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Rise and Shiny

Rise and Shiny revisit: Stronghold Kingdoms

Fantasy, Historical, Video, Game Mechanics, Previews, Opinion, War, Free-to-Play, Hands-On, Casual, MMORTS, Humor, Rise and Shiny, Livestream, Sandbox

Stronghold Kingdoms screenshot
Stronghold Kingdoms is probably one of my top favorite MMORTS titles out there. There are many reasons it holds a special place in my slightly crumpled gamer heart, and I will be sure to get to those, but there are also many gameplay elements that could use some improvement. It's a pretty typical MMORTS in most ways; players build up a town, trade goods, fight each other, and swear loyalty to others. In fact, the genre is quite bloated with games that perform in largely the same way, many of them being delivered to us within the browser.

For many players, these defining characteristics are exactly why they are attracted to the genre. In the same way, shooter fans appreciate many of the same basic mechanics from game to game, and trading card players need specific systems in place in order to feel satisfaction. So the existence of these repeated designs is not a problem for me.

It's especially not a problem in Stronghold Kingdoms.

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Rise and Shiny: Inferno Legend

Fantasy, Video, Game Mechanics, New Titles, Previews, Opinion, Free-to-Play, Browser, Hands-On, Casual, Humor, Rise and Shiny, Livestream

Inferno Legend screenshot
This week's game was a giant gamble, one that I should have known would not have worked out at all. The problem is that I have this crazy inborn optimism that tells me that even though many MMOs look and play the same way, you never know how they truly play until you actually play them. I've literally played hundreds of MMOs for this job and probably a hundred or so before that, so I've seen my share of games that look one way and play the other.

So this week I decided to go ahead and roll in Inferno Legend, a new MMO by GameBox, even though it appeared to be an auto-player like League of Angels from a few weeks ago and other titles before that. I picked my character from five different classes: the Cyclops, Vampire, Samurai, Faerie, and Mummy. I barely got past the incredibly bad voice-acting that was presumably supposed to add life to the characters and popped into the game.

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Rise and Shiny revisit: Alganon's new expansion

Video, Expansions, Game Mechanics, Interviews, Previews, PvP, Opinion, Free-to-Play, Alganon, Rise and Shiny, Livestream

Alganon screenshot
It's been quite a while since I dived into Alganon, the indie MMO by Quest Online. The game has had a bit of an up and down development cycle, but I always found it to be a pretty unique game with a nice mix of mechanics. Granted, according to many readers, the game is nothing but a World of Warcraft ripoff thanks to its similar avatar graphics, but the game is only as similar to World of Warcraft as most other themepark titles are. There are quests, skill trees, and other things in Alganon that you'll find in a score of titles, but Alganon also offers a few things that together make for a pretty unique combination of gameplay in spite of superficial similarities to other games.

The game is still rough around the edges, however, and needs some patching and tweaking in order to be nearly as polished as many other titles. The team is small, and I tend to forgive small teams for the these oversights as long as the game runs smoothly for the most part. Alganon does run smoothly and offers quite a few interesting and immersive systems.

Let's go over what was added with this expansion as well as what's still missing.

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Rise and Shiny: League of Angels

Business Models, Game Mechanics, New Titles, Previews, Opinion, Hands-On, Rise and Shiny

League of Angels screenshot
I do not enjoy writing guide-like articles. I am no fan of reading walls of text that detail how to "properly" perform in an MMO, and I will not break my policy this week. It wouldn't really matter, anyway, because this week's Rise and Shiny game comes from the mind-bogglingly strange genre of hands-off browser-based MMOing. I've discussed the massive, massive success that browser-based gaming has seen in China and other places, but I always preface that discussion with a warning: It is not going away. There are plenty of players in the West who will (and do) gladly participate in this hands-off gaming. There is nothing so special about Western gamers -- and their tastes -- to prevent our MMOs from becoming single-click level races, and nothing more.

