Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Game Review - WarTune

Score +3/-14
From the website: "Featuring three unique classes, single and multi-player dungeons, PvP arenas, competitive battlegrounds, thousand-player boss battles, a robust guild system, and… farming, Wartune combines some of your favorite features from multiple game genres. Whether you consider yourself a casual gamer or a hardcore veteran, Wartune will keep you coming back for more."

The English version of WarTune is presently a partially converted version from the Chinese version by 7th Road  It is fully playable, but the conversion is far from complete. Our review and series of tips covers the 1.45 update (2012-Nov-15):

WarTune generally revolves around building up your character with stats and equipment, and like most MMO games there's a lot of gear you can get and upgrade. However, this also means that most of your time will be spent staring at your city or game interfaces rather than getting out in the game world. The game world is very limited as it is and 2.5D -- basically they are token places to look for special loot.

WarTune presently has significant complaints about certain player-versus-player systems such as their Battlegrounds team PvP where many players aren't truly participating but using an automated "Away From Keyboard" mode. Gameplay may never be changed as there has been no attempt to correct even glaring spelling mistakes after a major server update.

We played three Mages, the final one up to Level 40. Over the next few days, we'll present some tips for playing the game. For now, here are our initial impressions.
+ No shortage of things to do. Your time online can be busy for hours and at all hours of the day -- If you really want to spend that much time. If you actually like what you are doing in the game (essentially just inching your character forward to more gear and more power), then you may not mind the repetitiveness. You can even be logged in and not do anything, and your character could still be doing something (e.g., collecting Stamina points in the Altar of Ennoblement.)
- Incredible amount of time-consuming, boring, grinding. There are so many things to do each day, and the system encourages you to do almost all of them for maximum daily free stuff. However, it all takes time and none of it helps you advance in the storyline very much. If you play this game, don't expect to follow the story quickly past level 30 -- and that's not very much story at all. (On the other hand, if you keep playing such a badly designed game as WarTune, you're not really playing for the story. You're playing to make a powerful character for the Arena.)
+- Artwork is nice overall, but very limited in variety, and only special equipment shows up differently in-game.
+ Not a lot to learn and easy to learn it. You can get into the game right away.
-- Tons of grammatical and spelling mistakes that persist after weekly maintenance. Clearly no one is at home when it comes to Quality Assurance.
- Ludicrously unbalanced in various ways. For example, some of your highest daily experience point awards can come from (and I am not kidding) playing flash games like Whack-A-Mouse (mouse pops up, you hit it with a leg of ham) or QTE exercises (correctly press a sequence of arrow keys). A single short flash game can earn you more than a single player Campaign Dungeon run.
- Experience and rewards for doing inane things. For example, one of the tasks just about everyone does every day is speak in World Chat, because this advances a "Devotion" counter that gives you free stuff when you reach various point totals. Often, people don't have anything useful to say and type garbage.
- Accounts cannot be transferred to another server, or deleted. You only get one account per server. This means you must start over with a new community in a different server if you want to restart your character. This also means that at any one time, there may be hundreds of abandoned accounts on your server, and it's hard to say who's who.
- Not a lot to see. There aren't a lot of locations to visit, and once you hit level 25-30, it gets harder to gather proper resources and upgraded troops to access new maps. And new map are the only thing that changes the scenery. If you are there for the PvP arena, that's a different story. You'll probably not even care about the story except that you have to go through those motions every day to get the bonus experience, gold, and goods that come with doing more things.
-- Once access to Arena Insignias is available (by the Arena or Battlegrounds), players MUST participate or be left too far behind. Characters who quickly get sets dominate everywhere, and suddenly there is a large disparity in combat ability -- those who have the Arena Sets, and those who don't. Further, the Arena is only open to those with a minimum entry level, so newcomers who are late get crushed by those who have already gone and gotten their powerful set items. It's a system where the rich get richer faster and the poor get left further and further behind.
