Review: Unreal Tournament

 

Continuing my dig thru the archives brings me to the ever popular Unreal Tournament. This game is not a direct sequel to the original Unreal, instead it is designed solely around the concept of a multiplayer area. The nasty multiplayer code from the original game was fixed and enhanced with an in-game server browser allowing players to find live ongoing games at any time. This game also takes the beautiful graphics of the original Unreal and boosts them even further with the inclusion of optional high-definition textures and few tweaks here and there. I should note that the game pretty much focuses on violence and is pretty graphic and bloody. But, honestly, that is kinda what makes it so cool.

In UT there are a number of gameplay options. These include: Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, Domination, and Assault. While the first two are pretty familiar to most, Domination and Assault may be a bit unfamiliar.

In Domination, players are divided into teams and must try to tag several “control points” on the map. Once these are tagged, that team will earn points as long as they maintain control over those areas. If the point is tagged by an opposing team, that team will earn the points instead. Whichever team earns a predetermined number of points will be declared the winner.

In Assault mode, players are again split into teams. An offensive team and a defensive team. In this mode, the goal is to invade the defending team’s base and complete a number of objectives in a pre-determined amount of time. If this is completed, the sides switch and the previously defending team now have to complete the same assault they previously defended against and they have to do it in whatever amount of time the previous group was able to achieve.

I found these modes of play to be unique and very original. I’m not sure there was anything like it at the time the game was released.

Aside from the built in modes of play, there are variety of mods and other community-created enhancements for the game available. During my recent playthrough, I encountered a number of custom maps, weapons, and even modifications that changed the basic physics of the game. When digging through the server list, you never know what you might encounter out there. It’s also important to note, that some of these mods are not always “safe for work”, as the “Hot Bang Porno Theater” level I found myself on will attest. These mods all download automatically when you join the server hosting them.

While the focus of the game is multiplayer, the game does include a single player scenario that consists of a simulated multiplayer experience. In single player mode, you compete with and against AI controlled bots. As you progress through the single player scenario, other modes of play are unlocked. Upon completing everything, you eventually get to challenge the reigning champion in a one-on-one deathmatch battle.

Yes, the single player mode does has some semblance of a story, which I guess actually carries over to multiplayer mode as well. In Unreal Tournament, you are a competitor in a series of high-tech gladiator style tournaments hosted by an extremely powerful corporation known as Liandri. The tournaments have become a shady, but legal method of sadistic entertainment. So there you have it.

Unreal Tournament, like many games of this type offer a number of interesting weapon options and various helpful items such as armor and in some cases, relics that boot your abilities temporarily.

There are four official add-on packs that add new player models, maps and other little goodies. Modern players will probably also want to seek out some of the unofficial patches that really help the game function on modern hardware. I found that a large number of active servers also support these unofficial patches as well.

Difficulty: Variable–  Needless to say, all bets are off when playing against other people. The difficulty in multiplayer mode is directly related to the skill of your opponents. In the single player campaign, you can choose between several skill options. I founds these to be very well done and accurate. The AI that the bots in the game display are really spot on.

Story: The background story is a nice addition to a game that is essentially an e-sport. While a little shallow, it does seem that the lore of the Unreal universe does tend to become clearer with each game in the series. At beginning of each match in the single player mode, you’re also given a little lore snippet of the area and the other contestants in the game. This is a nice touch.

Originality: Technically, Unreal Tournament was the first of the big name “arena” style deathmatch games. It was released a mere few days before the juggernaut Quake III Arena. In terms of design, both games are similar. But Unreal Tournament offers multiple modes of gameplay right out of the box. I’m not sure which of these two titles was actually announced first, but its safe to say that each game is different in its own way, and UT certainly offers a slew of unique features and gameplay elements.

Soundtrack: The background music very appropriate and well done. But overall doesn’t stand out in any particular way.

Fun: If you enjoy multiplayer FPS games, you can’t go wrong with UT. Even today, 15 years or so after its release there’s still an active community of players. With a variety of gameplay options to choose from, there’s a little something for everyone.

Graphics: Gorgeous. Even by today’s standards. For the best look this game has to offer, I recommend finding an updated openGL addon for the game, and installing the HD textures that are included on the second CD. If you purchased the game on Steam, these can also be found on the web with just a little sniffing around. The screenshots in this review should speak for themselves.

