Lineage II: The Chaotic Chronicle Preview

Eschalon: Book II

Publisher:NCsoft
Developer:NCsoft
Release Date:2004-04-28
Genre:
  • Massively Multiplayer,Role-Playing
Platforms: Theme: Perspective:
  • First-Person,Third-Person
Buy this Game: Amazon ebay
If you haven't yet experienced the ass-numbing addiction of the Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game genre, it's a good time to start shopping around for one. After a couple of years of learning what players want, expect, and will put up with for $15 a month, several of the companies who originated the online gaming craze are ready to unveil the next generation of MMORPGs. Everquest 2, World of Warcraft, and Ultima X: Odyssey are all expected to be released later this year, each hoping to draw its share of brand-loyal gamers. Before they get their shot, though, resident world-wide sales king NCSoft will play its hand with Lineage II: The Chaotic Chronicle, which is scheduled to go retail next Wednesday, May 28th.

Lineage II is, of course, the sequel to NCSoft's Lineage: the Blood Pledge, which at one point claimed the most subscribers of any MMORPG with over a million. Despite this lofty achievement, Lineage received a lack-luster reception in the United States, where players prefered the better graphics and variety of role-playing experiences found in Everquest. This time around, NCSoft has attempted to recitfy the situation by using a version of the Unreal engine and offer a wider range of characters to play.

I've played the open beta version of Lineage II for the past few weeks and I'm ready to let you know what you can expect should you decide to spend some time hunting monsters in the world of Aden. Of course, it should be noted that my experience has been with the beta version, so anything that I gripe about may be changed once the retail game ships and NCSoft gets a chance to see what the paying customers want.

I can tell you that the game looks great. It's not as cartoony as the shots I've seen of World of Warcraft, though some of the characters have an anime vibe about them. The female dwarfs, especially, look like extras from a Sailor Moon adventure, running around with short skirts and red ponytails. The human males, on the other hand, look like boy-band members and the range of character customization only lets you take their hair from very light brown to Billy Idol blond. The monsters look very ferocious, though, and the landscapes are so good that you may while away any downtime from resting by admiring the beauty of of your surroundings, especially if you have a high-end rig.

I don't have one, so I found that I had to turn all the graphical bells and whistles off to avoid lag. Much of the lag came was due to overcrowding issues with the server I was playing on, though, and those issues should be dealt with when the game goes retail. Other than lag and problems with getting onto the servers (also related to overcrowding), I really didn't find any technical issues that inhibited gameplay. Many veteran MMOG gamers spoke out on the forums indicating that Lineage II was one of the most stable games they'd played, even in the beta test phase, an I tend to agree with their assessment.

After all, gameplay is the most important factor in deciding whether to continue paying for a game month after month and few things disrupt your gameplay more than stability issues. And Lineage II definitely has some addictive gameplay, although it's pretty traditional. Translation: if you've never played an MMORPG, you'll quickly find out why they are popular, but if you are a veteran, you may become bored before you get to the good stuff.

Lower level characters are subjected to the level grind found in most MMORPGs and will spend hour upon hour of hunting monsters to build up enough experience to level up and enough gold to get better weapons and armor. The combat system keeps things from dragging to an extent. You still pretty much fight enemies on auto-pilot unless you are a mage, but fighters do get some special attacks that can add a bit of finesse to your melee strategy. Using Power Strike, for instance, is most effective when used as a killing blow and rewards your character with more experience points than normal.

Getting to level 10 or so is exciting as your goals are fairly quickly attainable. Getting to level 20, though, can become tedious if you aren't hunting in a group. NCSoft is pretty squarely pinning its success on the relationships it expects players to form with one another within the game. Many of the changes that are expected to come with the retail version encourage players to group up when hunting and form clans when they're ready to start fighting other players. Want to fly around on a dragon like you've seen in screenshots? Not only will you have to take the time to raise one, you'll also have to form a clan and lead it to victory in a castle siege.

And there's the rub. If you want a casual gaming experience, especially a solo one, Lineage II probably won't be what you are looking for. To experience the most amount of content for your gaming dollar, you're going to have to stop being a wallflower. Most of the high level content involves joining castle sieges and becoming a part of the complex political and economic systems. To expect to have any kind of success in a castle siege, you'll need to be in a clan, and you'll need to be able to put in time devoted to making it strong.

If you want to participate in player versus player combat with any regularity, you'll want to have some online buddies, too. Lineage II's high level content is based around PvP and the PvP system takes on the ambitious goal of both allowing uninvited combat to happen between players at any time, and discouraging random Pking by offering harsh penalties to those who kill neutral players. Sounds like a good thing for soloers who don't want to be RPK'd while hunting, right? Unfortunately, it actually supports griefing of solo players in other ways.

The system breaks down like this: you are out hunting and another player takes the last shot on a quest monster you were fighting, stealing a quest item that should have gone to you. Despite repeated pleas and/or warnings, the player continues to do this until you take a swing at him. Now, because you took a hostile action toward another player, your name turns purple, letting everyone know that you've recently been hostile and indicating that you can be killed with no penalty. Now, if the (kill stealer) you attacked hits back he will turn purple as well and should the fight continue with both players attacking, the loser will face the risks of dying, which include losing around 10% of his exp and the slight chance that he will drop an item. The winner will receive no penalty for participating in a duel, and may be rewarded if the loser does drop an item.

That's the way PvP combat is supposed to work, and in castle sieges it probably will work that way. Unfortunately, going back to our scenario, more than likely what will happen is that the grief player will hit once or twice and then stop attacking, hoping that his name will become white again before you have killed him. So, if you press the attack and kill him after he has stopped attacking and become white again, you will be considered a chaotic player who has unjustly killed a neutral player. This means that your name will turn red, alerting everyone in the area that you can now be killed with no penalty (white players who attack red don't even turn purple) and have a much higher probability of dropping weapons and armor.

The conventional wisdom has become that red = dead. Because it takes so long to earn the money to get good weapons, even normally fair-minded players are often willing to hunt down players with red names, not caring why they became red in the first place, just to get the chance to upgrade their equipment without grinding for days. If you're soloing and go red in a crowded area, you'll have to be extremely skilled to get to a secluded one where you can work off enough karma by killing monsters to become white again. So, the most probable end to our scenario is that after attacking the grief player and realizing that he won't fight back, you'll stop attacking too and resignedly move on to another area.

Of course, if you have friends who can protect you while you work off karma, you can kill griefers with impunity. If you have a whole clan that can come to your rescue, so much the better. And that's pretty much the bottom line. Lineage II looks great, has fun combat and a player-driven economic and political system. But to enjoy it completely, you'll really have to be willing to view your clan as more important than yourself. Not an easy thing for American players to do, apparently, but the rest of the world seems to understand and enjoy the benefits of this style of play. $49 and $15 a month may be too steep for those who just want to give the game a try, but with World of Warcraft and Everquest 2 expected in the fall, the next few months will pretty much belong to NCSoft, so it might be worth the price of admission to find out why. If you've got friends who game, though, it's a no-brainer: get in, get hooked, and earn that dragon.