Archive for December 17, 2008

The Silence of the Shards

December 17, 2008 7 comments


Lately I have played some Chronicles of Spellborn on and off. It is a game that I have a bit of a love/hate situation with.

First of all – I do like the environment and setting. It looks quite nice and the atmosphere is very good. I also do like the combat, although I tend to move between “hey, that was not too bad” and “oh boy, do I suck at this…” in terms of what my combat results feels like.
It is certainly something that takes some practice and probably never going to be any mindless buttonmashing if one wants to be reasonably successful at it.
My guess is that it might work out a bit better with a mouse wheel to select the skill row on the skill deck though, since the fingers on the keyboard is used for moving/strafing/jumping also. But I use a trackball instead of a mouse and the one I got does not have any mouse wheel. I will likely never go back to use a mouse unless I am forced to and I am not yet prepared to try find a trackball with a mouse wheel just for this game.

When it comes to the game in general I think there is one phrase that sums it up: Old School.  With that I mean that in many ways the game feels a bit like a game from a slightly older era, the time when men were men and… 

There is for example no way to see what other players are logged on or playing in the area, no /who command, no /search function or similar. At least not what I have found out and I have seen other people ask for it. There are no fast travel options, you run to wherever you want to go, except when going between shards – then a shard ship is used. Running might get slightly faster if your PEP (Personal Experience Points) is high enough, but not by a huge amount. Minimap does pretty much only show quest NPCs. Quest texts do require reading to figure out what to do often and sometimes are also vague enough that you may need to search though the zone in detail to complete them. There is no auction or cinsignment house function, just a trade chat channel. The characters need to be online to be invited or added to a friend list and for a group invite I think also a visual proximity is required.

Note I do not say that this is bad; in fact I do like some parts of it. But I do worry a bit that the game might be one that will require a lot of time in order to feel that some progress is made. If that will be the case then it might not be the game for me.

I do not know whether these bits and pieces are intentional or if  they intend to change these things later.

So far I have created two characters; one Void Seer (spellcaster) and one Trickster (rogue). For my view of a spellcasting archetype I felt that I did a bit too much melee fighting with my void seer, which was my initial character. So I decided to try out another archetype also. And I do like the trickster better, it feels to me that the skills work out better or are more interesting in comparision to the void seer with the combat mechanics. It is fun to play.

At level 5 is when you select your discipline (trickster and void seer in the cases above) and at level 9 you can do some quests to select a high house to join and become a citizen of the Enclave. Shard ship travel requires citizenship, so unless one wants to stay only on the initial shard (Parliament), one was to select a high house. There are 5 of the high houses; Maul, Rune, Torque, Silver and Shroud. Each house has their own philosophy on how to deal with things and one will have to pick one that feels are in line with how the character should be played. Before selecting a high house one can visit all of them in  a quest (They have their houses in the two initial zones Hawksmouth and Aldenvault) to get some information. Once the choice has been made and the initial house quest has been completed that choice is sealed; no change is possible.

In my case I choose house Rune for my trickster. The quests to become a citizen was pretty straighforward and quick and the fame (xp) was good, gained almost half a level. When the citizenship part was done a quest was offered to head to a different shard, Quarterstone. Getting the chance to travel with a shard ship and also see yet another new area made that an easy choice and I headed off directly.


On the way to Quarterstone through the Deadspell storm

On the way to Quarterstone through the Deadspell storm

When onme travels with a shard ship there are two options; travel with the crew or in a cabin on the ship. Travelling in a cabin is safer but more expensive, If you travel with the crew there is a chance for an attack and you have to fight, but costs less. I choose to go with the crew. In this case nothing happened though, after 2 minutes of real time the ship arrived at the Quaterstone docks. At this point I have pretty much just started to explore Quarterstone a bit.


Palace District in Quarterstone

Palace District in Quarterstone

A concern that I have and other players as well is that Spellborn feels quite empty. I do not know if the game is empty or how many people are playing it. But the lack of /who command and other means to figure out where people are and find people online at least gives a perception of emptiness. And while it is certainly possible to solo most of the content I think this is a game which really benefits with more group play – mob behaviour, the different combat mecahnics, spawn rates of mobs all contribute to make group play more rewarding.

Also, the whole debacle with the IP blocking and separate publishers for various countries do not help either. Although apparently the IP check is only when you set up the account according to some players, not when you actually play. And for some of the countries which the game is released for you can still not buy the game in any stores.  In the EU forums which is only accessible to those with accounts, there are 6 different forums in total: One Free2Play forum and one subscriber forum for each of the three languages English, French and German.  I do not get this; if one wants to attract free2play players to become subscribers, wouldn’t it be better that they could access and use the forums that the subscribers use also? As it is now the Free2Play forums seems quite empty (at least the English one) which would just emphasize the notion of a game with no players for those trying it out. 

Also there are now 6 universes, 2 for each language (English/International, French and German) and for each language there is a PvE and a PvP universe. Critical mass is important and if the player numbers are low it would have made more sense to put all PvE and all PvP on one universe and have different chat channels for the different languages. They seem to rely almost completely on word of mouth to get more players; but if the players perceive that the universes are empty they will risk driving people away through word of mouth. Perception is eveything; they may have huge populations but if that is not noticeable they could still suffer because of that.