Playcontrol: The default controls are pretty much perfect. The modern standard of WSAD is included out of the box and is implemented flawlessly. Even the mouse-speed (which is customizable) seems to be exactly right.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – I love Unreal tournament. Until this playthrough/review it had been years since I touched it and I was surprised at how well it’s held up. My original intent was to simply play through the single player scenario and write my review, but I was have having so much fun that I spent another day just exploring various servers and checking out all of the random mods out there. This game is an excellent example of a multiplayer PC title.

Currently available on: SteamOther Reviews In This Series:
Unreal   Unreal Tournament   Unreal II   UT 2004  UT3

The Death of Wizardry Online

Well. Honestly. Who didn’t see this coming? I have mixed feelings on this. I really do.

As a lifelong Wizardry fan, I was extremely excited to hear SOE was bringing this game to the US. But I admit I was really really let down by the product that was delivered.

Longtime readers of this blog will know that I was VERY hyped for this game. I even started a podcast aimed at Wizardry Online. Once I got my hands on it…. my excitement faded. Fast. So that leaves the question… what happened?

I know that Wiz Online is healthy in Japan. I don’t know if their client is identical to ours or perhaps has a bit more polish…. but the success can’t simply be cultural.
Look at other j-mmos like Final Fantasy. XIV 2.0 is thriving in both Japan and the US.

My biggest hope was that Wizardry Online was going to spark a new interest in the Wizardry series as a whole here in the west. But now, I fear that it will actually be the final nail in it’s coffin.

I hope that maybe 5-10 years from now, the rights will change hands again and someone will reboot the series.

 

Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn – Thoughts on the Beta Test

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Well, the fourth and final test phase of the new Final Fantasy XIV beta test is now complete. I spent the entire weekend putting the game through it’s paces. Overall, I had a very positive experience. Launching an MMO game is much more difficult than most people realize. It’s certainly more challenging than releasing a single player game. Knowing this, also take time to consider that data had to be imported from the old version. This makes for an even trickier launch.

The beta started out great for most, but by the second day error messages started to crop up for a large number of players preventing them from logging on. After more than 24 hours of this issue, SE was finally able to identify the root cause and issue a fix. The beta was extended by a few hours as a result. While I heard about the glitch, I did not experience it myself.

As I said, I really put the game through it’s paces. I completed a good chunk of the main scenario storyline, a few of the class quests, several levequests and guildhests, I even participated in an instanced raid and founded a Free Company (guild).

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Personally, I feel that game is ready for launch assuming SE has, in fact, sorted out their server issues. I think the test as a whole was an overall success. No launch is without it’s problems, and considering that this weekend was actually still a phase in the beta test, I am assuming in good faith that SE now has whatever data they need to ensure a successful launch day. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.

I enjoyed this game enough to declare without hesitation that FFXIV is certainly going to be my new full time MMO of choice.

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The Rebirth of Final Fantasy XIV

In just a few hours the fourth and final beta phase of Final Fantasy XIV 2.0 goes live. This phase is significant because all content and progression will carry over to the actual release of the game. Nerds everywhere are quivering with anticipation. I am no exception. I haven’t talked about it too much on this blog, because I was waiting to discuss Final Fantasy XIV after I had a chance to review the other games in the series. Of course, at the rate my playthroughs are going, that may take a quite a while.

Meet Kijimuna…

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Kiji is my Final Fantasy XIV character. I have not had a chance to spend any quality time with him since the original version of the game went offline back in November. I wrote about this briefly at the time. You can view that original article here:

A Look Back at Final Fantasy XIV 1.0

In a nutshell, the original version of Final Fantasy was poorly received. It suffered from major issues at release. Everything from lack of content to massive server lag cause players to quit the game in droves. Reviews of the title were brutal. Even many hardcore fans such as myself had to admit that the game was a complete bomb.

Things got so bad, that most of the original development team was fired or assigned to other projects. A new producer was promoted and after a long hard look at the current game, he declared that the current implementation of the game was simply unfixable. His solution was a complete redesign, starting with the very game engine itself. Never before had such a massive task been proposed. Many players expected Square Enix to simply pull the plug on the title and cut their losses. Luckily, the corporation threw their support behind the idea and now, almost three years later, we are on cusp of the long awaited Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn.