It's also a situation which causes people to abandon older servers and go to the newest ones, where they rush to get to the Arena to keep their head above water. And here's where the money's made: At the new server, they then spend money to accelerate levelling with "VIP" status, and quickly race to the top and stay comfortably there.
The Arena is supposed to match teams by Battle Rating, but often there aren't enough teams, and the weakest teams can easily be paired against vastly stronger ones several times. There are some strange teams that are likely "bots" (AI-controlled characters) but they don't show up enough, and are likely more of an error-catching feature where one team disappears while being matched with another (e.g., connection lost). If they had more bot teams, the situation could be somewhat remedied, but the developers are probably too busy translating content to do so.
The 1.45 update (2012-Nov-15) made things even worse by quintupling the rewards. Newcomers will get Insignias faster (5 instead of 1), but the already strong players will get them even faster by winning (15 instead of 3), allowing them to pick up whole sets as soon as they qualify by rank and level. Unless you want to entirely stay out of the Arena and Battlegrounds and keep your city on a very low level world map so your city doesn't get plundered all the time, you will want to abandon this game even before you begin. If you do want to try to be competitive, you will HAVE to do ALL the major Daily Events, on top of the regular activities to keep levelling up and buying things like Guild Skills and collecting Astrals.
-- The Battlegrounds is also notoriously badly designed. In addition to the same problem with the Arena, the Battlegrounds are also the only place where characters can fight each other for Honor Points, which are collected to attain ranks such as Private, Champion, Elite Champion, etc... Without these ranks, you cannot use the better Arena gear. This creates a culture where strong characters attack weak ones constantly, even if it means their team loses the Battleground event (collecting points by collecting crystals) overall. Many people simply show up and do nothing (go "AFK" or Away From Keyboard). They stay in the starting area and can't be attacked, but don't participate either. Even if their team loses, they still get 30 Arena Insignias and some Honor Points just for showing up (the winning team gets 80 and more Honor). It's less effort than having to defend yourself against grossly overpowered opponents. The Battlegrounds are divided into a level 30-39 arena and a level 40+ arena, but even with a 10 level span, the difference between characters with sets and those without is already too high.
The 1.45 update made things worse by reducing the speed of characters with carts, which makes it more useless for weak characters to do anything other than AFK, since they are now more vulnerable to being chased by characters who care only about Honor Points and fighting. They introduced a calculation that gives more Honor when defeating stronger opponents, but that is a scenario unlikely to occur anyway when there are weaker ones to be farmed.
-- Guild Wars. The 1.45 patch introduced Guild Wars, and top guilds can haul literally hundreds -- there were reports of over 800 Insignias and Honor -- for a win. The rich just get richer and the rift between strong and weak players keeps growing wider. They could have mitigated this Monty Haul effect (which pencil-and-paper roleplaying game companies and players realized over 30 years ago) by reducing the rewards and overlapping the event with, say, BattleGrounds. By overlapping the event, they can pull overpowered players from the BattleGrounds and put them in a different arena (Guild Wars) where they could possibly be better matched. Further, they can swap one type of insignia and Honor reward with another slightly more rewarding one. Instead, the developers chose to make all events available to everyone, with the result that even a huge 800+ reward was not enough incentive for people to quit BattleGrounds where they dominated anyway, for a measly 30-80 Insignia and maybe 10%-20% of the honor gain IF they almost exclusively fought for Honor.

Oblivion Mod Review - Reclaiming Sancre Tor

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion Mod Review - Reclaiming Sancre Tor (ver 1.0.5)
Score: +3/-3

Summary: Major Blades faction expansion.

Why Get This: You like long quests involving running around and the Blades.

This mod sounds very promising, but the early game is extremely boring and with poor design choices. Could not continue because of a quest bug (?) and in any case lost confidence in the modder, in much the same way as I gave up on Golden Crest.
+ Major expansion to the Sancre Tor area. Full town and extensive Blades HQ.
+ Good use of dialogue overall.
+ Some portions of quests interesting, if implausible.
- Time-wasting base layout. There's an incredible amount of running around to get to the barracks and the training area and outside. Seriously: Get a teleport mod (like Advanced Mark and Recall) if you play this mod..

