A little touch of Spellborn in the night

Maybe I shouldnt have picked the thin setting

There is such a thing as too thin

The Chronicles of Spellborn (TCoS) is in beta at the moment, and I was bored … a dynamite combination. And so Spinks the Rogue Trickster was born.

Spellborn is a fantasy MMO, so you will be running around doing quests, killing boars, casting spells, crafting stuff, listening to other people noob it up on the zone channel, wondering what happened to your bag space, and all those other much beloved features that people expect to see these days.

The more unusual features, which I’m going to dwell on, are the combat, the immersive use of stats, and lack of gear dependence.

There are both PvE and PvP servers. On the PvP server, there are safe zones, but after you get out of the starter areas, it becomes more of a free for all.

And although I didn’t level up high enough for that, PvP in this game is going to require quick thinking and good observational skills, because there’s no way to tell what class/discipline an opponent is just by eyeballing them. You have to see what they do and then react.

So let’s start at the beginning

Character creation lets you pick between two different races: Human or Deva (a satyr-type demon). You can pick between three different builds, from skeletal thin (as in the screenshot above), athletic, and an adorable fat suit that I wouldn’t expect to be so popular. Although the temptation to make a Fat Bottomed Girls guild and only let fat characters in, and sing Queen covers as we roam the landscape cutting bloody swathes through our more svelte opponents is quite high.

You pick your base class from the three standard choices of warrior, rogue, or caster. You will later (at level 5) pick a discipline in which to specialise, which is basically your class. Each base class has three subclasses to choose from.

And if it sounds as though there isn’t a ranged class, think again. Due to the way the skills work, classes have a wide range of skills, Guild Wars style. Just you have to decide which ones you want to slot for any particular situation.

So, for example, my rogue has a full suite of ranged attacks. If I wanted to set her up as an archer type, it would be very easy to do.

You have a wide choice of skin and hair colours and a reasonable range of styles. (My test character is blonde because I was briefly obsessed by trying to make her hair the same pale colour as the skin. I’d have had better luck matching skin and hair if she’d been black. Will do that next time, and there are hairstyles and faces that would look good like that.)

Clothing wise, you are not actually stuck with a standard set of newbie gear. You can design your armour from sets of different parts that you mix and match. Again, don’t read too much into the fact that my test character looks like a scrapheap. The customisation is limited but you do have some scope to pick your own look. The armour is also all dyeable.

If you change your mind about gear later on, as well as being able to pick up drops, you can also buy any of the chargen armour in towns.

Note: every character, regardless of base class, uses the same chargen. This means that you can’t tell from the gear what class someone else is. Yes, casters can use heavy armour and two handed swords if they want. But the gear is largely just for show.

Once happy with that and you have picked a name, you are dropped into the newbie tutorial. This is a little solo instance where you can practice moving around, interacting with NPCs and items, and try a few simple fights.

And then you’re off into the outside world.

Look and Feel

The game uses the Unreal Engine and although the proportions on the characters can look mildly odd, the way they move and fight looks very fluid. The starting area is attractive, and characters fit well into the world. I mention this because in some games the world is gorgeous and the characters feel tacked on, or move so badly that it’s painful to watch.

That isn’t the case here.

Combat!

Combat is what really sets this game apart. There are three main reasons for this:

1/ The reticule. You have to target an enemy in order to hit them. Like a FPS, this is done with a targeting reticule in the middle of your screen. It changes colour to red when it is moving over something which you can attack.

2/ Moving around in combat is important. You can actually duck out of a mob’s melee range to avoid a blow and then run back in. Mobs have to aim at you in order to hit you, so if you are good at moving around, strafing, and so on, you can take almost no damage.

3/ Skill selection. When you go up a level, you can pick one of a number of skills to add to your skill deck (ie. the skill deck is the set of skills you currently know). From your deck, you assign skills to your combat quickbars. You use the mouse or number keys to pick a hotkey and the left mouse button to fire it, while aiming at the enemy. But wait, there’s more. The quickbar is actually a set of three (initially) bars. And after you have used an ability, it rotates to the next bar automatically (after the third bar it goes back to the beginning). So when you assign skills to the quickbars, you have to think about which order you might want to use them in. Does one debuff need to happen before another attack? When might you want a heal to be available? What about ranged attacks?

So once you have set your quickbars up, combat is an involved mixture of selecting abilities, moving around, keeping the enemy targeted, and watching your quickbars rotate to gauge what ability will be available next.

There is also a semi-complex set of buffs and debuffs to add into the mix. Some abilities do more damage if an opponent is debuffed in specific ways.

It takes some practice and I’m not sure I’d ever be good at it, but it is for sure a lot less dull than standing around and hitting frostblast repeatedly.