To usher in the change, the original game continued to be patched and improved on while the new version was being developed. Many of the original issues that plagued the game were fixed but a good number of them, such as server lag and UI complaints remained until the very last day of service. To keep players interested, special storyline content was added to the game. This once-in-a-lifetime content was only available to players who continued to subscribe while the new version was under development. Perks like exclusive titles and equipment were made available during this time. Also, players who subscribed for more than 90 days during the original run also had their game accounts flagged with a special “Legacy” tag. Legacy Accounts are treated to special pricing as well as some in-game perks when the new version is finally released. I’m proud to say I was a supporter through both the good times and bad. I was there for early access, and I was there until the very minute the servers were shut off.

Even though the official release is still just under two weeks away. For many of us, Phase 4 represents the start of 2.0.

I imagine I will post a brief update after a couple weeks, but I’ll save my big review of the game for later. In the meantime, those of you interested are welcome to read my in-character XIV blog located at the address below:

Dear Friends – In-Character FFXIV Blog

Review: Wizardry Online

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So after that long trip down Wizardry memory lane, I’m going to spend a few moments to give my review of first major Wizardry release in the US since Wizardry 8. Of course, I’m talking about Sony Online Entertainment’s latest Free-to-Play MMO, Wizardry Online.

If you are a frequent reader to the blog, you may know how excited I was for this game. When I first heard that Japan had an online version of Wizardry I was extremely jazzed at the prospects of a western version. I scoured the net for any news I could find. So passionate about Wizardry, was I, that when it was announced that SOE would be publishing a version of the game in English I rushed out and founded the Gilgamesh’s Tavern podcast. The show ran from June-November 2012. However, upon participating in the closed and open beta tests of the game, I became so disappointed with what I had seen that it killed my spirit regarding the game and I retired the podcast.

Despite my initial disappointment, I decided to give the game another honest chance upon release. I found that while a few of my initial gripes and complaints had been addressed, the game overall left me a bit disappointed.

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Sony advertised Wizardry Online as being a triumphant return to the old days of RPG gaming. They tout that game has being for the hardcore only. They point to things such as always-on PVP, permadeath, and player corpse looting as examples. I found this claim to be a bit misleading. While all of these things are certainly possible, most of them don’t actually take effect until later in the game. In Wizardry Online, when you character dies, you have a chance to resurrect. This chance goes down the older and more powerful your character is. If you happen to fail, your character is reduced to ash. If you fail the resurrection of an ash character… it’s bye bye. It’s important to point out, that you can increase your chances of resurrection by sacrificing items. Interestingly enough, the items that tend to increase this chance the most are items bought from the Sony based “real money” in-game store, the Royal Shop.

Yes, this game features a cash shop. This is not really an unusual addition for most free-to-play games these days. However, for a game like Wizardry Online, which features the chance that you will lose your character forever, it certainly changes things. Whenever a cash shop is involved, I prefer to see it filled with things like vanity items, mounts, costumes, etc. While the Royal Shop does feature some costume item, it also features items of advantage. One of the more popular things for sale are medals that protect your items from being looted off your corpse by other players. This is something that I tend to disagree with. An optional subscription is also available that bestows the player with experience perks and beneficial items.

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Pay-to-win controversy aside, I find the game itself to leave a lot to be desired. In a lot of ways Wizardry Online seems like a Wizardry game in name only. The combat system in the game is action based, and as a result success can be somewhat dependent on server stability. At the time of this writing, the game has been open to the public for a little over two weeks. And even today, server lag and stability is a major issue. Upon release, the game suffered from overcrowding and SOE’s servers buckled under the weight. It reminded me a lot of the problems Diablo III experienced upon release. Once the connection issues were resolved, the game suffered from massive server lag. Rubberbanding has been a major issue. As a result, many North American players resulted in migrating the less populated European servers to avoid crowding.

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Whereas cash purchases and twitch combat certainly don’t feel very “Wizardry like”, there are a few nice throwbacks to be found in the game. The game features the standard core races and classes of the original Wizardry series. (For trademark reasons, Hobbits have been renamed to Porkuls.) An upcoming expansion in Japan will expand on this a bit and will add several of the advanced classes as well.

Character creation is very familiar to legacy Wizardry players, point assignment complete with a randomly generated bonus roll are a nice touch.

For me, the highlight of the game is it’s atmosphere. The dungeons have a feel and ambiance that are exactly what I hoped for. Things are dark and mysterious. The sounds are creepy and appropriate. The feel and mood are certainly a part of the game that the developers got right.

