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Civilization Online is 60% done

Betas, Interviews, Free-to-Play, Casual

civilization online
XLGAMES' Civilization Online is 60% completed, Jake Song said in a recent interview.

Song said that the multiplayer online version of the classic Civilization series is more than halfway done in preparation for its open beta. He also announced that testing should commence in the first half of this year.

One interesting tidbit that came out of the interview was a classification of Civilization Online as a more casual spin on the series that won't require as much time invested as the single-player variants.

[Thanks to Dengar for the tip!]

Free for All: Thoughts on SOE's mass MMO sunset

Fantasy, Screenshots, Opinion, Vanguard, Free-to-Play, Casual, Free Realms, Kids, Free for All, Clone Wars Adventures, Wizardry Online

Free Realms screenshot
Sony Online Entertainment recently announced the upcoming closure of not one or two but four of its titles. Those titles are Free Realms, Clone Wars Adventures, Vanguard: Saga of Heroes, and Wizardry Online. The announcement hit most of us pretty hard, even those who weren't active or interested players. Four titles just feels much more like a move of desperation than one or even two games. And for players like yours truly, MMOs like Free Realms and especially Vanguard hold a very special place in our hearts.

Having said that, I will never wager solely on perception. It's my guess that SOE does indeed know what it is doing and that some of this is due to licensing issues, new games from similar developers, or an attempt to streamline an already fat lineup in order to get ready for one or two massive new titles. In other words, there is no conspiracy. It's most likely that this decision was due to boring old business.

I decided to break down what each game meant to me in the hopes that the confessional will get me ready for the upcoming sunsets. Here's to hoping.

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Why I Play: Defiance

Screenshots, Culture, Game Mechanics, PvP, PvE, Opinion, Free-to-Play, Casual, MMOFPS, Humor, Sandbox, Why I Play, Defiance, Buy-to-Play

Defiance screenshot
As I did with RIFT when it was announced, sent to beta, and released, I gave Defiance a bit of a hard time. Sure, I dug the shooter aspect of it, but its attachment to the television show and (what I took as) promises of interactions between both the game and show had me giving the game the side-eye. Yeah right, I thought, this will be some sort of "revolutionary" game. Well, I was half right. That means I was also half wrong.

The game is not really revolutionary in many ways, but it does do many things that have never been done before. The more I play it, the more I see that the game developers and producers of the show sold the entire thing the wrong way from the start, but "the show will grow on ya, don't worry" would not make for a good tagline, and "the game is damn fun and does away with all of that level-based stuff that plagues RIFT" would probably not look too great on the game's website.

Either way, I'm glad I've stuck with the game and the show. The game, especially, has provided me with hours of entertainment. In order to illustrate how I enjoy the game, I think it would be easiest to detail a typical evening of play.

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Free for All: My three favorite MMOFPS games have a shoot-out

Sci-Fi, Video, Culture, Game Mechanics, PvP, PvE, Opinion, War, Free-to-Play, Casual, MMOFPS, Humor, Free for All, Post-Apocalyptic, Livestream, PlanetSide 2, Sandbox, Defiance, Firefall, Buy-to-Play

MMOFPS screenshots
I love a good MMOFPS or MMOTPS. A good one. Currently, I have three favorites: PlanetSide 2, Defiance, and Firefall. I have enjoyed other shooters in the past, games like Mechwarrior Online and APB: Reloaded and even a handful of standalone titles. There's something in a shooter that satisfies on a primitive level, some sort of textural quality that when done right can generate a good gaming session of zoned-out, open-mouthed pleasure. There's something even cooler about a multiplayer version of the same genre. I don't mind killing baddies alone, but blasting the face off of a monster is a lot more fun with dozens of other players around.

As you can see, I have a problem. Let's forget the fact that I play way too many MMOs as it is because between these three games I can easily kill a weekend and leave no room for games that I need to write about. That means I need to pick a favorite. Let this be a shootout to determine which MMOFPS will be my home. My awesome, loud, deadly home.

I've nominated three categories and will pick a winner for each. May the best shooter win!

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Hearthstone enters open beta testing

Betas, Fantasy, News Items, Free-to-Play, Trading Card Games, Casual, Hearthstone

Hearthstone open beta announcement banner
Blizzard die-hards and CCG fans alike have reason to celebrate today because the Hearthstone open beta is officially live. Plenty of players have been dabbling in the game since it entered closed beta testing in August of last year, but now anyone can jump right in and get started with Blizzard's latest money machine.

