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First Impressions

Norrathian Notebook: EQN Landmark alpha 101

Betas, Fantasy, Game Mechanics, New Titles, Free-to-Play, First Impressions, Guides, EverQuest Next, Sandbox, Norrathian Notebook

You know you've got it bad when you don't want to leave a game long enough to write about it! But that's exactly how this last week has been for me and EverQuest Next Landmark. Don't get me wrong; it's an awesome change to be so eager to play that you willingly stare at a login queue (getting to listen to Jeremy Soule's music while you do is definitely a bonus!) and even spend hours gathering materials, knowing that it will all be wiped. It's just been a long while since that has happened to me. Luckily, the alpha has had downtimes, allowing me some sleep and a chance to whip this first impressions piece and quick-start guide up for you.

Even with many of the core features from the game still missing, this alpha shows you straight off that EQN Landmark truly is a whole different game. The term innovative is not just a catchphrase here; it's a summary. As such, jumping in can leave eager players a bit overwhelmed or frustrated. So this here's a quick introduction course with hints and tips to get you started.

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Previewing The Elder Scrolls Online: Massively goes to Tamriel

Betas, Fantasy, Screenshots, Video, Business Models, Game Mechanics, Previews, News Items, Opinion, Hands-On, First Impressions, Events (Massively's Coverage), The Elder Scrolls Online

ESO
Have you heard that rumbling in the air over the last few months? That was the sound of millions of gamers grinding their teeth over The Elder Scrolls Online's unwavering NDA, a sound that grew ever louder as the game announced controversial preorder bonuses last month and passed the two-months-from-launch mark earlier this week. Fortunately for your dental health, that NDA is at least partly coming down today. The gaming press was invited to play a limited portion of the game last weekend, and though our readers are still under NDA, we're finally not, so at last we can pass along our experiences!

Today, we present to you our impressions of last weekend's preview event and the beta so far. We've got videos on character creation, thoughts on the starting zones and storytelling, guides to skill progression and racial perks, and an overview of the state of the game from an MMO player who isn't already a nut for the series. Enjoy!
The Elder Scrolls Online beta is absolutely nothing special
Eliot posts his general impressions of ESO as an MMORPG fan with no Elder Scrolls baggage.
A guide to character creation in The Elder Scrolls Online
Larry tackles ESO's robust character creation with an in-depth video. Butt sliders included.
A guide to skill progression in The Elder Scrolls Online
Matt investigates ESO's skills and character progression in the noble pursuit of battlemagery.
What do The Elder Scrolls Online's racial abilities mean for endgame?
Larry explores just how annoyed we should be about the Imperial Edition's perks.
Starting out in The Elder Scrolls Online: Coldharbour and Stros M'Kai
Matthew treks through the tutorial and Daggerfall Covenant zones.
Starting out in The Elder Scrolls Online: Bleakrock Isle and Khenarthi's Roost
Matt scopes out the early areas of ESO's Ebonheart Pact and Aldmeri Dominion factions.
Tamriel Infinium: Story and character in The Elder Scrolls Online
Larry considers the quality of ESO's pivotal players and introductory story.

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Tamriel Infinium: Story and character in The Elder Scrolls Online

Fantasy, Classes, Lore, PvE, Opinion, Hands-On, First Impressions, The Elder Scrolls Online, Subscription, MMORPG, Tamriel Infinium

Tamriel Infinium: Impressions of Elder Scrolls Online
This past weekend, ZeniMax invited the press to play its addition to the Elder Scrolls franchise: The Elder Scrolls Online. We were allowed to play any faction or race that we wanted, with the exception of the newly introduced Imperial race. We took video and screenshots. We truly wanted to see whether this game lived up to our expectations for the series, and most of all, we wanted to know why this game has hidden behind an NDA for much longer than its closest competitors.

Not everyone is going to love The Elder Scrolls Online. Many of the things you find in ESO coordinate with existing MMOs, but it also has its own twists on certain aspects of the genre. Although I didn't find every moment a thrilling dive into the world of Tamriel, I did enjoy myself, and I can certainly see myself playing this game for a while.

For the next few minutes, I would like to put aside the marketing strategy and the issues I have with the payment model and preorder bonuses. Let's examine just the story and the characters in the game and take the measure of their worth.

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Starting out in The Elder Scrolls Online: Bleakrock Isle and Khenarthi's Roost

Betas, Fantasy, Game Mechanics, Lore, Previews, PvE, Opinion, Hands-On, Races, Humor, First Impressions, Events (Massively's Coverage), The Elder Scrolls Online

ESO
Everyone knows that first impressions matter, and this is especially true for MMOs. The Elder Scrolls Online starts all players in Molag Bal's realm of Coldharbour, but after their escape, they're sent to a faction-specific starting zone, each with its own questline and flavor. While Massively's Matthew has Coldharbour and the Daggerfall Covenant's starting area covered in his own piece, I had the opportunity to make my way through the starter zones of the Ebonheart Pact and the Aldmeri Dominion.

The difference between the two is borderline comical. The Aldmeri Dominion is treated to a sunny tropical paradise, while the Ebonheart Pact fights its way through the frozen mountains of Skyrim. On top of that, they seem to be designed almost completely independently from one another.