It’s important to note that this success in this game is very dependent on playing with others. It is near impossible to solo through this game, especially in later dungeons. Of course, with the game being what it is, one must have companions they can trust. I fear this will be something that will turn many off. Wizardry Online is so radically different from other MMOs out there that many players will find their friends are uninterested. So most teamplay will be largely with strangers.

I’m afraid that I do not see myself spending very many more hours with this title. For everything that it does right, it is overshadowed by everything it fails at. It is my predication that the game will end up with a small but very dedicated following. I only hope that it is profitable enough that the game remains up and running for years to come.

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Difficulty: Very Difficult – MMOs are always hard to gauge in terms of difficulty. But Wizardry Online is a unique exception. This game was designed to be difficult and hardcore. If that was the goal of the developers, they have certainly succeeded. This is not necessarily a negative. There are many gamers out there who are looking for a challenge. And by advertising the game the way they are, SOE is certainly not out to deceive anyone.

Story: This game actually has quite a bit of backstory and lore to be found in it. However, it’s not flashed before the player and one must be diligent to appreciate it. The Wizardry Renaissance universe that this game takes place in has proved itself to be a worthy successor to the old days of the Llylgamyn saga.

Originality: In terms of modern MMOs, Wizardry Online is certainly unlike any other. No one can ever claim the developers just used the tried and true cookie cutter format that most fantasy online games rely on. What makes the game unique is it’s balls-to-the-wall approach of doing things it’s own way. All the while, building off the basic elements of the preceding Wizardry series.

Soundtrack: The soundtrack to the game has several very catchy and appropriate tunes. Several others leave a lot to be desired. I own the official Japanese game soundtrack and I find myself skipping over many of the tracks. In game, they do tend to work better. But it’s a mixed bag.

Fun: The hardcore elements of this game will be a turn off for many players, yet it will also appeal to some. For me, I found the game to such a chaotic jumble that I was turned off by it. The combat system and UI was done very poor in my opinion and the game suffers as a result.

Graphics: This is hard one to gauge. The game doesn’t look bad…. but yet it doesn’t look all that good either. The graphics seem to be a bit on the soft side for some reason. There’s a lot of fog and a lot of bloom used in the game. I feel that these effects may be a bit overused actually. But, overall, the graphics are fitting of a title of this type.

Playcontrol: This is probably one of the games biggest failures. The UI is horrendous and it is not very intuitive at all. There is little to no customization in the game and what is presented by default leaves a lot to be desired. The game uses a variation of the standard WSAD control scheme that most PC games do these days, but the combat is either mouse driven or managed by hotkeys (numerical). The camera doesn’t seem to respond as one would expect and everything feels both loose and clunky at the same time… how is that even possible? I decided to try the game using a gamepad as well, but I was even more disappointed.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 2 – I really wanted to like this game and I tried my best to approach it with an open mind. I can honestly claim that my disappointment with the title is not due to it’s deviation from it’s original Wizardry roots, but rather I just feel like it’s a subpar game. There’s a lot of potential here. But I worry that it’s going to go unrealized. I think the biggest thing that’s going to hurt the game here in the west is it’s publisher. SOE has a notorious reputation for being a money-hungry company that takes a good game and drives it into the ground. So far their ignorant attitude towards server issues and customer complaints seem to validate these fears. Time will tell. I fear that the glory days of Wizardry may be behind us.

Currently Available: Free Download from www.wizardrythegame.com   —-  UPDATE:  SOE HAS DISCONTINUED THIS TITLE

Other Reviews In This Series:

III IIIIVVVIIVIIVIII

Forsaken Land – Labyrinth of Lost Souls – Wizardry Online

Wizardry Online – Beta Test Opinion

I’ve been putting off this article for some time. If you’ve been following the blog, you may remember my excitement for the upcoming North American release of Wizardry Online. Being a lifelong fan of the Wizardry games, I was extremely excited to finally get a chance to play this long awaited MMO.

Several years ago, I hosted a fan-page dedicated to the Wizardry series. It was one of the few on the net at the time and quickly became one of the biggest Wiz sites out there. I prided myself on being such a big player in the community, that I decided to launch a podcast in preparation for the English release of Wizardry Online. So, in July 2012, the Gilgamesh’s Tavern podcast was born.

To help lend some credibility to the cast, I launched the first episode by interviewing one of the founders of the series itself; Robert Woodhead. As the podcast progressed, I spent some time discussing all of the various games in the series, both western and Japanese titles. Finally, as the details regarding the game started trickling in, things got hectic.

