Lineage 2 Review
It's hard to argue that the MMORPG market isn't saturated. Many games have lost subscribers, including the big-name ones that have been hyped to huge degrees. Still, publishers keep pushing these games out because of the huge profit margins that the successful MMORPGs have. NCSoft was only known for working in Korea before, but they are now hitting the rest of the world with two MMORPGs that launched simultaneously: City of Heroes by Cryptic Studios and Lineage 2 by NCSoft Korea.
L2 is a sequel to a game most people in the rest of the world haven't even played; the first game is a huge hit across cybercafes throughout Korea. This one has plenty of changes, though, like an impressive 3D engine, all-new art, and a siege system. Combine this with the first one's fairly simplistic gameplay and open PvP system, and we have Lineage 2. But most MMORPGs fail to deliver everything that's promised - at least not at first - and sadly, this game is no exception.
You might be surprised to find out that Lineage 2 uses the Unreal engine. NCSoft has taken Epic's excellent game engine and added a dynamic loading system so that the whole game runs in a seamless world. They've also done some work to the network code so that hundreds of players can interact simultaneously in one area. The beautiful pixel-shaded water causes a major hit on frame rates, but it can be turned off if you like.
Lineage 2 got plenty of beta testing in the Asian market, so it is relatively bug-free in its release form here. It will even run fairly well on older computers if you turn the detail all the way down, but I wouldn't really try it on a machine under 1GHz with 256MB of memory.
I'd also like to sound off on NCSoft's online purchase system. You don't really get any great deals here, but you can buy Lineage 2 on PlayNC for the full retail price (currently $49.99) and start downloading immediately. You get no box, manual, or even CDs, but you can always re-download when you want. Many would scoff at this sort of purchase method, but I really like the convenience of buying from home and merely hahttp://www.atomicgamer.com/admin/articleAdmin.phpving to wait for the download to finish.
The first couple days of release saw some issues on the servers where players had trouble getting into the game. Those issues are still lingering on a few weeks later, with one or two servers becoming occasionally congested.
L2 sports a prety barebones interface system. You can set up hotkeys for various abilities and functions (like attacking a monster, picking up nearby loot, etc.), and there is a tabbed chat window that allows you to switch between which channel you talk in. Other than that, though, this game is missing some pretty basic stuff that's become the norm in MMORPGs. You can't split chat across multiple windows, and you can't even configure your controls.
The game also just about forces you to use their single Diablo-style control scheme where you click on a piece of ground to run there - or click on an enemy to start attacking it. While the game does try and supply walk forward/back/left/right keys, they're sloppily implemented and almost unusable in my opinion. The terrible first person mode is even worse - I would have much preferred some well-designed "true" first- and third-person control schemes.
It's obvious right from the start that Lineage 2's character design is based heavily on Japanese anime. The playable characters look excellent, but there are very few options to customize how you look. There are several hair styles and a couple of face styles and skin colors for each race, and that's about it. One thing that I do like is that fighters and spellcasters do have different character models, even inside the same race.
The world of Aden is large and includes many types of environments, although anyone who's played a few MMORPGs probably won't see any real surprises here. It's mostly open, seamless, and includes quite a few landmarks for you to see. Monsters freely roam around with very few static spawn points, although they generally stay in their own areas most of the time.
Some of the game's monsters are made up of some excellent skins and models; they really show off the detail in the game. Special effects are also quite flashy, but not so huge that they get in the way of seeing the action. There's no doubt in my mind that L2 is one of the best looking massive multiplayer games on the market now.
Lineage 2 plays in a fairly similar way to not only the first game, but to the more simple online RPGs like Diablo 2. Not only is the control scheme fairly similar, but the combat starts out very easy-to-handle as well. Despite that, this is the most brutal and most potentially frustrating MMORPG that I've ever seen. Killing monsters isn't exactly tough, but it's other aspects of the game that will leave players asking why they're still bothering.
Anyone who has played Everquest for a while knows that reaching the highest level will take the average player months of 8-hours-per-day sessions to achieve. Lineage 2 actually takes longer than this, and it does this with a "soft cap" system where the experience slows down so much that most players will never see the game's highest level. Of course, some will achieve that anyway, but it will take them a matter of months just to finish the game's last few levels.
Groups consist of up to nine players, and the gameplay while in groups is generally pretty fun. One will find that the best experience usually does come from staying in specific areas and allowing monsters to respawn repeatedly - after a couple of hours, this can get really boring, even in a group. The combat is pretty straightforward for melee fighters, and the ranged attackers usually do some form of shooting and running away (also known as "kiting") in order to kill monsters. While there are a few classes that can fight without a group very well, I wouldn't recommend it as it winds up being more boring than even the most dull groups.