I should have known as soon as I saw League of Angels that the game would ask nothing of me but to babysit the mouse and keyboard, making sure that neither ran out of juice. Sure, a player will occasionally need to look up from his Wyatt Earp biography to read two or three words of text on the screen, but generally the game does all of the work.

That leads me to the two questions that always pop up when I play a game like this: Who does enjoy such a title, and why make such a title in the first place?

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Rise and Shiny revisit: Myst Online: Uru Live

Sci-Fi, Screenshots, Video, Game Mechanics, Opinion, Free-to-Play, Hands-On, Casual, Rise and Shiny, Livestream

Myst Online Uru Live screenshot
I'm just going to get this out at the beginning: I absolutely adore adventure games, and honesty above all honesty, I think adventure gaming is almost the perfect genre. I wish MMOs would play like adventure games. I wish that adventure games had multimillion dollar budgets so they could go on forever and ever, patch after patch of head-scratching puzzley goodness. I wish that adventure games were not as rare as they are.

But I also wish I were actually good at adventure gaming. I have a hard time with puzzles. Gollum would have had me for lunch. I've been enjoying my time in Lilly Looking Through and Memoria so, so much, all the while becoming extremely depressed each and every time I look up a walkthrough that made me feel like a complete and total three-year-old who could barely assemble one of those funny multi-colored donut toys.

The thing is, I'm smart, right? I was in those funny advanced classes that taught me languages and told me my IQ was high and were separate from the muggles. At one point they even did experiments on me that made me put together odd puzzle-thingies and attempt to control a primitive computer. Yet here I am now playing Words with Friends and trying to spell words like "THURK" or "ZSATS."

Why on earth did I subject myself to the tough puzzles of Myst Online: Uru Live?

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Rise and Shiny: Genia Brain Storm

Betas, Screenshots, Video, Game Mechanics, Interviews, PvP, Hands-On, Rise and Shiny, Livestream

Brain Storm screenshot
I love it when I come across a game that surprises me. I usually load up MMOs well before I commit to writing about them just to test out whether or not it's worthwhile. I've covered too many duds to know that if I don't check the game out, I could be stuck with a game that literally doesn't work.

So I signed up for a free Brain Storm account, picked out where my city should be located (based on a real-world map), and started the tutorial. At first I thought that an MMO that is essentially one part quiz-show, one part MMORTS, and one part SimCity-ish builder would come off as hokey and much too easy.

But I was wrong on a lot of fronts. This game is clever, clean, and a lot of fun.

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Rise and Shiny revisit: Istaria

Fantasy, Screenshots, Video, Expansions, Game Mechanics, Patches, Opinion, Free-to-Play, Casual, Rise and Shiny, Livestream, Anniversaries

Istaria screenshot
At this point it's a sure thing for me to revisit Istaria, the old-school MMO by Virtrium, every single year. I look forward to it each time even though the game always feels basically the same. I don't want to imply that the game doesn't change at all. In fact, the indie developer team that works to run the game should be proud of the frequency of communications and patches. Around seven patches (large and small) were applied to the game in the month of December alone. On the surface, however, the game largely plays the same way and features the same systems that it always has. That doesn't mean I am familiar with them all or have come anywhere near mastering them all, but it's a comfort to know that the game remains familiar to those who are returning after some time away.

The team added a larger patch in December called Crystalshaper. The game also turned 10 years old, a feat in itself. I thought that now would be a perfect time to take another look at it, and I even ran a livestream of the game, co-hosted by Lead Designer Jason Murdick.

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Rise and Shiny: Aura Kingdom

Betas, Screenshots, Video, Business Models, Game Mechanics, Interviews, New Titles, Opinion, Free-to-Play, Hands-On, Casual, Humor, Family, Rise and Shiny, Livestream

Aura Kingdom screenshot
You might have heard about Aura Kingdom, the latest game from Aeria Games. It's been generating a lot of buzz not just for its unique look and adorable graphics but for its pre-order offers that literally cost between $19.00 and $299.00. I wrote about the pricing policy in a recent Free for All article, though I don't have a problem with them. I like to ask if these packages are harmful to others, but in my opinion they are doing nothing new. They're just like any old gaming package or preorder or collector's edition that comes with physical or digital goodies.

