines aspects of two genres, MMORPGs and RTS elements with some out of battle 4X for good measure. There is a sense in which a lot of these aspects are still quite embryonic and hardcore fans of a single one of those genres might be pulled away by the lack of depth. However, what it does have from those genres is very solid and well-integrated. It does seem very slow-paced compared to some RTS games though.
Control and Mechanics: Controls use only a mouse with some light keyboard use being mostly optional. No one should have any great difficulty mastering the controls here. The mechanics are moderately simple and not too difficult to grasp quickly and the standard MMO divisions of PvE and PvP are there, as well as trading and item shop purchases.
Who should buy this: Given that it’s a free-to-play game, anyone who finds the concepts appealing, but specifically: those who prefer slower-paced RTS games with more tactical thought in later play. Those who like combinations of RTS and 4X games, with the emphasis more on RTS play.
Who should avoid it: Those who prefer faster pacing in RTS games, those who prefer more complexity in their RTS or 4X games. Those who don’t want a slow build-up to later gameplay. Those who don’t like players being able to pay to get an in-game edge over other players.
If I have to give a score: An interesting game with a lot of potential for growth. There’s some innovation, but nothing to really make it stand out yet. 2.5/4
Dreamlords: Resurrection is the third iteration of this game, picked up by Paradox Interactive after the original publishers abandoned the project. It’s quite an interesting experience because at first I didn’t really see the game as having any strong pull to it, despite the considerable number of players on at any given time. I’m not entirely sure how much that has shifted, but there certainly is something to the game to recommend it. It’s a F2P MMO and so is in a rather crowded market filled with games like the entertaining and unique Champions Online all the way to the very banal Shaiya (a game which, as far as I can tell, seems to be entirely about two goddesses in a lesbian BDSM relationship).
The plot is nothing special, many years ago a race known as the Thul appeared, horrid beastmen who hungrily attacked everything in sight. The humans divided into the Covenant, a group of theocratic warrior-knights and the Nihilim, a group of magic users who disagreed with the religion of their fellows. An act of magic designed to stop the Thul instead ripped the world apart and it now exists as collections of floating islands. New threats emerge as nightmares from the dreams of previous eras come to life and threaten the survivors.
The player begins by creating his character, known as a dreamlord. Each dreamlord is a born leader, composed of the souls of long dead defenders and leaders from times past and each must take control of his or her own island, known as a patria. Character creation is very basic and involves choosing your character’s gender and colour (each character looks like a glowing mass of light formed into a humanoid shape) and then his affiliation between the Thul, Covenant or Nihilim. This bit is important as each faction has its own strengths and there is no going back once the selection is made.
I mean that bit too, each account is allowed one character and you won’t get to change your allegiance until the end of the era (or delete the character). This is unusual given that many players in MMOs like to test the waters with different races, classes and factions before making a permanent choice and often have more than one character anyway. It’s a factor of the game that’s not made as clear during character generation as it could be, so be warned if you are going to give it a go.
Once you have done character generation, you are thrown into the tutorials and I found the tutorial system (along with the optional advisor system) very well thought out and constructed, and there were not many situations where I felt the interface to be alien. All in all, I was able to grasp the controls and mechanics very quickly.
What you do notice is that the graphics look a little dated, but this is largely because the game’s graphics have not seen many updates since the first release back in 2006. The game is still frequently updated and now sports many improvements, both in functionality and bug-fixing. The game traditional has been a more single-player orientated affair, alongside the PvP battles. What this new game has is the ability for co-operative PvE missions later on, something that was truly lacking from the original game.
It mixes elements of RTS, RPG and 4X gaming very well. While it is the case that it does not go too deeply into any of these elements, it does make the transition and interaction between the genres seamless. The 4X, for example, is largely about unlocking new technologies in tech trees for each building. These technologies cover everything from the weapons which with you can equip your troops to the expansion and growth of your cities.
Levelling up is interesting, you have a level system based on generally how tough you and your army are as well as a ranking based on the number of followers you have. As you collect more soul power from gems and items, your influence expands and so does your worker-base and your power. This of course affects the size and power of your army in RTS battles, which often yield items themselves useful to your city’s power and growth.
The game does have a very slow pace, however. This will scare off many RTS fans who love more of a rush into combat. Later levels can get very hard and require more thinking as the troops you start with are often all you are going to get and the game becomes more cerebral than simply overrunning enemies with vast numbers of troops. It will be a while into the game before you will even field enough support to have two units of troops assisting your dreamlord and it’s fairly far into the tech tree that you get improved elite versions of the basic infantry, assault and ranged troops you are given.
Overall, I would say that if you are a fan of more careful, plotted gameplay and want a bit more direct activity than what a classic like Europa Universalis 3 will give you then you should really give this game a try. It certainly has a lot of potential that, with a steady stream of development, will turn into something that rises above the more mundane MMO offerings out there. I’m not sure it pulled me in enough that I’d still be playing it six months from now, but I have to salute the fact that it is clearly trying to go somewhere new and make a new concept in MMO gaming work, let’s hope it succeeds.
Dreamlords: Resurrection is out now, client download and registration is available via their website.
The quick cap news
* The Battlestar Galactica Online beta is open.
* LittleBigPlanet shoes auctioned for Child’s Play, but you wouldn’t find that out via Fox News (see below).
* A new Dungeon Siege III trailer, as well as a preview for Dragon Age II.
* For fans of F2P games, Eurogamer reviewed Bloodline Champions, giving it a respectable 8/10. Also, Paradox Interactive announced the F2P MMORPG Salem, set in the early days of American colonialism.
It’s been a very interesting week for the first of my blog’s existence. The first item is that EA has closed three Warhammer Online servers, two American and one European, it is offering free character transfers off the closing servers.
In the PC v. console wars, there was talk of the effect console porting might have on Dragon Age II. On the other hand, despite not being a PC exclusive, Crysis 2 will be superior on the PC in every way according to Crytek. Quite frankly, if they can make the game stand out from the crowd in something other than its graphics, like perhaps gameplay, they will have made a superior product to the original as far as I’m concerned. There’s also a rumour that Battlefield 3 will be supporting extra features on the PC as well as the higher player limit.
Of the two big pieces of news, first we have the whole nonsense from Fox News. In service to their dark gods of hyperbole, Fox has attacked Bulletstorm on the grounds that it “ties the ugly, graphic violence into explicit sex acts: ‘topless’ means cutting a player in half, while a ‘gang bang’ means killing multiple enemies.” The fact that people at Fox think being topless is an explicit sex act almost worries me more than the fact that they won’t listen to the more rational arguments, but that shouldn’t surprise anyone; these are the people who think Bill O’Reilly is a journalist. The good news is that, apparently, if you pre-order Bulletstorm (made by People Can Fly, the makers of the excellent Painkiller) from the EA Store, you’ll get Shank for free. Fox have nothing to say on whether Shank will increase the likelihood of rape, so be careful.
Activision has cut quite a lot recently. There was news of job cuts at Vicarious Visions and FreeStyleGames as well as the killing off of Guitar Hero. This got expanded when the 2009 acquisition, 7 Studios, was closed down. This prompted Harmonix to encourage GH fans over to Rock Band. Not that Harmonix has had the best time of it, either. Activision Blizzard’s share price dropped 8% after reporting 2010 financial results on Wednesday.
That’s all for this week. A good weekend to all.