Gear is generally hard to get a hold of in Lineage 2, with most of the game's wealth coming from monsters dropping money when they die. This means most of the stuff you get is likely to be bought either from a store or another player. The occasional trade skill item and a few rare items like weapons and armor will also drop, but they are few and far between. Your gear is very important here; in this game, having some nice weapons and armor is just as important (sometimes more so) than being a higher level.
The economy in L2 is pretty healthy - players constantly buy and sell items in the game's auction channels, and every weapon upgrade you go through is a big deal. Of course, you can't literally "upgrade" your weapon: players have to save up money, sell their current weapon, and then try to buy the next one up. This can be frustrating if you didn't quite save enough to afford the next one up, and other players will almost never take your lower-quality weapon as a sort of trade in. The NPC stores do sell plenty of weapons, but a shrewd player will only buy from a store if he or she really has to; usually you can buy them cheaper from other players, and even if it takes you longer, the price difference is generally worth it.
On top of this, Dwarves are the only race that can create new items, and the business generated from these abilities is very important to the game's economy. Most of the game's rules are well-thought out and can contribute to a long lifespan, but there are a few areas that are really rough.
Let's get into why I think many players will quit Lineage 2 after only a couple of months. Not only is the game's "grind" slow as hell, but the penalty for dying is pretty severe. Just like Everquest, each death will cost you a good chunk of your gained experience, and it is possible to lose your level as well. Once players hit the 20's, they'll notice that each death can cost them up to two hours of play time in experience. What's more is that resurrections are much harder to get from other players, and they also give back only a small fraction of the experience that a player loses for a death.
But wait - there's more! If another player kills you for whatever reason, you will lose experience all the same. For me, this really takes the fun out of PvP gameplay, knowing that if I bite off more than I can chew - or simply barely lose a fight - I just wasted a bunch of time I could have spent doing something productive. Hardcore PvP players who make a vocation out of playing these games will love it this way, but I'm pretty sure that the other 90%+ of gamers aren't going to be too happy with this system.
It's not that anyone can just come up to you and kill you with impunity, though, because the game includes a "karma" system for those who kill helpless players. The problem is that even this system is flawed - if someone steals your kills or does otherwise annoying things to you, you will still be branded a player killer for taking them out. Tihs will result in your name above your head changing from white to red, and you'll have to either get killed a few times or run off to a secluded spot to kill monsters in order to go back to a non-PK status. This alone might not be so bad, but add on the fact that other players can kill "reds" with no penalty, and very rarely does someone stop to ask why your name is red. Most of the time, players will expend plenty of effort to chase you and kill you - and reasoning with them is out of the question completely. The game itself seems to promote a vindictive sort of behavior from its players, and it becomes obvious quickly that "going red" is a big deal and becomes very risky.
Now, not all players will go red for participating in PvP. If you attack someone else, your name goes a different color - purple - and they have the option of either not fighting back (which means you will go from purple to red by killing them) or going purple themselves by returning fire. Killing someone with a purple name will result in no penalty, but all too often do players try and use the rules to make sure you go red for killing them. What I mean is this: your name doesn't stay purple for long, and so people will sometimes fight back and if they know they are going to die, they will stop attacking and time their death so that their name turns back to white right before the killing blow. This actually happens pretty often, and it's a frustrating system to have to deal with - especially since the one who died has to deal with losing experience, and the one who dealt the killing blow might have to take a few deaths as a result of going red themselves.
The game's siege system will involve fighting in huge battles to take over the game's pre-built castles. The guild who gains control of a castle gets to keep it for about two weeks, then they will have an open period of two hours where it's up for grabs. This is one of the few times that experience loss is reduced - to about a tenth of the game's usual amount. All of this is based on what we've read of the Korean release, as the siege system still isn't working in the US final release of the game yet.
In the end, adding up all of these rules makes for a very difficult game that can really become un-fun. I think that all but the most dedicated players are going to stick with this game, especially since it is a small world and the same people you hate (who may have caused you hours and hours of lost experience) will keep showing up. I enjoyed playing Lineage 2, but I didn't have fun living in fear of all the ways one can die and lose big chunks of experience.
The sound effects in Lineage 2 are all unique, deliver a great punch, and really add to the atmosphere. The music has an orchestral feel that really combines well with the ambient sound and matches nicely with the visuals. Overall, I was very impressed with this game's sound, as it's usually one of the first things MMORPG developers skimp out on. The only time you will hear character's voices is with the various emotes and the yelps your character will release when getting hit. I really don't mind the lack of speech at all in a MMORPG, since the same few lines of speech can get really dull over weeks or months of gameplay.
Lineage 2 is a brilliant game with a few very brutal rules that will wind up being its undoing. The combat isn't hugely exciting, but it would be fine if players didn't have to slog through months and months of it before getting to the good stuff: the PvP combat. I think most people will refuse to put up with the game's severe death penalty and experience loss in PvP fighting; this could have been an excellent game, but it will just be too difficult for most players.