I have more of an issue with the game's early-game blandness. Unless you are the type of player who is used to soft-grinds and fast leveling or Anime-styled games that are usually played in groups, you'd think that the game was literally nothing but the pressing of a few buttons. I certainly thought it was that for the first dozen or so levels.

Luckily, the game opens up and becomes fun, but it takes a while to get there. I sat down with game producer Aaron Biedma to ask about the controversial packs, combat mechanics, and adorable dragons.

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Rise and Shiny: Eldevin

Screenshots, Video, Game Mechanics, New Titles, Opinion, Free-to-Play, Browser, Hands-On, Casual, Roleplaying, Rise and Shiny, Livestream, Sandbox

Eldevin screenshot
Sometimes, this column scares me. I eventually had to learn to play the games I write about week after week ahead of time, else I could end up with a really boring, crappy or broken game that I have to suffer through for a week. Occasionally I cannot vet a game and go old-school R&S by jumping into a game without looking. If I'm lucky, I stumble across a real gem. This week, I took a chance on Eldevin, a browser-based MMO by Hunted Cow Studios (maker of Fallen Sword and other titles), and I got lucky. Really lucky. It turns out that Eldevin is a great example of good indie development.

Sure, the game isn't perfect, and many modern or younger players might be initially turned off by its older looks and isometric camera, but for those of us who enjoyed Ultima Online or RuneScape, Eldevin is a fantastic title. Heck, it should be a good game for anyone who gives it a chance.

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Rise and Shiny: Zombie Pandemic

Horror, Screenshots, Video, Bugs, Game Mechanics, Previews, News Items, Free-to-Play, Browser, Hands-On, Casual, Post-Apocalyptic, Rise and Shiny, Livestream, Sandbox

Zombie Pandemic screenshot
I really want to recommend Zombie Pandemic, a browser-based, post-apocalyptic "MMORPG" by Pixel Pandemic. I really do. The problem is that I can see you sitting down to play a cool-sounding game, recommended by me, only to leave it within an hour because its server issues literally make the game unplayable at times. It's such a shame because there are several great ideas going on in the game and several systems and mechanics that rely heavily on real timing and, you know, the server running smoothly. During my time with the game this week, I had the game reset a good portion of my progress, kill me with server burps, and block me from purchasing item shop goods. Yes, that's right... not only did the game prevent me from playing at times, but it also prevented me from giving it money.

Still, I'm going to tell you why I liked the game and why you should still check it out. It's a great game for players who enjoy zombies, post-apocalyptic survival, board games, and relatively deep storylines.

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Rise and Shiny: Rusty Hearts

Fantasy, Video, Game Mechanics, Interviews, Opinion, Free-to-Play, Hands-On, Casual, Rise and Shiny, Livestream, Dungeons

Rusty Hearts screenshot
I have a soft spot in my heart for action-based titles. They just seem to skip past a lot of the BS that is involved with all of that theory-crafting math stuff and let you get right to the heart of the fight. OK, so sometimes I prefer to use my brain more than my character's brawn, but give me a good action title and I am almost instantly happy. In fact, the inclusion of an action mechanic can make a bad game much, much better just because the action is potentially more unpredictable than standard MMO combat.

Not all action games are great, however. Some of them hide a grind behind a lame story and expect us to appreciate it. There are plenty of gamers who see achievement as much more important than having a good time, so even crappy action-based titles find an audience.

So how does Rusty Hearts fare? Where does it fit in the action spectrum? I sat down with Mark Hill, Senior Producer from Perfect World Entertainment, to talk about the game.