As long as you've got an active Battle.net account, you can just head on over to the Hearthstone official site and join the fun. The official announcement post assures players that no further wipes are planned, so from here on out, you're playing for keeps.

First impressions of Archeblade

Betas, Screenshots, Business Models, Game Mechanics, New Titles, Previews, PvP, Opinion, Free-to-Play, Hands-On, Casual, First Impressions, MOBA

Archeblade screenshot
Archeblade is a new action-based, arena-based, multiplayer game by Codebrush games. I've been told that fans who enjoy fighting games like Street Fighter or MOBAs should enjoy this title. Even though I'm not a huge fan of these genres, I enjoyed the game more than I thought I would, but what it offers is not that surprising or unique.

Players will find mostly standard gameplay in Archeblade. There are a dozen or more characters to choose from, each one offering a unique way to play inside the sometimes claustrophobic maps. Each character has a basic attack on his left mouse button and special attack on his right and will build up rage as he fights and take damage. Once the rage meter fills up, a special attack can be released; the special attacks range from valuable heals to damage buffs. And as is often the case in MOBA-styled games, the large number of character types does not stop the usual character roles from being featured. Players can choose to melee, assassinate, or kill from a range.

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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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Free for All: An interview with Ever, Jane's Judy Tyrer

Betas, Real-Life, Trailers, Game Mechanics, Interviews, Previews, Casual, Free for All, Crowdfunding, Subscription

Ever Jane screenshot
Ever, Jane caught my eye as soon as I read about it. I wish we had access to more non-combat MMOs, or MMOs that attempt to do something so different that they are hard to categorize. I have to say that I had never read a word of Jane Austen -- the author whose books Ever, Jane is based on -- but I didn't care. If anything, the interesting gameplay described by Judy Tyrer, the creator of the game, made me want to pick up a book or two.

Of course, the game is barely in a playable state at this time and will likely be in development for a time longer. Still, the MMO genre needs games that takes chances, or we'll all find ourselves stuck on some hamster wheel of grind. I asked Judy a few questions and she surprised me with some of her answers. She's been making games for a long time, so hopefully you'll be hearing more from her here on Massively for a while!

Let's get to the interview.

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The Stream Team: Solving the puzzle that is Myst Online: Uru Live

Sci-Fi, Video, Free-to-Play, Casual, Roleplaying, Livestream, Miscellaneous, The Stream Team

Myst Online screenshot
Myst Online: Uru Live has been through the ringer, as far as MMOs go. Despite being based on a very successful line of standalone adventure games, this MMO version just seemed to fall flat. Luckily the community and the developers agreed the game should be resurrected! Join Massively's Beau Hindman as he explores the mystery of this puzzle-based MMO.

Game: Myst Online: Uru Live
Host: Beau Hindman
Date: Monday, January 13th, 2014
Time: 4:00 p.m. EST

Enjoy our Steam Team video below.

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Free for All: The confused state of Firefall's first few hours

Betas, Sci-Fi, Screenshots, Game Mechanics, New Titles, Opinion, Free-to-Play, Casual, MMOFPS, Humor, Free for All, Post-Apocalyptic, Sandbox, Firefall

Firefall screenshot
As part of my research for an upcoming article about MMO shooters, I have been playing a lot of Firefall. There are definitely worse assignments in the world. I really, really enjoy the game; I love the fact that I can do almost anything I want even within a short play session and feel as if I accomplished something. Of course, the current enlightened state I am in does not reflect the game's non-newbie-friendly designs. As a matter of fact, the only place I was able to turn for reliable explanations and non-stop answers was a reader of Massively who recognized my name in the chat.

This reader and I have played together several times, and he went out of his way to answer all of the newbie questions that should have been answered by the game. I know that the developers have said (through Tweets to me and in other places) that a better newbie experience is on its way. There are also friendly little helper robots sprinkled throughout the game and a handful of helpful videos that can be found as well.

So why are so many new players still confused about Firefall?