-- Implausible and stupidly time-wasting quests at the start.

    • During the escort quest, if you ask the captain to take the lead, he WALKS. It takes forever. You could instead scout the end location, choose to take the lead, and Fast Travel there. Duh. Why even bother making this a quest?
    • Early training quests are OK in concept, but the actual things you need to do waste your valuable time as a person (not your character's in-game time -- the real time you spend playing the game). In other words, pacing and quest planning is terrible.
      • You are asked to find skill books. Presumably other Blades before you have been tasked the same, so why can't you just ask them, instead of running around to find the correct villager to talk to, in order to get a referral to talk to someone else (and why the middleman?). And for one of the persons you need to find, it turns out he's a pathetic alcoholic who keeps rebuffing your attempts to speak with him. Why am I helping these losers when there are more critical, life-saving quests?
      • Once you find the skill books, you are told to read them and then you are tested on them in sparring. Only in the first book does the sparring session have anything marginally related to the book you find. The rest -- I have no idea what I'm supposed to do after reading the texts. Apparently the sparring session just goes on and on until you gain a level somewhere (?), which can be an extremely long time if your skills are high and you use a levelling slowdown mod like the one built into Oscuro's Oblivion Overhaul.
    This mod would have been nice if it didn't depend so much on the Main Quest being finished first. It could have been split into two parts: The training part based out of Cloud Ruler Temple as soon as Jauffre offers you a position with the Blades. You are probably still a newbie at that point and the Blades training would have been very appropriate to the character's inexperience. You can then be summoned later to do the rest of the quests once Sancre Tor is recovered.

    Tuesday, October 30, 2012

    Oblivion Mod Review - Origin of the Mages Guild

    The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion Mod Review - Origin of the Mages Guild (ver 7.3.1)
    Score: +2/-2

    Summary: Mages Guild expansion.

    Why Get This: Expand the Mages Guild services.

    Mostly what you will interact with is new rooms in the Mages Guild and Arcane University. There's a lot of stuff to see, but barely anything interesting to do. There is a vampire lair that is basically a long dungeon crawl ending in powerful loot and made irritating by lore dumps to justify its existence.
    + A LOT of cosmetic content for the Mages Guild, including a lot of common sense things like magic classes and more spell vendors in the Arcane University. Unfortunately, it is mostly cosmetic. Interesting to see but you may hardly use it.
    + Some nice common-sense things happen to the Mages Guild after you become Archmage, like re-opening the Bruma Mages Guild.
    - Rather heavy-handed with the info/lore dumps. However, if you are a lore fan then you may find a lot of this rather interesting.
    - Some of the quests after you become Archmage are inane -- like running around to find candidates for the Council of Mages. You are the Archmage. You are probably also the Champion of Cyrodiil. Why are you doing gofer work? Send a lackey! (You in fact do get an Assistant, but can you send her? No.) All the quests prior to being Archmage are far more interesting than any quest this mod offers.

    Oblivion Mod Review - The Duelists

    The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion Mod Review - The Duelists (ver 0.96)
    Score: +2/-2

    Summary: One-on-one fights with high-level characters.

    Why Get This: You like running into fights with tough characters.

    This mod sprinkles characters throughout vanilla locations that can provoke or be provoked into duels.
    + Fights have some dialogue or scripting to them. Some are simple but others have a bit more story. The overall experience is that each is an encounter, rather than just another fight with a hostile NPC in the wilds.
    + Smooth integration into the game world. They generally blend into the general populace. If you've never played Oblivion before, you wouldn't even know it. Unfortunately, the duelists are meant for high to very high level characters and you are advised not to install this mod until much later. Most of the duels require talking to someone first, however.
    - Uses some quest characters and intercepts their dialogue so that this mod's dialogue comes first. May or may not break quests. Chancellor Ocato referring to you as the Champion of Cyrodiil before you finish the Main Quest is probably the most obvious error here.
    - Some fights are crazily overpowered, like a level 75 vampire. However, by level 15, if not 20+, you generally have a lot of weapon, spell, and potion options available to you and if you take time to assemble your resources, you are probably even more crazily overpowered. Still, this could have used levelling.

