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The Road to Mordor: Rating Eriador

Fantasy, Lord of the Rings Online, Reviews, Opinion, Free-to-Play, The Road to Mordor

Lately I've been playing world traveler with my level 43 Lore-master as he's bouncing all over Middle-earth in what used to be the high-level zones of the game: Trollshaws, Angmar, Forochel, Misty Mountains, and Eregion. Once again, I'm struck by just how cohesive this place feels -- it's not a collection of Sonic the Hedgehog-themed areas (Green Zone 1, Lava Zone 4, etc.) but a world that connects together in a tangible, real way. Even though it's fiction.

Until November 2008, Eriador was the only place in Middle-earth that we could explore, and although some criticized Lord of the Rings Online for not shipping with, well, every locale in J.R.R. Tolkien's imaginarium open for business, it was a smart decision. The devs could take this section of the world and focus on building depth and detail instead of spreading it thin, like butter scraped over too much bread. As a result, Eriador remains a wonderful starting point -- not to mention the bulk of any current player's journey -- and many of us have grown attached to these familiar sights and sounds as a result.

Today I'd like to take a brief overview of all of Eriador's zones (we'll leave Rhovanion for another day) and rate them from best to worst in terms of zone design, questing, and that slippery cool-factor that's hard to define. Where would I suggest a summer vacation home and where would be an ideal spot for a penal colony? Hit the jump and let's run it down.

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Rise and Shiny recap: Priston Tale 2

Fantasy, Horror, Galleries, Screenshots, Video, Events (In-Game), PvP, Reviews, PvE, Free-to-Play, Hands-On, Humor, Hands-On (Massively's), Rise and Shiny, Livestream

In continuing with the theme from the last few weeks, I examined another "grinder" -- this time, Priston Tale 2. I have to admit to being a little overwhelmed with the grind at this point. I cannot fathom how a player can grind after gear, levels or whatever the item is, for months, if not years, of his life. Normally, the free-to-play games I am looking at or enjoying while "off the clock" are not such a grind. Yes, there is some element of that to almost every single game I have ever played, but my favorite games give me a choice or a way to avoid the grind.

It should be noted that even in the worst example of a grindy game there is the possibility of social interaction. Social interactions, in their many forms, are possible any time you have multiple players and a way to communicate. This is no small accomplishment, but it is often ignored as a very basic, important gaming possibility.

Still, we're here to talk about what Priston Tale 2 might offer that is different than any number of good-looking free-to-play grinders. So, let's get to it.

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Rise and Shiny recap: Pocket Legends

Fantasy, Events (In-Game), Reviews, PvE, Opinion, Free-to-Play, Mobile, Hands-On, Casual, Hands-On (Massively's), Rise and Shiny

Over the last two weeks, I have been taking a look at Pocket Legends, a fully functioning MMO made for the mobile player. I did not publish a Rise and Shiny last week (I was busy writing up my GDCO coverage) but that is a good thing -- I had no real time to play the game anyway. I've jumped in and out, played through a few dungeons and scoured the cash shop. After hearing Cinco Barnes from Spacetime Studios -- the developer of Pocket Legends -- I really saw how well the company's design choices were working in practice.

What I found is a game that works and is stable. While that isn't the most glamorous description, you would be hard-pressed to find a game that has succeeded without either of those traits. The key here is that it runs while in the palm of your hand (or lap, in the case of the iPad). But let me take you through a bit more of the game before I pass judgment.

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A year in the life of Aion

Fantasy, Aion, Expansions, Reviews

Grab yourself a glass of mela juice and join me in an anniversary toast! September 22nd marked one year to the day that Aion was released into the hands of hungry Daevas-to-be in the Western market. And what a day that was! Heralded by NCsoft as its biggest launch to date, Aion saw a record number of players attempt to dive into the world of Atreia and prepare to spread their wings.

Aion has come a long way since that first day, when two-plus hour queues thwarted many a prospective Daeva from experiencing the rich new world. While some of us admittedly didn't survive the initial nightmare queues at launch (cough, cough), we nonetheless found reasons to return after a couple days, a couple months, or even longer. The introduction of two free updates in the past year -- 1.9 and Assault on Balaurea -- have addressed and ironed out some of the kinks that plagued the game and frustrated players. Adjustments to leveling, population, PvP, monetary rewards, and new content, along with a sprinkling of some fun elements, have enriched an already beautiful world and improved gameplay. If you have been away for a while, come on back and join the party. There is cake!