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Starting out in The Elder Scrolls Online: Coldharbour and Stros M'Kai

Betas, Fantasy, New Titles, Previews, PvE, Opinion, Hands-On, Consoles, First Impressions, Guides, The Elder Scrolls Online, Subscription, MMORPG

ESO
When we were planning assignments for The Elder Scrolls Online's embargo lift, I volunteered to go through and document each of the factional starting zones. This was a great plan, except for technical difficulties. I was able to play fine for the first few hours at high settings, but coming back to continue where I left off led to a series of frequent GPU crashes, even at lower settings. Fortunately, I was eventually able to make it work well enough get one zone done, and Matt stepped up to cover the other two.

So today I'm going to cover the shared introductory experience, followed by the first island zone you end up on as a member of the Daggerfall Covenant. That's the faction based in the north-west of Tamriel, consisting of the magically inclined mountain kingdoms of the Bretons, the dark-skinned Redguard and their desert homeland, and the roving clans of Orsimer, better known as Orcs. I actually made a character of each faction but settled first on the very pretty Orc lass with a flower in her hair over the chubby, antlered Wood Elf and ostentatious Argonian lizard featured in the other factions. Spoilers ahead!

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What do The Elder Scrolls Online's racial abilities mean for endgame?

Betas, Fantasy, Video, Classes, Game Mechanics, New Titles, Previews, Opinion, Hands-On, Races, First Impressions, The Elder Scrolls Online, Subscription, MMORPG

ESO racial abilities mean little for endgame
The Elder Scrolls Online faced significant controversy when it announced that players will be able to roll a character of the Imperial race if and only if they upgrade to the Imperial Collector's Edition of the game. At the same time, ZeniMax revealed that players who preorder the game will be able to play any race in any faction, adding to player angst.

In the following video, Massively's ESO columnist Larry Everett examines the skill trees and the racial abilities of two different races to see whether there is any substance to these concerns.

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A guide to character creation in The Elder Scrolls Online

Betas, Fantasy, Video, New Titles, Previews, Opinion, Hands-On, Races, First Impressions, The Elder Scrolls Online, Subscription, MMORPG

Creating a custom character in ESO
Creating the perfect character in an MMO can take hours. In Elder Scrolls games, it can take longer -- mostly because you have to download mods. However, in the Elder Scrolls Online, you can't mod your character's appearance, and you might not want to anyway.

In the following video, Massively ESO columnist Larry Everett takes a moment to explore the different aspects of the character creator. Who knows -- this might be the first Elder Scrolls game where you aren't forced to make a hideous Elf.

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The Elder Scrolls Online beta is absolutely nothing special

Betas, Fantasy, Game Mechanics, Opinion, Consoles, First Impressions, The Elder Scrolls Online, Subscription

ESO
I've always had a profound antipathy toward the Elder Scrolls franchise. Part of this may very well be timing; the first three major installments released when I didn't have a computer that could handle them (I was generally more of a console gamer), and so I've no memories of happily chugging away across Tamriel as a young lad to sustain me. But I've also never seen anything that's reached out and grabbed me, no inspiring bits of lore, no systems that particularly grab my interest, just the promise that "you can do anything you want" without a great deal of encouragement.

The point I'm making here is that the franchise is not my jam. But that's part of the reason I wanted to try out The Elder Scrolls Online in the first place. Sure, at a glance, it seemed like a fairly generic fantasy RPG that had the weight of a franchise behind it, but that's an evaluation based on nothing but bits of story and gameplay videos. So I settled in over the past weekend to play the beta and see what all the fuss was about, to give it a more fair evaluation than one based simply on the name of the franchise and what I saw at a glance.

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Choose My Adventure: Through the starting gates of EverQuest

Fantasy, EverQuest, Opinion, Free-to-Play, Massively Meta, First Impressions, Choose My Adventure

And we're off! The gates of EverQuest have opened, and thanks to the advice of my very own pit crew (that means you!), I am planted firmly in my saddle as ready to take on this wild Choose My Adventure ride. So let's get this show started, shall we?

Figuring out where in EQ I was going to go was pretty cut and dried; Firiona Vie was the server winner by a landslide. Either you know me well enough and placed me accordingly, or you're just saying that's an awesome place to be. Of course, it could be both, which is a double bonus.

The racial fight was more of a nail-biter. Tier"Dal, Iksar, and Froglok battled it out, but in the end, good won. Well, actually let's not be too hasty tossing that "good" label around: As for classes, only two choices were running pretty much neck in neck, and both were decidedly evil! Ultimately the caster lost and tin can won. So instead of summoning and commanding my own hordes of undead (for which I thank you profusely), I dub myself Sir MJ, the Shadowknight. As much as I have rarely played plate or tank classes, I do appreciate this; necromancy is definitely not a favorite pastime of mine. Add in your final decision to start me off in my racial lands and we are all set to go.