Meaningful Stats

We’re very used to seeing stats on our character sheets which aren’t very meaningful. They mean something to the game mechanics, sure, but aside from amounts of health, you wouldn’t notice them by looking at characters.

Spellborn isn’t quite like this.

There are three main stats: physique, morale, and concentration. When you go up levels you get some points to assign between there. And as a general rule, warrior classes specialise in physique, rogue classes in concentration, and caster classes in morale. NPCs and mobs have these stats too, and they will affect how they fight.

Physique affects how quickly you move. And since dodging and turning are  important in combat (not to mention running away!), this is one of the more important stats.

Concentration affects your attack speed. In game this means how quickly your quickbar wheel rotates between one attack and the next.

Morale affects how much damage you do.

So for example, a boar in game has low physique. Even if you didn’t know this, you’d see how slowly it turns in combat. Wolves, by comparison, have high physique and are much quicker. So there are subtle differences in mobs that you fight beyond how much health they have and what spells they may or may not cast.

And if you debuff one of these stats on an opponent, you’ll see the effect immediately.

I like this. It’s a nice change from having to squint at little icons to check what debuffs you have up. Although you can do that too.

On the downside, if you get attacked by a pack of mobs who all debuff the same stat, you can end up in some serious trouble. I was able to run away from a load of humanoids who all debuffed my Physique… but I was running very very very slowly. Fortunately I was able to strafe a bit to avoid some of the hits which is how I survived, but it is a bit savage.

Gear in general

Gear is basically cosmetic in this game. But each item has slots into which you can add sigils (ie. thingies with stats, if you find or make them). Don’t expect to know what class someone is just by looking at them.

My summary, from the heights of level 7

I really liked the combat. It felt involving and immersive. Needing to keep the opponent targeted lent the whole thing a very FPS feel, although it really isn’t a first person shooter.

So if you’re looking for something like that from a fantasy MMO, definitely go try Spellborn. I also think the skill deck has the potential for some fairly deep, tactical gameplay. I liked how my rogue could have easily fitted herself out as ranged OR melee dps. Or probably even both, but I’d have to juggle skills around and really decide which I wanted.

At higher levels, this will get more interesting due to longer quickbars, more bars, and more skills to choose from. At low levels though, trying to decide which skill to learn on reaching a new level is quite overwhelming.

It is also bizarre to me that the tutorial stopped just when it was about to get to the complex parts of the combat/quickbar system where a tutorial might actually have been useful.

The newbie quests themselves weren’t very exciting. Kill ten boars cropped up on more than one occasion. But to be honest, I was happy to have something to practice my noob combat skills on, and that’s what the starting quests are all about. There is a definite paucity of mobs in the starting area when lots of other people are questing too. The areas themselves were attractive and once you got past the whole ‘kill ten boars’ness of the quests, they’re written well enough.

In the next zone up I did more exciting things like lead lost cows back to pasture!

The world building and lore that I picked up was intriguing. There are politicking great houses, a world broken into shards, and lots of history that I didn’t really understand. But it was really the combat that I found more enthralling — the starting areas and quests are serviceable but not more than that.

I liked my roguelet well enough, the trickster looks to have a fun bunch of things to do. Sure, I saw casters soloing groups whereas my main experience of soloing groups was ‘how to run away from stuff’, but that could just as easily be my inexperience at strafing around and moving in combat.

I spoke to one guy who had a high level trickster on the EU game and he really liked it. So take that as you wish.

More reviews:

Dragonchaser has a great first impression post here. And for another view, check out Melmoth’s first impressions.

LOTRO: living the fanfic dream?

Lord of the Rings Online is a game that you either love or hate. This will largely revolve around how you feel about Tolkein’s world. If you love it, you’ll put up with the duller parts of the experience and revel in the fantastic parts. If not, you’ll spend a lot of time being bored and wondering what the fuss was about.

It’s an MMO that you have to treat as an experience as much as a game (ie. some of the gameplay leaves a lot to be desired, of which more later.)

Quick LOTRO update:

My runekeeper reached the dizzy heights of level 21.

On the bright side, she does seem to have come on in leaps and bounds as a soloer. still not great but I feel able to handle 2-3 mobs of my own level, and either win or survive long enough to get away. I still like the general class design but find some of the abilities a tad weak, I don’t really like the amount of time it takes to switch attunement from healing to damage. It’s really designed for use in groups, not soloing (a mob will probably be dead before you’re fully attuned for damage).