I was accepted in the closed beta, and around the same time I was contacted by SOE and provided with several beta keys to distribute. Suddenly, my podcast subscriptions went from single digits to triple digits overnight. It was everything an aspiring podcaster could ask for. There was just one problem… My experience with the closed beta was… well… awful.

Being under NDA, I couldn’t express my concerns publicly. Several localization issues about the game irked me and the user interface and game controls boggled my mind, and I was not alone. Many users in the beta forums echoed my sentiments. Other aspects of the game seemed severely flawed as well. I was left to wonder, was the current Japanese version of the game so… crappy? Or was SOE giving us some type of modification of the original vanilla JP release?

With the end of the closed beta, and the launch of the open test. The game received a much needed patch. Several of my complaints seemed to have been addressed. But, something about the game still felt… broken. It’s very hard for me to get into specifics because, I can’t really place my finger on it. There are many thing about Wizardry Online that are indeed very “Wizardry-like”. However, there are so many other aspects that seem completely out of place. The things in the game that do seem to honor the roots of the series, such as randomly assigned skill points at character creation, seem out of place for an MMO. While, things from the old series that would thrive, such as advanced classes (Samurai, Lord, Ninja, Bishop) are absent.

Needless to say, I was disappointed to the point where I could no longer offer my support for the game by hosting a community podcast. Rather than make a big scene about it, I just quietly retired the podcast and vanished into the night, as some might say.

Many of my real-life friends who were also jazzed for the game have also expressed their discontent of the title. I am very sad to have to admit it, but my disappointment with the title has been vast.

Now, I realize the game is still in beta. But I would be extremely (and pleasantly) surprised if the title receives enough polish between now and release to win me back.

On a side note, before ending this rant. I do want to point out that one thing the game really seems to get right is ATMOSPHERE. The dungeons and even the town create a very good sense of adventure and danger. However, the combat mechanics, user interface, and clunky controls just overshadow everything else.

Being a Free-to-Play title, I certainly have no plans of uninstalling the game and I do expect to give an honest chance upon release. But I’d be lying if I said that I don’t think this is going to be a very profitable title for SOE. The worst thing about that is, if this game fails, the chances of any other JP Wizardry titles being brought to the US drop significantly.

A Look Back: Final Fantasy XIV (Original Release)

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I’m going to really shake things up with something straight out of left field. As you know, I tend to review games in order because I enjoy watching franchises mature, etc. This time, due to an interesting set of circumstances, I’m going to break form and discuss the latest entry in the Final Fantasy series. Final Fantasy XIV.

I’m doing this for two reasons. First, FFXIV was an online title. Thus, it is a never-ending game. If I waited until the game was “finished”, under normal circumstances, I’d be waiting forever. However, in this case, the game did end (at least temporarily). Second, since the game has ended, this allows the perfect opportunity to look back on it.

If you’ve been following this blog a while, you’ll know that I’m a HUGE fan of both the Final Fantasy series as a whole, and the online games as well. In fact, my first real time put into an MMO was Final Fantasy XI. I spent several years playing that game and I had many wonderful experiences with it. Needless to say, when Final Fantasy XIV was announced, I was more than excited.

XIV holds an interesting place in the world of online games. It was one of the biggest failures in MMO history. The game was released way before it was ready and it’s reputation suffered greatly as a result. The game was plagued by everything from lack of content, to a laggy and unresponsive user interface. In fact, the game was so poorly received, that Square Enix suspended billing of the game for close to a year.

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During that time, most of the original development team was fired and a new producer took over the helm. Upon completing his assessment, he deemed that in order to make the game successful, it would need to be completely re-designed from the ground up. At which time, SE began the unheard of task of both fixing and supporting the current game, while rewriting a entirely new version.

I’m happy to say that over time, the game did improve vastly. In fact, I found it to be quite enjoyable for the last year or so. To keep players hooked, and to help preserve the storyline, SE announced an special in-game storyline for this transition period. A live event that would carry players over from version 1 to version 2.

Everything finally came to a dramatic conclusion on 11/11 with a giant meteor descending from heaven, and a great cataclysm. As I write this, FFXIV is currently offline and testing for the alpha version of 2.0 is underway. Expected to be released sometime next year, loyal followers such as myself eagerly await to see what is in store for us…

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As I mentioned on this site before, I have kept an in-character blog of my time in FFXIV. For those reader interested in what they may have missed during the original release, I urge to check it out: