First peek into Spellborn
Yesterday and today I have played a bit in the open beta of The Chronicles of Spellborn. As such this is just basically a few first impressions and observations about the game.
Installation was pretty straightforward, client download was a bit more than 3GB and the installer ran fine. Upon loading the game it started up in Windowed mode, 1024×768. The first choice is to select the universe to play in – for the open beta six were available, all international and a 50-50 split for PvP and PvE universes. I choose a PvE universe here.
Then it was time to create a character. First was the choice of archetype, which is either Warrior, Rogue or Spellcaster. I started off with a Spellcaster.
All characters seem to start off with a few basic skills that everyone gets – Hack, Slash and Shoot. The first two are melee skills, the second a ranged skill. Then after selecting the archetype one get to select two additional skills out of a pool of 4-5 skills, which are specific to the archetype.
Next is to create the character, with race, gender and body size. Two races are available, humans and daevi. The latter ones have larger, more hoof like fett and legs, but other than that looks like humans. I cannot say that I think the character models are a strong point of this game and it felt almost like going back to Anrachy Online when setting up the character.
The bits and pieces of the body are then fine tuned a bit more with face, tatoos etc. You can also select a voice, but that this point in the game there is no sound, so you cannot hear the voice you select! I guess that is a bug that should be fixed.
After that comes the armor. I was glad to hear before that they took pretty much the same as City of Heroes/Villains that the looks does not matter and and that enhancments (called sigils) to your characters are placed in separate slots. But the game does not nearly have the variety of outfits that City of Heroes/Villains has. But it do have some options and you can actually keep what you select while playing later. Most other games may let you choose something that may look reasonably nice, but will that ends up being replaced within few levels at most. Not so here. So while it cannot compete with the variety of its spandex counterpart and does not look as pretty as in a number of other MMORPGs, it still allows you to look ok from start and with a cool looking weapon (melee weapon options are pretty good, ranged weapon options ok).
Being done with the character creating, you enter the world in the city of Hawksmouth, right at the central town square. You are a recruit of the local militia and so your local officer at the square will tell you what to do. There is also a tutorial window showing up, telling you a bit about the basics of moving around. The tutorial window is generally unobtrusive (which is nice) and will later pop up from time to time to inform the player about some new aspect of the game. The tutorial is a bit on the short side though and I think they could have covered some pieces in more detail, especially since since the game does not quite do things the same way a s a few other current MMORPGs.
The user interface itself is pretty clean and the usual hotbar for skills that many other MMORPGs has it not there. Instead there is a single icon for activating combat mode (F key) and when that happens, the skill deck appears. The skill deck is a “rotating hotbar” and only 5 slots are visible and usable at a time, for a total of 30 slots. But more about the combat later.
While the character models felt less than stellar, the world and environment itself of Spellborn is very nice. Not in high resolution shiny details, but the art style is excellent and it is quite pretty. Together with ambient sounds and the occasional music scores it creates a very nice atmosphere in the game – which were something many people commented on in the chat channels.
One thing that you notice when looking a bit further than the most immediate area is the whole setting for Spellborn, the shards. There is no clear blue sky with clouds – you are surrounded by rock in the horison and above you, with some holes in it. I think when you see this is when you get it that this is not your ordinary blue planet – expect things to be slightly different.
What is fairly similar to a number of other MMORPGs is the questing. You will have your fair share of “kill ten rats” type of quests or FedEx quests. I think the developers are aware of the less heroic nature of some of these tasks and adress that with some humor in the presentation. And it will generally be necessary to actually read the text to know what to do, or at least where to do it. Some of the quests are quite good and have some story lines that are interesting.
Quest givers have an icon floating above their head to indicate their status and one can also see on the minmap if there is a quest give or quest NPC nearby. Besides yourself that seem to be pretty much everything one can see on the minimap, at least it you are solo. Enemies, creatures and non-quest NPCs and other players do not show up – at least not for my spellcaster.
Questing is a major part in getting fame, which is what experience points are called in this game. Fighting stuff can also give a fair share of fame, plus that they also give PEP, Personal Experience Points. PEP is something that starts at level 0 and if you increase in PEP-levels it will make you quicker, stronger, more accurate etc. However, as soon as you die, you loose a PEP level. You can never go below level 0 though.
Gaining PEP levels was actually slower than gaining fame levels. That is of course partially due to that quests in themselves do not give any PEP, only kills. To get from PEP 0 to PEP one I had to kill about 20-25 mobs. To get to PEP 2 requires about twice as much as to PEP 1 and that doubles again going from PEP 2 to PEP 3. When playing the game I have reach as far as PEP 3 so far, which were at fame level 7. I had not been killed at all at that point. Later I got killed and dropped down to PEP 2, which is where I am now at this time of writing. PEP 5 is the highest one can reach to my knowledge, which will likely mean that one needs to kill several hundred mobs without getting killed to get there. Will people grind mobs to increase their PEP? Some probably will. It is a death penalty that is harsh enough that people will now ignore it entirely, but at the same time it is not the end of the world.