As Daevas scatter petals about, meander past the cut and onto memory lane where we look at how Aion has evolved over the course of the past year.

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Rise and Shiny recap: Shin Megami Tensei: Imagine Online

Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Galleries, Screenshots, Video, Events (In-Game), Reviews, Free-to-Play, Hands-On, Humor, Post-Apocalyptic, Rise and Shiny

Shin Megami Tensei: Imagine Online (longest. name. ever.) is perfect for Rise and Shiny: it is unusual, makes some people uncomfortable, free-to-play, and more "indie" than "AAA." I've played it off and on since its release but never found the time or desire to really push into it. After all, the combat in the game takes patience and knowledge, something that requires, well, patience and knowledge. Over the last week I decided to dive right in, changing my normal procedure of blindly downloading, playing, and socializing. I broke my habit of ignoring the wiki and the information from the playerbase, and I have decided to actually immerse myself into a week-long college course on whatever game it is I am playing at the time.

The effort paid off big. The combat became more enjoyable, and the game made more sense. I met some very nice community members, and even found myself wanting to go through an epic hour-and-a-half dungeon experience. The game is not without its frustrating moments, of course. Starting out can feel like a pretty overwhelming experience. While there is a great beginning tutorial to help players understand the complicated combat system, many areas of the game require information that is so hidden that you must simply look it up in a wiki.

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Rise and Shiny recap: Global Agenda

Sci-Fi, Screenshots, Video, Events (In-Game), Reviews, Opinion, Hands-On, MMOFPS, Global Agenda, Humor, Rise and Shiny

PvP is a funny thing. Essentially, it is a glorified game of tag. There are variations on the theme, of course: freeze tag, Marco Polo, or Hide-and-Seek. Most of us have had the pleasure of spending a summer evening playing it with our friends. I know that when we played it, we added the dimension of The Woods (as they were known) and all that hiding in those woods on a dark summer evening implies. It was intense, I remember. Once, I hid under a pile of leaves for 40 minutes, scared out of my mind, while my buddy tried to find me.

Good PvP can be like that, but bad PvP can ruin your evening. Bad PvP, like a rainstorm during a campout, usually ends with one or more participants taking the event way too seriously. But when you spend a few hours in good PvP, running around shooting at strangers, throwing mines at each other and getting shot down by automated turrets, your heart will race and you will realize that you have had a smile on your face most of the time.

Global Agenda has that effect on me, like a good game of tag.

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Rise and Shiny recap: Alganon

Fantasy, Galleries, Screenshots, Video, Events (In-Game), Reviews, PvE, Opinion, Free-to-Play, Hands-On, Casual, Alganon, Rise and Shiny

We have all heard of the controversy surrounding Alganon. Essentially, it breaks down into a few basic points: it is a "WoW clone," and it is being run by Derek Smart, a say-it-like-you-mean-it development bad-boy. Many claim he looks for negative attention and enjoys arguing with players. To be blunt, I don't care what people think about Derek Smart. I have said it before: I actually believe that he reacts to negative attention the way other developers wish they could. I don't keep track of his battles, though; I keep track of what he has done in gaming. All I know is that before he was with Alganon, I did not enjoy the game. After he became involved, the game got better.

Concerning the "WoW-clone" issue: If I had a gold piece for every time I've heard that, I could afford that incredible level 50 mount! (*snort*) If I took a moment to break down all games that have similarities to WoW, this article would be much, much longer than it needs to be. WoW was successful, and the industry takes cues from success. WoW took its own cues from other games before that. Still, does Alganon take more from WoW than, say, Lord of the Rings Online?

Read on, and let's discuss it.

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Rise and Shiny recap: A Tale in the Desert V

Historical, Real-Life, Video, A Tale in the Desert, Events (In-Game), Reviews, Hands-On, Casual, Rise and Shiny

A Tale in the Desert V is a non-combat crafting paradise. That might sound a little strange, but the developers encourage players to work together to accomplish bigger and better things, making them feel as though they are part of a community. I have tried the game at different times over the years but never really became more than a visitor. I was glad to be given the opportunity to check it out, but even after a week I still feel like I have barely scratched the surface. I have emerged from the tutorial a smarter citizen, but I know that around the corner, greater challenges wait.

The game is not without its flaws, however, although many of the issues might fade as systems and controls become more apparent. Still, I found myself a little frustrated when the game asked me to sit and literally watch grass grow. I did it, though, and found an odd game, filled with mysteries. In a good way, of course.