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My first two hours in EQN Landmark

Betas, Fantasy, Game Mechanics, MMO Industry, New Titles, PvE, Opinion, Hands-On, First Impressions, EverQuest Next, Sandbox, Crafting, Player-Generated Content

EQN Landmark character select
Sony Online Entertainment has an eventual winner on its hands with EverQuest Next: Landmark.

I know, I know. You've been burned by SOE in the past. Maybe you're still angry about the NGE, or maybe you're a Vanguard lifer and the wound is still fresh. Maybe you're even one of those goofballs who mistakenly thinks that internet spaceships plus PvP drama equals the only relevant MMO.

Whatever your bias, you should be excited for what Landmark represents if you're a sandbox fan.

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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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Hyperspace Beacon: Entering the SWTOR Kuati Drive Yards

Sci-Fi, Expansions, Lore, Patches, PvE, Opinion, Free-to-Play, First Impressions, Star Wars: The Old Republic, Hyperspace Beacon, Dungeons, MMORPG

Hyperspace Beacon: Entering the SWTOR Kuati Drive Yards
You all remember the very first scene from Star Wars. A tiny ship carrying very important cargo was fleeing an imposing mammoth of a battle cruiser. The gigantic ship eventually swallows up the smaller one. We eventually learn that the Empire owns fleets of these Star Destroyers, but we never learn where they all came from. In the Expanded Universe, we find out that the Empire-loyal planet of Kuat manufactures these behemoths in the Kuati Drive Yards.
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During the time of Star Wars: The Old Republic, we really haven't heard much about this planet or its starship manufacturing. We know that Grand Moff Vaiken created the first dreadnaughts the Sith Empire uses now on Dromund Kaas. We could only assume that Kuat was a member of the Galactic Republic. And we had no indication whether the Drive Yards existed at all until the latest expansion and the flashpoints that hit the SWTOR test center this week.

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Captain's Log: Investigating Star Trek Online's Season 8.5 revamped missions

Betas, Sci-Fi, Patches, PvP, PvE, Opinion, Star Trek Online, Free-to-Play, Hands-On, First Impressions, Captain's Log

STO Chimera Class
It's not very often that the devs at Star Trek Online manages to completely surprise the playerbase with something unanticipated. This week Star Trek Online Community Manager Brandon Felczer posted a list of patch notes for the Tribble test server as well as a new screenshot for the Friday gallery, stating that the screenshot was from the upcoming "Season 8.5" patch.

The patch notes contained a lot of changes that none of us was truly expecting, most of which (but not all, of course) are being generally well-received. The biggest shock is that the patch will include the first new PvP arena in years. Also included in the notes was the announcement that the devs have been busy revamping several of the low-level Starfleet missions to improve their look as well as their pacing.

I've had the opportunity to jump on the Tribble test server to check out some of the revamped missions. Of the 12 missions on the list, I've played four: Stranded in Space, Kuvah'Magh, Researcher Rescue, and The Ultimate Klingon. Many of the screenshots are from the updated missions, so beware -- there be spoilers ahead!

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Hands-on with Albion Online's alpha

Betas, Fantasy, Culture, Game Mechanics, Previews, Opinion, Hands-On, First Impressions, Miscellaneous

Albion Gathering
Ever miss the old MMO days when crafting had meaning? When your friend could join up with you and on day one you could both go somewhere pretty cool, and just having that extra person could make things a smidge easier? Wish you could go back to those days without dealing with mindless grinds? Sandbox Interactive's Albion Online is perhaps something you should look into. In fact, those are the very reasons I signed up for the alpha back when I first heard about it. And now that I've played around with it a bit, I've been pleasantly surprised with my experience, though there are a few things newcomers will want to watch out for.

For starters, Albion's alpha is an actual alpha, not a retitled beta for marketing purposes. If you're going to play any future alpha phases, know that they'll be rough, unfinished, and non-functional in some areas. There's no actual character creation at the moment. Heck, there isn't even a female option (sorry ladies!). You can change your portrait, but that doesn't change the way your character looks. Because it's an alpha, I'm going to only lightly cover what I couldn't play and focus more heavily on those I could.

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MMObility: Legacy of a Thousand Suns goes mobile

Business Models, Game Mechanics, Previews, Opinion, Free-to-Play, Browser, Mobile, Hands-On, Casual, First Impressions, Miscellaneous, MMObility

Legacy of a Thousand Suns screenshot
Legacy of a Thousand Suns by developer 5th Planet Games is a relatively simple game that is very similar to Dawn of the Dragons, its sister title. I found Dawn of the Dragons to be strangely appealing even though it's not much more than an interactive story with very basic combat. It helped that I was given a massive pile of in-game currency and so was able to play at a non-stop rate, but even a small investment into either title buys a pretty good chunk of in-game cash and energy to spend on actions.

Legacy of a Thousand Suns is essentially a sci-fi themed Dawn of the Dragons. Gameplay is so similar that a player could jump between the two instantly and a new player could be gaining levels literally within minutes. I'm not sure how to describe the appeal of a game that consists mainly of pressing a button several times, taking a break, and coming back after the energy pool fills back up to do it again.

Let me attempt to describe its appeal anyway and to figure out whether the mobile version is really a good thing or not.

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