When talking about death and killing that of course leads to the combat mechanics. There is no die-roll type of combat here. You have a target reticule which you aim with, so one needs to have the target in sight and be at the right distance to be able to hit the target. Skills are placed on a rotating skill deck, essentially a set of “hotbars” where only one is usable at any given time. Each of these tiers in the skill deck can have up to 5 skills in each tier and there are 6 tiers in total.
When you start with a character though only two tiers are available and only 3 slots in each tier. After a few levels one will gain an additional tier, but can still only use 3 slots in each. As one progresses in fame, more tiers and slots willbecome available.
Activating a skill is a potentially two step process – first one selects the slot to use (keys 1-5, or mouse wheel), then one activates the skill (keys 1-5, or left mouse button). I say potentially two step, because when the skill deck rotates, the skill slot that were selected in the previous tier automatically becomes selected in the next tier unless the player selects another slot. So the placement of skills can become fairly important for efficient fighting. One also has consider recharge times and range for skills when placing the skills in the skill deck. It is possible to place the same skill multiple times at different locations in the skill deck, but the recharge timers will affect all instances equally.
Fighting enemies is not something that takes only a few seconds per enemy, fights generally last a bit longer with an equal fame (lots of famous boars!) enemy. Also, moving around is an important factor, since one can avoid/dodge by moving around. People just standing still in front of the mob and hitting it will have trouble dealing with more than one mob at a time – and chances can be high that more can be aggroed.
In many places the area is fairly thick with creatures and enemies and they are generally at least somewhat social. Many also attack if one gets too close. Mobs also tend at least from time to time to be a bit “smarter” than in some other MMOGs. I have had a boars that started to rush towards me, only to turn around and run towards some of his friends behind some bushes, standing there waiting, daring me to follow. I have had multiple mobs attacking from the front at first, then they changed position and I got attacked from the flank and the front at the same time, so I could not hit them at once.
Overall I think they combat mechanics works quite nicely. Comparing this to for example Tabula Rasa, where they also tried a more FPS-like interface, I think Spellborn has done a better job. It is not the fast action-packed fight-loads-of-mobs a la City of Heroes or Guild Wars, but it does make fighting more interesting than your regular button-mash-1-2-3-4-5 type of MMORPG.
Moving around in the world; cities and populated areas tend to be safe to hang around, but out on the road it is only a bit safer to stay on the road – not safe. And beyond the roads it is probably not safe at all. It seems also that mobs respawn fairly fast. Sometimes I had trouble to try to get from point A to B because when I killed some mobs on the path, new ones spawned before I had time to move out of their aggro range, since there were more mobs to fight before I could do that. This may work out better when there are more people around or when being grouped, but this was a bit frustrating and time consuming at times.
Even though I choose a PvE universe there seem to be areas which are PvP. At first I did not notice it when I entered a new area, but I then saw in my chat window that there had been a countdown and that I now was in PvP enabled territory. There was no-one else in the area at that time though, so I do not know if that was FFA or faction-based.
One nice thing when playing Spellborn is that each character starts with a huge inventory – I do not think it is likely that anyone will run out of inventory space in the middle of an adventure. There are 400 inventory slots and items of the same type stack in the same slot. And quest items have their separate inventory.
One can buy new weapons and armor at the Forge in Hawksmouth, but the selection seems to be pretty much what was available at character creation. At the forge it is also possible to get new equipment crafted, or broken looted equipment reparied. However, so far I have not yet had a drop that I can repair, only a few items that seems to be usable as ingredients to craft/repair something.
At the forge it is also possible to create sigils, but same there – I have yet to receive a sigil or anythign that I can make a sigil with.
When you reach level 5 it is possible to head to the academy in Hawksmouth to select your discipline, for which there are three for each archetype. Being a spellcaster, my choices were between Void Seer, Ancestral Mage or Rune Mage. My choice fell on the Void Seer. When this choice was made, five bodyslots were made available. The bodyslots are for placing some specific skills/items/abilities that are unique to that discipline. In the Void Seer case that will be orbs/crystals that can be activated for various buffs etc. My first orb enabled increased damage for my next 8 attacks when activated. The effect was definitely noticeable in fights. You do not get them for free though; they have to be bought at a shop, which depends on the primary magic attribute (rune, soul or spirit). The price was quite reasonable.
The game itself seems quite stable. I had one occasion where the screen frooze, but other than that the game seem pretty much have worked flawlessly for me. There were 2-3 quests that maybe has bugs in them – I am not quite sure yet, to be honest. But other than that it was running just great for me.
Although, there is one slightly annoying bit – there is some protection software that is started when the game is running. This is probably trying to protect from malicious software. However, this caused problem when I was using Googles Chrome browser. Chrome is running an executable that is called wow_helper, which is probably bad choice of name in this context. It seems thast this protection software kept killing Chrome’s wow_helper, which caused Chrome to simply not work particularly well.
To summarise the first impressions I have a fairly positive view on Spellborn. I do not think this would beome my primary MMO-type game at this point, but it is certainly a game I do intend to play and worth paying for to go beyond the initial areas. It is a game I want to go and login again into.