Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Online Gaming Look: Action-RPGs

I think as far as online games go the most time I've put into a single genre has been the Action-RPG. These games tend to have a few things in common: A variety of characters or character classes with differentiating stats & skills, action-oriented gameplay that's rewarding for skillful players, and "phat loot". In this post I'll look at all of the online action-rpgs I can remember spending quite a bit of time on.

Diablo 1 - This was my first real foray into online gaming and it was not without its share of headacches. To be honest I did a lot of cheating in this game. I'd regularly accept duped-items, stat-raising potions, and even overpowered hack weapons. Unlike most games in the genre I actually enjoyed this game more in single-player mode. While I can't say I enjoyed saving every couple minutes there was a certain thrill in having death around every corner.

Diablo 2 - This game threatens to consume me at least once a day. It's only because I refuse to get a computer that works that I can manage to keep myself away from this game. Most if not all of the characters I used in Diablo 2(Sorceress, Necromancer, Assassin, Paladin) were named after 2D shooters. This is mainly because so many of the characters in this game specialize in filling the screen with projectiles. My personal favorite was a Necromancer named Risk Storage. Risk Storage is the name of one of the final bosses in Darius Gaiden. One thing Blizzard is absolutely phenomenal at is support. Diablo 2 is practically ancient yet it continues to recieve new patches, additional items, and generally tends to feel like an entirely new game after each major bugfix. One thing I really want to see in the sequel however is a better emphasis on exploration. While the main game is quite varied and features some impressive dungeon designs(despite the fact that most of them are random), in terms of gaining experience or finding great equipment the player is better off repeating certain areas and killing the same bosses constantly. It would also help if there was a better currency system in place like making gold something that can actually be really useful. Sure lots of people rely on Stone of Jordans for trade but despite raising nearly a dozen characters to level 80+ I never saw a single SoJ. Yeah I don't understand either.

Phantasy Star Online - I'll go ahead and admit that next to Diablo 2, Phantasy Star Online is my most played action-rpg. My favorite aspect of this game is the mechanics. While your character doesn't have anything in the way of evasive maneuvers spacing is still quite important as where enemies can connect with their attacks is very well-defined. Being able to escape from a large crowd of monsters without a scratch is very cool. Everything has to be properly-timed since a single hit tends to wreck the player. Challenge-mode further emphasizes this aspect by limited equipment and experience so that players are forced to rely on teamwork, proper item-management, and raw skills. It's not a mode for everyone and I'm certainly no good at it but it's still fascinating and extremely well-done. The only aspect that I think needs serious work is the distribution of rare equipment. Some of the drop-rates are just completely ridiculous.

Though I've retired from this game I hear people can actually play it for free. Check out Schtack's Server on your favorite search engine for more information. I'm never going back though.

Phantasy Star Universe - I was disappointed in this game when it first came out and was even more disappointed when the major expansion hit. The biggest problem is that unlike PSO the mechanics in PSU just aren't nearly as sound. Attacks have an area of effect to them and even if a projectile looks like it should miss if it's close enough it'll cause damage. This extends to just about everything dangerous in the game. Furthermore there's simply a lack of interesting equipment and you're likely to run into several parties all using the same weapons. Sure PSO had a few stand-bys that are good in most situations but in PSU it's just ridiculous. Most battle strategies rely on spamming special skills and like Diablo 2 everyone tends to play the areas that provide the most experience. PSU is heavily unbalanced in this respect, especially since a lot of the pre-expansion areas still contain their old reward bonuses(which were meager and done so that'd take weeks of straight-playing to get anywhere). There's little else I can say about this one other than I regret the time I spent on it.

Kingdom Under Fire: Circle of Darkness - While the other games are more like tactical action games, this one is a straight-up action RPG. The mechanics in this game are fairly sound though it seems like a number of attacks that damage the character don't seem to connect. The thing that sticks out to me the most is that this game is very repetitive and drawn-out. Sure that's par for the course as you tend to kill a lot of the same things but at least they're broken up by the occassional special monster or maybe different formations/unique enemies that require a change of tactics to get rid of. Here there's really not enough variety. Enemies fall by the hundreds and drop absurd amounts of loot(most of which is useless). This goes on for several areas until finally a boss. These bosses are terrible though. The game mixes up the boss fights by giving them design aspects and techniques that make them more than just a big target with lots of HP. However in this game it can just get annoying as fights drag on for too long and half the time it feels like you're not doing anything to it. Another interesting aspect of this game is that it was broken not too long after it came out. Rare potions can be found and then synthesizing with the player's equipment to raise their hit points or damage to absurd levels. We're talking weapons that could kill the final boss on the hardest setting in one hit. Obviously a patch was released to alleviate that but everyone who didn't ditch their equipment or tried to synthesize it again were still invincible. While the game was essentially ruined I found I actually had more fun with it using weapons that could kill everything nearly instantly.

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