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Rise and Shiny recap: Zentia

Betas, Fantasy, Video, Events (In-Game), Reviews, Free-to-Play, Hands-On, Casual, Kids, Family, Rise and Shiny

Each week Rise and Shiny asks you to download and try a different free-to-play, indie or unusual game, chosen by me, Beau Hindman. Some of the games will be far out of your gaming comfort zone, and some will pleasantly surprise you. We will meet each Tuesday and Friday night at 9 p.m. EDT (8 p.m. CDT), followed by this column the Sunday after. I welcome any suggestions for games, either in the comments or at beau@massively.com or Twitter me @Beau_Hindman.

It's hard for a game to strike a perfect balance of fun and challenge. In fact, I'd say it's the result of otherworldly forces as much as it is the hard work of the developer. Many of the greatest games I have ever played are a conglomerate of many factors that were beyond the control of the artists, writers and producers who first crafted the world. Sometimes, the crew must simply hope that its ship floats, and that it happens to set her to sail just as the weather is perfect.

Then a game like ChangYou's Zentia comes along, a game that has all the wonderful qualities I am looking for -- as the result of some very smart, specific design choices made by some very creative people. Sure, I discovered the game on accident (I wasn't actively looking for a game the day Zentia fell into my lap), but the game has obviously been crafted with precision and care.

If you'd like to read up on some of the details of the game, you can check out our E3 coverage here, or read an article of mine here. Also, you can get your closed beta key here. Otherwise, see me after the break, and be sure to leave your thoughts in the comments section!

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Rise and Shiny recap: Dream of Mirror Online

Fantasy, Screenshots, Video, Events (In-Game), Reviews, Free-to-Play, Hands-On, Dream of Mirror Online, Casual, Humor, Kids, Rise and Shiny

Each week Rise and Shiny asks you to download and try a different free-to-play, indie or unusual game, chosen by me, Beau Hindman. Some of the games will be far out of your gaming comfort zone, and some will pleasantly surprise you. We will meet each Tuesday and Friday night at 9 p.m. EDT (8 p.m. CDT), followed by this column the Sunday after. I welcome any suggestions for games, either in the comments or at beau@massively.com or Twitter me @Beau_Hindman.

At some point in his life, every man has to attempt to grow a beard. I am not talking about a finely chisled goatee, or one of those odd looking Robin Hood-type deals. I am talking about a full beard, a substantial mound of hair rooted in our face -- an escape-attempt by the very testosterone that makes us a man in the first place. I knew I had a chance this time when, after suggesting to my wife what I would attempt, she only shrugged. Normally she pulls on any scruff that pops out of my chin and says, "You look homeless. Shave."

As you grow this beard, there will be times when you will be very conscious of it.
  • When you first step out of the shower
  • When you are eating and food falls into it
  • When you are playing MMORPGs
Some MMOs are better suited to a beard: EVE Online, for example. EverQuest II will feel all right. World of Warcraft? Only while PvPing. If you're like me, though, and spend most of your time within balloon-bright cartoon-fests like Dream of Mirror Online, then you might be surprised at how it feels while playing bearded .

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First Impressions: Might and Magic Heroes Kingdoms

Fantasy, Galleries, Screenshots, Reviews, Free-to-Play, Browser, Hands-On, Casual, Might and Magic, MMORTS, First Impressions

Browser-based games have come a long way. A few years ago, I would have never predicted that they would be as popular and varied as they are now. I wouldn't have believed that the quality would rise, while still being contained in the 2-D walls of your favorite browser. But, here we are, discussing Might and Magic Heroes Kingdoms, another browser-based game that has raised that level of quality once again. It's a subtle difference, but the improvements should still be noted and enjoyed.

First of all, I want to say that I am generally horrible at any type of PvP. I rarely think of conquest and would rather trade with my fellow players than attempt to murder them. Call me old-fashioned! So, when I signed up for a game that promised that type of epic conquest (and diplomacy as well, lest we forget) I was a little more than worried that the following First Impressions would consist only of the words "I SUCK."

What I found, after giving in and joining the very first alliance that offered membership, was a game that is heavy on the chin-scratching and light on difficulty. And it's fun, too.