On the downside, she is now deeply ensconced into questing in the Lone Lands. It’s pretty dull, to say the least. This is your grandmother’s style of questing. “Kill 10 Lynxes.” “Now go back and kill 10 spiders.” “Now go back and kill another 10 lynxes.” “Now we’d like you to run from one end of the zone to the other and back again.”

People in general have been very friendly, polite, and literate. It’s a game that tends to attract an older, more cooperative crowd. I’ve been offered free crafted goods, help with quests, and company while I ran from one end of the zone to the other. Even the person who asked me for help in a low level quest in a distant zone was polite about it.

Enough Lone Lands, what about Moria?

my burglar

my burglar

So, bored of the Lone Lands quests, I was nudged by my guildies to log my old burglar in and check out some of the new content. She was last seen at level 50 stuck halfway through volume 1 book 8 (if you know what that means, you are probably groaning and remembering that quest).

Harbouring painful memories of the past, I decided to ditch the old content and head straight to Rivendell to pick up on the prelude to volume 2. Note: Volume 1 covers the storyline quests for the original game, Volume 2 is expansion content.

(If anyone is interested in comparing experiences, Zubon@Kill Ten Rats has been checking out Moria also, but unlike me he wasn’t lazy and finished off volume 1 first :) )

I spoke to Elrond who remembered me, touchingly,  and sent me off to help the fellowship prepare for their journey onwards. This led to a series of one man instanced quests in which I was able to go and talk to them, get chatted up by Boromir (any time Sean, your place or mine?), and was finally invited by Elrond to come and see them leave.

It’s well written and convincing and … yes, feels as though you’re there in the film with them. Gandalf even turns to your character as they leave and says that he wishes  you could come also, but they could only take 9. (Silly? Well, maybe a bit, but you’d have to have a heart of stone to be a Tolkein fan and not be even a little charmed at the conceit.)

There is no other game that offers this kind of experience. For all the great things that Wrath does right (and there are many), you feel like an adjunct to the NPCs. In LOTRO, even though you actually ARE an adjunct to the NPCs, you feel as though you personally are part of the story.

The experience is then somewhat dulled because you’re back to regular questing until you get to the next part of the storyline (ie. book 1). It would be funny if it wasn’t so sad.

Remember those ‘Kill 10 lynxes’ quests I was talking about in the Lone Lands? They’re back with a vengeance. And I grant a special mention to the Pembar questline that sent me back to the same half orc settlement no fewer than 5 different times, from 2 different quest hubs. Often to kill the exact same mobs again and again. That is what regular questing is like in LOTRO, with some exploring for traits thrown in.

I am very very lucky to have a wonderful sister who plays a Captain which means I didn’t have to actually ride down from Rivendell to Eregion — Captains can summon you around the world.

At any rate, I got around to book 1 which again was a brilliant, immersive and well narrated experience. It involved some nicely put together instances, side quests, and again I was deeply involved in the story. The writing is simply superb. Also, when an NPC gets grabbed by a tentacle from a murky pool and tells you to run — RUN!

But the best part is that at the end, you are presented with a legendary weapon of your very own.

Say hello to my little friend

The legendary weapons that level with you are one of the big draws of this expansion. And they are utterly brilliant in concept.

Your weapon gains xp any time you kill something (I am told there are special weapon xp gaining instances at max level also). It also has traits, which are similar to glyphs in Warcraft. Each trait typically affects one of your abilities. So for example, my burglar’s dagger increases the range on one ability, increases the crit chance on another, and so on. The difference is, when your weapon goes up a level — which happens very very fast at low levels — it gets some weapon xp which you can spend to either increase the power of one of its traits or increase its base dps.

Every 10 levels, you can go and have your weapon reforged, which gives it an extra trait. You also can occasionally do quests which reward you with a scroll of naming that lets you add additional abilities to the weapon, such as extra damage to a certain type of creature or a change in the weapon’s damage type.

Suddenly, those grindy quests became a lot less dull for me. I was levelling my cool dagger! And I’m told that eventually you get to name it yourself also.

I find this legendary weapon mechanic far far more fun than it has a right to be in practice. And it is my top pick for ‘ideas that WoW will nick for its next expansion.’

So, in summary so far

I think that Lord of the Rings Online is a game of extremes. They do some things brilliantly, awesomely, incredibly well … and others are painfully lacklustre. So how you feel about the game will depend very much on:

1. Are you so entranced by the good parts that you can overlook the dull parts?

2. How much do you like Tolkein’s worldbuilding? Have you ever secretly wanted to adventure in Middle Earth and meet the NPCs from the books?

To an extent, 1 is true of most games. Just in LOTRO the great bits are so amazingly good, and the dull parts are … amazingly dull.

And now if you’ll excuse me, my dagger is just a few kills short of level 11…