So, impressions without breaking an NDA right?

A new beta phase is starting in a few weeks, with the current one ending shortly.  Some people were able to sample it recently.   All told, this is a beta and beta is beta.  I expect there to be lag, I expect there to be balance issues, some tweaks to numbers and a large amount of bugs (I log about 10 an hour).  What I don’t expect to be missing is gameplay strategy and content.

Example.  Depending on the zone you’re in, you might have 10 quests or you might have 40.  One particular zone is simply bereft of any direction or cohesion, you don’t know what to do or where to go.  This in itself isn’t bad, I’ve played a few games like that.  The issue is that the other starting zones all appear to be the complete opposite – providing story and direction and actual content.  Even the best of these zones has areas where there’s simply nothing.  Wide areas where there simply is nothing to do other than walk through it or ignore it.  You’ll find dozens of these examples in the first 10 levels – complete interior zones with 5-10 rooms and you never have a single need to go into any of them.  So much effort by the artists, so little by the developers – a real shame.

Another topic which grates me to no end is forced grouping.  There is no game other than Everquest that currently forces you to group to complete exterior content while leveling.  Sure, there are optional spots from time to time, maybe a dozen or so while leveling to max.  I found 5 in the first hour  – three quests at level 3.  After leaving the starting area, I had to travel THROUGH a forced grouping zone to get to the next hub.  Don’t get me wrong, I do like grouping up, it is part of the point of MMOs after all.  What I dislike is being forced into doing it with such a piss-poor design.  Let’s say you’re in a zone and you have 10 active group quests.  Finding someone is an act of asking in chat or finding people running around you.  if they are nearby, super.  If not, then getting to the actual spot can be a 10 minute affair.  Ridiculous.  Use Rift’s system for quests and porting people to the right spot.  Add a summon part button.  It’s simple, other games have done it and done it much better.

Last is character development.  This is so fluid during beta I can’t comment on the value for launch but as it stands, leveling pace is decent, if not linear in time spent.  What is a concern is class power.  When you level up you either get a new skill or an upgraded one.  The upgrades are minimal really, since you start off dealing huge damage in the first place.  Let’s say I do 100 damage per hit at level 1.  By level 15, I might be doing 150.  Enemies also scale at this rate, except for elites.  One I killed had 13,000 hit points.  Do the math on how long it took to kill him, simply mashing the same buttons over and over again.  Boring does not begin to describe it.  Each level should mean something or it should not.  Right now, we’re in the middle ground where it makes you think you’re stronger but in fact, it’s marginal.  How about the skills grow on their own after I’ve trained and I only need to go back when I get something new?

Still a lot of work to do and a short period of time to do it in.  As I’m looking at it, it has less chance at success than Rift due to gameplay mechanics and horrible community tools but both can be turned around in short order.  Unless of course they are looking at a 3 month turnaround for players – which is what I give it optimistically.