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Rise and Shiny: Minecraft

Video, Game Mechanics, Opinion, Mobile, Rise and Shiny, Livestream, Sandbox, Crafting, Player-Generated Content, Buy-to-Play

Minecraft screenshot
We all know what Minecraft is, right? Well, just in case you have not played it for any number of reasons, let me explain. Minecraft is a sandbox defined by primitive-looking graphics, mining, building by using a massive set of LEGOs, multiplayer interaction, and modding. Lots and lots of modding. I bought it for only 10 bucks way back in its first or second beta, and all I can remember about those first few hours in the game was how high my pulse rate got, and then the buzz I felt when I first heard a pretty song play as the moon rose in the sky. Playing Minecraft for the first time easily goes down as one of my top 10 most thrilling gaming moments.

Flash forward well past those betas and Minecraft has become an empire. There are Minecraft toys, clothing items, building sets, and all sorts of real-life tie-in merchandise. It's a popular game on both console and PC and has bridged the age gap between millions of gamers. But we don't talk much about it on Massively. Why? Well, it's not an MMO.

Or is it?

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Rise and Shiny revisit: Pandora Saga

Video, Culture, Game Mechanics, Interviews, PvP, Opinion, War, Free-to-Play, Hands-On, Humor, Rise and Shiny, Livestream

Pandora Saga screenshot
It's been a while since I looked at Pandora Saga. It's been almost three years, actually. I decided to check it out again because, well, that's what this column is all about. OK, it's about revisiting games and introducing you to new titles through the eyes of a brand-newbie, but you get the point. After all this time, it was possible that the game had changed so much that it would be as if I were a brand-new player again. And in many ways, this revisit was experienced through the eyes of a newbie, but even still, I felt as if the game had not changed as much as I expected.

It's a game that's great for PvP fans but might not be so great for fans of, you know, not PvP. I have no problems with fighting other players. But a game that isn't fun until after levels and levels and levels of grinding?

That I have a problem with.

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Rise and Shiny revisit: Star Stable

Video, Game Mechanics, Opinion, Free-to-Play, Hands-On, Casual, Roleplaying, Humor, First Impressions, Kids, Family, Rise and Shiny, Livestream

Star Stable screenshot
Sometimes you just need a place where you can chill out, jump on the back of your favorite four-legged friend, and go off on an adventure. During my week's revisit to Star Stable, I've simultaneously been researching zombie MMOs for an upcoming article, and after the third post-apocalyptic game filled with cursing juveniles, I had to cleanse myself by jumping back into the friendly, non-competitive world of Star Stable.

It's a world in which you'll play a young girl who is loaned a horse. It's your job to work your way through a series of linear, story-based quests until you pay the horse off, save the town from evil corporations, help build a bridge to a new area of the map, explore, make friends, join clubs, and take care of your horse. And fashion. Let's not forget fashion. It's hard for me to find fault in the game, at all. Seriously. That's because I'm playing the game exactly as it's meant to be played.

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Rise and Shiny: Path of Exile

Fantasy, Horror, Screenshots, Video, Game Mechanics, Interviews, Launches, Opinion, Free-to-Play, Rise and Shiny, Livestream, Dungeons, Path of Exile

Path of Exile screenshot
I've never been a huge fan of dungeon-crawlers. I've enjoyed them in the past, but overall I don't get much of a thrill out of tweaking my character with weapons and armor just so I can do it all again when I hit the next dungeon. Sure, some of the games from this genre are a blast to play for a bit, but not for a long time. Even with the linear storylines and sometimes fantastic special effects, they just feel more like work for me. I don't like to feel as if I am working when I play an MMO.

Path of Exile comes from the olden days of hardcore gameplay. It's been in development for seven years (some of the designs, like the minimap, show its age), but it launched just last month. I was very eager to at least try it out since I haven't really given a game like it a go for a while. Next thing I know, I am eagerly clicking away at monster after monster, collecting more loot than I knew what to do with.

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