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Rise and Shiny recap: Istaria

Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Events (In-Game), Reviews, Free-to-Play, Browser, Casual, Family, Rise and Shiny

Each week Rise and Shiny asks you to download and try a different free-to-play, indie or unusual game, chosen by me, Beau Hindman. Some of the games will be far out of your gaming comfort zone, and some will pleasantly surprise you. We will meet each Tuesday and Friday night at 9 p.m. EDT (8 p.m. CDT), followed by this column the Sunday after. I welcome any suggestions for games, either in the comments or at beau@massively.com.

Istaria: Chronicles of the Gifted is not a new game, by any means. You probably remember it being called Horizons. I have tried this game probably several times over the last few years. Despite having a decent enough time with each attempt, I never had as much fun as I have during this last week of playing. Let this advice stick: give a game several chances, if you can. Don't let a developer's financial woes dissuade you from giving it a go again. Most of the time you can try it again without spending a dime.

I'm glad I returned to Istaria. Everything seemed to click for me, more than it did before. It could be that I never took the time to really get to know the quests or the abilities my character gained, and it could be that I played mostly solo during that time. Over this last week I adventured with an elf and a few dragons, and found a world, game, and community that was pretty darn inviting.

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Guild Wars Ghosts of Ascalon: Impressions from a lore nerd

Fantasy, Lore, New Titles, Reviews, Opinion, Guild Wars 2, Hands-On (Massively's)

On July 27th, Guild Wars lore nerds the world over will be rejoicing. Why? Because that's when the first book in the Guild Wars trilogy of novels will be released. Ghosts of Ascalon is the book that we've been waiting years for, as it was first announced at PAX08. It will just begin to explain a bit more about that 250-year gap between the storyline of the original Guild Wars and that of the upcoming Guild Wars 2.

We were fortunate enough to receive an advanced copy of Ghosts of Ascalon last week, which I tore through at record speed -- not because of this embargo deadline today, but because it was just that good. Follow along after the jump to read my impressions of the first book in a series that will introduce us to the lore of Guild Wars 2.

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Rise and Shiny recap: Sacred Seasons 2

Trailers, Events (In-Game), Reviews, Free-to-Play, Browser, Rise and Shiny

Each week Rise and Shiny asks you to download and try a different free-to-play game, chosen by me, Beau Hindman. Some of the games will be far out of your gaming comfort zone, and some will pleasantly surprise you. We will meet each Tuesday and Friday night at 8 PM Central time, followed by this column the Sunday after. I welcome any suggestions for games, either in the comments or at beau@massively.com.

There seems to be some confusion as to what the point of this column is. Just to clarify, my job with this column is to act like an actual newbie, to find small or unusual games, and to report on my findings after one week of play. While this might seem a bit harsh, I am very upfront about my intentions and think that the experience that a new player would have within a week of play is not only valid, but one of the most important times for a player. Unfortunately, this means that sometimes I will play a game in ways it was never intended, or I will review a game without knowing what might come further down the road. I generally stay away from the game's website and only gather information from the offerings in-world.

This means that, when I do find amazing games, they have done a darn fine job. This can also mean that, as in the case of Sacred Seasons 2, I stumble across a game that is very much in development.

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Waging WAR: The Nagaryth Chronicles, part two

Fantasy, Classes, Game Mechanics, PvP, Reviews, Warhammer Online, Opinion, Hands-On, Waging WAR

Waging WAR continues this week with the second installment of the Nagaryth Chronicles -- an in-depth look at the Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning's shadow warrior. We'll talk about how the career performs through tier two, identify key abilities, and open the floor to discussion about how we might begin to remedy some of the most basic issues with the career. So nock another arrow and let's get started.

First things first. I want to quickly respond to a few of the reader comments left on last week's column.

@MiloMenderBender: After you pointed out my target selection could be wrong, I started paying attention to my damage vs. the varying enemy careers. Your suggestion to pay closer attention to damage-per-kill rather than overall made perfect sense, and I'm now making more careful and efficient targeting decisions -- with satisfying results.
@Kyelthis: Your keybinding suggestions were excellent and definitely worth trying out.
@ShadowWAR: After reading your comment, it took only a moment to pay closer attention and confirm that the stances are not on the global cooldown (GCD) and skirmish stance does indeed return 1:1 ballistics to strength from items only.
@ the rest: Thank you for your contributions, and, although I'm hesitant to have this series turn into a conversation about mirrors, issues with the game in general or concerns with other careers, I want you to know that I read all of your comments and appreciate your feedback.

Moving on, let's continue with my impressions and issues with the shadow warrior through tier two after the break.

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