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The Stream Team: Wracking our brains in Brain Storm

Betas, Real-Life, Sci-Fi, Video, New Titles, Previews, Opinion, Browser, Hands-On, Casual, MMORTS, Livestream, Miscellaneous, The Stream Team

Brain Storm screenshot
Join us as we explore Brain Storm, an interesting quiz-based, browser-based MMORTS. Yes, it's a real thing and so far looks pretty cool, so join Massively's Beau Hindman in the chat room and ask your curious questions!

Game: Brain Storm
Host: Beau
Date: Monday, January 6th, 2013
Time: 4:00 p.m. EST

Enjoy our Steam Team video below.

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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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MMObility: Mobile and browser face off in School of Dragons

Fantasy, Screenshots, Bugs, Game Mechanics, Previews, Opinion, Free-to-Play, Browser, Mobile, Casual, Kids, Family, MMObility

School of Dragons screenshot
I was excited to learn about a mobile version of School of Dragons, a browser-based, kid-friendly MMO based on the fantastic movie How to Train Your Dragon. I pictured soaring through the skies and interacting with characters from the movie, all while sitting down with my favorite tablet. Unfortunately, I am not able to play on my favorite tablet yet (my Android), but I was able to download it on my wife's iPad Air.

I didn't have much experience with the browser-based version, so I read up on Karen's MMO Family article, made an account, and logged in. I was impressed by the game's visuals even though they are fairly primitive, as they do a good job of giving a sense of scale and accurately recreate many of the movie's characters. The game is very active, even during odd times of the day, and the chat is filled with players discussing the finer points of being a viking.

Unfortunately, the game lacks in polish. Is it be good enough to satisfy younger, less picky fans? Possibly, but after playing the browser-based version, I hoped that the mobile version would somehow feel smoother and more natural.

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Massively's Third Annual Frindie Awards

Fantasy, Screenshots, Game Mechanics, Ryzom, Wurm Online, Opinion, Second Life, Free-to-Play, Browser, Mobile, Casual, Virtual Worlds, MMORTS, Free for All, Miscellaneous, Sandbox

Frindie Awards
It's time once again for me to throw out my awards for the best of free-to-play, indie, and oddball MMOs, a real niche-within-a-niche. It might seem that I am assigned many of these titles as though I were some modern day Mikey, but the truth is that I get a huge thrill out of finding a new game but get even more of a thrill when I realize that no one is covering it. I had to really think hard about the criteria for the awards this year, mainly because "indie" is quickly becoming one of those often hard-to-define words, alongside "MMORPG" and "free-to-play." Fortunately, I think I know it when I see it.

I kept my choices to games that I have actually played this year. I wanted to avoid games that appear to be really cool. If you want a more broad batch of prizes, check out Massively's best of awards. (Side note: I voted for Defiance as my game of the year.)

These awards are for games that are being created on a shoestring or independent of massive budgets. Some of them are connected to some money, of course, but instead of trying to define "indie," I will only repeat: You'll know it when you see it.

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Not So Massively: Diablo III's Nephalem Rifts, PoE season six, and Firefall's ex-CEO comes under fire

Betas, Sci-Fi, Video, Culture, Expansions, Game Mechanics, MMO Industry, News Items, PvE, Casual, Dev Diaries, Miscellaneous, Not So Massively, Sandbox, MOBA, League of Legends, Diablo III, Firefall, Crowdfunding, Star Citizen, Path of Exile

Not So Massively title image
There's just one day left to sign up to Star Citizen's Next Great Starship game modding competition, and 198 teams have signed up to compete. Following the recent delay of the dogfighting module, players who missed the livestream got an early peek at the delayed and buggy combat gameplay when the full video was uploaded to YouTube this week. League of Legends was hit with its own scary bug this week that appears to make players on the other team teleport across the map toward you.

Blizzard has now confirmed that the Nephalem Rifts feature coming to Diablo III will now be exclusive to Reaper of Souls expansion holders rather than the free update accompanying the game. Path of Exile developer Grinding Gear Games announced that its sixth race season will begin on January 10th, and players have recently discovered some odd stats spawning on fishing pole items originally thought to be worthless. And Firefall's ex-CEO Mark Kern defended himself on Twitter this week, stating that he wasn't fired but instead resigned after losing his status as CEO. Developers working under Mark have been writing about their discontentment with his command style this week on Glassdor and Reddit.

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