    Tuesday, October 23, 2012

    Oblivion Mod Review: Knights of the Nine: Revelation

    The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion Mod Review - Knights of the Nine: Revelation (ver 1.1.5)
    Score: +8/-0

    Summary: Excellent story/quest mod. Lore friendly.

    Why Get This: Great story with good action and pacing.

    This mod greatly extends the Knights of the Nine DLC with an additional long adventure, a new and larger headquarters for the Knights of the Nine, and cosmetic options for the Crusader's Relics.
    The summary of the story is that you get to relive the events that ultimately lead to the formation of the Knights of the Nine.
    Needs a special uninstaller mod to remove from your game. Otherwise, some changes may screw things up.
    +Ambitious and interesting storyline.
    ++ Well-scripted and very interesting quests.
    + New, interesting worldspace.
    + Voiceovers.
    + Good pacing. Very little unnecessary action -- you are a hero, so you are assigned heroic things to do.
    + Good companion management. They have important roles to play in the story, but they don't get in the way of stuff that only you can do. You are always at the centre of the action.

    Tuesday, October 16, 2012

    Oblivion Mod Review - Vampire Hunting: Order of the Virtuous Blood

    The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion Mod Review - Vampire Hunting - Order of the Virtuous Blood (ver 3.0)
    Score: +4/-2

    Summary: Dungeon crawl with story wrapper. Treasures and abilities as rewards. Great risk of vanilla Oblivion NPCs getting killed.

    Why Get This: Kill Vampires for treasure and reward.

    WARNING: Random vampire attacks in cities can kill off NPCs that don't have Essential status.
    In general, vanilla Oblivion sets many NPCs to "Essential", especially if they are involved in the Main Quest. But not all of them are set this way, and they can be killed off at any time.
    You might not miss much, or if they have already played their role you might not miss anything at all. However, in vanilla Oblivion, if you do every quest, you will have interacted with everyone and gone everywhere. Because NPCs can get killed by unimportant randomly generated vampires in towns, you risk breaking quests or not receiving certain quests.
    It is best to have a savegame you can revert to before installing this mod.

    This large mod is a sort of compilation of various vampire hunting quests. Tons of quests here.
    + Some interesting and not overpowered rewards, including Abilities. However, some of this involves Fortify Skill, which is treated by the game as a permanent skill increase when implemented as an Ability.
    + A lot of dialogue and backstory makes the missions more than just dungeon crawls, though not by much. Still, better than simply getting sent on a dungeon crawl.
    + Good effort to make the bosses different and interesting.
    -- Huge risk of NPCs getting killed at random. You can avoid some of this by simply not going to town while playing this mod, but there's still no guarantee.

    I recommend playing this mod, then uninstalling it. The best reward to keep is probably the Abilities. You can recreate them in a small mod of your own making using the construction set. If you do so, I recommend you make them Enchantments on clothing items assigned to no body part.

    Thursday, October 11, 2012

    Oblivion Mod Review - Famous Battles of Cyrodiil

    The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion Mod Review - Famous Battles of Cyrodiil (ver 1.0 Final)
    Score: +1/-3

    Summary: Combat scenarios with limited gear.

    Why Get This: You want short battles with limited gear instead of your usual uber loadout.

    The concept is interesting, but the scenarios fall far short (in part due to engine/scripting limitations), the story is nonsensical, and the ad copy is utter rubbish. "Save a doomed city from certain destruction at the hands of Mehrunes Dagon"? Uh, no. You don't even make it past the throne room.
    + Interesting lore-based concept. The missions would actually be interesting if they could be scripted better.
    - Missions are implausible and play out in an uninteresting way.
    - Badly thought out mission design. We'll talk about each mission below. WARNING: SPOILERS.
    - Nonsense story that doesn't make sense. You see the diorama maker too...? It sounds like you want to make sense of what happened to Kvatch. Somewhere it becomes saving the model-maker's daughter who probably died there. Then magically he can transport you into miniature worlds. But he's just a toymaker for Azura's sake. Sheesh. Example: Reading a book about one of the famous battles of Cyrodiil leads you to imagine what it must have been like, then cut to the action as your "imagination".

    Mission Critiques:
    Mission 1: Commando squad infiltrates a facility to capture enemy commanders.

    • As with all missions, you start stripped of your usual gear. There's nothing wrong with this, but REMEMBER TO UNEQUIP QUEST ITEMS. If you don't and they are forcibly unequipped, you will end up with permanent enchantments and will be unable to equip the item when it is returned to you.
    • At the start of the mission, one of the squad members stealth-kills a sentry with a single firebolt. You are then placed in charge of the mission. Everyone is in Imperial Legion armor. This sets the tone for the mission: Stealth and stealth kills where necessary so the facility isn't alerted. However, if you play this mission at mid-low levels or higher, this mission becomes stupid (not hard, just stupid). Here's why:
    • You can swap your gear for something quieter, but you can't tell your noisy, clanking, squadmates to stay behind. Invariably they will alert the enemy. For a stealth mission, none of them are properly equipped to be stealthy. Duh.
    • This is supposed to be a stealth mission, but if the enemy has too high a Health for you to quickly take down, then you will end up in melee for possibly upwards of a minute while you and your squad hack down the enemy. Noisily. Why can't that unnamed soldier take point and drop everyone with his magical one-hit-kill firebolt? Duh. Instead we are left with a highly implausible stealth mission. It takes a very specialized character build to stealth-kill enemies once their health reaches a certain threshold. If you don't have an appropriate character, this mission will just end up being you and squad hacking one to three enemies to death in melee -- completely destroying the whole stealth-mission concept.
    • You can't change anyone's gear, so it's a melee free for all with your squad mates. In the fast-paced combat of Oblivion, it is insanely easy to hit your allies, especially when they are all jammed in melee. Three hits and they turn on you. You must then kill them because they are not marked Essential (an Essential character goes unconscious and wakes up with hostility reset and no longer immediately hostile even if you've "killed" them dozens of times).
    Mission 2: Follow a scout through the jungle to find the enemy

    • You don't really get to choose to do anything here. It's linear. You look for the scout that's run ahead of you. You run through clumps of enemies that you must fight.
    • You can speak with your allies, but they either say nothing or tell you to be stealthy. But they won't sneak along with you so they get found and you all have to fight.
    • It is later revealed that the "purpose" of the mission is to teach you that alliances can't be counted on. We don't actually get to use that information, and in any case we just stumble into it.
    • The enemy wears red, we wear blue. There was an opportunity for an in-disguise mission here, maybe to expose the traitor or find the enemy commander, but that wasn't used.

    Mission 3: Rally troops to counterattack the enemy.

    • It is later revealed that the "purpose" of this mission is to teach you to command troops. Except your "command" of them is to run petty errands for them. Duh.
    • One of the missions involves dragging a corpse back. Due to how dragging works in Oblivion, this is easily the most tedious if not outright impossible mission.
      • If you are stuck, use the console to resurrect the corpse. Go back to the quest giver and use moveto player on the now-living corpse to move them into place. Finally use kill on the resurrected soldier to turn him into a corpse again (i.e., kill him). He should be close enough to where he needs to be for you to get a quest update for retrieving his body.

    Mission 4: Follow a necromancer to kill the Elder Council.

    • The most boring mission. The necromancer is marked Essential and the other three skeletal minions (in my play-through) were level 14 and with just under 2,500 Health -- Yes, just under two thousand, five hundred Health points. You basically just let them handle everything.
    • The "purpose" of this mission was to show you evil. It would be much more interesting if the Elder Council members actually begged for their lives and you had to choose a dialogue option to kill them.

    Mission 5: Defend the throne room during the Daedra attack on Kvatch.

    • You arrive in civilian clothes and no other gear. You're not even a soldier. But for some reason you are immediately promoted and given command. Duh.
    • The most promising mission that ended up being the most disappointing because it's bugged: You have to give orders to 6 people: 5 soldiers and the Count of Kvatch. For once, it looked like you could set up a nice killzone and have NPCs obediently supporting you. But no...
      • You only get to have 5 conversations with the soldiers. If you talk to one twice to try to change their orders, that still counts toward your total. After all 5, you can't talk to anyone else.
      • They don't necessarily obey your orders. For example, the two archers always fall back.
      • There are two lines: The front barricade near the door, and a second line nearer the centre of the room.
        • Soldiers with only melee weapons in the first line immediately abandon their position and mix it up in melee, so they are now in the line of fire of yourself or anyone that might hope to be shooting. Duh.
        • When the daedra come, the second line won't move. Archers and magi there are apparently too far away to detect the enemy and shoot. Duh.
    • If you are actually good enough to survive the final wave and keep at least one of the NPCs alive, the game is stuck. Everyone needs to die in the final wave involving Dremora.

    Monday, October 8, 2012

    Oblivion Mod Review - Golden Crest

    The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion Mod Review - The Golden Crest - A Major Pirate Quest (ver 1.20a)
    Score: +2/-5

    Summary: Supposedly you play as a pirate. Supposedly.

    Why Get This: Wasting time. Might be better later, but I didn't want to waste more time.

    This mod initially starts out with some promise with some interesting quests, but quickly becomes awful. For a "pirate quest", you spend an inordinate amount of time on land doing quests that could have shown up in any other mod. There is even a quest where the questgiver clearly states that they wouldn't normally do that sort of task. Further, a couple of early quests involve so much wasted time that you are clearly taking a risk with the modder's design philosophy if you want to persist with this mod.
    + Some interesting quests and situations.
    + Good use of dialogue overall.
    -- For a "pirate quest", you spend a lot of time on land. You do a lot of utterly un-pirate things, like set up a mining operation, hanging out in an inland pub, and looking for a bounty hunter deep in caves. Where the heck is the pirate stuff?
    - When you first join the pirate crew, you are given a shirt and pants which looks like a lower-class labourer outfit. Except it's for sailors. And it's heavily ENCHANTED. WTF? And none of the other crew are using it. Hmm... "Inexplicable" and "implausible" are words that come to mind.
    - Incredible time-wasting linear quest that is not optional and not very pirate-like at all -- "A Sister's Love". There is a journal entry that reads:
    • "I found a list of people who have bounties on their heads. It seems that Mal gro-Shick [the person you need to find] is a bounty hunter, a good one judging by the names and locations on this list. If I want to track down Mal I will have to follow the list and go from cave to cave. When I find somebody from this list that still draws breath I should wait at that location for Mal to arrive. The first location on this list is..."

    Naturally, you go through a couple of duds -- already-dead persons -- but not until you've gone through several monster-infested dungeons. All to come to a dead end. WTF? If I wanted to do aimless monster-killing in vanilla Oblivion dungeons, I don't have to download a mod to do that.
    - More incredible time-wasting with another non-optional quest: Quest, "The Straight Arrow". The quest update pop-up reads:

    • "I've tried speaking to a few of the regulars but they refused to talk to me. Vitisha was right, they dislike talking to passing travelers. I need to make them realize that I want to become one of them, a regular. I have a plan that just might work. I should come round every day for the next few days and spend a few hours here, without leaving through the door until those few hours are up. Hopefully, after a few days they might notice me and start talking with me. [Pressing T and waiting or sleeping doesn't count]."

    So basically, the modder wants you to walk your character into the inn, then leave Oblivion running and idle for god knows how long while you, the player (not, not your character) go do something *other* than watch the screen while your character does absolutely nothing interesting. WTF?
    When this quest showed up, I uninstalled the mod. I can't trust a modder who gives you such ludicrous quests. Who knows what other rubbish you'll need to do later even if you waste your time jumping through this hoop.